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Showing posts from January, 2011

Directing a Winner

As I looked at the cinematic landscape in 2010 (viewed through the lens of our Best Picture nominees), I realized that the group of bankable directors has changed.
Over the past 20 years, there have been several names that has been associated with quality filmmaking. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, and Clint Eastwood all delivered incredible work in the 1990s and first decade of the 2000s. And all four have begun to tail off a bit.
Though each of them still deliver quality work, they seem to have passed their peak. Meanwhile some younger directors who seemed on the cusp — like M. Night Shymalan — have fizzled with recent offerings. In fact, Shymalan's last film has him in line to win the dubious raspberry award.
So the question is, what directors working right now are the most consistently bankable. Who do you know will not only produce a good film, but a film that will appeal to industry insiders and the masses. I have a list of four (technically five) that I think …

Nullification

I have been watching the new show "Harry's Law" since it premiered. There has been one legal maneuver that has been used in each of the first two episodes, the idea of "Jury Nullification."
Basically it's a defense that says, 'hey, our client committed the crime, technically it was wrong, but he had a good reason to do it so you should let him go." It's the old "he needed killing" defense, only these weren't murders. It's a common ploy when people start talking about "the spirit of the law."
I started thinking about it a little. I understand why they use the argument, I even understand why some people might be swayed by it, but I think it's part of a larger problem. I have been concerned as I've watched movies, TV shows, and the news in recent months by the rise in the "ends justify the means" reasoning that seems so prevalent in our society.
I like a show called "The Closer." The show is abo…

Faith and Doubt

There have been two new exorcism-themed films released in the last 12 months, and both followed a similar pattern. While neither was particularly scary — a problem considering they were part of the horror genre, both ended up being interesting explorations of faith. One intentionally, the other not intentionally.
I couldn't help but be interested in the similarity and the ways with which both films sought to approach the material. The first was "The Last Exorcism," released last summer. For the most part it was about a preacher (not ordained or officially trained) that knew all about God, but didn't know God. He had lost his faith.
But that didn't prevent him from plying his craft as a speaker and exorcist. He sought to, with the help of a documentary crew, debunk the exorcism myth. He thought that would be his penance for a career spent swindling the faithful.
Somehow, though, he was confronted with true demonic evil. And in that moment, he found his faith. I found…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movie that I saw this last week. Also, with the Academy Award nominations having been announced and just five weeks until the big day (Sunday, Feb. 27), I'm going to start my review of Best Picture nominees. I'll do two a week until the end.
No Strings Attached Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Kevin Kline, and Gretta Gerwig. Synopsis: This follows a somewhat typical rom-com formula. A mismatched pair thrown together in a "meaningless" relationship that blossoms into something more. This film is predictable, in terms of story, and as with all entries of this type how much you like the film depends on your sense of humor and the chemistry between the leads. I appreciated many of the jokes. The supporting players — including Ludacris, Jake Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Gerwig, and Lake Bell — offer plenty of humorous moments. This is not a film that takes itself too seriously. Director Ivan Reitman does a …

Faith in Film, Narnia vs. Lord of the Rings

I have written about this comparison before, but tonight we will take an in-depth look at the themes featured in "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "The Lord of the Rings."
Both of these books/film series are based on works by famous Christian authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, respectively. That has made them wildly popular in the Christian community. But both have very different approaches to the material and different goals for what they hope to accomplish with their stories.
Lewis is more recognized for his non-fiction Christian writings, such as "Mere Christianity." With "The Chronicles of Narnia," he creates a wonderful fictional world that serves as an allegory for his personal beliefs. In fact, it's fairly clear that "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" is a direct allegory for Jesus Christ. That is a point that Tolkien, who was Lewis' friend and contemporary objected to. Tolkien criticized Lewis' use of religious…

