Jan 14 2018

The New New Hope for Star Wars – Why the current trilogy is worthy of The New Hope trilogy but The Phantom Menace still isn’t


In 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope hit cinemas and started the successful Star Wars film franchise. Sixteen years later writer-director George Lucas, who also wrote and directed A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983) numbered IV, V, and VI had the advantage of better special effects technology, but The Phantom Menace, numbered I is by far the worst of the Star Wars films. After that one standing in line for the midnight show didn’t seem like an imperative anymore.  The shine was off the star for me and II and III did little to restore the shine. Then 2015’s The Force Awakens gave back the shine and 2017’s The Last Jedi brought back the whole vibe that made the New Hope trilogy so great. (To avoid confusion I don’t want to use “first trilogy.”) Continue reading

Mar 25 2017

What I thought about The Shack


I saw The Shack a few weeks ago when it first came out. I didn’t write anything. I liked it. I didn’t love it. Subsequently there has been a barrage of criticism from fundamentalist Christians over it’s message. The film got a green splat on Rotten Tomatoes but an 85% approval rating from audiences. So what is one to make of this? In spite of some if its shortcomings as a film, the story struck an emotional chord with many people.

Mack, played by Sam Worthington, is a grieving father dealing with the disappearance and presumed murder of his young daughter. Understandably he’s asking the big question many people ask when something horrible happens: How could God let this happen? How do I go on after tragedy? Where is justice? His questions lead him back to last place she is known to have been, a shack in the Washington woods. There the Triune God meets him where he is. Continue reading

Jan 6 2017

I keep seeing Arrival


Arrival is one of those movies I can’t stop thinking about. It offers a complex, intriguing, enjoyable entertainment experience. It’s well paced, very well acted, especially Amy Adams. To call it a time-travel sci-fi would do it an injustice. Based on The Story of Your Life, a short story by Ted Chiang, Arrival is emotionally, intellectually, and ethically challenging. The film explores the theory of linguistic relativity, time as a linear concept, precognition, cooperation among nations, and romantic and parental love and responsibility. Rather than merely juxtapose the subtleties of linguistics against the pragmatism of military might or pit the emotional/spiritual aspects of human existence against the rational/scientific, the message of Arrival seems to be that everything matters and the fusion of all these things is what makes humans, or cognizant beings from anywhere in any galaxy, self-aware.

When twelve spaceships land at various locations all over the world linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tapped to interpret the language of the aliens for the American government. She and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) interact with the the aliens they call Hepatoids to help the military try to determine whether the aliens’ intentions are hostile. This is happening all over the world as other countries are attempting communication as well, some coming to different conclusions due to their interpretation of alien language. The problem is that the alien language is ambiguous. Typically, world forces refuse to share data. It is division among humans and refusal to communicate that ultimately endangers the world.

SPOILER ALERT – See Arrival before you read further. Continue reading

Jul 6 2016

Swiss Army Man : What did I just see?


Swiss Army Man is weird the way a dream is weird. Things happen and they are tied together but not necessarily in the traditional story-telling sense. It makes sense that since Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, credited as “The Daniels,” direct music videos the storytelling feels like a series of visual impressions that express the sound, whether the sound is music or dialog. The cinematography is really good.

Psychological angst is juxtaposed against scatological humor. Amidst the running fart joke and awkward explanations of sexual attraction and masturbation is a profound examination of despair and isolation. The theme goes beyond the average person stuck on an island. Dano’s Hank is no Chuck Noland (Castaway). Hank is marooned on an island in the Pacific having spent most of his life marooned in his own awkward loneliness.

Often in a story the protagonist in need is provided with a mentor who teaches wisdom and skills, and who provides equipment. Hank is sent Manny, a corpse who washes up on shore. Manny’s body proves useful for Hank’s survival in so many ways, including handy-dandy survival flatulence, Hank compares him to a Swiss army knife. Hank is the one who has to figure out how to use Manny, though. He also has to explain life to Manny who remembers nothing. Manny’s questions and Hank’s responses reveal Hank’s issues.

