Showing posts from April, 2011

Burst Training

As part of a nutrition program I am in, we were given information about a style of cardio workout called burst training. Essentially, the idea is that sustained, routine, lengthy cardio training doesn't do as much to build muscle and burn fat as it could.
That's where burst training comes in. Burst training calls for you to push yourself to the limit — or a little beyond — for a few short blasts with rest periods in between. The idea is to train in five to eight short bursts a few times per week. At first, the goal is to burst for 30 seconds, rest for a minute, and repeat five to eight times.
In reading it, I thought that doesn't seem so tough. Then I tried it in the pool. After about seven bursts, I was ready for a nap. The great thing about burst training is that, because your activate hormones in a different way, the work of building muscle and burning fat continues even after the training session is done.
I thought about that in terms of our lives, and you know what I thi…

Draft Day

It's been just under three months since anything meaningful happened in the NFL. That is unless you count lawsuits and petty squabbles between millionaires and billionaires.
Though the lockout dispute and labor dispute still have yet to be resolved, it was nice to get back to the business of football again last night with the NFL draft. Round one of the draft began last night, with rounds two and three tonight (beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern) and the rest following on Saturday.
I have never really watched the NFL draft. It's exciting to find out who goes where, but it can be a little tedious to sit around and wait for a name to be called. However, with the prospect of a long summer and possibly fall without football, us fans have to cling to whatever morsel is available. For now, that means the NFL draft.
Another reason I was more interested in this draft than most is the fact that my team — the Denver Broncos — were a prominent figure in the draft. After an epic collapse last seaso…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new releases from last week.
African Cats Narrated by: Samuel L. Jackson Synopsis: This is the third of the Earth Day documentary features released by Disney Nature. The first of those films, "Earth," remains the superior entry, but I enjoyed "African Cats" a bit more than last year's "Oceans." The film follows two families — a cheetah and her five cubs and a lioness and her cub — as they make their way on the African plains and try to raise their cubs to maturity. It is a beautiful showcase of a part of the world and an ecosystem that most of us don't see or think about often. Jackson adds a touch of excitement as the narrator for the film and the team does a great job of putting together and engrossing story. It's funny, tense, heart-warming, and heart-breaking at times as you see these mothers struggle to raise their young cubs. If nothing else, these Earth Day documentaries make us all take time to stop and marvel at …

Alpha Course, Is There More to Life Than This?

The first week of the Alpha Course is more of an introduction to why the course is important, and what it does. That, of course, starts with the foundation for Christianity.
Nicky Gumbel, the featured speaker for the Alpha Course, bases the lesson around one key verse — John 14:6. John 14:6 says, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." Those, of course, are the words of Jesus Christ, and they're as true today as they were when he first said them.
One of the things that's fascinating about Nicky Gumbel is that he didn't start out as a Christian, and he didn't begin his career as a minister. Rather, he spent time as a successful lawyer. I identify with that side of him, because his approach to the material is a little different. It's more of an analytical examination, interspersed with some humorous observations.
One of the aspects of the introduction that sticks out to me is when Nicky talks about the three reacti…

Alpha Course, Week 1

I feel honored to be helping serve as facilitator for the Alpha Course at Highlands Church. The course kicks off tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 6 p.m. We will be going through the Alpha Express — meaning the video messages are between 20-25 minutes. Each week I'll be using my blog to put up the week's outline (Tuesdays) and a few thoughts on the week's lesson (Wednesdays). Please feel free to put any questions here as well. Below is the week 1 outline.
Alpha Course, Week 1Is There More to Life Than This?Introduction:Nicky Gumbel begins by saying he had three objections to Christianity: It was boring; It was untrue; and It was irrelevant.John 14:6 says, “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”1. Christianity Provides Direction for a Lost WorldJesus said “I am the way”People hunger for purpose and meaning.It answers questions about life.What am I doing on earth?What is the point of life?W…

Riding Again

Normally I'm not a big fan of an endless string of sequels, or sometimes even sequels in general. If there is a source material, a vision, or a plan, it can work. Otherwise, it's tough sledding. That's what makes the "Fast and Furious" series different.
When "The Fast and The Furious" debuted in 2001, it was a fun summer ride. Then, of course, it spawned a couple of marginal sequels that did little but tarnish the image of the original. Such is the fate of many Hollywood "franchises."
Then something interesting happened in 2009. "Fast and Furious," the fourth film in the series, reunited the original cast in a story and production that matched the fun of the original. At the end of the film, there was an opening for more installments. Even more surprising, I couldn't help but hope they would make another.
On Friday, I'll get my wish. "Fast Five" is the fifth film in the franchise — but since I've decided the second…

He Is Risen!