Faith in Film, Week 4

Here's the worksheet from tomorrow's class. Can't wait to hear all your thoughts on "Narnia" and "The Lord of the Rings."
Title: “Lord of the Rings” (2001-2003)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, and Ian McKellen
Synopsis: “Lord of the Rings” is a trilogy of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale of Middle Earth. The series centers on a group of hobbits, led by Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin), that are charged with bringing the ring of power to be destroyed. Along the way they are assisted by elves, dwarfs, wizards, and other mystical creatures. Tolkien was a friend and contemporary of fellow Christian author C.S. Lewis. The two were part of the literary discussion group known as the Inklings.
Like “The Chronicles of Narnia” series by Lewis, “Lord of the Rings” is rife with religious themes and imagery. However, though there is a clear presentation of the prototypical Gospel message in the presentation of the narrative for “The Li…

Knowing Your Faith

I love having a study Bible. Every time I open my Bible to read a passage, I get caught up in the footnotes, which leads me on a little path of discovery to other passages. I discover something new every time I dive into my Bible. I guess that's to be expected from a book that spans 2,000 pages.
I think growth and continued learning is an important part of our faith. The past couple of weeks I thought about this while watching different documentaries. The first was "The Case for Christ." For those not familiar with the program, it is based on the book and story of Lee Strobel, an attorney who sought to get the facts about religion before it really took root in his heart.
His search for answers and the truth, coupled with the interviews with leaders in the field, provided plenty to think about. There were ideas and facts presented in the film that were new to me as well, even though I've been a Christian for more than 20 years and even attended Bible college. I guess th…

Mid-Season Premiers, Take 2

Another week in January, another set of new premiers. This is probably the last wave of January, with another set due the first week in February. Here is a look at my grades for the new premiers I saw this week plus a simple grade for the second episode of the new shows I looked at last week. Happy viewing!
Harry's Law, Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC Synopsis: This is a typical David E. Kelly legal drama. There are some dramatic moments, some zany moments, and plenty of preaching. Kathy Bates does a great job in the lead role and the pilot had some strong moments, though it was fairly predictable if you're a Kelly fan ("The Practice," "Boston Legal," and "Ally McBeal"). The show definitely has some promise and will appeal to fans of the genre. Grade: B
Fairly Legal, Thursdays at 7/10 p.m. on USA Synopsis: USA has been one of the most commercially successful cable networks when it comes to creating new shows that appeal to viewers. This isn't their best …

Game Time

The AFC and NFC championship games will be held tomorrow. The winners of those games will battle it out for the Superbowl two weeks from tomorrow. Earlier this month I made fearless playoff predictions. It seems pretty clear to me that the Patriots will not, in fact, win the Super Bowl. That is unless some new revelations about Jets cheating is uncovered tonight... and I'm not ruling that out. But it does seem unlikely.
The NFC team I picked to make it to the big game was the Bears and, luckily, they're still in the hunt. But I'm not quite so confident that they'll make it to the big game. On the eve of the penultimate week of competitive NFL football for the season, I thought I'd make new and revised playoff picks. I completely stand by these picks... until 12:15 p.m. Pacific Time tomorrow. (Just kidding... maybe).
NFC Title Game — Green Bay Packers (12-6) vs. Chicago Bears (12-5), Noon Pacific Time
This is a battle of division rivals, but it's the first time sin…

Light in the Darkness

I know it's never a good sign when I get a phone call from a co-worker prior to 9 a.m. on a Friday, and today was no exception. Friday is my day off. It's usually the one day of the week where I try to take a break from the Highlands world and think about and focus on other things, or nothing depending on what kind of week it's been.
Since the last eight days have been CRAZY, I was looking forward to a quiet day of solitude. It didn't happen. I got an early morning request to do an errand to kick things off, then that aforementioned call from Highlands, which changed the course of my day.
It seems someone, or some group of someones, decided to act out by defacing our cross. I came down, surveyed the damage, talked with the police, talked with my co-workers, and that's how my day kicked off. I went through a cycle of emotions. I was angry. I now had extra work, extra stress, and extra stuff to think about. I was sad. It was disappointing to think someone would deface …

