Tuesday, December 30, 2008

List Change?

Should GET SMART replace QUANTUM OF SOLACE on my 2008 Top Ten list? "It missed by this much".

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Top Ten Films for 2008

(Of film released, that I have seen. Narrows things down quite a bit. For instance, I saw YOUNG@HEART this year, but it came out in 2007 so it’s not here. I hope GRAN TORINO, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE will prove worthy, but I haven’t seen them yet.)

1) WALL-E – Visually stunning and great fun. The old saw, “It will make you laugh, it will make you cry” applies here. I loved the nods to the greats of silent comedy and the underappreciated “Hello Dolly!”
2) THE DARK KNIGHT – Yes, Heath Ledger was very good, but so was Freeman, Caine, Oldman, and especially Christian Bale. The problem of evil (in the form of terrorism) is dealt with bluntly. And I agree with those who compared the demonization of Batman in the film with the demonization of President Bush and even the United States itself.
3) IRONMAN – Because Robert Downey Jr. was very funny as usual and that suit was so very cool.
4) TROPIC THUNDER – Yes, it was quite crude (I could have done without Jack Black offering certain favors), but it was very, very funny. Again, Downey was hysterical as an Australian who wanted to fully commit to his role as an African American, but Ben Stiller was even funnier when he in the faux film role of “Simple Jack” went ‘full retard’.
5) GHOST TOWN – Ricky Gervais wouldn’t jump to my mind as a star of a romantic comedy as a dentist who sees dead people. Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear provide support in this funny and ultimately touching film.
6) MAN ON WIRE – A documentary about Phillipe Petite’s tight rope walk between the World Trade Towers. Interesting study of a man who would let nothing get in the way of his vision, even the well being of friends and family. Can there be art without narcissism? (I think so, but it’s difficult.)
7) CLOVERFIELD – Didn’t work for a lot of people (not enough monster and/or too much shakey cam) but it worked for me. I like the idea of Godzilla seen from ground level and was surprised at its deft touch on the fragility of life.
8) REDBELT – For a long time I thought Tim Allen had only made one good film (GALAXY QUEST), now he has two. This drama, written and directed by David Mamet explores the value and dangers of honor. I do like Chiwetel Ejiofor in this and everything I’ve seen him in, but I do miss the days when the studio heads would have given him a pronounceable name.
9) BURN AFTER READING – It’s the Coen Brothers being funny and cynical and sadistic. How can you not love that in anything not called THE LADYKILLERS?
10) QUANTUM OF SOLACE –Maybe it’s because I went in with lowered expectations from Meh reviews, but I enjoyed this Bond sequel.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Christmas Skit

Characters: Father, Mother, Jane, Brother, Sister, Uncle Joshua

Setting: Home, living room

Props: Door, phone

(Phone rings and Jane answers)

Jane: Hello.. Oh, Uncle Joshua! How are you? You’re in town? You’re coming over? Yeah, everyone is here. So you want me to tell everyone you’re coming. OK. See you in a bit.

(Mother enters, putting on jacket)

Jane: Hi mom! You won’t guess who just called.

Mother: No, I won’t guess, I don’t have time. I need to go to the grocery store to get the ingredients for my Christmas strudel.

Jane: I love you Christmas strudel. Will it have the berries on top?

Mother: Of course it will have the berries on top. I have to go. Don’t get in the cookie dough. Bye, Janie.

(Mom exits as sister enters.)

Jane: Bye, Mom. Hi, Sis.

Sister: Hey Jane, could you tell dad I went with Joey to see the lights on Christmas Tree Lane.

Jane: You know he doesn’t want you to drive with Joey.

Sister: Duh, like, why do you think I have you telling him, instead of telling him myself? Later.

Jane: OK, but I need to tell you..

Sister: I said, later.

(Sister leaves as brother enters.)

Brother: Hey Dorkbreath, did you tape that Christmas special I told you to tape?

Jane: No, but I did copy the instructions on how to work the VCR and taped them to your door.

Brother: Oh, that’s just great. Now I’m going to be late for my Christmas program rehearsal.

Jane: Hey, I just remembered something I need to tell you. Someone is coming who you will want to see!

Brother: What, are mom and dad having girls come to interview for a new sister in your place? That would be exciting!

Jane: Shouldn’t you be at practice already? I’m sure the program would fall to pieces without Shepherd #6.

Brother: It is an important part.. I.. Have to go.

(Brother exits; father enters.)

Jane: Hey dad, sis wanted me to tell you she went to vandalize Christmas Tree Lane.

Father: Alright, as long as she’s not with that punk Joey. Any news before I go?

Jane: It seemed like there was something to tell you, but I can’t think of it now.

Father: Well, I have to go to the mall, to pick up a gift for your mother. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. See, you later Jane.

Jane: OK, see ya, Dad.

(Jane sits down to read. Knock at the door. Jane opens the door.)

Jane: Uncle Joshua!

Uncle Joshua: Hi Janey! Where is everybody? Didn’t you tell everyone I was coming?

Jane: I’m sorry, Uncle Joshua. I guess when we get so busy at Christmas, no one had time to listen to news, even good news.

