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Showing posts from October, 2010

Options for Halloween

Yesterday I bemoaned the choices at the local theaters. Over the next couple weeks, I will be offering a few films I like in a variety of genres. Considering today is Halloween, I decided to start with five horror films I like. The films are listed in ascending order.
5. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) This film, co-written and directed by a Biola University graduate, is a hybrid exorcism-court room drama film. It offers plenty of food for thought and Christian themes as well. There are some chilling moments, but this one is mild enough to watch with a variety of audiences. I covered it in my Faith in Film class this summer and will cover it with the high school group Wednesday. I think the film offers some interesting talking points for Christians, as was the intent of the filmmakers.
4. Halloween (1979) This film is what I would consider the first modern slasher film. Some give that title to "Psycho," but I think this John Carpenter film was really a first of its kind, and i…

Dearth of Choices

I went to the theater on Friday, as is my usual custom, and was a little deflated by the options. On the first four screens sat three releases — "Saw 3D," "Jackass 3D," and "Paranormal Activity 2." I couldn't help but think to myself, is this what it has come to.
This recent installment of the "Saw" franchise — they claim it's the final one but I somehow am not believing it — was the only major new release this weekend. The other two were the top grossing films in the country the last two weeks. I couldn't help but think about how sad a statement that is for our nation as film goers.
I wonder what D.W. Griffith, Frank Capra and Cecil B. DeMille would think of those as the top three choices at the theater. Is that really furthering the medium of film? And of the horror films, what would Alfred Hitchcock think of what's going on with the genre? Then I couldn't help but wonder how many people in the current filmgoing public would …

Live Shows

I have attended several concerts in my lifetime. Probably the best live show I've seen was "Glee Live" last May. What made it stand out wasn't just the showmanship and craft, it was the joy and heart on the faces of the performers. You could tell they loved what they were doing, they were excited to be there, and that made a big difference.
If all you wanted to do was hear the songs, you could buy a CD. You go to a live show for the experience.
That's why tonight's Theater 3 concert was so special. The energy, heart, and joy exhibited by all our dedicated and talented band members is what made tonight a special experience. In fact, I think that's what makes Highlands such a special church.
Tonight's show had everything. It had instrumentals, though-provoking videos, ballads, classic rock songs, modern rock songs, a live art exhibition, and an incredible worship set. You could feel God doing something bigger in that room tonight, just as I've felt him…

Now Playing

I finally crossed the 100 threshold for 2010, the earliest I've ever hit that mark. Luckily, good old No. 100 was reasonable and not a complete disaster. Here is a look at the new films I've seen this week.
Hereafter Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Frankie and George McLaren Synopsis: This was my 100th ticket of 2010, the latest from director Clint Eastwood. Eastwood continues to be one of the most reliable directors of the last 10 years, delivering another solid film in "Hereafter." The direction is solid and the performances are strong, but there is something off about the story. Peter Morgan ("The Queen," "Frost/Nixon") is a strong screenwriter, and he does a decent job of developing the three principal characters, but this story doesn't feel like it has much of a point. It claims to be an exploration of what happens after we die, and there are some moments where it begins to explore that subject, but the ultim…

Checking in with New Shows

When the TV season kicked off in September I reviewed all the new shows I saw. This TV season hasn't produced a lot of hits; in fact some are calling it the worst crop of new shows in a decade. We've now seen between five and six episodes of these shows — enough of a sample to get a feel for their identity — and as we are heading into sweeps, it's time to take a look and try to find some diamonds in the rough.
New shows I like:
There are really only two new shows I think have potential for the long term. A possible third is "Boardwalk Empire," but I am still not sure what they are trying to accomplish with the show... Anyway, the two I like are "Hawaii 5-0" and "Detroit 1-8-7"
"Hawaii 5-0" — I wasn't going to try this show when it was announced, but after reading about it and seeing commercials, I decided to give it a shot. This isn't the greatest show, but it is entertaining, has a cool location, and a strong cast — with the ex…