On this special day, we celebrate the quintessential piece of the Christian faith, Jesus' triumph over death. It's hard to imagine what it would have been like to have arrived at that empty tomb, or to have been like Mary and seen Jesus' face again.
Luke 24:1-8 says, "On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then…

A Seasonal Classic

Usually around this time of year, we think about the movie "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson's vivid depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But that's not the only classic that airs this time of year.
Hard as it may be to believe today, there was a time when Bible epics were a part of the Hollywood system. In 1956, perhaps the most famous Biblical epic, "The Ten Commandments," was released.
Every year around this time the film makes its annual viewing on TV. (This year it is tonight, from 7 to 11:44 p.m. on ABC). While it might seem odd to some to see the story of Moses, and Charleton Heston's legendary performance, around Easter, it should make sense.
You see, the story of Moses freeing the Isrealites from Egypt is the story of the first Passover. And Passover — a massive celebration in Jewish culture — is an integral part of the Easter narrative. Consider Maundy Thursday, the celebration of Jesus' last supper with the Disciples. It was t…

Happy Earth Day

Most of us probably don't think about Earth Day that much, I know I don't. That's why it's been so fun the last couple of years to see the way Disney has created a cinematic event to accompany Earth Day.
A lot of us probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about microclimates, endangered species, or the struggles creatures have to survive around the world. Earth Day can be a time when we give thanks for the resources God has provided us, and consider ways we can better appreciate those resources.
Disney Nature, a documentary arm of Disney films, began a tradition in 2009 of releasing a documentary feature on Earth Day. The first film, "Earth," was an incredible exploration of our world. It's hard not to marvel at the work of His hands when watching life in different corners of the planet. I was thrilled to see the film on the big screen, and have seen it several times since on Blu-Ray.
Last year, Disney Nature released "Oceans," an explorati…

Now Playing

Here's a look at last week's big theatrical release... as well as a review of new Sunday night cable offerings.
Scream 4 Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, and Rory Culkin Synopsis: I've written about my love for "Scream" and a little bit about why I liked this film in early posts, so I won't re-hash that here. This is a movie that follows the familiar formula that kicked off in 1996. The teen characters — really all the characters — are probably a little too pop culture-savvy and talky to exist in real life, but that's part of the charm of the film. I also think the film does a nice job of lampooning some of the things that have made the horror genre difficult to sit through in recent years. In a lot of ways this feels like a blast from the past in a good way. The violence here is a bit stronger than in previous films (with one sequence in particular feeling a little anti-"Scream" in its level of gore), but the fi…

The Alpha Course

For many that have attended services the last few weeks "The Alpha Course" probably seems like an unknown concept. In some ways, it's hard to put into words.
My first experience with the Alpha Course came in January, when we got our copy of the DVDs and I set about watching them in preparation for running the program here at Highlands Church. I didn't know what to expect, other than I'd been told it was amazing and informative. What I found was something so much more.
Nicky Gumbel was an atheist up into his college years. It was then that he was confronted with a roommate who became a Christian, so he decided to read the Bible to come up with an argument against Christianity. What he got, instead, was faith in Jesus Christ. He went on to become a lawyer and, after that, a minister. Through the Alpha Course, he helps people understand what it means to be a Christian.
But it isn't just an evangelical tool. I've been a Christian for a while now, but I was moved…

Avoiding the Lukewarm

When people think about the book of Revelation, they think about the prophecies regarding the end of the world. Sure, that is in there. You can read about the seven seals, the bowls of judgement and, my personal favorite, the New Jerusalem.
But that's not how the book starts. The book begins with letters to churches, and they're not exactly warm and fuzzy. Revelation 3:14-16 offers some words to the church at Laodicea.
"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth."
When I read that, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to get that letter. Doubtless the members of the church of Laodicea were probably feeling pretty good about their faith until that letter came. I bet that wasn't the…

Troubling Ideas

It seems like the concept of eternal judgement has been a big part of the national and local conversation recently. In going through the Apostles' Creed, the idea that Jesus descended into Hell caused a lot of people to come up with a lot of questions. Not only did people have questions about Jesus, our Lord and Savior, descending into Hell, some struggle with the concept of Hell in general.
I have long noted that the toughest thing for Christians and non-Christians alike is to reconcile the idea of a loving and benevolent God — which we serve — with the suffering and evil they see in the world. It's equally as tough to reconcile that view of God with a concept like Hell. Some simply cannot do it.
Some like to believe there is no Hell. Some argue it's a figurative place. But, by that logic, I think you'd almost have to dismiss the idea of Heaven, too, though that is often not brought up in constructing this argument. Pastor and author Rob Bell has brought this idea to th…