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies that I saw this week. A little bit better than the first weekend of 2011, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.
The Dilemma Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, and Winona Rider Synopsis: Director Ron Howard has made some great films. One of my favorite films of all times is Howard's film "The Paper." This is not one of his best films. Vaughn seems to have slipped into the phase in his career where he makes domestic comedies. He and James are funny people, and they have a couple funny scenes in this film, but the story doesn't work that well. In fact, there are some scenes that are practically unwatchable because of how uncomfortable they are. One scene, in particular, was so uncomfortable I had to close my eyes. Thank you Vince Vaughn... This film leaves a lot to be desired and seems to waste the talents of its cast. Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving sexual content. Verdict: One sta…

Faith in Film, The Chronicles of Narnia

Tonight we'll be screening the first of the "Chronicles of Narnia" films, "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." The film is based on the first of a seven book series from author C.S. Lewis, a Christian who is probably best known for his non-fiction theological works like "Mere Christianity."
I always think fondly of "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" because it was part of the first major event of Highlands Church. The first event was our Movie Under the Stars screening, and the first screening was "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe."
The first of the "Chronicles of Narnia" films came out in 2005. At that time, Disney hoped that it had a hit film series on its hands. "Lord of the Rings" generated big box office takes, and the "Harry Potter" films were huge successes as well, so the hope was the "Narnia" series — seven books in all — could offer a similar windfall. It never really ma…

Faith in Film 2, Week 3

Here's a look at the worksheet for this week as we screen "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe."
Title: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” (2005)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, and Liam Neeson
Synopsis: This is the first of C.S. Lewis’ classic “Chronicles of Narnia” series. This is probably the most famous of the series. Unlike “Lord of the Rings,” which is basically one continuous narrative, these are more a set of stand alone stories. This film, based on the first book, presents a clear Gospel message, which is why it is often regarded as a favorite among the Christian community.
The story centers on the Pevensie children, who live in England during World War II. Siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy find a portal to the magical world of Narnia through a wardrobe. Once there, they find a world gripped with war. On one hand, the White Witch has cast a negative shadow over the land. Many suffer and live in…

Charter Education

Below is the text of an editorial I wrote for the Paso Robles Press that was published on Jan. 14. I thought I would share it here too for those that might have missed it.
On Tuesday night, Paso Robles took a step toward a different kind of education option as the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District accepted the application of the Paso Robles Community Charter School. Does this mean the school will be a viable option in September? No, it doesn’t.
What it does mean is that district staff and district board members are open to exploring a different educational option. Staff, board members, and charter school organizers will now have 30 days to review and consider the application before it is brought for a vote. That vote, then, will determine whether the PRCCS can start the process of enrolling students, hiring a staff, and changing the face of public education in Paso Robles.
Though I am not a parent, education has been a passion of mine for several years. When I worked for the Paso…

Playoff Promise

I remember the last time the Denver Broncos were in the playoffs. Jake Plummer was our quarterback, we beat the Patriots at home in the Divisional Round and then hosted the AFC title game against Pittsburgh. I thought we were going to the Super Bowl, but it didn't happen.
That year in the draft we moved up to take quarterback Jay Cutler with the No. 11 pick. He was supposed to be the foundation of the franchise and lead us back to playoff prominence. On Sunday, Cutler started his first playoff game, leading his team to a 35-24 victory.
The only problem is the team he led to the playoffs was the Chicago Bears. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited for Cutler. I have been pulling for him all year and I hope he has another great game next Sunday. But when I watched him out there today, I couldn't help but wonder what could have been.
When Cutler was drafted in 2006, there was the promise that he'd be a fixture in the playoffs for years to come. It looks like that will be the c…