Uncle Joshua: You know, at one time angels brought the best Christmas news. But don’t forget that spreading the Good News is up to us. We can’t get too busy to do that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Reel Meaning of Chirstmas

Now that the season of Blue and Red has ended, the season of Green and Red begins again. Every TV show will have a very special Christmas episode, and movies new and old all purport to tell the true meaning of Christmas, (which often turns out to be, “Family”, “Love”, “Giving” or “Diversity”). All wonderful ideals, but often vacuously presented, with little relation to the real “real meaning of Christmas” - God taking human form in the person of Jesus Christ. I must say about all this Christmas clutter - I love it all. Sure, much of this is so much Christmas froth, but there is a joy even in much of the froth. It takes us all out of our ruts and opens us to think in different ways while at the same time drawing us back to traditions of family and faith. One of our family traditions is to watch some of those Christmas films with vacuous messages every year. Here are approximately six films (I’m not including the animated specials) that get watched in our house every year. Each has a bit of truth. And perhaps, that bit of truth will help point to the full truth of Christmas. At least, that’s the justification I’m using this year.

1) White Christmas This musical is based on a song by one of America’s great song writers, Irving Berlin. If you trusted Mr. Berlin for your definition of holidays, then Easter is about new hats and Christmas is about snow. And this movie rarely gets any more profound. The film tells the story of two song and dance men (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) who met in the army during World War II. Back in the states, the two help the General they served under, a man who has fallen on hard times running an inn in Vermont. And, of course, Bing and Danny also fall in love (with Rosemary Clooney and Verna Ellen). For reasons beyond my comprehension, I see this film every year. My brother and I would watch this film late on Christmas Eve when the only other option was a worship service from the Vatican. My brother would often go to bed after the reunited troops salute the General. As I said, this is not a deep film, and Jesus is never mentioned. But there is one song in the film that is, in its own way, spiritually profound. “Count Your Blessings” begins in this way, “When you’re tired, and just can’t sleep, then count your blessings instead of sheep; and you’ll fall asleep, counting your blessing.” Christmas is a time when many stop to consider their blessings (a spiritually loaded word), which can lead to considering God’s goodness.

2) Another perennial in our household is Home Alone. If one used only this film to discern Christmas meaning, then the nativity has something to do with safe hyper-violence usually found only in the world of cartoons. It tells the story a young boy accidentally abandoned in his house in a wealthy Chicago suburb as his family goes to Florida for vacation. The boy, Kevin (Macaulley Culkin) takes on burglars that try to invade his home with a series of Rube Goldberg devices. But there is a wonderful scene in the film when Kevin goes to church and meets his neighbor, an old man that Kevin has feared for years (believing rumors that he was a mad killer). He strikes up a friendship with the man, who assures him that church is a place where everyone should always feel safe and welcome. May this be true of our church.

3) There have been at least four versions made of Miracle on 34th Street, but in our household we only tolerate the original, Academy Award-winning 1947 version with Edmund Gwynn as Kris Kringle, Natalie Wood as Susan and Margaret O’Sullivan as Susan’s mother. This is a tale of a sweet old man that believes he is Santa and the little girl who has been told that Santa does not exist. This is really a great film; well written and acted (particularly performances by Gwynn and Wood), funny and heartwarming. But it does teach one fairly awful piece of theology. Susan is told “Faith is believing in something, even when all evidence tells you it can’t be true.” Our society has come to accept this as part of the relativity of all truth. Many in western society now teach that any religion or philosophy is equally valid and the important thing is to believe in something. But that is not Christianity. Hebrews 11:1 teaches “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I Corinthians 15:18 says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” We do not believe Christianity without proof. The life of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate and raised again is the historical, factual basis. If Jesus is not really God’s Son who entered the world, our faith is worthless.

4) OK, I‘m going to be honest here. This is one of the films I watch every Christmas season, Die Hard. It is an ultra violent film with obnoxious language, and I am not recommending it to anyone else. But I just love the story of John MaClane, New York cop, who rescues his wife from terrorist kidnappers on Christmas Eve. But I don’t think it hurts to remember at Christmas time the reality of evil (in this film personified by terrorist Hans Gruber [Alan Richter], ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top ten villains of film history). King Herod, the baby killer, is a part of the Christmas story. And we needed someone who seemed like an ordinary person, but was really a hero, to save us. That would be Jesus.

5ish) Scrooge(s). I know Charles Dickens’ book is A Christmas Carol, but my two favorite versions of the story are both called, Scrooge. We usually watch multiple versions of this Dickens classic every year, but we always come back to these two. One version is the 1951 version, with Alastair Sim in one of the best Ebenezer Scrooge performances. Dickens’ story comes much closer than any of the other films mentioned here in telling the real Christmas story. It demonstrates the need for repentance of sin, the importance of giving, and even refers directly to Christ’s birth. I also like the musical Scrooge from 1970 with Albert Finney. I’ve always found it interesting that this version is bold enough to show the ultimate consequence of a life of sin is not becoming a ghost wandering the earth, but hell itself. (But it drives me crazy when Scrooge sings after the visitation of the spirits, “I’ll thank the world, for the moment when I was able tobegin again”. I’m fairly confident that Dickens would have had Scrooge thanking God rather than the world.)

6) It’s a Wonderful Life. Directed in 1946 by Frank Capra, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Watch it without fail every year. Not only my favorite Christmas film, but perhaps my favorite film. George Bailey (Stewart) runs a Savings and Loan and one Christmas Eve a bank auditor finds funds are missing. Facing prison, George contemplates suicide, considering his life worthless. An angel shows him what the world would have been without him, and he realizes he has had a wonderful life after all. This film could really take place any time of year. (I’ve often puzzled about why George’s daughter Zuzu attends school on Christmas Eve Day.) But we do get to hear one of my favorite carols, “Hark, the Herald” and all gather around the Christmas tree at the film’s end. And though the birth of Jesus is not referred to directly, it is the prayers for George Bailey and heavenly intervention that save his life.