Free Will

Last Wednesday during our high school group meeting, the focus of the discussion was on the topic of Free Will. It's always an interesting topic for Christians, and one that stirs a lot of debate.
There are two basic camps. One is that we have Free Will to determine what path we will take. The other camp is that everything is predetermined, including our response to the choices put in front of us. Many take hard line positions on that issue.
I, of course, choose choice C. I don't think it is Free Will or Predestination, I think it is Free Will and Predestination. Let me explain.
God gives us Free Will. That is a principle and an idea that is hard to argue with. It is also impossible to argue that God doesn't know what will happen. Our God is omniscient, meaning he knows what is going to happen before it happens. It's not that we don't have Free Will, we do, it's just that God knows what we're going to choose before we do it.
That can be a tough concept to wrap …

Shattered Image

I still remember when I was a junior in high school watching the Super Bowl. The Broncos finally made it to the big game, where they were to face the Green Bay Packers and their gun-slinging quarterback Brett Favre.
Favre was already fast becoming a legend. The Packers had won the Super Bowl the previous year and were looking to capture a second title. The Broncos, meanwhile, were led by John Elway, a great veteran looking for his first title. It was billed as a battle of two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
In that battle, Elway won. But I figured Favre would get more chances along the way and would probably go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But that feels like a long time ago now.
Favre ended his Green Bay Packers career four years ago with a tearful retirement press conference. Except he didn't retire. And when he came back, he was no longer a Packer. At 41, Favre is still playing despite attempted retirements for four years running. He holds almost ever…

A Humbling Game

So today I was really looking forward to watching my team, the Denver Broncos, play. Last week, as I was away, I missed my team's game. In fact, I missed all the games. But today was different. I was available to watch the game, and Denver was playing the hated rival Raiders. I expected a great show.
I got that, but it wasn't the show I expected. As I flipped to the game, the Raiders came down and scored on the opening drive. Then Denver got the ball, Kyle Orton flung it to a Raider, and it was quickly 14-0. Not the start I hoped for.
By the end of the first quarter, when it was 24-0 with the Raiders driving, I was trying to decided whether or not to watch the game. When it got to be 38-0, I gave up on the idea of winning. When it was 38-14 early in the second half, I allowed myself to get hopeful again... the game ended 59-14, the worst loss Denver could have had.
Somewhere in between the booing of the home fans, my depression at watching a beating, and the constant scoring of t…

A Texas-Sized Title Run

I have to say, I hate the Yankees. To me, the Yankees represent all that's wrong with professional sports. In a sport where they refuse to install a salary cap and real revenue sharing, the New York Yankees use their large market and media empire to buy a team every year.
Now, one might argue, that they are simply doing what the rules allow. While it is true that the Yankees are using the system to their advantage in a legal way, that doesn't make it any more fun to watch, unless you're a Yankee fan.
It's also true that buying a team doesn't always produce the desired result. Consider, the Mets buy a team every year and it hasn't done much for them. Ditto the Red Sox this year and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But still, it is hard to top the Yankees on the sports hate list.
That's what made yesterday's outcome so much fun. The Texas Rangers have been overlooked all year. The franchise nearly went broke and, before this year, had never won a postseason series. …

Dwelling on the Hereafter

Clint Eastwood's latest film, "Hereafter," opened today. I generally like Eastwood's films, the style he brings, and the earnestness of the storytelling. But with "Hereafter," I couldn't help but be consumed with considering the topic — what happens when we die.
"Hereafter" is a beautiful film, but it joins a long line of Hollywood stories that try to explore the idea of what happens when our lives on this Earth end. Clearly, this is a topic that is of concern to everyone, including believers. As I watched the film and thought about that topic, I couldn't help but think of the recent conversations I have been a part of.
Recently in staff we looked at the idea of Heaven. Revelations 21:1-5, the text for Sunday's message, focuses on the new Heaven. The question was raised about what our idea of Heaven was, and even in that room there was a diverse lot of answers.
As Christians, we might feel more secure in knowing that physical death is not…

