Showing posts from February, 2012

Leap Day

"Time is a monster that cannot be reasoned with. It responds like a snail to our impatience, then it races like a gazelle when you can't catch a breath." — Joe Wentworth, "Simon Birch"
Today is Leap Day. Every four years (well mostly) we get an extra day. That's right, 2012 will be 366 days. The fact is most of us probably don't consider that much accept that it makes it more confusing about what day it is because we're so used to the shortened February setting. But this extra day really should be considered a gift, especially in our world today.
Over the summer, I was fascinated by a series on CNN which dubbed America the "No Vacation Nation." Basically, the crux of the argument centered on the approach to work and life in America as opposed to other countries. We work more hours and more days, pushing our family to the side. In other places — like Europe — the priorities are a little different.
That's what makes me think about Leap Day …

Atheist or Agnostic

Richard Dawkins is one of the world's most famous atheists, except that recently he said he's not an atheist. During a discussion on religion, he said he prefers to be called an agnostic. While that's not a profession of faith, it's certainly an interesting leap forward, especially for people who follow Dawkins.
A lot of people may not understand the subtle difference between the two. An Atheist, of course, believes there is no God. An Atheist, essentially, believes in nothing — at least from a spiritual standpoint. They would like believe in science or the morality and general goodness of man.
An Agnostic probably doesn't believe in God, but is someone who admits they aren't sure. That might seem like a small distinction, but to me it's huge. This is what Dawkins said of his position — "Prof Dawkins said that he was “6.9 out of seven” sure of his beliefs. 'I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low,' he added.&qu…

Oscar Upsets

Well, the Academy Awards came and went yesterday and went (mostly) as expected. That doesn't mean there weren't a few surprises... Below I'm going to look at a couple of the races that didn't go as predicted, and one that did, and look at what it says about the Academy and movies.
Best Actress: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady." Let me preface this by saying that Meryl Streep did a fantastic job, as per usual, with this role. Her acting ability is not in question. She is great, and has been great over the course of her career. That being said, I was not only surprised, but a little disappointed when her name was called. Of course, this is where subjectivity comes into the process. Of the five nominated performances, I saw four of the films — Glen Close in "Albert Nobbs," Rooney Mara in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," Viola Davis in "The Help," and Streep. Of those I saw, I would have ranked the performances in this order — Mara, Dav…

Fearless Oscar Predictions

That title is misleading. I am very fearful... of being awesome. For years I have won my family picks pool. I hope for more of the same this year. My mom is hoping to best me. We'll see how it goes, but below are my picks for who will win, and who should win this year's races.
Best Documentary, Short Subject: This is a toss up, because no one sees documentary short subject films because we don't live in LA or New York. However, there are some interesting films in the category (based on their descriptions). Will Win: Saving Face
Best Documentary, Feature: "Undefeated" is a feel-good story, so too is the documentary dedicated to Pina Bausch. However, "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" is an important film about an important issue concerning all Americans and our justice system. Will Win: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Best Short, Animated: Again, no idea. I haven't seen these, so it's a guess. I will go with my interesting name theory. Will Win: The Fantastic Flying…

Upcoming Releases — March

With February nearly gone, and the Academy Awards nearly behind us, we move toward an interesting mix of highly anticipated and big budget films this March, as well as a few smaller ones. Here's a look at what's coming up.
Friday, March 2: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax — Here we have our first big animated feature of the year. With a hot voice cast (Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Danny Devito, among them), a fun theme, and a big marketing push, this certainly seems like an animated winner.
Project X — Not much is known about this film save for the fact that it's a wild, teen party film. Then again, I guess that pretty much says it all.
Friday, March 9: John Carter — This is a big budget sci-fi epic (rumors of $250 million production). The film is meant to kick start a series, but the ads are weird and those unfamiliar with the source material likely will have trouble getting a feel for the film. Could be the first big money loser of the year, despite a massive publicity campaign.

Academy Awards — Interesting Races

The Academy Awards are on Sunday night, and while I'll have my full picks on Sunday, I thought I'd look at some other interesting races today in preparation for the big day.
Best Director: This is an interesting battle that comes down to a few different styles. Two of the nominees are being recognized for their artistic achievement. Woody Allen stepped out of his typical comfort zone to deliver a little something different with "Midnight in Paris." In the same way, Terrance Malick delivered the most original of this year's nominees with "Tree of Life." On the flip side, Alexander Payne delivered perhaps his best movie with "The Descendants" and Martin Scorsese showed his softer side with "Hugo." But all four of them will likely lose out to Michel Hazanavicius and his work on "The Artist." It's hard to compare these films, based on their styles, but certainly several of them have to be considered artistic achievements due …