It isn’t a big leap, after considering what the world would be like without George Bailey, to consider what the world would be like if Jesus had not been born. And see that Jesus is the One who makes a wonderful life possible. Without the birth of Jesus, there would be no Christmas films, TV specials, Carols, nativity scenes, Christmas cards, Christmas presents, or any of the other profound and simple joys of this season. There also would not be hope of meaning in this life, or the life to come. So as they say in the movies, “God bless us, everyone”, and “A happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night”.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Title Below Wrong!

It should be "The Movie Doctor", not the "The Movie Blogger". Oh well, who's reading here anyway?

The Movie Blogger

Here's a game that no one wanted. Except you, maybe.

At a recent medical convention, Dr. Brown the cardiologist, Dr. Jones the ophthalmologist, and Dr. Smith the podiatrist got into a rather silly argument about which of their specialties was more glamorous. The argument became even sillier when they tried to resolve it on the basis of whether more movie titles featured the heart, eye or foot more. Unfortunately (but not for their patients), the good doctors have spent more time with their medical books than in the multiplex. They could only remember a few details about the movies, but not the titles. So it will be up to you to decide whether Brown (the heart doc), Jones (the eye doc), or Smith (the foot doc), won the argument. (For an example, we will use one of the many films they forgot to mention. “In 1965, Vincent Price, the mad scientist, went to the beach.” The answer is Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. That point would have gone in the column of Dr. Smith the podiatrist.)
1) In 1984, Kevin Bacon taught a town to dance.
2) In 1995, Pierce Bronsnan takes over as James Bond.
3) Mel Gibson won the 1995 Oscar for this Scotsman’s tale.
4) In 1984, this farm film not only won her an Oscar, it proved Hollywood liked Sally Field.
5) In this 1980 film, Robin Williams ate spinach.
6) In 1954, Humphrey Bogart dealt with an unshod gentlewoman.
7) In 1998, Nicolas Cage had a bad throw of the dice.
8) In 1987, Robert DeNiro gives Mickey Rourke the devil.
9) In 1933, James Cagney joined the illuminated line.
10) In 1978, the Bee Gees were no Beatles.
11) In 1996, Sean Connery gave voice to a mythical beast.
12) In 1934, Shirley Temple shone.
13) In 1972, Charles Grodin was not the ideal newlywed.
14) In 1989, in Daniel Day Lewis won an Oscar, but not in the “right” film.
15) In 2001, J Lo was heavenly.
16) In 1982, this Frederick Forest/Teri Garr musical lost Francis Ford Coppola a lot of money.
17) In 1986, Clint Eastwood starred in the greatest Grenada war film.
18) In 1977, John Wayne’s son Patrick played the a mythical hero seeking Rocky’s inspiration.
19) In 1986, Meryl Streep did not have a recipe for successful marriage to Jack Nicholson.
20) In 1983, Bonnie Bedelia was driven (but a driver).

Answers to the quiz above

Answers: 1) Footloose, 2) Goldeneye, 3) Braveheart,
4) Places in the Heart, 5) Popeye, 6) The Barefoot Contessa,
7) Snake Eyes, 8) Angel Heart, 9) Footlight Parade,
10) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 11) Dragonheart,
12) Bright Eyes, 13) The Heartbreak Kid, 14) My Left Foot,
15) Angel Eyes, 16) One From the Heart, 17) Heartbreak Ridge, 18) Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, 19) Heartburn, 20) Heart Like a Wheel
Which makes four foot references, six eye references, and ten heart references. Which makes cardiologists the clear winner.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tag Game

My friend Rob at his blog ( http://daddyroblog.blogs.com/ ) has tagged me for a game with a say five random things about yourself meme. Since he put me down first, I guess I have to go along.
(My Typekey name there and at www.dirtyharrysplace.com is PerfectTommy from the movie "The Adventures of Buckeroo Banzai".)

Link to the person who tagged you.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write 6 random things about yourself.
Tag 6-ish people at the end of your post.
Let each person know he/she has been tagged.
Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

During high school I wrote stories about (and portrayed in an epic multi-media production) the character Astro Plumber.

I had an opportunity to discuss "Plan 9 from Outer Space" with Robin Williams.

An ideal bowl of ice cream is chocolate with marshmallows and Cap'n Crunch. (Those with a health food inclination may substitute the Captain with Grape Nuts.)

Our cat, Kinsey, can be found somewhere on the Antichrist family tree.

The only person in my immediate family that shares by birthplace (Santa Rosa, California) is my daughter Jill.

The San Francisco Chronicle has pulblished two of my letters to the editor.

