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Showing posts from March, 2011

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new release that I saw this week. Since there was only one major new release, I have included mini reviews of a couple other Zack Snyder films.
Sucker Punch Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Carla Gugino, Oscar Issac, and Scott Glen Synopsis: This is really a tale of two films. Co-writer/director/producer Zack Snyder has been working to hone his unique visual style for his past few films. That's certainly the case with "Sucker Punch." Snyder's recent fanboy films — "300" and "Watchmen" — were based on graphic novels, offer rich source material to inform the story to go along with the visual style. With "Sucker Punch," Snyder worked without the source material net. While the visuals are still at times impressive, the story is more of an incoherent jumble. And the fact that there is so much going on at all times — a blaring soundtrack, wild visuals, and potentially key…

Faith in Film 2, Children of Men

It's hard to believe that our 12-week exploration of Faith in Film has drawn to a close. It's been a fast 12 weeks and a great 12 weeks for me. I've appreciated all the comments, and I hope that everyone has enjoyed exploring these nine films in a new way. One of the ways we grow as believers is to explore the dynamics of our faith, and consider how what we believe compares to the messages we get from the world. I hope this exploration has allowed you to reflect on that in a new way.
Our final film for discussion is another interesting film, "Children of Men." It's the second dystopian tale we've looked at following last week's exploration of "The Book of Eli." And as with most tales surrounding the possible end of the world, there are plenty of religious themes.
I enjoyed our discussion on "The Book of Eli" last week because many of you took away a different message from the film than I did. It seems that "The Book of Eli"…

Faith in Film, Week 12

Here's a look at tomorrow night's worksheet!
Title: “Children of Men” (2006).
Starring: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Synopsis: This film is set in England in 2027 with a fascinating premise. This is the second film we’ve looked at that’s set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world that paints a very dystopian picture of the future. It’s also directed by Alfonso Cuaron, a Mexican director, who weaves in some interesting ideas about the immigration issue into the story. It was nominated for three Academy Awards the year it was released, winning none. Many critics, myself included, felt it was the best or one of the best films the year it was released. The film, due to its interesting story, also became a fascination within the Christian community.
The basic story is that women can no longer have babies. As the film opens, the youngest person in the world is 18-years-old. Without the promise of future generations, many feel the world is ending and there…

The Sing-Along-Blog

I remember a few years ago during the Writers' Strike I heard about this series of Internet shorts from Joss Whedon. I never saw them then, but I read a few stories about the creation of this set of shorts, but I had never actually seen it.
Then, last year when scrolling through the list of play-now options on NetFlix, I saw it was available. So I decided to give "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog" a try. What I experienced over the next 43 minutes was as engaging, entertaining, and moving as any film I've seen in the past few years.
What is amazing about the feature is that it was a passion project done by a handful of talented people in a short period of time. They didn't do it for fame or money, they did it because it inspired them, and the first incarnation of the "Blog" was a free distribution on the Internet.
That's a rarity in our modern, consumer-driven culture. At a time when we have a lot of big, loud, and obnoxious offerings, this productio…

Spud Night

Today was one of those long days and, with about a half hour of activity left to go, I find myself a little tired. But it's a good tired. It's the kind of tired that comes from a long day spent in the company of devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
After services this morning, a handful of volunteers went into "Spud Mode" in preparation for tonight's youth fundraiser. What made the event a success wasn't the dollars raised, but rather seeing the youth of the church come together to put on an event and seeing so many in our church family take the time to come support the youth.
Working with the youth each week is a fascinating growth experience. Their questions and their hunger to learn more about God is inspiring. Plus, Spud night gave me a chance to get some potato-themed trivia. Below are a few questions to consider:
Questions: When was Mr. Potato Head created? What did Mr. Potato Head cost when first released? When was Mrs. Potato Head released? When and where were…

