May 5 2012

Being a game-changer in the Hunger Games, the Roman Empire, and maybe planet earth

maureen

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


Jan 6 2012

We Bought a Zoo and 20 seconds of insane courage

maureen

Benjamin Mee offers romance advice to his 14-year-old son, “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”  What he seems to be talking about here is a leap of faith.

Benjamin is struggling in his relationship with his son, Dylan. Benjamin, Dylan, and 7-year-old Rosie are grieving the loss of wife and mother. Benjamin is stuck in the fourth stage of grief, depression and loneliness. Dylan is still dealing with anger. Whatever else changes in their lives the life they knew with Katherine is over. In what had to be 20 seconds of insane impulse, recently widowed father Benjamin Mee buys a zoo hoping to provide a new start for his two children. Continue reading


Sep 2 2011

Acts of grace in The Help

maureen

Hilly Holbrook is what happens when Mean Girls grow up in the mid-twentieth century South. Hilly is the firmly ensconced queen bee of 1960’s Jackson society. She sets the trends. She pronounces who’s in and who’s out. Hilly uses her influence to hurt those who offend her and advance those who follow her. Hilly seems to honestly believe her own hype. She considers herself superior to others in her social circle which is considered superior to other white people in Jackson, where white people are considered superior to black people. Hilly represents the small-minded, mean-spirited face of Southern pride.

Even Skeeter refuses to confront Hilly. College has broadened Skeeter’s perspective and shifted her allegiances but she knows how it works. Hilly’s pride has to be preserved. Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny work under the radar to accomplish their agenda. Skeeter and Minny employ some of the same passive-aggressive tactics Hilly uses in order to undermine Hilly. The toilets and pie are funny and Hilly has it coming, but what compelled me about The Help are the powerful acts of grace. Skeeter’s determination to operate outside her comfort zone and help tell truthful stories that might contribute to change is an act of grace. Continue reading


Apr 20 2011

Celebrating Easter with 15 Moments of Redemption in Movies

maureen

Sometimes truth dawns slowly and change comes in fits and spurts. We begin thinking about eternity and seeking purpose. We recognize our baggage and want something better. We find ourselves inching toward truth in the choices we make and the causes we embrace. We want peace and reconciliation and community. While redemption happens in a moment of decision, the journey toward that decision and transformation that follows  is often a process.

Jules Winnfield – Pulp Fiction. Jules recognizes that redemptive forces are at work though he has not yet connected the dots. He finds himself longing to change his role from avenger to shepherd.   They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. Rom 2:15

Charlie Babbitt – Rain Man. When Charlie realizes that Raymond is the secret friend, the “Rain Man” of his childhood, his self-centeredness and greed begins to break down. It’s not the moment of truth but the truth that leads to the moment.  Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Mark 12:34 Continue reading


Oct 15 2010

The Social Network and the Seven Deadly Sins

maureen

The Social Network touches on just about every one of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, and revenge, with a little lust, gluttony and sloth thrown in for good measure. Like any good fable it serves up some pretty obvious morals about relationships and business.

1. Hell hath no fury like a lustful hacker scorned.
2. Envy makes it easier to justify less than ethical behavior (Note to self: write down and date the details of the idea, make sure a non-compete is signed before revealing the details, and invite the tech guy all the way into the club or meet somewhere else.)
3. Hubris makes communication and conflict resolution nearly impossible. In the scene between the Winklevoss twins and the Dean, hubris oozes from both sides of the desk. Continue reading


Sep 8 2010

Football Movies – Some Lessons About Character, Vice, and Virtue

maureen
Last Saturday when I sat down to watch my Texas Longhorns the sports pundits said that they expected more of a running game since they would need to adjust their game to match their new talent. I groaned. I love the thrill of seeing the football hurtling down the field to a receiver who catches it and runs it for a long gain.

But that’s not what happens in real life. In real life we inch forward, lose ground, and sustain hits that knock us down. In most football movies the struggle on the field, that tedious inch-by-inch progress punctuated by blocks and tackles, unjust calls and rookie mistakes is a metaphor for the way life usually works. Sure football movies are full of clichés, but the stories they tell can serve as reminders of how often our attitudes thwart our relationships and our forward progress.


Any Given Sunday – In the half-time pep talk Coach D’Amato says that, “the inches we need are everywhere. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch.” Life events come at us from every direction and sometimes seem to conspire to lay us flat. I can figure I’m just a victim of fate and envy the lucky ones; or I can learn some patience, figure out the holes in the line and rejoice in progress by inches. Continue reading

Aug 21 2010

Top 10 Movie Teachers and the Theme of Sloth

maureen

John Keating in Dead Poets Society – Sloth demands nothing. It encourages conformity and accepts mediocrity. Keating doesn’t just encourage his students to read and write poetry, but to commit to its passion. While fiction may tell a story, poetry is a snapshot of the emotion and passion that drives the story. Keating encourages his students to stop going through the motions and seize the day.