Brian Nelson (of Trinity fame)

Vinnie and Helga


Jordan's musing on philosophy and theology



Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas Songs in Films and Internet

So here is one of the great ethical questions of the ages: when is it okay to start listening to Christmas Carols?
My older brother, Daryl, had very strict views on this subject. It was his opinion that Christmas albums should not be played until after Thanksgiving dinner. He would guard the stereo lest Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time” or Robert Goulet’s “Let It Snow” touched our ears before pumpkin pie hit the gullet.
Department stores take a different tack. Throughout my life, it seems I’ve heard complaints about how this year the mall has Christmas decorations up and music playing earlier than ever before. But it always seems to be the day after Halloween they make the change from orange and black to red and green.
For quite a few years now I’ve found myself listening to Christmas music even earlier. Usually in September I need to start writing a Christmas program and I find I need some Yule to get the juice flowing.
On occasion I’ve even put in Christmas movies early to get me in the mood. Of course, when I was growing up it was unthinkable that you could watch Miracle on 34th Street in the fall (though strangely, it was originally released in May, 1947.) But then videos and then DVDs came along, and we were no longer at the mercy of theater and television programmers.
My brother Dale and I would watch White Christmas most Christmas eves. Dale would not go to bed until (spoiler) the General was saluted by his men. There were a number of musicals that I sat through waiting for a particular song.
That kind of waiting is no longer necessary. Not only do we have fast forward buttons and chapter searches on DVD players, we have Youtube on the internet. As I was preparing for this article I found all five of my favorite Christmas songs from movies on that site ( www.youtube.com ).
The easiest to find was “White Christmas.” Bing Crosby’s version of this song was the best selling song of all time for decades and is still the best selling Christmas song. I watched the version with Marjorie Reynolds from Holiday Inn (1942). It’s not exactly a big production number. Just Bing and Marjorie at the piano. The fanciest piece of choreography is Crosby hitting the tiny Christmas tree bells with his pipe.
The song evokes a longing for the Christmas of long ago, of childhood. (Amazingly it does so for this native Californian who has only experienced two white Christmases – visiting in-laws in Indiana and when an airline mishap took us to my brother’s in Minnesota Christmas night.)
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1GPxcxrBkI )
You can also find the two versions of the song from 1954’s White Christmas on Youtube. (Or you can see that film on a much bigger screen at the Raven Theater December 14 at 6 PM.)
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSupw-W8wnA&feature=related &
One of the most popular Christmas songs to be found online is Judy Garland’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis. This isn’t a Christmas film really. December 25th is just one of the dates it touches on as in follows a turn-of the-century (19th to 20th ) family through a year. This song is more than tinged with melancholy, urging the listener to enjoy Christmas this year, because the future…well, you know… you can’t trust it.
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cC9o4oYMIqI )
I wasn’t sure I would find my next favorite Christmas song from a film on Youtube, but it was there. (Should I have doubted? Any service that can provide not one but many videos of monkeys doing karate should not be doubted.) That is Zooey Deschanel’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from Elf.
I would have my doubts that this song, about a couple having difficulty splitting up on a winter’s evening, is really a Christmas song. But since the song is found on Christmas albums, and I’ve heard it on K-Love in December, it must be so.
In the film, Zooey is singing the song in the shower, and is quite surprised when Will Ferrell joins in from just outside the curtain. Like the songs mentioned above, this too is a song of longing, but of a romantic variety.
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwMAwZFie6I )
Most all of the songs from the musical version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Scrooge, can be found online. My favorite is “Thank You Very Much,” in which the people of London in Christmas-Yet-To-Come join together to thank Scrooge for very kindly passing away. The song is sung as a reprise at the end of the film after Scrooge dies in a different way. He arguably dies to self and is born again.
There is a kind of longing in this song as well. A longing for a time when people will treat others with love and respect and forgiveness.
One thing that struck me as I was viewing these songs on-line was how few of them had anything to do with the birth of Jesus. To find that, I had to find versions of “Hark, the Harold Angels Sing”. Even then, when the song is sung at the conclusion of It’s a Wonderful Life, it seems only used to acknowledge Clarence, George Bailey’s guardian angel. Much more gusto goes into singing “Auld Lang Syne”.
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErrzjGCi3gY )
Only in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (sections also available on Youtube) do the singers seem to give any thought to the meaning of that great hymn written by Charles Wesley. That God took on human form to be our Savior.
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75RLaWXGigI )
So there you have it: five great Christmas songs from movies that you don’t have to wait for. You don’t have to wait for the films to turn up on TV the last weeks of December. You don’t have to wait in line at the video store or for Netflix to deliver. You don’t ever have to wait through the movie for that favorite song to appear.
Which is a little unfortunate.
Because Advent (which is Latin for “Coming”) is all about waiting. Traditionally, it has been the time where the church expectantly prepared for the celebration of Christ’s nativity. God knows that waiting can do us good.
He had a purpose for informing His people that a Messiah was coming, though it was centuries until those prophecies would be fulfilled. Even when Jesus was born, it would be years before people would see how that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes could be the Savior of the world.
So maybe there is something to be said for my brother zealously guarding the stereo until after the Detroit Lions played. Or those European traditions of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.
We need to understand the longing that comes with the more melancholy aspects of Christmas. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. You did come before. We anxiously await your return.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Ten Second Rule