The Elite Eight

The college basketball season is winding to a close. We are now left with just eight teams in contention for the NCAA title. Some are familiar names — Kansas, UConn, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona, and Florida. Others have defied the odds.
Butler is a small school that made it all the way to the title game last season. That was supposed to be their moment in the sun. Heading into this year's tournament, most of the talking heads thought Butler would be one and done. When they beat Old Dominion, defying expectations, many felt they were done. Instead, they beat Pittsburgh and Wisconsin to make it back to the Elite Eight.
As good a story as Butler is, they aren't even the biggest Cinderella in the dance. That honor belongs to Virginia Commonwealth University. Many probably haven't heard of VCU, and even fewer expected them to be in the Elite Eight. After all, to get here, VCU had to win four games. The other seven schools only had to win four games.
VCU was one of the few th…

Rough Week for Christianity

There are times when it is tough to be a Christian; times when I see public representations of my faith that make me cringe; and times when I see the forces opposite to my faith gaining a foothold in our broken world.
This week was one of those weeks. Today, as I was reading yet another article that made me sad for those lost in this world, it kind of hit me how everything was adding up. I think this happens a lot. It is meant to make us doubt; it is meant to serve as a blow; and it is meant to darken our spirits. But that's what the Evil One wants.
Last Friday, as I do nearly every Friday, I hit the theater. The movie I watched was kind of a silly comedy that offered entertainment. But embedded in that comedy was a message about the falseness of believing in God. Of course that atheistic message was layered under a lot of other cultural observations, and it was played for laughs, but still, it was there.
As I started my week, I saw a couple interviews with Christians trying to repre…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies that opened last week.
Limitless Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro Synopsis: This is an interesting and watchable film that ends up offering a confusing mixed message through the resolution to its plot. Cooper plays Eddie, a struggling writer who can't get his life together. When his girlfriend, Lindy (Cornish), sends him packing too, things really spiral downhill. Then he has a chance encounter with his ex brother-in-law and gets introduced to a new drug that offers him unlimited potential. After securing a large stash of it, Eddie begins to turn his life around, achieving fame, earning a fortune, and reconnecting with Lindy. But all his good fortune comes with a price. Eddie is soon targeted by the legitimate authorities, mobsters, and a nefarious stranger that seems to be following his every move. Oh, and his magic drug comes with its own set of dangerous side effects. As Eddie feels the walls closing in around him he&#…

Faith in Film 2, The Book of Eli

"The Book of Eli" is always a film that leaves me feeling a bit conflicted. It is a film that is closely tied to elements of the Christian faith. In fact, from a literal standpoint, the Bible is at the heart of the narrative. But the question is whether or not it depicts our faith, and the truth of the Scriptures, in a real way.
This is where I think the film loses ground a bit. Many in the Christian community praised it as a secular-made evangelical tool. Though there are some valid evangelical elements to it (mostly in the performance of star Denzel Washington), I think the film corrupts Scripture and offers a flawed view of the Bible, and the Bible's place in society.
I think there are two ways to analyze this film. First is a question of filmmaking. This is not my cup of tea. I was in good company among many film critics that offered a harsh view of the world and events depicted in the film. The world of "The Book of Eli" is a dark, violent, and hopeless plac…

Faith in Film 2, Week 11

Here's a look at this week's worksheet.
Title: “The Book of Eli” (2010)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, and Gary Oldman
Synopsis: This was one of the more intriguing releases of 2010. Quite intentionally, the film has a number of religious themes. In fact, it’s fair to say that the entire film is built around Christianity and the Bible. But that doesn’t mean that the film contains strong Biblical principles. This is an interesting apocalyptic tale that tries to capitalize on the Bible and Christianity to help sell the story.
The story is set in the future, 30 years after a nuclear blast that destroyed the Earth as it had previously existed. A man named Eli (Denzel Washington) is making his way across the barren wasteland to the West Coast. He is driven on his mission, and is in possession of the last remaining copy of the Bible. He feels it’s his calling to protect the Bible from those that would use it for negative purposes, such as Carnegie (Gary Oldman)…

Who is your God?