Now Playing

With the Academy Awards coming up on Sunday, there is still plenty of time to catch some of this year's nominees on the Big Screen. Below is a list of nominees that are now playing in theaters in SLO County. You still have time to catch them before the big Awards Show on Sunday.
Best Picture: The Artist Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bernice Bejo, John Goodman, and James Cromwell Synopsis: This is one of the most lauded films of 2011, and for good reason. "The Artist" is artful, whimsical, and daring. It is a black and white silent film about a silent film star coming to grips with the end of the silent film era. In a day and age where studios are intent on pushing forward with 3D and special effects technology, this film is a throwback to a simpler era when a film was defined by its story and performances. Both are first rate in this film. And if it took a silent film to introduce U.S. audiences to the talents of Dujardin and Bejo — French film stars — then keep them coming. Both…

What Will You Give Up?

Ash Wednesday is today. This is the official beginning of Lent, and a time that is usually set aside to sacrifice and prepare your heart for Easter.
This 40-day period, which excludes Sundays, is a time to pray, sacrifice, and quiet our hearts in preparation for Easter. The period draws upon the Biblical model offered by Jesus, who spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert prior to beginning His earthly ministry.
The tradition of Lent is one of personal sacrifice. Often, believers will give something up during the period of Lent as a symbolic sacrifice in the days leading up to the remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It can be something simple or complex, the only thing that matters is that it’s a personal sacrifice made to God.
The question to ask, is what will you give up for Lent this year? It can be something practical, economical, or deeply personal. It doesn't matter what you give up as long as it makes a connection to your heart and is truly a sacrifice. As we …

Education Reform

Education should be about what's best for the kids. That is the whole premise Michelle Rhee brought to bear as she took over as Chancellor of the public schools in Washington, D.C. She was not a career education administrator, rather she is an idealist and a reformer. She was brought to D.C. by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty with one mission — to fix the worst school district in the nation.
Rhee, her time in D.C., and the lessons she learned there are chronicled brilliantly in the book "The Bee Eater," by Richard Whitmire. It was a fascinating, compelling and, at times, sad book to read. But for those of us who care about education, and a system that seems stuck in the mud, there are rays of encouragement and reason to fear no real change can be made.
I first came across Rhee while watching the documentary "Waiting for Superman." That film, which I named one of the best of 2011, is compelling, fascinating, and heart-breaking. It's heart-breaking because it chronicle…

Significant Sacrifice

Significant Sacrifice kicks off on Wednesday, and Highlands will be supporting BloodWater:Mission this year. Below is a copy of the article I put in the February newsletter that talks a little about the group and the season of Lent.
Though Easter happens in April, the season leading up to Easter begins much earlier. The work for preparing your heart for Easter begins much earlier with the season of Lent.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which takes place this year on Feb. 22. Ash Wednesday begins the 40-day period of Lent which leads up to Easter and Holy Week. The 40-day period, which excludes Sundays, is a time to pray, sacrifice, and quiet our hearts in preparation for Easter. The period draws upon the Biblical model offered by Jesus, who spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert prior to beginning His earthly ministry.
The tradition of Lent is one of personal sacrifice. Often, believers will give something up during the period of Lent as a symbolic sacrifice in the days leading …

Reaching Non-Believers

"Faith is a gift I have not yet received." — Professor Langdon, "Angels and Demons"
I love that moment in "Angels and Demons" when the priest, played by Ewan McGreggor, asks Professor Langdon if he believes in God. Now, I realize that much of organized religion has been critical of the Langdon films — "Angels and Demons" and "The Da Vinci Code" — and, certainly, there are reasons for that. The films aren't theologically sound, yet there are moments of genuine searching in "Angels and Demons."
In that sequence, Langdon responds that he has a problem with organized religion, but McGreggor pushes him further. Langdon says that his head tells him he'll never understand God and his heart tells him he isn't meant to. That is the great question we all must wrestle with. That, is faith.
Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." At some point, in other w…

Best Picture Nominees — The Favorites

I conclude my look at this year's Best Picture nominees with the two films most likely to win the big prize — "The Artist" and "The Descendants." Both are great movies, but you'd be hard pressed to find two more different films.
The Artist Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bernice Bejo, and John Goodman Synopsis: This is a silent film about a silent film star coming to grips with the end of the silent film era. If that sounds like a strange concept for 2012, it is. It's also a wonderful concept and a wonderful film. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has created a love letter to a bygone era of filmmaking. This is something that Martin Scorsese did with "Hugo" as well, but "The Artist" is a more daring artistic creation and a more even film. That's part of what makes it special. It is a throwback in an era of loud, noisy, and technological filmmaking. It takes great pains to feel authentic in terms of being part of a different era, which ma…