The ten second rule. You know what I’m talking about. Uncounted numbers of hamburger, Skittles and Fritos have been saved from the trash can by this rule. The rule plainly states that any food that drops to the floor can still be eaten if it is picked up before ten seconds pass.
I once worked in a movie theater snack bar. While I worked there the 10 Second Rule was strictly enforced.
I’m pretty sure some of the hot dogs turning on the rack were there before I was hired and continued to spin after I left. One day one of the ushers knocked a dog to the floor and hesitated before picking it up. The manager on duty approved of the dog going back under the heat lamp. But he said, “If you had taken any more time in picking up that hot dog, we would have had to change the rule to twenty seconds.”
I often think about the Ten Second Rule when the subject of sin comes up. Really.
Have you ever wondered about why the Bible talks about everyone being a sinner?
Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That same chapter, verse 10 says, “There is none righteous, not ever one.”
Maybe you’ve had a friend ask you, or you’ve wondered yourself, that “all” can’t really be “all”. Especially when you read something like Romans 6:23 that says “The wages of sin is death.” That’s saying that everyone should be convicted of the death penalty for sin. How can that be?
Sure, maybe someone like Hitler you can call a sinner who is worthy of the death penalty. Maybe the people on the news convicted of molesting and killing children, someone like that you could call a sinner that should dies for their sins. But everyone?
Surely the Bible couldn’t be talking about Gandhi. Or Martin Luther King. Or Steve or Joe, the hosts of “Blue’s Clues”.
What is the Bible talking about?
Okay, back to the Ten Second Rule. Maybe you’ve seen Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel. They’re the guys who take urban legends and test them out to see if they’re true. They had the audacity to take on the Ten Second Rule to see if it was true. And shock of shocks, they found out it isn’t.
If you drop a potato chip on a dirty, germ infested floor; it doesn’t matter if its there for a second, ten seconds or ten minutes. Once it touches the floor, it’s dirty. Sure, it might seem less nasty to eat the Ho-Ho that has only been on a dirty floor for a second than the one that has been resting through a couple of songs on the I-Pod but it really doesn’t matter.
Imagine someone you love is in for surgery. All the instruments have been carefully scrubbed and sterilized. The surgeon is about to begin the operation. Then she drops the scalpel and says, “Ten Second Rule” and cuts right in. That would not inspire confidence and it very might well lead to a nasty, perhaps deadly, infection.
Sin is like that. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve sinned a little or a lot. Any sin makes us impure before a holy God just as a surgical instrument exposed to a little or a lot of filth is unfit for use.
But fortunately, there is more to Romans 6: 23 than I quoted before, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So when you tempted to think, “You know, I’m not so bad compared to…”: just remember the Ten Second Rule.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

Integrity Quiz

Yeah, it's been hard not to bad mouth the integrity of politicians this time of year (especially those in the other party), but how's your integrity?
How honest are you? Take the test to see.

1) The grocery store clerk overpays you $10 in change. You:
a) Return the money
b) Put the money in the charity jar
c) Congratulate yourself distracting the clerk into a mistake

2) A friend’s older sister wrote an ‘A’ paper on a book you need to write about in English. You:
a) Change the name, date and class period and turn in everything else as is
b) Say thanks, no thanks and don’t even look at the paper
c) Look at the paper for ideas

3) Your bank credits your account with an additional $5000. You:
a) Just wait to see if they notice the error.
b) Withdraw everything, close your account and open an account in another bank
c) Notify the bank about the error.

4) A friend takes a test in a class in the morning that you will take in the afternoon.
a) Tell your friend you don’t want to hear about it.
b) Get the answers, write them on a piece of paper you can roll into the inside of your pen.
c) Ask your friend for an idea of what areas in particular you should study.

5) At an arcade, you notice a game giving free games. You:
a) Notify the management.
b) Play a few games free.
c) Tell someone else, you already put money in the machine but you’ll sell the games for half price.

6) The teacher left answers on the chalk board. As you take the test, you:
a) Don’t mention it.
b) Tattle.
c) Fake a coughing fit at the end of the test, so a friend can erase the board, increasing the chances the teacher won’t notice.

7) You find a wallet. You:
a) Look up the owner and personally return it.
b) Take out the money out and drop the wallet where you found it.
c) Drop off the wallet at the nearest lost and found.

8) You make plans to spend an evening with someone who can be a bit dull, but then get an invite from someone you like much better. You:
a) Tell the dull friend you’re sick and go with the fun person.
b) Tell the dull friend you’d rather to something with your other friend.
c) Stick with your first commitment.

9) You exchange quizzes in class for grading. You trade papers with a friend, who says she’ll grade you easy, if you grade her easy. You:
a) Tell her you can’t do that.
b) Agree to the deal.
c) Mark her answers wrong, but let her correct yours.

10) You are taking a test about your integrity. You:
a) Look at the key at the bottom, to find the ‘honest’ answers.
b) Follow the test rules precisely.
c) Copy your answers from a neighbor’s paper.

Each answer will give you 0, 1 or 2 points.
1) a-2, b-1, c-0 2) a-0, b-2, c-1 3) a-1, b-0, c-2 4) a-2, b-0, c-1 5) a-2, b-1, c-0
6) a-1, b-2, c-0 7) a-2, b-0, c-1 8) a-0, b-1, c-2 9) a-2, b-1, c-0 10) a-1, b-2, c-0
Total your numbers.

Score of 20 – Are you even human?
16 – 19 – Honest Abe Lincoln had nothing on you.
11- 15 – I don’t think I want you as my accountant.
6 – 10 – Come on, admit it. You cheated on this test.
1 – 5 – Do your friends count the change in their piggy bank after you leave the room?
0 – Why aren’t you in jail already?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just Words