It is always challenging wrapping up a series. I've seen good series finales and ones that left me scratching my head. The trouble always comes in seeing how the writers' vision of how the show should end matches your own.
For the past five seasons, I've watched "Big Love" on HBO. The show is centered on polygamist, fundamentalist Mormons. In other words, it depicts a people group whose beliefs greatly vary from my own. But I was always attracted to the character elements, watching how they struggle with ideas of love, family, and faith.
The show wrapped up its run on Sunday night, and it was a reminder to me how hard it's been to watch these last few episodes. As the show has moved toward its conclusion, the characters have faced severe trials and, in each circumstance, have turned toward their faith for comfort and consolation.
In each of the final two episodes there were moving depictions of faith, but it left me feeling something different than was intended.…

Who are we living for

I have been reading the book "Crazy Love" by Frances Chan. He proposes some interesting ideas as we look at our life here on Earth, our relationship with God, and how the two should and do work together.
The second chapter focused on the concept of our limited time here, and how we should make the most of that time. Many, myself included, get wrapped up in all the things we have to do. I remember when I was in my previous job, work sometimes dominated my thoughts while I was in the office, when I was at home at night, and when I got up in the morning. That can lead to pressure, stress, and worry, all of which runs contrary to what God says our lives are supposed to be like.
The chapter includes a quote from Frederick Buechner, which reads, "Intellectually we all know that we will die, but we do not really know it in the sense that the knowledge becomes a part of us. We do not really know it in the sense of living as though it were true. On the contrary, we tend to live as…

The Madness of March

Every year about this time, for three weeks or so, the world focuses on college basketball. The Men's NCAA tournament is one of those sporting events in the year that becomes the topic of water cooler conversation. Doubtless, based on the results from the first three full days of action, this year will be no exception.
Think about it. Celebrities come out of the woodwork to support their alma matters, the games dominate prime time Thursday through Sunday for two weekends, and even the President made picks.
Of course, the fun is always trying to guess which top seeds will hold serve and which will fall by the wayside. Already in the first few rounds we've seen surprises. Lousiville, a four-seed, lost on a final second shot to Moorhead State. Of course, Moorhead State is already out. Then there's Butler. Last year, the Bulldogs made it all the way to the title game. This year, they were supposed to fall in the first round to favored Old Dominion. Not only did Butler beat Old D…

Luck of the Irish

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. Hope you all wore your green! It's a day where we celebrate all things Irish (which somehow translates into drinking, wearing green, dying things green, and eating cabbage, potatoes, and corned beef).
One of the funniest things I saw yesterday was a faux trailer on Funny or Die's website called "Boston Movie." It was a mash up of a number of Boston films — "Good Will Hunting," "The Departed," "The Town," "The Fighter," and "Fever Pitch," among others. It's fun to see those things and think about those things that have become iconic to this type of celebration.
But, of course, St. Patrick's Day has a deeper meaning. It is a day in which we honor Saint Patrick, who is associated with Ireland, where he served as a minister and brought Christianity to the pagans of that region. The original color associated with St. Patrick was blue, but over the years the Shamrock became more of…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
Battle: Los Angeles Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, and Michelle Rodriguez Synopsis: This joins a long line of alien invasion films. It doesn't really tread upon new ground ( a group of advanced aliens invade Earth to conquer its people and consume its natural resources) and it doesn't do it in a new way. The definitive entries in this genre are probably "War of the Worlds" (from which it feels like much of this film's plot was pulled) and "Independence Day," which added some humor and panache to the genre. "Battle: Los Angeles" is kind of a solemn take on the alien invasion film. However, the performance by Eckhart (who is probably too good an actor to get stuck in a film like this) keeps the movie grounded. The film attempts to introduce its myriad of other characters during the opening act, but it's too hard to keep them all straight since the characters lack dep…

Faith in Film 2, "The Ultimate Gift"