The odd friendship between Hank and Manny works not because one is a great mentor but because they are both confused and fragile yet become connected and interdependent. Manny helps Hank escape his island, physically and psychologically. The characters are well drawn and well acted. The character development is strong. The psychological and psychic healing that takes place in the story doesn’t play out as expected.

The story’s resolution is unpredictable and not left open to interpretation. In that sense Manny is no Richard Parker (Life of Pi). I felt like the movie was leading up to a more ambiguous ending, but it was kind of refreshing for a film to simply commit to something that everyone won’t necessarily like or even get and say “this is our movie and this is how it ends. Deal. Smile.”  It’s not the sort of movie everyone will like, but I was entertained and engaged watching it and that might be the thing that tips the scales it its favor.

Oct 9 2015

The Martian is a work movie set on Mars


CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS. Some of my friends who saw The Martian voiced the complaint that there was not enough emotional connection between characters in the film. Mark Watney is single. His parents are never shown. There are no flashbacks scenes to Mark’s life on earth, no love interest, nothing to help the audience see what Mark is missing back home and who is missing him. When the action moves from Mark on Mars it is focused on his crew mates and what is happening among NASA personnel scrambling to work the problem back on earth. Gravity already came at the “lost in space” scenario from the emotional/spiritual perspective, so I found this practical approach a refreshing counterweight. For me, The Martian is a work movie about decision-making and problem-solving. 

The Martian is basically about a guy at work. Stuff goes wrong. He figures out how to fix it. The guy happens to work on Mars. I think part of the reason I liked The Martian is that it vindicates those of us who talk to ourselves while we work. It wouldn’t have been much of a movie if Mark didn’t talk to himself and have a good sense of humor. The Martian is no Office Space in space, though. As a movie that explores a professional work environment it offers a more generous perspective.

Matt Damon’s Mark is mostly concerned with problem-solving and remaining calm, patient, and focused. He looks at his situation and states “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” The science is explained clearly but is not insultingly dumbed down. “If I want water I’ll have to make it from scratch. Fortunately I know the recipe: Take hydrogen. Add oxygen. Burn.” This article is a good framework for understanding some of the real NASA technologies that appear in the film. Mark uses the technology available to him to survive. He also uses duct tape. Lots and lots of duct tape. Mark’s innovative use of the technology available and his attitude are what make him a great film hero.

Mark’s co-workers  leave Mars quickly due to a storm, but there’s some disagreement as to whether this is the best course of action. Commander Lewis calls it. When Mark goes down they don’t have a chance to physically confirm his death but trust the monitor readings and take off. This is one of many executive decisions the film explores. I suspect people in charge second-guess themselves more than most of us non-executive types know. Certainly Commander Lewis struggles with her decision once she discovers Mark is alive. When the crew discovers that they may be Mark’s only hope, they respond quickly and unanimously.

The conflict among the NASA bosses is more complicated. Nick, played by Sean Bean, and Vincent, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, are each concerned with specific aspects of the mission that is within his charge. Nick, who is in charge of the mission and supervises the astronauts, advocates for making the attempt to save Mark. Vincent, who is a scientist, is concerned about the probabilities of success and the possible effect failure might have on future missions, and thinks that the risk of rescue is too high. Teddy, played by Jeff Daniels, as final decision maker has to consider what is best for the organization in terms of politics, costs and publicity. Disagreement does not require a villain. Vincent and Teddy are not cast as true villains although neither comes off as particularly compassionate. They do care what happens to Mark. They are torn by their responsibilities and loyalties to NASA as a program and to Mark as a human being. Nick is clear in his position to place human life over other concerns and is willing to stick his professional neck out to see Mark rescued. What nobody knows is whether Nick would feel the same way were he in Teddy’s position or what Teddy might do if he had Nick’s job. This conflict provides the relationship drama, but in a professional setting the emotions are more subtly expressed.