The "Glee" Connundrum

When it first premiered, "Glee" seemed like a fun, new kind of show. It was a musical that had the trappings of modern comedy. And, it found a niche in showcasing the underdog. That first season seemed to solidify those things, but then something happened.
"Glee" fell prey to two problems. First, it seemed to try to hard from the second season on to connect with the mainstream. That meant playing the hottest modern music, brining in a large collection of "special guest stars," and connecting with current hot topics. That can be fun, but it also means the shows appear dated.
But the second problem looms largely, and better explains the reason that the ratings have waned. The show decided to latch onto a political topic and exploit a certain point of view. The initial goals for that were probably noble. But the result has been a show that seems to wedded to being about causes and political statements — often to the detriment of the narrative.
The show has take…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new films I saw this week.
Albert Nobbs Starring: Glen Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson, and Maria Doyle Kennedy Synopsis: "Albert Nobbs" is one of the films making the rounds thanks to the Academy Award recognition of its performances. And Close — who plays Nobbs — and McTeer both offer great performances worthy of nomination consideration. That's what makes this a tough movie to evaluate. There is a difference between the quality of the production and technique, and the quality of the story, at least for me. Technically, the film is done beautifully. The beats work, the way it's put together works, and the film deftly balances lighter comedic moments and drama. The performances are rich, and really drive the film. Close does an incredible job in a tough role that forces her to stretch in some different ways. McTeer also offers a great performance, as does the rest of the supporting cast. The setting and way t…

Prayer and Sacrifice

What would you be willing to give up if God answered the deepest prayer of your heart? That's the question that springs to mind when I read about Hannah at the start of 1 Samuel.
Hannah had a deep desire to have a child. She prayed for it earnestly for a long time, but it didn't happen. That didn't keep her from praying and offering a sacrifice to God. That sacrifice was the very thing she deeply desired. 1 Samuel 1:11 says, "And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
God heard Hannah's prayers — all of them — and he answered them. And when her son, Samuel, was born, she fulfilled her promise and gave him back to God. I have heard this story plenty of times, as I'm sure many believers have, but that is incredible when you stop to think about it.

A Love Story

"True love lasts a lifetime." — Karen, "Love Actually"
A couple years ago I was at a conference at Mariner's Church. There was a speaker on the list — Richard Curtis — and I made a big deal about not wanting to miss a minute of his interview. Most of the people there just stared at me, confused.
You see, it was a church conference run by Willow Creek, and Curtis isn't a church person. He's a writer/director. He's worked on the Mr. Bean films, did "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and, of course, wrote and directed my favorite romantic comedy, "Love Actually." This being Valentine's Day, I thought I'd give the movie a shout-out.
The film was released in 2003, and is the rare gem that works for two major holidays. It's set in and around Christmas, so it's a great Christmas film. But it's also about relationships — all kind of relationships — which makes it a great romantic comedy as well.
My favorite of the stories inv…

Walking Despair

“There is no hope and you know it now!” — Herschel, "The Walking Dead."
If I had to choose between zombies and vampires — and I mean this for multimedia purposes — I would choose zombies. It's fair to say that "Twilight" forever ruined vampires. Meanwhile, zombie movies and shows seem to provide fodder for action, comedy, drama, and musings on the importance of hope.
It's the latter that has become an interesting focus for "The Walking Dead," the AMC show based on a graphic novel. The stated purpose of the graphic novel, and hence the show, is to examine what happens in the zombie movie after the closing credits — after the main characters survive an epic showdown and are forced to live in the ruined zombie world. You know, the less fun part that would have happened after the zombie clown showdown in "Zombieland."
That sort of intrigues me. When we did the End Times class last summer, one of the cultural theories of the end of the world we …

Get Out of A Bad Routine

It may seem weird to those of you who see me every Sunday at Highlands, but there was a time when I didn't attend church. It was right out of college and I was burned out in general, and burned out on church in specific.
I had attended Christian college where I was surrounded by the Bible and Scriptures. I was a little burned out on "church," and that made it easier for me to fall into an unhealthy routine. For me, it was a total devotion to the NFL.
I worked pretty much six days a week covering sports, often at the office or in the field Monday through Saturday, so by the time Sunday came along, I was spent. Then I found Direct Sunday Ticket. For those of you not familiar with this magical gift from heaven, it's a package on satellite that offers every game in every market on Sundays. Every game. And it has a channel that has eight games playing at once.
So a new Sunday routine was born. I'd get up at 8 a.m. I'd get coffee and watch regional pregame. Then I'…