Jamie Escalante in Stand and Deliver – Sloth make excuses. We may compare ourselves with others. We may conclude that our ethnic, economic or academic challenges are the factors that stand in the way of success. Escalante will have none of this. He challenges his students to do the work and equips his students with the skills necessary to compete. Escalante shows his students that they have the power to change their circumstances rather than resenting those who seem to have it easier.

Aug 9 2010

Sex, Lies, and Don Draper in Mad Men

maureen

He presents a slick, appealing image but Don Draper is a man on the run. He’s escaping his past by taking on a new identity. His carefully constructed persona earns him admiration in the first seasons. At work he is known for his creativity, good looks, and integrity.

Advertising presents an idealized image of a life that can only be attained by purchasing the product being sold. Advertising creates discontent with real life. It plays on envy and pride to create a desire to mold a life that matches the image presented in the ad, and to purchase whatever products necessary to prop up that image. Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner chose advertising as a subject, he said, because “it’s a great way to talk about the image we have of ourselves, versus who we really are.”

Don Draper is the personification of a man who is reaching for the image. He doesn’t think he can attain it as himself, Richard Whitman, so he becomes someone else. For awhile he succeeds in selling himself as the person he wants people to believe that he is. Even after his charade is discovered by a few people he manages to dodge consequences. He’s tried to compartmentalize his life, presenting himself as a successful, creative advertising executive and charming family man while feeding his alienation with lies, sex, and alcohol. But he can’t maintain the persona 24/7. While the excessive drinking is accepted cultural behavior in 1960’s New York for Don it’s more than social. Don’s lost and hurting so he self-medicates with gluttony (alcohol) and lust.

Just as he does at the office, Don is carrying on a charade at home. He is the image of affluent, upper-middle class America in the sixties. But his relationship with his wife Betty is based on lies. He’s married her and given her a name that is not even his own. He cheats on her. He carries on the social pretenses of the lifestyle but he’s not really engaged. Don’s personal emotional space isn’t just wide, it’s a chasm. Even with Betty. Continue reading


Jun 26 2010

10 Virtues of Summer – Summer Vacation Movies I Love

maureen
Things change in the summer. Students graduate. Kids go to camp. Families take vacations together. We leave our routines and embark on new adventures, visit new places, and meet new people. We have time to step back and evaluate where we are and where we want to go in our lives. Summer has the potential to work change in all of us. Our time away is often the time we grow as individuals and a time our relationships with those around us deepen. Here, in no particular order,  are 10 of my favorite vacation movies and the virtues I think they reveal.

Stand by Me (1986) Gaining perspective. On the last weekend of summer 12-year-olds Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern set out the find the dead body that is supposed to be hidden by the railroad tracks. They are about to enter middle school and, due to academic differences, probably will be separated. Each is struggling with limitations and perceptions about himself.

The Sandlot (1993) Taking chances. Scotty Smalls is the new kid in a neighborhood which seems to be primarily concerned with baseball, not one of his interests or talents. Benny Rodriguez, the leader of the group, reaches out to him and teaches him the game. Scotty takes a chance on Benny and baseball and allows himself to become part of the group. Continue reading

May 15 2010

O Sleeper On The Epic Battle Between Good and Evil

maureen

My son told me that O Sleeper’s Vices like Vipers reminds him of my Sinema7 book, so I took a look at the band. I’m not really in the hardcore/metalcore demographic and I definitely had to read the lyrics because I’m not used to screamed lyrics. Honestly, the depth of emotion and gut wrenching delivery reminded me a lot of opera. It has an epic feel. Much of their music is about the battle between God and Satan or good and evil. I found myself reflecting on the epic nature of Christianity.

O Sleeper’s most recent album is based on the culminating battle between God and Satan described in the Book of Revelation. In the title song, Son of the Morning, Satan spews out his hatred for God and contempt for Christ, calling him the “weak forgiver” and telling God “you’re wasting power on grace.” God replies “If you could see like me you’d see you haven’t won anything.” There is a back and forth between screamed and clean lyrics, cacophony and melody that represent the conversation between Satan and God. Throughout the album Satan declares his intention to thwart the work of Christ, to assault those God loves and to amass power by turning them away from God. God’s power and defeat of Satan culminates in The Finisher with God’s graphic promise to Satan that he will “cut off your horns.”

The songs between these bookends describe Satan’s attempts to win the hearts and souls of men and man’s battle with temptation. In the third song, In All Honesty, Satan crows “I’m forever stalking the streets for the next one. I’ve found I can run faster than guilt…” The anguished cry of a man in Satan’s grip “I wish I could be so much more than me” and God’s response, “you could be the one who pleases me…because I can reach through anything.” The intensity of the music matches the intensity of the ideas expressed. It’s sort of hard to imagine “Bring out your dead” in Commissioned by Kings sung to Contemporary Christian instrumentation and American Idol-ish vocal stylings. Continue reading


Feb 1 2010

Lost TV Characters and the Seven Deadly Sins—Will Season 6 Change How We See Them?

maureen

(Other Sinema7 blog posts about Lost are available at http://sinema7.net/tag/lost/)

Lost starts Tuesday. Hopefully some of the questions that have built up over the last five years will be resolved. I recently came across this article from 2008: Get Lost in the Seven Deadly Sins by Amelie Rosseau, on the Lost Media fan site.