The Best of the Year... So Far

Usually on Thursdays I offer reviews of the films I saw during the week. Unfortunately, due to travel commitments and fatigue, I haven't seen anything new since my reviews last Thursday. So this week, as we near the golden period when all the award contenders are dumped on the world, I thought I would offer you my top five films I've seen this year so far. A couple of them are still in theaters and the rest will come to DVD soon enough.
So here's the list in ascending order.
5. "Get Low" Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Bill Cobbs, Sissy Spacek, and Lucas Black Why I like it: This film has a great, intriguing message, strong performances, and some humor. It's a great story and director Aaron Schneider does a nice job putting the whole thing together. This was one of the hidden indie gems this year, and could earn Duvall a Best Actor nomination. Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material and brief violent content.
4. "Toy Story 3" Starring the Voice Tale…

The Heart of Worship

Worship is a fundamental part of the Christian faith. It's a time where people can come together in celebration and joy. It's a time when we can forget the burdens of this life and focus on the wonder of our creator. And it's a time when we can come together as a body of believers to celebrate God together.
But worship can also be divisive, something I learned all too well this last weekend. I have rarely in my life experienced worship wars, but worship style has been a big area of personal growth for me in recent years. When I was in junior high and high school, I went to a traditional, conservative church. The church sang hymns, using just and organ and piano. And that, I thought, was how worship was supposed to be.
In college, it was a rough transition to chapel, where different campus bands fought to show who could play the loudest, most inspirational worship choruses. That often resulted in a rendition of "I Want to Know You" every service. It grew tiresome an…

Censorship

I feel like there is a specific issue that keeps coming up in my mind, and that was crystalized for me as I watched the news last night. Usually I avoid the 11 p.m. news like the plague, but as I got caught up for a minute after watching TV before bed, I realized there was a reason I needed to see the news — the moral majority movement rears its ugly head again.
For those that didn't catch it, in San Luis Obispo a couple parents sent anonymous letters condemning a book — a non-fiction book about aparteid — because of the descriptions of what the subject of the book endured. Naturally, we have to shield ourselves from the evil of the world... I was intrigued because the teacher was a relative of mine and because it was a reminder to me that those in the moral majority — all too often those that claim to hold the authority of Jesus Christ on this Earth — continue to confound me with their thoughtless approach.
When I was in school I read some books that I found troubling. They were as…

A Lack of Respect

Boise State, a small school in Idaho, has been on an impressive run the past three years. But there hasn't been a lot of talk about them because they aren't in one of the "power conferences" in college football.
This year was supposed to be different. After beating Oklahoma in a BCS bowl two years ago and beating TCU in January. Boise came in ranked high in the polls and hoping to earn a berth to the National Championship game. And one-by-one, those ranked ahead of them have tumbled.
When Alabama lost two weeks ago, it appeared Boise State was finally going to get the chance it sought to prove it belonged. The school vaulted to No. 3 in the polls and was rumored to be the No. 1 school in the BCS computer rankings. Ohio State stood at one and Oregon, which leap frogged Boise, stood at No. 2.
Last weekend, Boise State beat its opponent by a final score of 48-0. It could have been more, but Boise took its foot off the gas. Oregon had a bye and Ohio State was walloped, fall…

Modeling Jesus to Others

This weekend I've had the chance to hear the "Freedom" men's retreat for the third time. Though much of it is the same — including the dynamic lead speaker — I always pick up something new. That, to me, is a sign of the depth of the message being offered.
Last night, as Graham wrapped up his time with the men, he turned to Jesus words to the disciples shortly before his earthly ministry ended. It's an idea that I've been mulling over in the 12 hours since, and I think it should be convicting to all of us who try to live as examples of the difference Jesus Christ makes in our lives.
John 13:34-35 says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Sadly, that idea seems revolutionary if only because of the way people treat one another nowadays, even Christians. Jesus' hope was that we'd be known by our acts of love. It…