We all have to depend on other people. Mark would not have been rescued had Nick not made his decision and the crew not made theirs. Sometimes those decisions cost something, Mark expresses the belief that human beings who will help when there is trouble outnumber the ones who don’t care. His trust in this idea motivates him to keep working each problem instead of giving up and letting himself die. Mark expressed understanding about why his crew left. Objectively, he even recognized what the guys at NASA had to consider in making decisions and understood his rescue in the grand scheme of the organization. Under extreme circumstances Mark retained optimism and trust.

The music was fine but I did keep hearing Elton John’s “Rocket Man” in my head the whole time and really think it should have been the credits song. I also sort of wish Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver) had been somewhere in the cast because how many characters have names that become adjectives synonymous with on-the-fly innovation. Mark and company MacGyvered that mission.

Jul 12 2015

Inside Out: Emotional Intelligence made easy (at least to understand)


CONTAINS SPOILERS: Pixar’s Inside Out is about what goes on in our heads when we respond emotionally to experiences. Writer/directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen tell a familiar story to which anyone can relate in a way that offers insights and causes personal introspection beyond anything we might expect from an animated “kid’s” movie. I’ve never seen a story told in exactly this way. It’s refreshing.

Mostly set inside 11-year old Riley’s brain, the animated film deals with the stress brought on by change and the conflict we experience when we try to respond the way we think we are supposed to respond rather than expressing our authentic emotions. Five emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, are characters in Inside Out who help her process the experience of moving.

Inside Out suggests that we not categorize our emotions as “good” and “bad.” The story is told from the point of view of Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, who understands that Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) can help us avoid danger, and Anger (Lewis Black) can inspire positive change but cannot see that Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith (The Office) has a purpose. Joy believed there was something wrong if Riley’s dominant emotion was not always joy.

The crisis in Inside Out is that Riley’s perspectives and identity are threatened by the toll taken both by stressing over this big change in her life and by hiding her true feelings about it because she does not want to disappoint her parents. Action in the film switches between scenes depicting the effects of Riley’s crisis on her emotions, her memories, and her identity, and scenes of Riley interacting in her new environment. The animation inside Riley’s brain is richly colored and complex while the scenes outside are simpler, with more muted tones.

While the way the brain works in the film doesn’t jive completely with brain research and psychology, it does a good job of showing the connections between emotions, identity, and memory. The different ways in which Riley gains identity: family, friends, sports, goofball, and honesty are represented as her Islands of Personality, while her memories are represented by balls colored by different emotions. The memories that define her perspective and outlook are represented as “core memories.”

Memory science indicates the way we process and retain memories is somewhat messier, but the idea that we reframe memories is borne out by research. Turns out the observer effect applies to our memories. Every time we remember something we change the memory a bit. As we mature our brains develop the ability to engage in abstract thinking, which allows us to process our experiences in a more nuanced way.  We come to recognize and acknowledge the mixed emotions that come with the complexities of human experiences.

Sadness is the heroine of the film. She displays empathy and authenticity. Her healing message is that grieving loss is a valid emotional response. Listening and validating another’s feelings, and “mourning with those who mourn” is powerful and helpful. Because Riley does not give herself permission to say “I am sad, I am hurting. I need comfort,” her Islands of Personality begin to collapse under the tension of trying to feel what she thinks her parents want her to feel and the need to express her authentic feelings about her struggle with moving. Riley acts out until she is able to acknowledge her sadness.

Self-awareness and truthful, authentic responses that come out of that self-awareness are important to emotional health and maturity, and to spiritual maturity. If our identities are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, we know that the “islands” of grace and hope cannot collapse. This understanding allows joy to mix into the other emotions we experience, but many of us Christians feel we must put on a happy face all the time because we think it’s what God expects, or that this mask of happiness will attract others to faith. Jesus would never have promised and provided a Comforter if we weren’t going to need one. He would never have let himself be called “Man of Sorrows” if God expected unfettered joy. Honest emotional responses help us to develop empathy for others because we, like our High Priest, are able to be touched with “the feelings of infirmities” that we all experience. To everything there is a season and when it’s time to weep, we will be emotionally and spiritually healthier if we let sadness take the lead.