Gifts of the Spirit

This look at the Apostles Creed has been a good chance to think about what lies at the heart of our faith. This final week has been an interesting time to reflect on the Holy Spirit.
Graham talked about the fact that people don't spend a lot of time thinking about the Holy Spirit. Nicky Gumbel, who teaches the Alpha Course, said He's been ignored an misunderstood. In fact, of the 15 Alpha sessions, three are devoted to the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That's 20 percent of the course.
At first I wondered why. Then it occurred to me, it's because we spend so little time thinking about the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit does. It's important to remember that the Holy Spirit has been there from the beginning and is a big part of the trinity.
I'll admit, I don't often think about the Holy Spirit. I was struck, in thinking about this topic, by the words of Genesis 1:2, which says, "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over th…

Reframing the genre

Before "Scream" debuted in 1996, the modern slasher/horror genre was stuck in a rut. Many of the franchises that built the genre felt stale and long in the tooth. Then came this new entry that paid homage to the genre, acknowledged the typical construct of the genre, and flipped that construct to head in a new direction.
"Scream" touched off a new wave of horror, with a new style. One of the hallmarks is witty banter, and a deviation from the standard rules of the genre. But that was 15 years ago, and today the horror genre is in another rut, this time a darker, more depraved rut.
There are some that would argue that the horror genre — slasher films in particular — are contributing to the decline of society. In some ways the modern abuse of the genre bares that out, but I've always enjoyed a good slasher film. They provide escape and, when done well, can be an enjoyable time.
But over the past few years I've been disappointed with the trend. There seems to be …

NBA's Second Season Begins

And so it begins, likely the final playoff run for the Lakers as they are currently constructed. Sure, most of the roster will probably be back next year — if there is a next year — but without Phil Jackson, will it be the same? Somehow I doubt it. Plus, if the Lakers make the Finals again this year, it will be the fourth straight year in the NBA Finals. It's hard to believe that, with the age of the core group, they will have the endurance to get back again. That's a lot of games.
With the playoffs kicking off tomorrow, I thought I would offer some playoff predictions.
Eastern Conference:
First Round: Bulls over Pacers; Magic over Hawks; Celtics over Knicks; and Heat over 76ers.
Second Round: Bulls over Magic; Heat over Celtics.
Eastern Conference Finals: Bulls over Heat 4-3
Western Conference:
First Round: Spurs over Grizzlies; Thunder over Nuggets; Blazers over Mavericks; Lakers over Hornets.
Second Round: Thunder over Spurs; Lakers over Blazers.
Western Conference Finals: Lakers ov…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
Arthur Starring: Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, Helen Mirren, Luis Guzman, and Greta Gerwig Synopsis: This is a re-make of the 1981 film of the same name starring Dudley Moore. In this re-make, there are plenty of modern pop culture references, some tweaks to the principle characters and plenty of scenes celebrating the life of excess. The supporting performers do fairly well, with Mirren adding a touch of class, Garner finding her inner career-driven crazy girl, and Gerwig as the sweet optimist. The story has a few laughs, a few endearing moments, and even a few emotional moments. But, ultimately, how much you enjoy this film will come down to how you feel about Brand in the lead role. The whole production is built around Brand, and you either take to his comedic styling or you won't. The whole seems to rest on how he carries the wild scenes of the film. I found it entertaining and somewhat endearing and actually liked the film m…

Scream Again

I remember the first time I saw "Scream." It took a little convincing to get my parents to pick it up off the rental shelves, but then we popped it in. It wasn't a big hit with all my family, so I watched most of it myself.
I was instantly drawn the style of the film. While following the conventions of the genre, it poked fun at the conventions of the genre, then turned the formula on its head a bit. The writing was crisp, the story was interesting, and the film revived the slasher genre.
When I was in college, I actually cited "Scream" as the re-birth of the slasher genre in a research paper on the art form. Some may not be that interested in slasher films, and of course I'll admit they're an acquired taste, but I've always found the films entertaining. From a strictly film theory standpoint, there are some interesting things to consider with the slasher genre. Not the least of which is that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the modern slasher …