3-D Burn Out

I saw a headline recently that said the producers of "Harry Potter" have decided to scrap plans to release the seventh film in 3-D. I can only describe my reaction as relieved. Welcome to the fall of 2010...
Nothing has been a bigger fad in 2010 than the wave of 3-D films. Some have enlivened the cinema experience. Without a doubt, "Avatar" did some fantastic things in exploring this form of cinema. In addition, some films this year have been shot in 3-D and have made for an incredible visual experience. One of my favorite this year has been "Step Up 3-D." But most of them have been a disappointment that feels like little more than a money grab.
To further make that point for me, they are now introducing 3-D TV channels and releasing 3-D TVs. They cost a fortune and require you to sit in your living room wearing ridiculous glasses. (Hopefully they are more comfortable than the plastic monstrosities at theaters).
Nowadays it seems like every other film is in …

On the Road

It's easy to forget how big California is, especially when you live here. I was reminded of that today as I traveled with Graham to Lake Tahoe for the Fremont Men's Retreat.
We live in the middle of California. Lake Tahoe is northeast, on the California/Nevada border. It still took more than six hours of driving to get there. Thankfully we don't live further south...
During that time I saw the whole gamut of what our state has to offer, from large, urban cities, to dessert areas, to farm land, to the largest cattle ranch I've ever seen, and some of the most beautiful national parks our state has to offer. I couldn't help but be amazed by God's creation and the beauty that our state has to offer. Often I take for granted that I live in such a dynamic, beautiful place. Sometimes, it's nice to take a minute to appreciate all the "wondrous works" His hands have made.
Even if it means seven and a half hours in a car....

Now Playing

Here's a look at the movies that recently made their way to local theaters.
It's Kind of a Funny Story Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Zack Galifianakis, Jim Gaffigan, Lauren Graham, and Viola Davis Synopsis: American film history is littered with films set inside mental institutions, but few have handled it with the kind of deft hand that "It's Kind of a Funny Story" offers. The film centers around a neurotic 16-year-old named Craig (Gilchrist), who is struggling with being a little overwhelmed, peddles to the local hospital early on Sunday morning and asks for help. He soon finds himself committed and, because the teen wing is under construction, Craig is put on the adult psych ward. He soon makes a friend in Bobby (Galifianakis) and begins a flirtatious relationship with another teen, Noelle (Roberts), who was similarly committed due to issues with cutting. The film doesn't really mine the emotional depth of the problems facing many of the people in t…

Tackling the Tough Topics

I remember when I was in middle school, my friend John and I used to catch up on our Bible reading during church services. One day, I noticed John shifting as he read. He saw me looking and showed me what he was reading, encouraging me to look it up. I did. That passage was Genesis chapter 19.
I have never forgotten the basic content of the chapter from that first reading. I was looking forward to hitting that text in Bible study so I could see what Graham would say, and even mentioned it a couple times. So, of course, naturally I was the one chosen to lead Bible study on this difficult chapter.
For those unfamiliar, the passage deals with Lot, his family, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Not exactly a light topic. I firmly believe that, as is referenced in the Scriptures, every passage in the Bible serves a purpose and is useful to help us grow. With some, you have to dig deeper than with others.
As I dug into Genesis 19, looking past the narrative to the issue behind it, I th…

Stay the Course

Yesterday was a reminder to me that, just when you think things are going well, that's when something happens to change the course. It is always hard for me. I think patience is probably the biggest virtue I need to embrace in my own life.
Yesterday started on a high. I felt like I got a lot accomplished and had some productive meetings, then I went to run an errand. Things did not go according to plan and I began to feel frustrated and anxious.
But then I went to swim laps at the gym and it kind of hit me — I can't control everything, but I know the one who does.
Phillipians 4:6 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God."
Sometimes, when we feel overwhelmed, that's the time when we need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and give it up to God.