Jun 7 2015

What I learned watching Netflix last week: Relationships are Hard and Forgiveness is Essential


This week on Netflix I watched Chef, Drinking Buddies, Detachment, and The Judge. Though very different in plot, character, and tone, they shared a couple of common themes: 1. relationships are hard and 2. forgiveness is essential.

Chef is a comedy about a divorced chef played by writer/director Jon Favreau, who is trying to rediscover his creative mojo with support from his son played by Emjay Anthony, friendly ex-wife Sofia Vergara and faithful sou chef John Leguizamo. Chef Carl Casper seeks personal satisfaction and creative expression through his career at the expense of time with his son. Events conspire to change that and he rediscovers who he is as a chef as he reconnects with his family and re-prioritizes relationships. Carl even get’s a second chance in some of the most adversarial relationships in his life.

My takeaways: Forgiveness is a reset. When both parties are amenable, forgiveness can move any relationship into mutually beneficial, mutually transformational experience. Flow, self-actualization, personal fulfillment – whatever you want to call that sense of completeness and happiness we all hope to find in life – involves satisfying relationships not just professional success.

Drinking Buddies is a comedy that explores the line between friendship and romantic involvement, fear of commitment, and honesty in relationships. All of these themes play out as an undercurrent to the action and the dialog, which, in a refreshingly naturalistic approach taken by director/writer Joe Swanberg, was all improvised by the cast who were given the general story arc. Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake M. Johnson) are co-workers in a Chicago craft brewery. Each is in a relationship with someone else. Luke has been in a relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick) for six years and considers Kate a buddy. Kate is in a less serious relationship with Chris (Ron Livingston). A weekend at a lake cottage confirm that Luke and Kate have much more in common while Jill finds herself attracted to Kate. The four individually grapple with serious questions: What do I owe someone in a relationship? What do I owe myself? What constitutes cheating? Do like-minded people necessarily make the best partners?

My takeaways: Part of the work in any relationships is accepting that everyone and every relationship is complex, fluid, and flawed. Alcohol definitely enables the flawed aspects. Part of the work in a romantic relationship is being willing to commit not only physically but emotionally to that one other person.

Detachment is a drama starring Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher who is a perceptive and gifted communicator but instead chooses to stay aloof and uninvolved. As much as Henry’s personal baggage compels him to remain detached, his compassion and passion for troubled young people wins out. Detachment is set in a big-city school populated by frustrated teachers and administrators (played by a really great cast including Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner) caught in big-city education bureaucracy and politics. Many care but can’t understand the apathy and animosity of their students. My one problem with this film, perhaps the one that earned it that green splat on Rotten Tomatoes, is that it takes the opposite approach from Drinking Buddies and is heavy on telling rather than showing. That said, teachers sometimes have to tell because students don’t always see the subtext. Besides some of Henry’s rants are incredibly perceptive and well expressed. Detachment is sad and dark and offers no easy answers.

My takeaway: Baggage is unavoidable and no excuse to withdraw. Sometimes the relationships that are the most trouble are the ones that carry the most opportunity for personal growth and tangible grace. Open up.

The Judge is a courtroom drama starring Robert Downey Jr. as Hank Palmer and Robert Duvall as his estranged father Judge Joseph Palmer. Hank is a successful lawyer in Chicago who doesn’t believe he can ever atone for his past failures or earn his father’s approval. Now he must defend his father in court. Directed by David Dobkin, this film is packed with relationship dysfunction and difficulties: How do grown children deal with a parent who might be losing mental function? How do families explain complex situations to a mentally challenged member? How does forgiveness keep working when the consequences are life-changing and on-going?

My takeaway: Stop trying to atone, ask for forgiveness when needed and forgive when asked. Accept where the relationship is right now, even when it’s tense, without burning bridges or laying down ultimatums. Give relationships space to heal and grow. Keep showing up.




Feb 8 2015

Birdman, Creativity, and Meta narrative film


Birdman leaves a lot open to individual interpretation and its ending has spawned multiple theories. SPOILERS in the link! It may require multiple viewings to solidify those theories. I think I need to see it again to decide.