Best Picture Nominees — The Contenders

I continue my look at Best Picture nominees this week with a group I'm calling the contenders. These are three films with a pedigree that you could see winning, but are not considered frontrunners. (We'll look at the frontrunners next week).
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Starring: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Viola Davis, and Max Von Sydow Synopsis: This is an obvious choice, and it isn't. Based on pedigree — including a decorated cast and director Stephen Daldry — it seems like a lock for serious consideration. The subject matter is compelling, and the story has all the elements. But it was a late entry into the fray and seems to have — to some degree — gotten lost in the shuffle. This is an excellent crop of films in the Best Picture race. When I was picking my favorite films I saw in 2011 (this film wasn't out yet, and thus wasn't in the discussion), I had trouble putting them in a definitive order at the top because so many were solid, quality fil…

Academy Award Preview — Acting Races

With just a couple weeks to the big awards show, I continue my look at this year's nominees with a look at the acting races. This year features some fierce competition and some incredible work.
Best Actor: Of the five nominees, it seems that two are the likely candidates. Demian Bichir, Brad Pitt, and Gary Oldman all did good work. All are being recognized for those efforts — with Bichir and Oldman being nominated for the first time. But none of their films really seems to be a strong Academy Award contender, with only Pitt's "Moneyball" being among the Best Picture nominees. Though all three did fine work, their prize is likely to be a nomination. That leaves us with George Clooney and Jean Dujardin. Both headlined incredible films that are favorites in the Best Picture race. Both turned in great performances, arguably career best. But both performances and candidates are radically different. I was incredibly drawn to Clooney's performance because it feels like he…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw last week.
Big Miracle Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, and Ted Danson Synopsis: This film is based on the true story of three California Grey Whales that were trapped in the ice off a remote port in Alaska in 1988. The film features some real news footage, follows the historical timeline, and tries to tell the story of the people who helped free the whales, and how it changed their lives. On paper, this is a warm, family-friendly film. It also feels like good counter programming to the Super Bowl (as it opened Super Bowl weekend), but it didn't make a lot at the Box Office. One of the questions has to be why? The answer is that, though the movie has its charms, it's not incredible. The performances are passable. Barrymore does a nice job in the lead role, and the best performer in the film is Krasinski, who brings the same charm and comedic timing he has on "The Office" to this role. The story is mildly h…

Boardwalk Empire

"You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time." — Harvey Dent, "The Dark Knight"
I have never been to Atlantic City, New Jersey, but I became a little fascinated with it when watching the show "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO. The show, which is a fictional account of the city during the era of prohibition, offered a fascinating look and appreciation for Atlantic City in its prime. So when I was at Barnes & Noble and found a book called "Boardwalk Empire" by Nelson Johnson, I was intrigued.
Though the show offers a fictionalized version of one era of the city, Johnson's book offers a fascinating look at the rise and fall of Atlantic City through the years. The book begins in the 1800s and moves all the way through the modern, Donald Trump era for the city. As I read, an interesting pattern emerged.
Initially little Absecon Island was thought of as a health resort. But, soon, that image changed, and Atlantic City was born. Reading the chr…

Super Bowl XLVI: A Nightmare Revisited

It's been a couple days, but the sad state of the end of the football season lingers. It's almost hard to believe that, four years later, the Super Bowl ended almost the same way it did in 2008.
Heading into Super Bowl XLII, there was little doubt who the better team was. The New England Patriots were 18-0, had already beaten the Giants, and seemed poised to make history. I remember listening to breakdowns of the game the week leading up to it and the debate seemed to center on whether the Patriots would win by 20 points or 30 points.
Then the game happened. I have to say, it was a real low point in my NFL fandom. Watching that game, and the way it played out, was heart-breaking. I couldn't even fully appreciate the fact it was an exciting game because of the outcome... the Giants won, a miracle happened, history was averted.
Four years later, little was on the line in terms of history. Sure, Tom Brady could have cemented his legacy by joining an elite club, but even without …

Battling the Bulge

When I had the chance to give my first message on Jan. 1, I included an illustration about my personal struggle with losing weight. It's a topic I'm happy to talk about, but it's been a life-long battle and, despite the progress I've made in the past few months, it will continue to be a battle all my life.
So many people have come up to me on Sundays and throughout the week and complimented me. It's been encouraging and flattering. Many others have told me their stories or said I'm an inspiration. Frankly, that's humbling. It's not humbling because I don't think of what I've done as a success — I think by any metric it would have to be considered at least somewhat of a success — but it's really because I think I'm just getting started. In some ways, I think this last year was the easy part. The hard part is keeping it going the rest of my life.
There is no magic cure for overcoming weight issues. Some would point to surgery, which can appe…