A couple weeks ago we got to go through a screening of "The Ultimate Gift," and tonight we'll be discussing some of the themes from this film. "The Ultimate Gift" is a Christian film, produced by FOX Faith films in 2006. FOX Faith had mixed success during its limited run. I saw a few — like the thriller "Three" — which left something to be desired, while films like "The Ultimate Gift" really resonated.
This film isn't the typical evangelical film. It doesn't present a clear Gospel message, but rather it deals with what it means to live our faith. It shows us what is important in life — forgiveness, friendship, and love of others, not money.
The idea is that Jason Stevens experiences a series of gifts that help him appreciate all the blessings he receives from his family. It helps him become the man he needs to be.
The first gift is work. Thomas Edison said "There is no substitute for hard work." The Bible also treats the idea …

Faith in Film 2, Week 10

Here is a look at this week's worksheet.
Title: “The Ultimate Gift” (2006).
Starring: James Garner, Bill Cobbs, Brian Dennehy, Drew Fuller, Ali Hillis, and Abigail Breslin
Synopsis: This is a Christian film, produced and distributed by the now defunct FOX Faith Films in 2006. The film is based on the novel by Jim Stovall. The book and the film have become popular among Christian circles and there are even devotional and study materials that accompany them for small group discussion.
“The Ultimate Gift” stands out from other Christian films in that it’s not trying to offer a Gospel message. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have plenty to say about living out the principles of the Bible. The film centers on a young man and his family who are fighting over the assets of his grandfather, Red (James Garner). Red sees something special in his grandson that he doesn’t see in the rest of his children and grandchildren and decides to give him a set of tasks. Along the way the young man Jason…

Our Public Witness

In the aftermath of Saturday's tragedy in Japan (which continues to experience diffculties) there has been the usual talk about signs of the end of the age. Some have linked Saturday's earthquake with other recent world disasters as signs that God's ultimate judgement for the world is coming.
Of course, the idea of the end of this age has been everywhere recently. It's been more than 2,000 years since Jesus' ministry on earth, and we've had many predictions of the end of the world that haven't come to pass since then. Now, the talk focuses on the Mayan prediction of the destruction of the world in 2012 and the Christian response, which supposes that the second coming will be on May 21, 2011.
In many ways it's understandable that people are consumed with the idea of when the apocalypse will come. It will certainly effect everyone, and the lack of certainty is tough for everyone. As humans, we like to have all the answers. We like to understand what's h…

How Big Is Your God?

I've been reading the book "Crazy Love" recently. The first chapter talked about who God is, and who we often seem him as being. For me this was a fascinating exploration of what I believe and what the Bible says.
The Bible talks a lot about who God is, especially in relation to who we are. Isaiah 40:25-31 paints a pretty awesome picture of God. It says:
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. 27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can f…

What's Best Picture Worth?

It's been almost two weeks since the annual Academy Awards, where the film "The King's Speech" earned the highest honors as Best Picture, and still the complaints and analysis of the proceedings continue. This was one of the most derisive year's for movies, with the public split over which film should win.
The proceedings — and many of the complaints that followed — have led a number of people to analyze the process, and the history of top award winners. Steven Spielberg, who presented the Best Picture award, even referenced the traditional griping that follows the show. He mentioned the names of several Best Picture winners. Then he mentioned the names of several films that were passed over for Best Picture. The obvious inference being that sometimes the cream doesn't rise to the top with the Academy voters.
Spielberg should no. After all, his 1998 film "Saving Private Ryan" wasn't named Best Picture. More than 12 years later, it's still reve…

Cut Off From the World

Fridays are my day off. I don't have Internet at home, and often I am focused on heading to the movies, so I'm not thinking about much else. Today was a great reminder of how that can be a problem.
This morning I did some household chores, watched a Blu-ray and headed out. I hit the movies, the gym, then came in to do some work. I had a great blog planned themed around the major release this week — "Battle Los Angeles." But first I decided to check some websites. That's when I noticed a story about a couple West Coast TV shows having to clear their sets because of Tsunami.
I decided to check CNN and was amazed to read about the massive earthquake in Japan and the Tsunami that hit there and the West Coast of California. While I was going about my morning wandering around in a lazy fog, nearby coastal towns were being evacuated.
When I related this to a co-worker, she said the world could have been on the verge of ending and I wouldn't have known about it. I said …