Riggin, the aging star of superhero films is trying to make a comeback with a stage play by his personal muse Raymond Carver. He wants to create something great and is willing to sacrifice everything to make this play work. His relationship with his family is strained and his professional colleagues question his artistic decisions. Throughout the film he interacts with his superhero persona, Birdman who props up his sagging ego. Shot as one continuous take to reflect Riggin’s stream of consciousness throughout the story, Birdman takes the point of view of an unreliable narrator who may be delusional or may be possessed of supernatural powers. The film may or may not offer visual cues to help the audience distinguish reality from fantasy, if any of it is fantasy.

How it begins provides a more definitive perspective. Raymond Carver’s quote begins the film:

“And did you get what you wanted from this life?”
“I did.” “And what did you want?”
“To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

This film raises some questions about the nature of creativity, ego, and recognition. What do human beings hope to get out of creativity? While creativity is a means of expression it is also a means of communication, how others respond  to what we’ve created matters, even when we pretend it doesn’t. Do we interpret how others receive and accept what we communicate through our creations as how they receive and accept us. Do we evaluate the worth of our creations by the responses of others, especially our creative peers and educated critics of our arts? How is the creation itself affected when the creator’s motives for making something becomes approval and adulation?

Birdman explores these questions but offers no definitive answers. Riggins struggles with what playing Birdman has made him in his own mind and in the eyes of the public. While it hasn’t gained him the respect or acclaim he craves, it did make him popular and beloved among audiences. Audience response is especially critical for performance artists. Without an audience there is no performance. And yet what is popular with an audience may not be popular with critics. Riggin wants so much to be respected for his art by his peers but being Birdman places him on a lower tier in the eyes of peers and critics.

Interestingly much of the critical commentary garnered by the film itself reflects this theme. The film is up for best picture, director, actor, supporting actor, best supporting actress, screenplay, cinematography, sound editing and sound mixing. It’s already won awards in some of these categories. Director/Screenwriter Iñárritu is getting lots of well-deserved attention. Lubezki’s unique and challenging cinematography is mentioned in just about every review.  The acclaim former Batman star Michael Keaton has received for his performance is exactly what his character Riggin wants. It will be interesting to see what the Academy does with Birdman. Though his isn’t the only Oscar-worthy performance, I do think Michael Keaton deserves the Oscar for this. 

Does this strange parallel make Birdman a meta-meta-narrative? Films like Birdman, Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento and quite a few more, mostly produced in this century, represent a shift in film narrative. Stories are deliberately complex and non-linear.

Works and artists that represent innovation or transcendence, or those that mark transition from one era to the next, Beethoven and Impressionist art for example are the ones students study for generations to come. The rest are merely representative of a period or genre, albeit, some very good representations. These works are popular because they satisfy audience expectations and meet their aesthetic needs. Innovative works require more work from the audience and may even challenge existing aesthetics.

The audience must make a greater mental investment and may need multiple viewings to get what’s happening. The audience must not only suspend disbelief but also to surrender modern certainties for post-modern conceptualizations. And yet viewers of these films understand that they are watching a very deliberately crafted film that contains breadcrumbs from the creators of the film intended to lead both to discovering meaning but also to individual interpretation and theorizing. 

There’s no shame in going to the movie and enjoy a simple, emotionally satisfying narrative or just watch stuff blow up. There’s no shame in producing, directing, or acting in such a film. Perhaps the end of Birdman has something to do with embracing being part of creating higher art and being part of offering an audience a simple satisfying story or an inspiring hero even when it’s not considered high art.