Golden Globe Predictions

The annual Golden Globe Awards — presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press for TV and Movies — will be held tomorrow night (Sunday) at 5 p.m. on NBC. In advance of the awards, I thought I'd offer a few fearless predictions in each category. Hey, I figure I can't do any worse than my NFL picks (1-for-4 last weekend). With the Academy Award nominations due out Tuesday, January 25, every award presentation leading up to it offers a little more definition to the Oscar Picture.
Best Picture Drama — Will win: "The King's Speech;" Should Win: "The Social Network" I thought "The Social Network" was the best film of the year. It's won a number of critics awards and should still be a front-runner for Best Picture with the Academy Awards. However, you just get the feeling that the Hollywood Foreign Press will lean toward "The King's Speech," which is also an exceptional film. Either entry is worthy.
Best Picture Musical/Comedy — Will and Sh…

Mid-Season Premiers

Well, now that we're a couple weeks into the new year, the mid-season TV premieres have rolled out. Below is the list of new pilots I saw this week with a grade. It's looking a little thin new show wise, so be warned.
Episodes, Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on Showtime Synopsis: This show is being billed as Matt LeBlanc's return to TV, so I found it odd that he doesn't appear in the pilot episode. But what is there is pretty amusing at times. This could work in the kind of odd ball way that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" works on HBO, but only time will tell. It also might be a little too "inside" the industry to be a hit with large audiences. Verdict: B-
Shameless, Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime Synopsis: Based on a British show of the same name, starring William H. Macy, and produced by John Wells ("ER," "The West Wing"), this show had a lot of hype. None of it was deserved. The show wastes a strong cast on a story that is tough to watch and lacking…

Now Playing

Let's just say 2011 started off with the opposite of a bang movie wise. I couldn't help but hope the first film seen in 2011 doesn't set the tone for the year, because if it does I'm in trouble thanks to a dubious offering from Nicholas Cage... Here's a look at what opened so far in 2011.
Country Strong Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester, Garrett Hedlund, and Tim McGraw Synopsis: They wanted to make the female version of "Crazy Heart," but somewhere along the way writer/director Shana Feste took a dark turn. A really downer ending mars this film, but really there are a myriad of problems. It would be fair to say the title really should have been: "Country (music) Strong; Country (music story) Weak," but that's probably too wordy. The film nails its music scenes — and by that I mean anytime the trio of singing stars (Paltrow, Meester, and Hedlund, but surprisingly not actual country star McGraw) take to the stage. Those scenes work well…

Faith in Film 2, Bruce Almighty

This film was actually a request made on the surveys I got at the end of the first class last summer. "Bruce Almighty" is frequently sighted by Christians as a film about our faith because it examines ideas such as what it means to be God, free will, and prayer. But does it do a good job?
This isn't my favorite genre, but as Jim Carrey films go, this one is pretty amusing. It even led to a sequel — "Evan Almighty" — which I would argue is more theologically sound. The director of "Bruce Almighty," Tom Shadyac, is a Christian. He also offers an interesting take on how he feels this film is a tool to further our faith.
He said, “I think I’m very blessed to be in the position I’m in and to be able to tell stories. I mean, essentially Jesus was not a theologian; he was a storyteller. He came down… and He told us stories to inform us about our own condition. He told us parables. So [in “Bruce Almighty”] we’re telling a story about Bruce Nolan who’s a discont…

Faith in Film 2, Week 2

Here is the worksheet for this week's film, "Bruce Almighty."
Title: “Bruce Almighty” (2003)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, and Morgan Freeman
Synopsis: This Jim Carrey-led comedy is an interesting mix of comedy and religion, offering heavy doses of both at times. And that is intentional. Carrey is the master at broad, physical comedy, and he puts his talents to good use here as Bruce, a local TV reporter who isn’t happy with the hand he’s been dealt. He has a good career and strong relationship with long-time girlfriend Grace (Aniston), but he longs for something more. And he blames God for not getting the breaks he feels he deserves.
Then a funny thing happens — Bruce meets with God (played by Morgan Freeman) and is offered the chance to play God. Bruce accepts and goes down a fairly typical path until he realizes the situation is more complex than he first imagined. The whole process leads to some learning for Bruce and, by extension, the audience. The film force…

Nicholas Cage, Academy Award Winner...

