I’ve watched The Office since it first aired. Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott was brilliantly awkward as was Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute. These characters started out as comic oddballs, but at some point these bizarre guys became characters I didn’t just laugh at but rooted for and cared about. Continue reading
The Bicycle Thief, directed by Vittorio de Sica, was filmed on the streets of Italy in 1948 using mostly non-actors and Roman street settings. Considered a classic of “neorealism” the film is a social commentary on the effects of poverty and defeat. The economy has tanked, and the nation is recovering from Mussolini and from being on the losing end of World War II. De Sica points an unwavering lens on the reality of soup lines, unemployment, tight apartments in decaying neighborhoods, stressed, reactive sniping and scrambling for position. Everywhere there is evidence of a fraying, hungry culture. Continue reading
In State of Play a reporter, Cal McCaffrey, is investigating a possible suicide by the aide of Congressman Stephen Collins, who had been his college roommate. Collins approaches him for help after it becomes public that the married Collins had been in a relationship with his aide. To further complicate matters, McCaffrey had an affair with Mrs. Collins and the three had been friends in college. Pretty much everyone’s relationship status could be marked “complicated”, except cub reporter Della Frye played by Rachel McAdams. Continue reading
It doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it might have taken itself a wee bit more seriously. Compared to the previous movies in the series, Ironman Three felt just a little campy.
It had all the expected archetypes and basic plot line that made it feel to me like it was wearing a sign that said “superhero movie.” Not to say it wasn’t fun. The writing in Ironman Three was funny. Stuff blew up. There were cool gadgets. I do love the Marvel characters and I have to say Ironman Three disappointed a little there.
Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin was a trip. I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who haven’t seen it. His trickster villain was my favorite part of the movie. Continue reading
After watching Elephant I felt a little like the priest in Rashomon, which I wrote about yesterday. The event it depicts is enough to shake one’s hope for the future and faith in the goodness of humanity. Elephant is a fictionalized movie about a school shooting inspired by the Columbine school shooting.
Like Rashomon, Elephant tells the story of a school shooting from a variety of students’ perspectives. The title comes from the story about several blind men trying to describe an elephant in which none of them actually can describe the entire beast. The film shows the same event and time period from different characters’ perspectives. It does not sensationalize violence. Roger Ebert said that “Van Sant has made an anti-violence film by draining violence of energy, purpose, glamor, reward and social context.” It was disturbing without being at all thrilling.Continue reading
Rashomon, a 1950 Japanese film by director Akira Kurosawa, is a favorite of directors and a film school staple. A samurai and his wife are attacked on the road by a bandit who rapes the wife and allegedly kills the husband. There are four witnesses to the murder, the three people involved and a woodcutter who witnessed it in secret. They each give differing accounts. Everybody lies, even the spirit of the deceased samurai and the supposedly disinterested woodcutter.
The story takes place several centuries ago and is told as the woodcutter, a priest, and a ragged stranger take refuge from the rain at the dilapidated city gatehouse called Rashomon. The priest and woodcutter had testified at the trial of the bandit. The priest had found the wife hiding in his temple and woodcutter had testified to finding the body, not to witnessing the crime. The action switches between the telling of the story at the gate, the forest where the attack took place, and the open air court. If the conflicting stories of the wife and bandit weren’t interesting enough, through a medium, the samurai also testifies. The woodcutter insists that a spirit can lie because he, too had witnessed the murder and knew what happened. His testimony is suspect in the eyes of the stranger because he suspects that the woodcutter stole an expensive dagger, the missing murder weapon in the wife’s story, from the scene of the crime. Continue reading
May 2. Tonight I watched Trek Nation, a documentary in which Eugene Roddenberry takes his own trek to learn about his famous father Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry died when Eugene was 17. Eugene knew him as a flawed and somewhat distant father. He hadn’t really understood the significance of his father’s creation. In fact, he’s more of a Star Wars guy. Continue reading
In April I began a personal challenge. I saw a Ted Talk by Matt Cutts, Try Something New for 30 Days. So In April I wrote a poem every day. In May I am going to see a movie I haven’t seen and blog on it. I plan to blog every day instead of randomly. I’ll blog on some new movies that I see in theaters or on Netflix, but I have the Criterion Collection on Hulu and decided to watch some things that interest me from that Collection. I started with…
May 1 My Life as a Dog
Lasse Hallstrom’s 1985 film captures 12-year-old Ingemar’s experience with grief. His perspective is a jumble because adults make decisions about his life without explaining them. And because he’s a kid and processes experiences like a kid.