Film makers, studios and especially marketers decide what their films will be rated. You might say the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America decides the ratings (‘G’ - All Ages Admitted, ‘PG’ – Some Material May Not Be Suitable for Children, ‘PG – 13’ – Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13, ‘R’ – Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Guardian, or ‘NC-17’ No One 17 and Under Admitted.) But the film makers know the rules on the ratings and they can tailor the film to earn a particular rating.
One of the factors that affects a films rating is the language.
I doubt it’s in theaters as you read this newsletter, but I recently saw a delightful little comedy called Ghost Town. Starring Ricky Gervais (of the British Office fame), it tells the story of a very selfish man who learns, through supernatural encounters, the importance of caring for others. As one would expect in a movie with ghosts, it would not be the place to look for sound Christian theology about the afterlife, but the filmmakers don’t expect the viewer to take that aspect of the film seriously anyway.
It is a sweet film and though there is some crude humor, it could easily have had a film rating of ‘PG’. But a decision was made, probably by marketers, that the film would sell better if it was rated ‘PG-13’. So they included two uses of the ‘F’ word (and no, I don’t mean when Gervais was called ‘fat’). When the ‘F’ word is used in figurative sense, a maximum of two times, the film receives a minimum of a ‘PG-13’. If the ‘F’ word is used in a literal sense, or more than twice, the film will receive an ‘R’ rating.
This got me thinking about the words we call swear words, curse words or “you say that again and I’ll wash your mouth out with soap” words.
What’s the big deal with them?
These words certainly are common in the world today. Many of us are in jobs where we hear them frequently in the work place. Students can’t avoid hearing them frequently in public school (or many Christian schools). And even if you don’t go tostay away from movies, listen only to Chopin Concertos and shun the internet, you can’t avoid these words on other people’s t-shirts and bumper stickers.
Let’s begin by dividing these words into two categories: blasphemy and obscenity.
Blasphemy is misusing God’s name. Not much room for argument here, ; it’s one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:7). There is no reason to use the name of our Lord Jesus when we slam our finger in the door unless we really are praying. When people say “Oh God” and aren’t talking to Him, they are breaking this commandment (which, by the sayway, is the first commandment that promises punishment).
In a related sense, ‘ “hell’ hell” and “‘damn’” take the serious issue of eternal separation from God and turn these grave concepts into exclamations for flat tires and bad quiz results.
This is the language we must avoid using and perhaps we should avoid ‘entertainments’ that take God and the truth of eternity lightly. (I would like to point to one film that uses such blasphemy freely but in a unique way. John Huston adapted Flannery O’Conner’s Wise Blood, the story of a young man, Hazel Motes, who tries to flee from God. But the common blasphemy kept him from forgetting the name of Jesus.)
Now obscenity is something else. These are words for body parts, expelling waste and sexual intercourse. Why do some people (like television and radio broadcasters) consider these words off limits?
I think these words say something about who we are. In a similar context, C. S. Lewis wondered about why people tell dirty jokes and determined that it’s. It is because we are a unique mix of spiritual and physical beings. Animals aren’t embarrassed about their body parts or functions. But we know deep down that there is more to us than just our bodies.
So should we be ashamed of what we are? No. But some words degrade who we are and what we do.
For instance, the “‘F’” word. Won’t spell it out, not appropriate. But originally it was a vulgar term to describe sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse was created by God to be not just a physical act to reproduce but also as a spiritual act. A united union of two people into one. In fact, in Scripture it is often in Scripture a representation of God’s love for His people.
But something holy is commonly used as a meaningless noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Or an insult.
It is true that languages evolve over time. In some circles a hundred years ago, it was considered improper to use words for body parts such as ‘arm’ or ‘leg’. A gentleman or lady would refer only to limbs.
But if certain words are banned by secular broadcasters, if we wouldn’t use these words in front of our parents or pastors or prospective bosses on a job interview, should we then make them a part of our everyday conversation?
The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter 5:4 “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”
As we approach the celebration of Thanksgiving, let’s try to make our words ones that glorify God and His creation, rather then make use of language that coarsens the Sacred.

( Other Scripture to consider for our conversation: Matthew 12:36, Ephesians 4: 29, Colossians 3:8)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!

She's 80 today.


Swimming Pool

All the pool signs say-
"Please do not expectorate
"What about Mark Spitz?"


A Stage of Alert
In a World of Terror or
Contemplate Navels

An Original or Sequels


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rejected by Upper Room

So I thought I'd post this devotional here:

“For Crying Out Quiet”
Read Psalm 46
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Ps. 46:10
Our world is addicted to noise. If the sounds of industry and traffic weren’t loud enough; cell phones and I-Pods add to the volume. I know I’m not much better. I avoid quiet. One of the first things I do when I come in the house is turn on the radio or TV. I’m even willing to vacuum when things become too quiet.
The world of Psalm 46 is not necessarily a quiet one. In the Psalm earthquakes bring down mountains, the oceans roar, and kingdoms crumble. But in the midst of it all, God wants to be heard. He could, of course, out roar the turbulence, the waters and nations. But God prefers the whisper to the shout. By his power He could speak over the distractions of the world. But He would rather that we took the time to hush the distractions, and wait for Him to speak, often through His Written Word.
So take the time to turn off the noise of the world, quiet ourselves and hear His Still Small Voice.

Thought for the Day
Usually the problem is not God’s silence, rather our lack of listening.
Prayer Focus: To be attentive to God’s voice.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Happy Deanstag!

I hope you all had a happy holiday (47th annual).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Special Edition

I wrote this short story with George Lucus' "Star Wars Special Editions" were released in the theaters. Because, Han shot first.