I couldn't help but escape one important thought on Friday afternoon — I hope the first movie you see doesn't set the tone for the year. Because if it does, then 2011 is going to be hard to watch.
On Friday, the seventh day of 2011, I finally broke the seal on my theater-going exploits for the new year. I broke that seal with the first major wide release of 2011 — "Season of the Witch." Going in I figured the movie would be poor. It was, surpassing my previous expectations in new ways.
I came away with — literally — a blinding migraine and one more reason to think that Nicholas Cage should have to give his Academy Award back. I mean, seriously, he can't trade on the prestige of an Academy Award to sell a film like "Season of the Witch," it's just criminal.
Cage has delivered some good performances and been in some interesting films... just not recently. Cage won his Academy Award — for Best Actor — way back in 1995 for a memorable performance as an alc…

The Danger of Looking Back

Today's text, a portion of Genesis 19, is one that's familiar to me as I had the chance to lead Bible study on this chapter last fall. The idea of not looking back works well when you're in the midst of a financial crisis or just in a crisis in general.
But that's really only part of the story. It starts with Lot's wife. Physically she left the town, but her heart was still there. That's why she looked back. The same can be true of us, in fact Jesus famously warns us against the dangers of second guessing the offer of Salvation from the Lord, pointing to Lot’s wife as an example. Luke 17:32-33 says, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Lot’s wife was offered Salvation but could not accept it. But we can’t half-heartedly commit to God.
Now, Lot and his daughters escaped the town physically, but they never really escaped the effect the town had on them. Lot and his daughters made it to the …

A Question of Ratings

One of the most fascinating discussions from Faith in Film on Wednesday night was when we discussed trends in motion pictures. I have felt, for the last five or six years, like the standards for entertainment in this country have really loosened to a detrimental level. No where is that more evident than in the application of ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America.
Consider that the PG-13 rating was first introduced in the 1980s. The first test film, and really the impetus for the change, was "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." Due to the darker themes in the film, Steven Spielberg, traditionally one of the more family-friendly filmmakers, felt the film wasn't appropriate for younger views. He didn't think it deserved the more restrictive R rating, but he felt parents needed to be cautious about the age of children who saw the movie. Thus, the PG-13 rating was born.
We have five certified ratings in this country: G (general audiences); PG (Parental G…

Playoff Picks

After a long NFL season, the playoffs are upon us. I always have mixed feelings at this time of year. No matter who is involved, I love watching the playoffs and the Super Bowl (although there are some combinations this year that could challenge that theory). But I'm also sad, because I know that football is almost over for the year... meaning several months of wandering around aimlessly on Sunday afternoons.
Well, though my beloved Denver Broncos might not be in the mix in this year's playoffs, that doesn't mean there aren't some fun teams to root for. So I thought, with the playoffs kicking off tomorrow afternoon (at 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time on NBC), it was time for some bold predictions.
So here goes nothing... and I mean that literally. There's a good chance that by Sunday afternoon I could be regretting this post...
NFC: Teams: 1. Atlanta Falcons 2. Chicago Bears 3. Philadelphia Eagles 4. Seattle Seahawks 5. New Orleans Saints 6. Green Bay Packers
First Round: Saints over …

Now Playing

Here's a look at the films that I saw this week. Not a lot to choose from as there were no big releases last Friday.
Gulliver's Travels Starring: Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, and Amanda Peet Synopsis: I wanted to hate this film. The trailer looked awful. It's an awful idea. And Jack Black is one of my least favorite performers. I went into this movie with a spirit of dread. Perhaps that's why it was a pleasant surprise, but my guess is that it has more to do with the fact that the filmmakers here maximized their potential. They got the most they could out of Black, the most they could out of the supporting players, and the most they could out of this odd attempt to adapt a classic novel to an 87-minute holiday comedy. There are some fun pop culture jokes, there are some decent laughs, and it moves along at a good pace. I wouldn't pay to see it in 3D, but as a 2D comedy, you could do much worse. That's about the highest praise I can give this film. It'…