A Fantasy Game

I have always loved football and, for the past eight seasons, I've enjoyed catching all the games on DirecTVs Sunday Ticket. I love watching and rooting for teams, rooting against teams, and all the action of a game day Sunday.
While all that is still true, this year I've given myself a new wrinkle. I was invited by a friend to play fantasy football for the first time this year, and I decided to give it a try. I have to admit, I lacked a strong strategy when putting together my team, but what I was really naive about how it would change my focus on Sundays. Now I realize that, win or lose, my first question is about the stats of the players on my team...
Yesterday I actually figured out how to program DirecTV to give me the low down on my players. It was a thrilling moment. I also caught myself, yesterday, being bummed out when passes didn't go to players on my fantasy team even though it generated positive plays for my actual team. In other words, it's dramatically chan…

The Greatest Gift

Today we talked about Grace, the Last Free Thing. It made me think of part of a talk I gave to our Highlands high schoolers. I thought I would share it here today as it goes along well with our topic.
But what really makes our God special is his love for us. He loves us even though we can do nothing to be worthy of that love. He loves us so much he sacrificed everything for us, even his own life. Think about that, the God of the universe sacrificed himself, enduring the humiliation and pain of the cross, for us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Think about the best present you ever got. It probably cost the person that gave it to you something, maybe even a lot, especially if it’s something big like a car. But no matter how great that gift is, it’s nothing compared to the gift and sacrifice Jesus gave all of us. All we have to do is embrace that gift and his love for us. That’s what the song “How He …

The Impossible is Possible

When ESPN unveiled its SportsCentury list of the 100 greatest athletes of the 2oth Century, there were many outstanding performers honored. Among that list, though, one stood out as truly unique. Secretariat was the top name in horse racing, ranking No. 35 on the list.
Secretariat was a great champion, dominating his sport in a way that has not been seen since. Not only did he win the elusive Triple Crown, he did it in dominant fashion. In the final race, the Belmont Stakes, a race meant to break speed horses due to its grueling distance, Secretariat not only one, he dominated. His time and winning gap — 31 lengths — has never been approached. By any measure, Secretariat ranks as the greatest horse in racing history.
But that's only the beginning of his impossible story. The new film, released yesterday by Disney, chronicles not only the greatness of Secretariat but the impossible story of his birth, training, and rise to prominence. It's one of those inspiring stories that is t…

Who is God?

On Tuesday night, one of my favorite shows, "Glee," did an episode focused on religion. That always makes me cringe, as a Christian, because most of the time the beliefs I hold so sacred are marginalized by those in the pop culture sphere. Though "Glee" was at times kinder than others have been, there were many moments that made me sad.
I was still thinking about it two days later when, on Thursday, I saw a USA Today headline that read "How America Sees God." Of course, 30 seconds and a $1 later, I was tearing into the article to see what it had to say. The article, covering the results of a nationwide survey, revealed that 9 out of 10 people say they believe in God, but the God they believe in is wildly disparate.
Perhaps the most saddening to me was that 24 percent of those surveyed believe in a distant God. That is a God that created the world and all its inhabitants and left us on our own. When you couple that with the five percent of people that don…

Now Playing

Here's a look at some recent new releases.
Let Me In Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins, and Elias Koteas Synopsis: This is an American re-make of the Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In." The film, from "Cloverfield" director Matt Reeves, does a nice job of offering a new adaptation on the story while remaining fairly consistent to the original vision. I did not care for the original story much. The idea of an insecure middle school age boy coming of age and making a connection with a tween vampire is unique, but it just didn't resonate with me. I had the same problem with this film. While Reeves and the performers do a credible job putting this film together and putting a somewhat unique spin on it, if you've seen the other film you know exactly what is going to happen which saps some of the mystery from this story. If you a fan of the genre, you will enjoy this film, and if you haven't seen the original this will …

Four days in October

One of the things I've always liked best about sports is that it is a place that teaches you about blind faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of what's hoped for, being certain of what is not seen." Of course, the reference there is to faith in God, which is of utmost importance. But I think it can also be an apt description of die-hard fans.
I was reminded of that, and of why we all love sports so much, when watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "Four Days in October" last night. It seemed fitting that, on the eve of the 2010 Major League Baseball playoffs that the ESPN documentary would chronicle one of the most amazing and improbable playoff runs in history — the performance of the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series.
I remember watching in 2003, believing the Red Sox would finally get past the hated New York Yankees, when Aaron Boone slammed a homer in game seven and the Yankees advanced to the World Series.
On…