His mother is terminally ill and his beloved dog has been taken away. The adult who seems to be making decisions for his mother about the boys may be a relative. Whoever he is, he gives him no details about either of them. Ingemar has been branded a troublemaker and told he is too much for his mother to handle. His relationship with his older brother is shaky at best and the two are separated and sent to live with different relatives.
Ingemar responds to a series of impressions, trying to make sense of what is happening in his world. He copes in a number of ways that are both childlike and profound. Continue reading
Back in the 90′s I listened to the music of Rich Mullins and Michael Card a lot. Both musicians were greatly influenced by Brennan Manning’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel. Mullins was so impacted by the ideas in this book that he named his band The Ragamuffin Band and now the working title for the upcoming movie about Mullins’ life is A Ragamuffin’s Legacy.
That legacy extends to so many of authors and artists of the past thrity years. Apparently some of the members of U2 read Manning. I see Manning’s influence in the works of Phillip Yancy and Donald Miller and in worship lyrics like “beautiful, scandalous night.” Michael W. Smith wrote the forward to the stack of copies of Ragamuffin that sit in our living room waiting to be given away. Like Mullins and so many others, I am part of that Ragamuffin legacy.
Reading The Ragamuffin Gospel challenged me to reconsider some of the practices and attitudes I was bringing into my relationship with God and into how I communicated the message of grace to other people. Manning called out my “imposter” and started me on the road to recovery.
I struggle with fear and insecurity the way Brennan Manning struggled with alcohol. What if I believe the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing? What if I get crossways with the people who define “the wrong thing”? What if I give someone the wrong impression of Jesus? What if God’s grace has limits and I’ve exceeded them? What if I lose love? I spent long periods of my life, sometimes years, frozen in place because I was afraid. To paraphrase Ragamuffin, I had “confused my perception of myself with the mystery that I really am accepted.”
Ragamuffin helped me to experience God’s love without the fear. Even after my personal relationship with Christ took an emotional and intellectual turn, it took years for me to be vulnerable and authentic with some of the people in my life. I still have lapses of insecurity. I flounder around socially and relationally, especially when I am outside my comfort zone – and lately it seems that I am always outside my comfort zone. More than anything anyone else has ever said to reassure me, Brennan Manning gave me permission to proceed in my scandalous imperfection.
SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t finished all of Prison Break don’t read this post. I don’t want to ruin it for you!
I just finished watching all four seasons of Prison Break this week. It is the archetypical sacrifical hero story. Michael creates a brilliant plan to free his brother Lincoln from prison by becoming one of the prisoners. He has a gift for seeing the whole picture. He tatoos his plan on his entire body. A diverse collection of prisoners become involved in his plot and follow him to freedom.
Michael and Sara the prison doctor fall in love. Sara abandons her prison of addiction to follow Michael toward freedom as well. Over four seasons they find themselves escaping from a series of prisons and held captive in a variety of scenarios as they discover they are entangled in a conspiracy of powerful evil forces.Continue reading
Silver Linings Playbook is about two people who are both facing emotional challenges. Both Pat and Tiffany face mental health issues that concern their families and friends. Both are experiencing pain and loss and making destructive choices to deal with those. Continue reading
I thought the Allstate Super Bowl commercial that casts Mayhem as the influence of evil was genius.Mayhem doesn’t just weave his way through History, he also impacts individuals, wreaking havoc in minivans and suburban neighborhoods as well as on battlefields. He is a first-third world problem.
After seeing the latest Die Hard installment it occurred to me that John McClane must be one of Mayhem’s favorite targets. Through five movies over twenty-five years Mayhem has followed around John McClane. At times John has seemed like a willing participant in this chaos, but most of the time, especially in the earlier movies, he’s cast as a guy who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time more times than any odds of coincidence can stretch. Continue reading
Zero Dark Thirty is gripping and slow at the same time. The story is about these necessarily anonymous men and women who devoted years of their lives to locate Bin Ladin. The pace of the movie certainly mirrors the painstaking process.