Dec 24 2014

The Hobbit as prequel: my take on Desolation of Smaug


Trying to make a trilogy out of The Hobbit felt stretched “like butter scraped over too much bread.” While I really enjoyed the first two Hobbit movies, those two movies represented about 300 pages of the book while Desolation of Smaug covers the last 50. The dragon scenes were the best part. The Battle of the Five Armies took up most of the story and felt like they had been done – and better – in Lord of the Rings. It also could be that I am just too much of a Tolkien nerd for Desolation of Smaug to work for me. Continue reading

Oct 12 2014

Looking at Gone Girl through a Johari Window



Gone Girl reminded me of the Johari window. JohariWindowThe idea is that there are four panes in every relationship that adjust in size through the course of the relationship. As we get to know someone the open pane grows. The hidden pane shrinks as that person chooses to disclose things about himself. Over time spent together we gain insights into that person and earn the right to speak share our insights about him so that through knowing us his hidden pane gets smaller. One would expect that the open pane would grow very large in a marriage relationship.

Applying this model to Nick and Amy Dunne’s relationship is disturbing because Amy’s hidden and unknown panes are so large. Everything Amy thinks she knows about herself is informed by something in her hidden window. According to most psychologists sociopaths know that they are sociopaths. They are very good at hiding this from other people and often come off as charming. They are also great manipulators. Amy carefully controls what Nick thinks is her open self. She also uses her relationship with him to manipulate him both through what he’s revealed to her through the open pane in his relationship with her and through what she knows about him that he doesn’t know about himself. Rather than using that information to enhance and heal their relationship, Amy uses it to manipulate Nick into taking the fall for her murder.

Nick illustrates that we don’t have to be sociopaths to seek to manipulate others’ views of who we want them to think we are. Nick tries to control his open and hidden windows with Amy because of his affair, but next to Amy, Nick is a rank amateur at manipulation. He’s not really built for it anyway. Giving him a twin sister is an interesting choice because twins tend to have an empathetic connection that lets them into one another’s blind and hidden selves. Margo may not know the details but she senses when Nick is not open and honest with her, and the more open Nick is with her the greater clarity he seems to have. To a great extent this empathy is the key to successfully tracking Amy’s moves. Continue reading

Sep 13 2014

Reflections on Forrest Gump: Forrest knows what love is


Forrest Gump says “I’m not a smart man but I know what love is.” And he does. He loves his Momma, Bubba, Lt. Dan, and, most of all, Jenny.

Forrest shows his love for his mother by remembering and respecting what she teaches him. Mrs. Gump equips Forrest with an outlook that marks the way he processes the things that happen to him throughout his life. It is Forrest’s acceptance of whatever comes out of the “box of chocolates” that allows him to become a participant in historic events without questioning whether he belongs there. He accepts himself and believes he has something to offer because His mother instilled worth and confidence in him. He values other people in the way Mrs. Gump teaches him to value himself.

Forrest rushes into the Vietnam jungle to save his friend Bubba and ends up saving four other men. Forrest honors Bubba by following through with the plans they made to go into the shrimping business even though Bubba is dead. So deep is Forrest’s connection to his friend that he shares his fortune with Bubba’s family even though he doesn’t know them well and they think he’s stupid. Continue reading

Mar 10 2014

The dark territory of True Detective



True to form the last episode of True Detective called Form and Void features the dark and grisly conclusion to a bleak, dark series about two homicide detectives unraveling a ritual murder in South Louisiana. Errol, the incestuous, Cary-Grant obsessed witch king makes an utterly creepy grindhouse villain. Previous episodes offer up a series of tantalizing possible suspects and co-conspirators, including Cohle himself. The Tuttles come off as redneck Illuminati with a long reach and powerful resources. The story ends with many of these loose ends still flapping, but Cohle and Hart’s journey resolves, and that’s the real heart of the story.

True Detective‘s mysterious King in Yellow references a Robert Chambers story about a play that elicits madness and despair in those who see it. The story Cohle and Hart live as they work their case contains enough bizarre evil to induce similar responses. Cohle’s philosophic nature and nihilistic outlook make him particularly vulnerable to emotional and spiritual damage. Hart’s proclivities run to the more standard tropes TV cops use to cope. He cheats on his wife, drinks too much, and is disconnected from his children. Hart ends up in a place something like despair in which he’s lost his family and left his job after exposure to yet another urban legend horror, the baby in the microwave.