And here is a YouTube video called The Seven Deadly Sins of Lost:

I agreed with many of the assessments in these. I think each of the characters, like most of us, have more than one sin that motivates his or her choices. Here is my take on which characters seem to be driven by which sins:

Pride – Benjamin Linus &  Charles Whitmore are in a power struggle for the island. Pride is probably the besetting sin of leadership and power. When someone thinks they know what’s best for other people and is willing to lie, manipulate, and maybe even kill to further his own agenda that’s driven by pride. Jack is prideful, but not even close to being in Ben and Charles’ league. After years of feeling rejected and victimized Locke’s ego has to be stroked by feeling special and chosen. Juliet is just a bit sanctimonious about being right, and she’s pretty sure that she’s right on just about everything. It is ultimately Eko’s pride that drives his unwillingness to repent of his sins which apparently leads to death by smoke monster.

Envy – Jin’s insecurity pushes him toward envy. Charlie struggles with the same sort of thing. He’s jealous for Claire’s attention. He’s trying so hard to restore his image and wants so desperately to be a hero that he tags along with those that might be considered leaders hoping to be identified with them. Continue reading


Oct 24 2009

To Help or Not to Help: Homelessness and Sloth

maureen

Somebody’s Baby just wrecked me. The song  from Jon Foreman’s Winter EP tells the story of a homeless girl. Foreman is the frontman for the band Switchfoot but his solo project has more of an acoustic, experimental, indie feel. The use of strings in this song was compelling. It reminded me of another piece about homelessness that features strings, the movie The Soloist.

Both works reminded me that every homeless person has a different story. It is likely that somebody is worried about this person. And it is certain that this person is someone God loves dearly and wants to redeem. Continue reading


Sep 30 2009

The Themes of Hope and Despair in District 9

maureen

I finally saw District 9. An alien ship hovers, inoperable, above South Africa. After 28 years of conflict the ship’s inhabitants and their descendants have been rounded up and placed behind fences in slum-like conditions, where violence and crime are rampant. Over time the aliens became desperate, hopeless and violent.  The situation serves as an allegory for South Africa’s period of apartheid. But it also raises bigger questions. Wikus, a white South African government official, is sent into the settlement to inform the inhabitants that they are being moved. Unlike many of his co-workers he avoids hurting the aliens unnecessarily. He does not really see them as intelligent beings until he begins to stand in their shoes. In a search of a home he is exposed to an alien technology that causes him to begin to transform into an alien. Continue reading


Aug 12 2009

Julie and Julia Overcome the “Spell of the Typical”

maureen

Change in our lives often serves as catalyst for self-evaluation. In Julie & Julia, Julie is turning thirty. She and her husband move to an economical apartment in Queens. Having failed to achieve the level of success most of her college friends seem to enjoy, Julie is slogging away at her unfulfilling government job. She has allowed the rejection of a half written novel to deter her from pursuing her passion for writing. Julie realizes she needs to “break the spell of the typical” in her life. (Thank you Mutemath for such a fitting phrase.)

Julie decides to try blogging and, since she loves to cook, decides to cook through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about it. Julia Child began cooking in France as a result of a similar desire to find something fulfilling to do. When Julia’s husband asked her, “What is it that you really love to do?” She responded “Eat,” and that led her to cooking school… Julie & Julia chronicles the journeys of Julie Powell and Julia Child as each woman discovers what it means to find her passion. Continue reading


Nov 24 2008

Emotional Sloth in Planes Trains and Automobiles

maureen


Emotionally needy meets emotionally distant when Del attaches himself to Neal. In Planes, Trains, and Automobiles two men battle travel delays, winter weather, and each other as they travel from New York trying to reach Chicago by Thanksgiving. While their misadventures on the road are hilarious, the emotional growth of both characters is the heart of the movie.

Neal is one a somewhat rigid guy with very definite social boundaries. Neal makes no effort at all to connect with other people who he considers outside his comfort zone. Del is uncomfortably familiar and involves himself uninvited in Neal’s predicaments. He has no room in his life for Del who invades his personal space in every way. Del annoys and embarrasses him but Neal can’t seem to lose the guy. Continue reading


Oct 17 2008

The Theme of Sloth in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

maureen

Dante categorized sloth as “insufficient love” while he grouped lust, gluttony and greed as “excessive love” and wrath, envy and pride as “misdirected love.”  Sometimes this “insufficient love” reflects an unwillingness to place anyone or anything above our own comfort.  In other cases it may reflect an insufficient love of self reflected in low self-worth and insecurity.

In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off three friends skip school to have a day of fun in Chicago.  Ferris is optimistic and completely secure in his parent’s love and in his own abilities to engage the world.  His neurotic friend Cameron worries about everything. He believes that he is not a priority to his father. Cameron feels insecure, inadequate, and powerless and it makes it seem pointless to get out there and live life.

Continue reading