Elisha stared at Bogart’s lips. He was waiting for the words - “Play it again, Sam”.
That was Elisha’s cue. After Rick said it, Elisha shouted, “He used to say, ‘Play it’. They changed it. That’s not what he used to say!”
People shushed him. One woman yelled, “Shut up” quite shrilly. Someone threw popcorn.
That was okay. He was used to it. There was the time in San Francisco was arrested for smoking in the theater. He still remembered every time Rick and Ilsa lit up, so he brought a pack of Nico-frees to a Saturday night screening. He smoked when they used to. (Now they held and sucked on Frooty-Joosey Pops.) The cops pulled him out of his seat just as Louie closed down Rick’s Café American.
In Chicago, his life had been threatened, so he usually felt he was getting off easily with anything less.
He first saw the film on videocassette. When he talked about “videos”, kids scratched their heads and called him a crazy old man. Sixty wasn’t old in his book, but they called him that no matter what he talked about. Maybe it had something to do with the trench coat and fedora.
The audiences always shouted him down, hit him, kicked him and spat on him. Well, not always. There was that once.
In New Orleans, when Rick’s countered the Nazis’ singing with “God Bless America”, Elisha led the audience with a boisterous, not quite-on-key version of the “Marseilles”. And it seemed every single person in that packed house on Bourbon Street sang along.
Perhaps it was that one glorious moment that kept him traveling from city to city as Casablanca celebrated it hundredth anniversary with a special edition (“with improved picture and content”) released to theaters.
Something kept him going, in spite of the abuse from audiences. Nothing any audience member, usher, manager or cop ever did hurt him as much as the pain he felt when he saw Bogart board the plane with Bergman.

Monday, September 22, 2008

If You're Looking for Dated Political Satire....

I wrote this four years ago and never did anything with it. Still works overall for this year, just put in McCain for Bush and Obama for Kerry and Viola! Cutting edge humor...


By Dean Anderson

This being an election year, I believe we can all agree it is our patriotic duty to vote, since MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign tells us so. Voting is an important civil duty, arguably more important than putting your shopping cart in the parking lot return slot, but not up in the cleaning up after your dog’s business strata. Some would say it is important before one votes to research the issues, ponder the pros and cons of the candidates and consider their positions on everything from social security to home ownership of ferrets. Of course, this would involve listening to many dull speeches and the reading of many newspapers, and nothing I have seen on MTV, let alone Spike TV or the Weather Channel has convinced me that these are necessary duties as an American.
I mean, I’m all for voting, especially since federal law stipulates you may take a full morning or afternoon off work to do so (or at least litigation phobic employers may be convinced it is so). But is it worth the effort to diligently research prior to the election in order to judge the candidates and issues on their merits? I’m not convinced. I’m not saying you should throw away your vote, far from it. But there are other ways to decide your vote that may lead to more fun and profit.
For instance, it is important to consider how your vote impacts your love life, a perspective gravely under-reported by CNN.
Since the sixties, when the first “Make Love, Not War” signs were finger-painted, we have been aware that taking a political stand could lead to getting some action. This phenomenon was first observed during England’s parliamentary elections of the late 1800’s (insert your own Disraeli or Gladstone joke here).
It is still true your vote can have a romantic impact. First you will need to discern the political leanings of that opposite sex voter. Try throwing out a tactful question, such as “Say, how about that terrorism?” and note the response.
Once you perceive the political persuasion of your partisan pretty, try one of the following lines. For that special Democrat, “The Republicans only care about corporations, not the little, yet attractive and sexually liberated people like you and me.” Or for that desirable Republican, “The Democrats just care about the Special Interests, not the little, attractive and quite heterosexual people like you and me.” Remember, as a general rule, if thinking commitment, go conservative; if thinking fling, go liberal.
Along these lines, if you live on one of the coasts, consider the possibilities for Party parties and the celebrities that might be met therein. At a Democrat fund-raiser you might have Catherine Zeta-Jones Douglas or George Clooney. At a Republican fund-raiser you might have a chance to meet Dennis Miller, or Larry Miller or an assortment of other fine Millers. I recommend caution in throwing in too quickly with the Beautiful People, they might include Michael Moore. In fly-over country you might not find celebrities but rather a quality assortment of casseroles at fund-raisers of either party.
Another consideration is how the choice of administration will impact your television viewing. Fortunately, we no longer live in an age where the President can command all media to cover his words. Even in times of war, the Disney Channel is unlikely to interrupt Raven. But there still is the danger that your favorite show could be pre-empted if the candidate is not sympathetic to your programming choices. So vote for Bush if you are concerned about a Presidential message interfering with the NFL, Nascar or the Dove Awards. On the other hand, your vote must go for Kerry if you want to be sure that PBS Peter, Paul and Mary concert is only interrupted by the pledge drive.
(On the subject of television, I do wish to offer this side note. Though I am in no way advocating real research before the election, I would urge you not to miss the upcoming Vice-Presidential Debate. I’ve got money riding on whether the FCC will fine the networks if Cheney uses any choice profanity in front of minor. And don’t try to tell me John Edwards is not a minor. If kids lie about their age to get into the military, you can’t tell me someone wouldn’t lie to get a cushy job like VP.)
How your vote could impact your travel plans might be another important consideration. All savvy travelers know not to slap that Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on the luggage on a trip to gay Paree, but there is more to it than that. You need to be ready to answer that pivotal question, “Who did you (will you) vote for?” If in Old Europe or most of the Middle East, you’ll want to be able to answer Democratic. If in Kuwait or New Europe (defined as few inside toilets), you’ll want to answer Republican. You may choose on the other hand to play it safe and learn the names of Canada’s candidates for prime minister. On your ballot, your write-in candidate will be Pierre Trudeau (remember, I’m not using this strategy, I don’t have to research it). Then when asked you can respond truthfully, “Eh, hoser, I voted Labor, so take off.”
Perhaps you’ll choose to vote vocationally. Your boss or union rep may have some voting suggestions and would be pleased if you would ask his or her opinion. And if you don’t get around to actually voting for his or her favorite candidate, remember, it is the thought that counts (especially if his or her thought is that you were more than adequately kissing his or her appropriate anatomical location.)
Now there are many other low-effort methods for deciding how to vote, such as celebrity endorsements. I myself plan to vote for General Westley Clarke based solely on his support from Madonna. Sure, he’s dropped out of the race, but my respect for the Material Girl’s work on the “Immaculate Collection” album and the film “Dick Tracey” does not allow me to consider Al Gore‘s recommendation of Howard Dean or even Britney Spears’ support of W.
It would be irresponsible for me to close this discussion without discussing the option of selling your vote. This is no longer just an option for the fine citizens of Chicago. Judicious use of E-Bay might allow you to sell not only your vote, along with your late Uncle Morrie’s vote and your dog’s vote in a package.
And, of course, if you live in Florida it really doesn’t matter how you vote because the vote will probably go to Pat Buchanan anyway.
So do not neglect your patriotic duty: vote. Your negligence in the past led to Clay Aiken and La Toya London getting jobbed.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jacob: Con Man…and Movie Star?