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw last week.
The Adjustment Bureau Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, and Terence Stamp Synopsis: This film, based on a Philip K. Dick story, marks the directorial debut for George Nolfi. While he demonstrates some skill at putting a film together, this movie has some obvious flaws. The major flaw is a confusing story mix. The film is like a hybrid sci-fi thriller/religious exploration. The explanation for the Adjustment Bureau personnel, the leader of the bureau, and the "plan" seems like a watered down version of religious dogma, but it's mixed with the typical story elements from a Philip K. Dick exploration. That makes for a complex narrative at times, and at the same time nothing is ever really explained. However, the performances and the relationship at the heart of this film keep you hooked. Damon and Blunt have great rapport on screen, and their scenes together are the bright spot of the film. Th…

Genesis 40

With Graham out of the office for a couple of weeks, I get to lead Bible Study. It's always a fun experience to go through a passage, try to pull out some nuggets, and share. And, almost always, the attendees provide even more insight.
I've gotten some thick passages to analyze in the past. I did Romans 2, which is all about circumcision, and Romans 3, which is about our sin nature. I got Genesis 19, which included the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Genesis 37, where Joseph is sold into slavery. Though challenging in terms of content, each provided an opportunity to look as something key to our spiritual walk.
Of course Genesis 40 is a little different. One might even call it filler between arcs in Joseph's story. In Genesis 39 Joseph is wrongly thrown in prison and in Genesis 41 he comes into the service of the Pharaoh. Then there's Genesis 40.
I liken it to the training montage scene in every Rocky film. The montage is located in the middle of the story, and oft…

Box Office Dolldrums

We are 10 weeks into 2011, and good films have been hard to find. It's no wonder that Box Office returns are down and people are openly questioning whether this has been the worst year for movies in the last 25 years.
I think there are a few problems that have contributed to this. First, the economy isn't great. At first, the poor economy impacted travel. Now that the economy hasn't rebounded and costs for EVERYTHING are going up, I think it's impacting the Box Office. And, let's be honest, the theaters aren't helping. Ticket prices are pretty high on their own, throw in the cost of snacks and you're talking about quite an investment.
And that's not an investment the average person wants to make for something like "Drive Angry." I have been a film reviewer since 2003. I like movies and go a lot, not just for reviews. The first 10 weeks of this year have been horrible, both in terms of film quality and in terms of getting excited to see those fil…

Reversal of Fortune

I haven't written about sports much lately. That's in part because the NFL season ended (always a depressing time) and now the owners and players are arguing about how many millions (or billions) each will get to the extent there might not be a 2011 NFL season. All this during a time when expenses for the average American (gas, utilities, food) keeps on growing... Talk about a gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
But Sunday's action on the court (NBA, not tennis) reminded me that the playoffs (both for college hoops and the NBA) are right around the corner. Of course, as a Lakers' fan, this has been a strange NBA season.
All the pre-season hype surrounded other teams, notably the Miami Heat. The Heat, who signed Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh over the summer, seemed poised to take the league by storm. They got off to a rough start then caught fire. The New York Knicks have played better than they have in years, the Chicago Bulls are hot, and the Boston Ce…

Global Mission Field

This week we've been looking at the idea of impacting the world for Jesus Christ. Of course, this idea is fundamental to our faith. It was the final instructions Jesus offered the disciples, and by extension all his followers, before his ascension. The question has always been how?
I heard one person say this week, "Think Global; Act Local." I think that's a good approach. Often, we become overwhelmed by the need in the world and it can stop us from doing anything.
There is a line in the 2009 movie “Watchmen” that I think speaks to this. A group of “superheroes” is meeting to figure out how they can fix the world. One of them thinks it’s a waste of time. The leader of the group says to him, “It doesn't take a genius to see that the world has problems.” He quickly responds, “No, but it takes a room full of morons to think they're small enough for you to handle.” I think that speaks to the average response to what we see and hear. We are bombarded by the problems…