The story itself felt real. Imperfect, often irritating individuals work together toward a common end. They disagree. Bosses pull rank. They work around protocol. They lie and deceive, spy and torture as part of their jobs. I kept wondering whether the job influences the person or the person influences the job. Who decides to make a lifestyle out of this?
I have been thinking about Beasts of the Southern Wild for two or three weeks, trying to decide how I feel about it.The accents carried flashes from my childhood in Louisiana, something was vaguely familiar in the fierce independence of the characters. But, like foggy childhood memories, the images in Beasts is full of non-sequiturs and child-like wondering. I have more questions than answers about the community it portrays and the perspective on poverty it presents.
Telling the story from 6-year-old Hushpuppy’s point of view and using the aurochs created a surreal fantasy in a brutally realistic setting. The aurochs are both a metaphor for the extinction of Hushpuppy’s community, the storm, her father’s illness and her fight for survival and yet they appear as real, threatening beasts pounding toward Hushpuppy’s fragile home. Continue reading
Les Miserables is a study in the conflicting motivations of law and grace.
Paroled after twelve bitter years of imprisonment for stealing bread to feed his family, Jean Valjean meets people who are pivotal in setting him on the course of grace. First Monseignor Myriel offers him forgiveness and protection even though the desperate Valjean steals from his church. In doing this he reflects redemptive, magnanimous grace that changes the course of Valjean’s life. In his new life Valjean supports the principles of grace and compassion, but has not fully integrated his attitude into his business practices. He must face the consequences that his negligence has on Fantine. Continue reading
In The Lord of the Rings Bilbo warns Frodo that “it’s a dangerous business going out your front door.” In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure it’s also a dangerous business answering your front door. Gandalf sends thirteen dwarves to Bilbo’s home having told them that Bilbo is right for the job of the burglar.
Gandalf offers a couple of reasons for choosing Bilbo to take this adventure. The first is practical: Bilbo is small and light on his feet. Though he has never burgled anything, nor does he have the disposition of a burglar or an adventurer, Gandalf sees beyond who Bilbo appears to be and appreciates who he is and recognizes who he may become. But Gandalf’s choice of burglar was unexpected for the dwarves and, perhaps, a bit disappointing.Continue reading
Flight was tough to watch. Denzel Washington’s Whip was a believable, heartbreaking drunk. Denial and rationalization are hallmarks of addiction and Whip is a master. His careful, studied movements suggest the perception of control that is not there. Most drunks are certain they aren’t that drunk. Most drunks are pretty sure they are functional until they hit the floor. Whatever grand deed he may have accomplished, Whip is just like most drunks. Continue reading
Pride makes Clark Griswold do stupid things in Christmas Vacation. In fact, pride is a driving motivation for Clark in all the Vacation movies. His gloriously ridiculous light show, buying things for his family before he has the money and hiding his fears and problems from his family reveal the pressure he feels to measure up to the man he thinks he is supposed to be. When he finds out about his bonus Clark feels devalued by his boss and is devastated, not only that he might disappoint his family, but that in disappointing them he might lose their love and respect. Christmas Vacation is a reminder that love and worth are not determined by deliverables.
In The Nightmare Before Christmas Jack Skellington envies Santa and wants his job. Bored with his own role as king of Halloweentown, when Jack discovers Christmastown he finds it so much more appealing that he tries to turn Halloweentown into another Christmastown. Eventually Jack recognizes that he can take the imspiration and renewed energy that he found in Christmastown and bring that to the work he is meant to do. Continue reading
Lincoln centers on the political maneuverings surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Lincoln is portrayed as a real politician who was willing to play the political game in order to get what he wants. Human beings who support good causes are still human beings. Even an idea so pure and profound as “liberty for the captives” in the hands of politicians, even Abraham Lincoln, must be accomplished through bribery, deception, and compromise.