The Secular Bible

Sometimes people have a hard time with the supernatural aspect of the Bible. Many see it as full of good values, wise teachings, and moral lessons, even if they don't accept that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, came down to Earth and performed miracles, died, and rose again.
One of the things that drove me crazy about "The Truth Project" was the assertion that this country was formed by ardent Christians. It wasn't. Some were, sure, but others were deists at best. My favorite example is Thomas Jefferson, who arguably believed in a God and read a bible, but not the same one you and I do. Jefferson removed any references to the supernatural, or miracles, from his bible. He, essentially, created a book of wise, moral teachings to guide his life.
Well Thomas Jefferson would probably be pleased with the work of British academic AC Grayling, who recently published "The Good Book: A Humanist Bible." Grayling, an atheist, felt that people had a craving for inspirati…

Soul Surfer

There are a lot of things in our lives that we take for granted. Simple things that we do, simple things that we love, simple things that we don't think about much during our day-to-day routine.
Then something comes along and changes that. I couldn't help but think about that on Friday as I saw the story of Bethany Hamilton told in the new film, "Soul Surfer."
Hamilton was one of the hottest junior surfers in the country in fall 2003. She was sponsored by Rip Curl and seemed on her way to a professional career. She surfed every day, including the morning of Oct. 31, 2003. But on that morning, a 14-foot Tiger shark altered the course of her career and life, taking off most of her left arm.
Hamilton could have despaired. She could have given up surfing because, with just one arm, it proved quite difficult. But she didn't. Guided by her heart, determined spirit and, most importantly, her faith, Hamilton taught herself to surf with one arm and returned to the competitiv…

Analyzing the Creed

We've been going over the Apostles' Creed the past three weeks. Though the information and ideas featured in the Creed aren't new to me, I realized that this exploration has helped me to think about them again, sometimes in a new way.
Today was an example of that. I think one of the lines we tend to blow past is "He descended into Hell." I know it's not something I ever really dwelled on. Intellectually it makes sense, but it's hard to grasp when you really think about it. Jesus Christ, the only perfect man to ever live, son of the living God, descended to the worst place imaginable.
In fact, if you really consider the whole middle part of the creed, it's almost too fantastic to be believed. You start with the virgin birth. I remember when I was watching "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace," and Anakin's mother said he was conceived by the force. Basically Anakin was the product of a virgin birth. I laughed. It was too ridiculous to …

Summer Movie Preview, Pt. 2

Yesterday I took a look at the releases awaiting us in May and June, now it's time to take a look at the movies coming in the back half of summer. While July looks to be a potentially solid month, don't expect a lot out of August — unless you're a fan of sequels, horror movies, or a combination of both.
July 1 — Transformers: Dark of the Moon Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Leonard Nimoy, Hugo Weaving, and Peter Cullen Preview: In my post on Wednesday, I mentioned that I am a Michael Bay fan. Bay is the perfect director for the blockbuster summer season. While I'll admit that the second "Transformers" film wasn't great, this one looks to be a little more interesting. Plus, it now has the voice talents of Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, to give it a little more sci-fi cred. I am excited to see what will come of this film.
July 1 — Larry Crowne Starring: Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks Preview: On the opposite side of the spectrum from "Transformers," w…

Summer Movie Preview, Pt. 1

Since the summer movie season typically runs from the first weekend in May through August (four months of action films, crass comedies, and animated sequels), I decided to break the preview into two parts. Today I'll look at May and June, with July and August tomorrow.
Looking at the May schedule, this looks to be one of the biggest gamble years I've seen. There is little in the first four weeks that looks like a sure bet, and several that give me moments of pause.
May 6 — Thor Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, and Idris Elba Preview: I think superhero fatigue is officially staring to set in, and this summer isn't going to help. There are plenty of superhero films on the docket this summer, starting with "Thor." This is a rather fringe comic book figure and, though it boasts a decent cast, I'm not sure it will work. The last time a director known for angsty drama tried his hand at a superhero film, Ang Lee gave us "The Hulk." …

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new, holiday-themed film I saw last week. As a bonus, below that are reviews of the new series/mini-series playing on the pay cable networks.
Hop Starring: James Marsden, Kaley Cuoco, and the voices of Russell Brand, Hank Azaria, and Hugh Laurie Synopsis: "Hop" tries to do for Easter what so many films have done for Christmas. It's a light, fluffy, colorful tribute to the Easter Bunny. The story focuses on the heir-apparent to the big job — EB (Brand) — who would rather spend life as a drummer. His father (Laurie) tries to hand down the Easter Bunny mantle, but EB flees to Hollywood. There he meets a down-on-his-luck Fred (Marsden), and slap-stick comedy ensues. The film is directed by the director of "Alvin and the Chipmunks," and employs much the same style. It is a hybrid of live action and CGI creatures. There is a good look and a bright color palette, but that can't help the story. The script — from the writing team behind "D…