My Friends' Wedding

Today was a special day. I have known my friend John since I was 12 years old, a seventh grader. Together we've shared many major life experiences, good times and sorrowful times.
This week has afforded me a chance to think about such times and share them as John went through one of the biggest joyful experiences of his life; his wedding day. For the past three days myself and a group of John's closest friends have been sharing memories, exchanging stories, offering advice, and gathering together to share this experience.
A lot of time in TV shows and films are devoted to weddings, which are incredible, joyful experiences. But it's really not until you're going through a wedding like this that you think about all the moments that never get captured.
One of my favorite moments came as we gathered in the ready room prior to the ceremony. There was John, 15 minutes from the ceremony, looking dapper in his tux, having taking hundreds of pictures, and quietly journaling. I'…

The Best of the Small Screen

Three times a year the networks race to lock in viewers. Welcome to the sweeps system. That's why specials, special episodes, and premiers happen so often in November, February, and May. Sadly, this has been a killer winter period on the small screen. With the last round of sweeps having just concluded, I thought I'd offer a look at the shows I think are the best (from an entertainment standpoint) right now. (This list includes only shows currently airing, so let's feel hopeful something better is around the corner).
10. Glee, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on FOX Last year at this time I was high on "Glee." I went to see the live show in Hollywood and I looked forward to episodes every week. Especially hearing the musical selections. Too often in its second season "Glee" has felt like an after school special gone awry. The music has been hit-or-miss, and the characters have become increasingly unlikeable. I still have hope it can improve, but it's coming dangero…

Now Playing

This week there were only two new releases, both of which were horrendous. So far, 2011 has been pretty poor. Here's a look at the new releases...
Drive Angry Starring: Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, Billy Burke, and William Fichtner Synopsis: I have written about my disappointment in the career de-evolution of Nicholas Cage before, so I won't rehash that here. I will say he's starred in two films released in 2011, and both have been unmitigated disasters. This is a vile, crass, over-the-top indulgence in excess. Co-writer/director Patrick Lussier clearly has a taste for crossing the lines of good taste in the areas of sex and violence. This film — shot in 3D — is wall-to-wall sex and violence, at times both mixed together. The most flagrant offender is a scene where cage is engaging in a sexual act while drinking and killing people. The story is poor, the execution is poor, and the film has no line left to cross. This film should easily be NC-17 for sex, violence, or both. Thro…

Faith in Film 2, "The Ultimate Gift"

If nothing else, "The Ultimate Gift" is a rare treasure because it's a watchable, and re-watchable, Christian film. Based on the book by Jim Stovall, the film presents Christian principles for life in a relatable, engrossing way. Sadly, that's too often not the case.
I think we all get a certain impression in our minds when we hear the words "Christian Film." Too often, it looks a little something like "Left Behind" (poor acting, poor story execution, and poor special effects) or, worse yet, "The Omega Code." I remember when I was in college my grandma sang the praises of "The Omega Code," a film produced by the Trinity Broadcast Network. I decided to give it a try... it wasn't pretty.
A few years ago, I was encouraged when FOX films developed a new subsidiary, FOX Faith. I made it a point to cruise down to see the first release, a "Christian thriller" called "Three." What I saw was more of the same — a po…

Faith in Film 2, Week 9

Here's a look at the worksheet for tomorrow's class.
Title: “The Ultimate Gift” (2006).
Starring: James Garner, Bill Cobbs, Brian Dennehy, Drew Fuller, Ali Hillis, and Abigail Breslin
Synopsis: This is a Christian film, produced and distributed by the now defunct FOX Faith Films in 2006. The film is based on the novel by Jim Stovall. The book and the film have become popular among Christian circles and there are even devotional and study materials that accompany them for small group discussion.
“The Ultimate Gift” stands out from other Christian films in that it’s not trying to offer a Gospel message. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have plenty to say about living out the principles of the Bible. The film centers on a young man and his family who are fighting over the assets of his grandfather, Red (James Garner). Red sees something special in his grandson that he doesn’t see in the rest of his children and grandchildren and decides to give him a set of tasks. Along the way the…