Cohle and Hart’s determination to close the case appears to be part-destiny and part obsession. In spite of a serious rift between them, when Cohle shows Hart the horror inducing videotape of one the victims, he’s in. This tape is used to induce former cop Steve Geraci. While immediate exposure to the tape loosens his tongue, Steve does not seem permanently traumatized by his experience, displaying the same self-interest after they finish with him that he has before. He tells them Sheriff Childress is the one who closed the case. Interviews in previous episodes suggest that Errol might be a Childress and possibly an illegitimate child of one of the Tuttles.

After making arrangements to unveil their evidence should they not come out alive, Cohle and Hart follow their leads to Errol’s house. Earlier the episode treats us to scenes of Errol’s Psycho-Louisiana-style domestic bliss. Cohle and Hart’s journey lead them into the heart of Carcosa where the evil is as thick as hot, humid swamp air. Continue reading

Nov 7 2013

Ender’s game and the uncertainty of perception


Ender’s Game explores reality and assumptions. Ender’s Game explores the consequences that come in attempting to separate the emotional and ethical self from the logical and strategic self. Ender’s choices seem reasonable if his assumptions about the games are true. Characters solve perceived problems using reason and strategy, often putting emotions on hold. The movie made me consider whether emotions are as legitimate a consideration in perception as logic and how perceptions alter reality.

For some reason I want to put Ender’s game in the context of two ideas from physics: the observer effect and the uncertainty principle. The observer effect states that observing a phenomenon alters it. Ender’s point of view, his involvement, the compassion and the creative application of strategy Ender brings to Col. Graff’s game sends its players on a different trajectory and alters the reality they perceive. What is real in a theoretical state is altered every time Ender applies compassion and emotion. In the same way Graff’s paranoia and perceptions concerning the Formics alters the security of earth from their attack.

When Ender views the game through Graff’s eyes something different happens than when he responds based on Valentine’s perceptions or Petra’s. Most of us do not respond to real life situations in a completely dispassionate and logical manner. We factor in our ethics as we lay out our strategies. Our emotions affect the execution of our logically conceived plans.

The uncertainty principle states that increasing the precision in which we measure one quantity (either the position or momentum of a particle) forces the loss of precision in measuring the other. Col. Graff’s games are designed to measure Ender’s strategic capabilities while Maj. Anderson’s explore his emotional state. Major Anderson, a child psychologist charged with evaluating the recruits, has Ender play a game that adapts to his emotional state. Ender alters the game and populates itself with people who matter to him. Reality breaks into the game in a way that Anderson did not plan or expect.

Graff’s game requires Ender to make strategic decisions requiring him to sacrifice people he’s never met. In order to succeed in Graff’s game Ender must separate his emotions from the game and make strategic choices in order to win.  It seems impossible for Ender to meld into a whole self in the games he is playing. The more he is aware of the tension within himself between compassion or strategy, the more difficult it is to achieve a balance.

Perceptions and assumptions also create a reality that may or may not be true. Fear drives the decisions of the International Military in Ender’s Game. Col. Graff fears that the Formics who devastated earth seventy years before will come back and finish it off. Though there has been no activity from the Formics, the defense program continues. The program identifies and recruits children whose gaming abilities indicate talent in military strategy. Those children will be pitted against the Formics in a wargame for the plant.

Ender, like his brother and sister before him is identified. While his brother washed out for being too violent and his sister, for being too compassionate, Ender seems to be the one who is just right. Graff sees this program as earth’s best hope for survival and believes that Ender is the one who will ultimately save the planet from the annihilation he fears. Sacrificing childhood to preserve the planet seems like a logical, perhaps even defensible, strategy if Graff’s assumptions about he future are true.

Who’s perceptions are defining reality and what motives are driving their perceptions? Jesus said that there is no fear in love and that perfect love casts out fear. Fear drives Graff’s perceptions. It alters his version of reality. Even without fear, strategy and perception can only take Ender so far. It is compassion that alters everything and reveals what is real.