Lincoln is populated with flawed people who are keenly aware they are living in historic times. Lincoln is concerned with getting the amendment passed. Tommy Lee Jones’ sardonic Congressman Thaddeus Stevens is concerned with the message the amendment communicates. He tries to hold true to his ideal of equality, but ends up misrepresenting his true beliefs in order to appeal to less radical Republican factions who want assurances that free does not really mean equal. They fear that free slaves might one day get the vote. Others are concerned with ending the war and vote based on whether they think passing the amendment will hasten or delay its end. And each considers how his actions and beliefs will be perceived by his constituents. Continue reading
SPOILERS Looper is more than a stylish, time-travel thriller. It explores how the past affects the present and the present affects the future. Joe’s well-financed self-centered existence involves fast vehicles, drugs, impersonal sex, and the occasional murder of an anonymous bad guy from the future. In the movie mobsters 30 years in the future send their targets back to 2044, where those targets are killed by paid assassins called loopers. Joe eventually must decide whether or not to “close the loop” and kill his future self, who is sent back. Even before this confrontation Joe’s in-the-moment lifestyle is wearing thin and he is beginning to recognize the devastating effect his choices are having on his spirit.
Joe’s journey takes him out of the city where he meets farmer, Sara, and her troubled son Cid. Joe recognizes his desire for a real relationship, for family, for something deeper than a superficial life full of compromise and violence. Sara’s love for Cid arouses memories of Joe’s own mother and forces him to confront the choices and circumstances that led to his becoming a looper. Joe is faced with decisions about how much his past should inform his present, and the impact that his present decisions are having on his future. Looper also raises the question as to whether knowing the future makes any difference in present decision-making. Is present happiness worth sacrificing the future? Someone else’s future? Is future happiness worth compromising the present? Continue reading
The name of the fictional movie may not have been much of a factor, but the Argo was the ship in Greek mythology that carried Jason on his journey to find the Golden Fleece. Tony Mendez’ story follows this pattern. In the epic hero’s journey the hero is minding his own mundane business when he is called to adventure. He resists the call but finds himself in circumstances that force him to cross the threshold into the unknown and take on a quest. Very often in these myths the quest is determined by forces with more power than the hero. While the hero’s quest seems impossible there is no choice but to meet each challenge and defeat them with strength, wits, and sometimes supernatural help. At some point the hero experiences some sort of real or figuarative death and resurrection involving an internal conflict that could prevent achieving the quest. The hero returns from the journey victorious having achieved his quest and overcome his internal conflict. He returns to a reward that often includes love, celebration, and status. Sometimes when the hero gets home he is faced with more challenges before he receives his full reward. Politics and intrigue aside, the focus of Argo, the real movie, is about getting people home. Tony’s quest to bring others home took him on a journey that brought him home again as well. Argo inspired me to consider my own hero’s journey. Continue reading
The Dark Knight Rises was a credible end to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. On the whole it was a great movie and I liked it a lot. Certain elements were incredibly well done and really satisfying. Even the storytelling choices that I didn’t like made sense. I can’t say they were bad choices, just that I wanted something else.
What I liked best:
1. Catwoman. She is a character who speaks to the present rather than operating entirely off her back story. This makes her decisions much fresher. She is a beautiful picture of the battle between the new man and the old man. She seeks transformation on her own terms but struggles with the actual journey. Catwoman’s transformation and story arc are perfectly played. Continue reading
Season 5 of Breaking Bad airs tonight. So far Breaking Bad has chronicled Walt’s downward spiral, from the moment he becomes a meth cook with motives that he can justify to himself as understandable and admirable, to the final show in season 4 in which Walt seems to have become the very person he once saw as a necessary evil. Gradually, over four seasons,Walt’s desperation and fear have been replaced with the same pride, cunning, and aggression that has elevated his boss Gus Fring to executive status in the drug trade. Continue reading
In his latest movie, Bernie, Richard Linklater pulls back the “pine curtain” and takes an affectionate look at how the small East Texas town of Carthage responded to a shocking murder in the late nineties. Bernie Tiede, a mild-mannered funeral director/Sunday School teacher/leading citizen, kills Marjorie Nugent, a rich 81-year-old widow known as the “meanest woman in town.” The town is split on the extent of judgment or mercy Bernie deserves. Continue reading
Griffith is most remembered for his role as Sherriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Andy Taylor spoke with reason and restraint, humor and compassion. His reactionary deputy Barney Fife was always ready to “Nip it in the bud.” Everything was a crisis and every wrongdoer was a villain for Barney. Andy’s calm response was usually to “have a talk with them.” A talk with Andy led to a better understanding of oneself and one’s responsibility to one’s neighbors.