Religious Knowledge

I remember once when I was just out of college my sister told me I had to watch Jay Walking on "The Tonight Show." Soon, I knew why. Having just graduated from Biola University, watching Jay Leno expose the lack of basic Bible knowledge from students at Azusa Pacific — our rival Christian College in Southern California — was priceless at the time.
Now I see it differently. I sometimes worry that, not only do Christians not have a basic understanding of the Bible, most don't have a basic understanding of church history or of the differences between denominations or between protestants and Catholics. And forget about basic knowledge of other major world religions.
For a while, I have thought that we need to make a bigger push for Christian education. One of the things I tried to emphasize with Faith in Film was context for the world views I talked about. This was especially true when talking about "The Da Vinci Code," which is a film that uses a complex historical…

Special Midnight Screenings

Without fail, October is a time that brings in new horror movie releases. I actually like horror movies, enough so that I actually wrote a paper in college about the evolution of slasher films from their 1970s birth, through the decline of the 1980s and the re-birth in the 1990s.
Of course, those that follow the genre know that the genre has since fallen off again and been reborn as something more depressing. Which is why I was excited that the Park Cinemas plans a special throwback to the good old days this Halloween season. I even got to help give input on the choices for a set of midnight screenings on Friday nights leading up to Halloween 2010.
For the next four Fridays, beginning on Friday, Oct. 8, Park Cinemas will hold special midnight screenings of classic horror films. The films — in order — will be "Scream," "Friday The 13th," "The Exorcist," and "Halloween." Of course, all the films will be the originals, not the remakes. All four are c…

The showdown that wasn't

Sunday was supposed to feature an epic showdown in Philadelphia. Donovan McNabb, the longtime quarterback of the Eagles, returned to town with his new team, the division rival Washington Redskins. And he was supposed to be facing Michael Vick, who is probably the most polarizing athlete playing today.
It didn't happen. McNabb was cheered by the crowd early, a sign of respect that some didn't think he would get, and he looked hot early, firing a 31-yard touchdown strike to tight end Chris Cooley to put the Redskins up 14-0. But the rest of the game was underwhelming. McNabb finished with a win for his team, but went 8-for-19 for 125 yards that touchdown to Cooley and an interception. He completed just two passes for 10 yards in the second half... not exactly a convincing show of force.
As for his opponent, Vick, that matchup was short lived. The NFL's offensive player the month of September, Vick was pounded on his way to the goal line in the first quarter and never returned.…

Reviewing New Series

Here's my take on the new shows that I've checked out. Listed below are shows for which I saw the second episode or new pilots that aired this week. Shows are listed by day.
Sunday: Boardwalk Empire (B+) — The show, which airs on HBO, follows gangsters in Atlantic City, New York City, and Chicago in the 1920s during prohibition. It's well crafted and well-made. The show has good potential and slides into that "Sopranos" type role. It's not for everyone, but for those that are looking for a more serious HBO crime drama, this fits the bill.
Monday: Hawaii 5-0 (B+) — This show, which airs on CBS, is nothing like the original, and that's a good thing. The ensemble cast is strong — Scott Cann, Daniel Dae Kim, and Grace Park are all good. The lead, Alex O'Loughlin, is a little stiff, but the show appears strong enough to work around that.
The Event (C) — This show, which airs on NBC, is supposed to be an engrossing, serialized drama. The pilot was too vague. The…

Coming to America

A few weeks ago while I was at the theater a trailer for "Let Me In" appeared. The person sitting next to me asked what I thought, and I told her I had already seen it. She was confused as the movie hadn't been released yet. She's probably not alone.
Two years ago I saw a Swedish film called "Let the Right One In." It is about a 12-year-old girl who befriends a 12-year-old boy who is a social outcast. Turns out she is a bit different, in that she's a vampire. It is dark, edgy, and a different take on the genre.
Now, if you've seen "Let Me In," which opened today, that's going to sound familiar. That's because "Let Me In," written for the screen and directed by Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield") is the Americanized version of that Swedish film. So when I told my friend a few weeks ago I had seen the film, that's what I meant.
You see, the only real difference between the films is the fact one is in English and has cult…