Jun 6 2013

Home viewing variety pack: Compliance, The Conversation, Mama, John Dies in the End, Jiro Dreams of Sushi


I’m still watching a movie every day but sick/busy/etc. haven’t blogged. Here are the five  best Netflix/Hulu/Amazon movies I saw in the past month:

Compliance explores how far people will go to obey authority. A prank caller posing as a police officer compels a female fast food manager to strip search a young female employee. Though his directions becomes increasingly bizarre the manager accepts his explanations based on her belief that as an authority figure he is following a protocol. While others involved question his direction and some even refuse to comply, he continues to manipulate  the manager, the employee, and others. While watching this film I kept wondering how these people could allow themselves to be manipulated and thinking how unrealistic the plot seemed… until the end when it was revealed that this actually happened over 70 times in a ten year period at fast food restaurants and grocery stores in 30 states. In 1961 Yale professor Stanley Milgram conducted experiments to try and understand why German soldiers complied with Adolph Eichmann. He stated in his conclusions that “ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” 50 years later this is still true. Mark 2:27 says that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Like the Sabbath, law and authority exists for the benefit of humans, not the other way around. What do we teach about compliance to authority? How is authority trained to respond to being questioned? Do we behave as though we were made for the law?

In The Conversation Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, a legendary surveillance professional who is hired to record a conversation between a young couple in a busy park. Made in 1974, I don’t know how I missed this film in the past but I’m glad I finally saw it. While the equipment dates the film, the characters and situation do not. Based on what he hears Harry comes to certain conclusions and feels that he is in a position to prevent a crime. A past mistake and an active moral conscience compel him to become involved. Harry is an extremely private and somewhat paranoid person who does not share his concerns with his business partner Stan. Harry acts alone to try and prevent the murder he believes will be committed. While the plot seems to validate his paranoia in some ways, the film raises important questions about speculation and assumptions. The question I was asking at the end was “What would have happened if Harry had simply bounced his thoughts off Stan?” Acting on limited information and a single perspective, one person’s conclusions may not reflect reality.  In an abundance of counselors there is safety. Prov. 11:14. Continue reading

May 12 2013

The Office is closing up shop


May 9

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

May 11 2013

State of Play: Who can you trust?


May 7

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

May 1 2013

Criterion Collection: The grieving process in My Life as a Dog


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

Apr 15 2013

Brennan Manning and his Ragamuffin legacy


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.


Mar 29 2013

Prison Break and the marks of redemption


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

Mar 5 2013

The Mayhem guy, John McClane and A Good Day to Die Hard


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

Feb 16 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and the importance of backstory



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?

Continue reading

Dec 29 2012

Law and grace in Les Miserables



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

Dec 25 2012

The Hobbits’ Bilbo Baggins gives me courage


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

Dec 1 2012

Emmanuel and the 7 Deadly Sins in Christmas movies


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

Nov 3 2012

Looper takes the journey through past, present, and future full circle


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

Oct 17 2012

Argo is a true story about the journey home


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

Jul 24 2012

My The Dark Knight Rises Review



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

Jul 15 2012

Breaking Bad Season 5: Is Walter the new Gus?



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

Jul 3 2012

Captain America, Mayberry, and Independence Day


 R.I.P. Andy Griffith.

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

Mar 3 2012

Restoration in Hugo, plus a comparison of Hugo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as Quests for Fathers


Hugo automaton


Hugo is a story about healing and restoration and rediscovering wonder. Rich visual detail, especially in the clock tower, create a setting that is surreal and wonderful. The setting gave the story a sort of fairy tale quality. 

In a place where time passes and trains move people along on their journeys,  Hugo, Georges and Gustav, the Station Inspector, are stuck. They’ve all experienced disappointment and hurt and can’t seem to move on from it. 

Hugo has lost his father and is on a quest to finish fixing the automaton that the two of them began restoring together. All he has left to connect him to his father is the automaton and his father’s notebook. Hugo keeps going because of his love for his father and his father’s love for him. It is his quest that connects him to the other characters in the story, but it is love that drives the quest.  Continue reading