In the Bible Jesus describes the apostle Bartholomew as a man with no guile. It was a compliment. Andy Taylor was a man with no guile. He was wise and perceptive but never insidious or sly. Captain America in Marvel’s Avengers communicates the same sort of sincerity.Continue reading
Sam and Suzy are both social misfits who feel alone and apart from other people. They meet at a church production of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, an opera about Noah’s Ark, and make an immediate connection. Sam is only on the island for scout camp so they become pen pals. After a year’s correspondence they meet again and run away together when Sam returns for camp. As a huge storm approaches everyone pursues them to bring them back.
Moonlight Kingdom’s director and co-writer Wes Anderson’s storytelling involves attention to detail. Music, sets, and props all support the script in telling the story and communicating theme. Even the name of the town, New Penzance, is carefully chosen. The opera The Pirates of Penzance is about an orphan boy who falls in love at first sight.Continue reading
Not since Snakes on a Plane has the title of a movie made we want to see it as much as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I got what I expected. I’m not saying I wasn’t entertained. I was. The historical details like Lincoln’s mother dying or his job as a shopkeeper lend enough historical accuracy that it actually makes it harder to suspend disbelief. Suspension of disbelief has no power over this movie. It takes a silver bullet through the brain of reason. Once that’s done, it’s a decent ride.
The vampires are the dark, devouring, bloodsucking villains they are supposed to be. No romance here, just scary bad guys who have the advantage of thousands of years experience in fighting and manipulation. Abe Lincoln is believable in appearance and personality. He reacts in much the way one would expect Abe Lincoln to react if he were confronted with vampires. Abe’s sidekicks are decent.The stage was set for an awesome girl fight but Mary Lincoln was as bland as a hospital diet. That was disappointing.Continue reading
Warning – spoilers. The Hunger Games invites comparisons to other totalitarian dystopian movies like Gattica or V for Vendetta, with some Truman Show and Rollerball thrown in. But Sparticus and Gladiator, both set in that real-life dystopia we remember as The Roman Empire, seem like more appropriate comparisons. Characters from the Capitol sport names from the ancient world like Senica and Caesar. The name “Panem” comes from the Roman phrase “bread and circuses”, used by leaders of the empire to describe their strategy for keeping the Roman public happy.
The citizens of the urban seat of government called The Capitol are sheeple who simply accept the games as entertainment and never consider what it would be like to be vulnerable to the lottery. These people have all they need. They cooperate to maintain their well-fed, comfortable, fashionable lifestyles. The government feeds them information and attitudes via media.
The totalitarian government exerts control over the Districts by establishing a cultural/political tradition that calls for each District to offer up two teen “tributes” chosen by lottery to participate in what amounts to a reality-tv-gone-worse death match. The producers of the televised event and the government are one in the same. The government uses the lottery to illicit fear and continue to exact revenge for a nearly 80-year-old attempt at rebellion by the districts. The government also controls the flow of information and resources to the districts. Hunger, poverty, and lack of independence create a sense of helplessness and despair that fuels cooperation.Continue reading
Every life is a story. Blue Like Jazz is the new movie based on Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It opens in theaters this weekend.
The movie, Blue Like Jazz has taken considerable license to fictionalize the series of essay and reflections that make up the book Blue Like Jazz, in order to create a narrative story based on the book’s basic ideas. In fact, the movie Blue Like Jazz emphasizes the aspects of storytelling using the acronym SCCR which stand for setting, conflict, climax, and resolution, a device that links nicely to Don Miller’s more recent projects. Blue Like Jazz is an honest, funny journey through conflict towards resolution.Continue reading
What happened with Invisible Children may have left some of you feeling disillusioned. Some of you may feel manipulated and disappointed and maybe a little foolish. I don’t want to see you discard your idealism and enthusiasm at the altar of discernment. Learning to give is as important as learning to think. My prayer for all of us is in I Cor. 13. May we be able “to bear all things, to believe all things, to hope all things, and to endure all things.” Continue reading