Action Films

With Faith and Film on hiatus, I thought I'd return to offering some of my personal favorite films in particular categories. We are on the cusp of the summer movie season (usually regarded as the first weekend in May through August). On Friday and Saturday, I'll post a few of the movies this summer that I'm excited about and some that I think might be disasters in the making.
But to get in that summer movie spirit, I thought I'd add my list of my favorite action movies. As with previous lists, films only appear on one category list, so I picked the ones I thought fit best in each category.
5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan Why I Like It: This is an interesting blend of action and comedy that pops off the screen. This was one of the first bright spots on Robert Downey, Jr's comeback trail. Of course he's been everywhere the past few years — headlining the "Iron Man" and "Sherlock Holmes"…

The Joy of Cooking

I have never been the greatest or most adventurous cook. I'm OK with simple and I have no moral objection to frozen meals. All that has posed a serious challenge as I've undertaken a new nutrition program.
I started on Sunday, and this first week is quite a radical shift. In the first seven days, the goal is to cleanse the system of all the processed, unhealthy foods we normally consume. (I think that's probably true of the pizza I ate a couple days last week, among other things). One of the mandates, which I didn't think much of at the time, was that the seasoning that I used to cook needed to be sugar and or salt free.
Apparently that washed over me because I don't read labels. Because when I started reading labels, I discovered that really limits the options. It's amazing the ways that sugars and sugar derivatives enter our lives. I think that could actually be a good analogy for the problem of sin, but that's probably another blog post...
So last night, as…

The First Crime Family

I remember the first time I saw "The Godfather." There was something engrossing about the film. It wasn't just the story, it was the characters, and the way the story was brought to life. It instantly became one of my favorite films, and still is to this day.
Then I read the novel. Though I still love the film, I was amazed at the depth of the book. I think I finished the novel — which is fairly long and detailed — in about two days. I was in college at the time, and I couldn't put the book down. Of course, I'm not sure how my assignments went that week.
Later, when I was reading about "The Godfather," I learned that author Mario Puzo had been inspired by a real life family. It wasn't an Italian mob family in the 1940s, but rather a Spanish family in the 1400s. Puzo's fascination with the Borgia family (whose patriarch was Pope Alexander VI) led to his final book, "The Family."
Now, the Borgia family is getting more publicity through a ne…

Crazy Love

Sometimes reading a book cuts to the heart of things you hadn't really considered. Everyone learns and processes information differently. I prefer to ponder.
Some people make connections quickly when they hear things. I tend to like to take some time and quietly process things on my own. In reading the latest book from Francis Chan, "Crazy Love," I feel like that's the process I've had to use.
Chan has a wonderful way of making you consider and explore these enormous topics in a really personal way. Like in chapter three, when he broaches the topic of God's love.
Chan correctly points out that God's love is this enormous concept that it can be hard to wrap our mind around. Sometimes I think that's where the disconnect between intellectual knowledge and real knowledge are different. You can know something in your mind that isn't real to you. Sometimes, you don't even realize it isn't real to you in a tangible way.
I think that can happen with t…

Our Role as Christians

If you wanted to sum up the directions Jesus offered us as Christians into a few short points, I think you could note the greatest commandment and the great commission.
In Matthew 22:37-40, "Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Then, after dying on the cross for us and rising on the third day, Jesus concluded his time on Earth with a message about how we were to demonstrate those commandments in reaching the world. In Matthew 28:16-20 it says, "Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing the…

Faith in Film 2, Wrap Up

I want to thank all of you who participated in this round of Faith in Film. Like the last time, I appreciated all your insight and comments. I thank you so much for allowing me to share my passion and thoughts with all of you, and I hope that it was an interesting and engaging experience.
I plan to offer the class again in the future and, as with this time, I hope to incorporate specific suggestions and suggestions for genres of films as much as possible. I passed out the survey for the course the last three weeks of our meetings and have received a few back. I would be happy to take responses via this blog site as well.
To that end, I've included the survey questions below. Please feel free to respond directly and, again, thanks to all those who attended and participated. The class would be nothing without your active participation and I am humbled to be able to share my passion for faith and film with you each week.
Thanks, Matt
Survey questions: Do you feel Faith in Film has been a g…