Faith in Film 2, Superman Returns

Tonight marks the third time I have taught this lesson — one variation during my first "Faith in Film" class and once to the Junior High Group. I like to think I've gotten better at explaining the imagery used in the film, but I also know that I have discovered more nuances every time I've explored this film. This time is no exception. Even up to today I was refining some of the vision of what I wanted to share.
The Christian author Donald Miller said, "Narrative has an unbelievable ability to adjust your moral compass." I believe that all art, which is what film is at its core, serves as a reflection of the beliefs and values of its creators. In this case, that happens to be the filmmakers. The key is being able to uncover those messages embedded in the film, and that's what the Faith in Film class is all about.
Superman is one of the oldest superheroes in our culture. Each culture has had something akin to superheroes, with the Greek and Roman culture i…

Faith in Film 2, Week 1

Title: “Superman Returns” (2006)
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth
Synopsis: Though this film came years after the “Superman” films featuring Christopher Reeve, this is not a re-birth of the franchise. In fact, director Bryan Singer worked hard to make “Superman Returns” a sequel set square in the middle of that world. The idea is that the film is a follow-up to “Superman II” that ignores “Superman III” and “Superman IV” and reboots the franchise. That’s why the storyline picks up somewhat in an established world and has tangible ties to the original “Superman,” crafted by director Richard Donner in 1978. The new film was also made with Donner’s blessing and using archival voice recordings he made of Marlon Brando as Superman’s father, Jor-El. The film picks up approximately five years after the events of “Superman II” with Clark Kent (Routh) returning from an ill-fated trip to Krypton. Back at home, Lois (Bosworth) has moved on with her life, sort of; while Lex Lu…

Faith in Film 2

I am excited to, once again, be sharing my passion for films with this community. I have come to really enjoy these sessions as a time to learn, grow, and share ideas. This should be a really exciting lineup as I've tried to incorporate a number of suggestions and requests for this second round as well as some movies that move me.
I will once again be using this forum as a supplement to our weekly meetings. I will be posting the worksheet for each week on this blog site on Tuesdays and a summation of my speaking notes on Wednesdays, the day of each meeting. Thursdays will be my regularly scheduled reviews of films now out in theaters and on Fridays I will post followup comments from our discussions on Wednesday nights. As always, please feel free to post comments and questions on this site and I will get to them as soon as possible.
For now, I'll leave you with the list and schedule for this cycle of Faith in Film. Hope to see you all on Wednesday Night at 6 p.m.!
Week 1: “Superm…

Season winds down

I struck me yesterday, as I stood in line behind five groups that had carts full of Christmas ornaments that were 75% off, that the holiday season is over. It's always a sad realization because it means the fall is over, football is wrapping up, and we're settling in for winter.
I remember the feeling, that I'm sure many kids have right now, on Sunday night with school, work, or life looming, that it was back to reality. That's usually the point where you wonder, where did the time go? Sadly, it doesn't seem that feeling goes away as we get older.
It was a fun, packed two weeks, but now it's back to reality. I think that's what New Year's resolutions are all about. It's about resetting our focus to tackle the grind once again for another year. I've never been great at resolutions, because usually I put my focus on things that aren't really practical. Well, I want to change that this year.
So, I resolve to do my best at whatever God puts before …

New Year's Void

Happy New Year 2011! New Year's is kind of a weird holiday, it's mostly about staying up late, watching parades, watching football games, and eating... again...
Except this year, I noticed the football part appears to be a little thin.
One of the things I always remembered about New Year's Day from my youth was watching a flurry of college games. There were a dozen games on half a dozen channels, offering plenty to choose from. You watched pieces of a bunch of games during the first half of the day before settling in for the bigger games at night. It was a buffet of college football games.
Today — the networks offer the Rose Parade, ABC has one college bowl game (featuring Florida and Penn State) at 10 a.m. then it's reruns of Access Hollywood, movies, and mediocre TV shows. Happy New Year!
ESPN, meanwhile, has a steady stream of games all day long, including the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl. But why are those games relegated to cable? It's all part of the growing dis…