Next month, at my church, we'll be studying the life of one of Scripture’s greatest con men (topped only by perhaps Lucifer himself), Jacob the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham. When you read this guy’s story, he’s running one scam after another. We see Jacob in Genesis 27 disguise himself as his brother to get his father’s blessing. We see Jacob in Genesis 30 pull a con to get Laban’s sheep and goats (perhaps with God’s assistance). Jacob keeps it up even after Laban pulls a scam on Jacob (the old bride switch). It is not until God literally picks a fight with Jacob (Genesis 32) that he finally turns his life around.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there’s something appealing about a clever con executed well. We’re amused by the scams of Jacob, so it’s not surprising that so many films have been made about con men (and women) and their games.
The most honored film of the Con Genre would probably be The Sting, winner of 7 Academy Awards including 1973’s Best Picture Oscar. The film is great fun. If you haven’t seen it, avoid hearing anything about the plot’s twists and turns before you do. The film deservedly won Oscars for art design, costumes and music for masterfully creating a prettified Depression wherein con men are the heroes. The film is worth watching to see Robert Redford and Paul Newman, perhaps the most charming duo in film history. (Newman, at the time of this writing, is not expected to live much longer; all the more reason to seek out the work of this wonderful actor.)
But the con truly is a game. Deception is one of the tools of the game, and the expert practice of it is not considered a moral flaw but rather a cherished skill. Many other films, including The Music Man and Ocean’s 11 (old and new),
portray con men as smart, charming and deep down good guys.
Some other films take the lies and deception of the con more seriously. Writer/director David Mamet’s House of Games takes us into the world of con men as we follow a psychiatrist (Lindsay Crouse) who enters the world of confidence men to aid one of her patients. The men of this world are not good guys. They prey not only on the greed and hubris of their victims, but also on their generosity and fears. These are not good men. But we are still fascinated by how they pull off their crimes. (Other films that take on the dark side of the confidence game would include The Spanish Prisoner and The Grifters. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a comedy, but you never would mistake the con men in the film for good guys.)
Perhaps the film con man who is most like Jacob is found in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. The film is a fictionalized autobiography of Frank William Abagnale, Jr. (played by Leo DiCaprio), a young man who passed himself off as a doctor, a lawyer and an airline pilot before he got out of his teens. With a variety of scams, including the passing of bad checks, he made millions of dollars before he was apprehended and sent to prison.
There is another interesting similarity between Abagnale as portrayed in the film and Jacob in Scripture. They both have life-changing father issues. Jacob had to fool his father into giving him the blessing, because Isaac clearly prefered Esau, his more macho son. After leaving home, Jacob seeks out a father figure in his uncle Laban. But Laban betrays him and becomes an enemy.
In the film (and in real life), Frank Jr.’s father, Frank Sr. (played by Christopher Walken) is caught committing fraud by the IRS, causing the family to move out of their grand country house to a small apartment in the city. When Frank Sr. divorces his wife, a distraught Frank Jr. leaves home and begins his life of fraud. He also seems to be searching for a father figure. And quite amazingly, he finds one in the FBI agent who pursues him, Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks).
After Frank Jr. was arrested and served time in prison, Hanratty offered Frank an opportunity to work for the FBI in a special unit combatting fraud. Ever since that time, Abagnale, the real Abagnale, has worked dilligently to help individuals and businesses protect themselves from the kind of fraud he had perpetrated so ably.
Jacob also did not change until he finally confronted and was brought to account for his deeds by a father figure: his true Father in Heaven.
Many of us spend our lives looking for self worth and esteem that we didn’t get from our parents. We are willing to lie, cheat and steal to get money, sex and respect that we think will make us feel worthwhile. All of us need to discover that our real value can be found in our Heavenly Father, as Jacob finally discovered.

(The Sting [1973]– rated PG for language, violence and sexual situations
The Music Man [1962] - not rated
Ocean’s 11 [1960] – not rated
Ocean’s 11 [2001] – PG-13 for language and violence
House of Games [1987] – rated R for language, violence and sexual situations
The Spanish Prisoner [1997] – rated PG for language and violence
The Grifters [1990] – rated R for language, violence, sexual situations and nudity
Dirty, Rotten Scondrels [1988] – rated PG for language and sexual situations
Catch Me If You Can [2002] - rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations)

Monday, August 18, 2008

School Start Up: For Parents, Then Teens

Besides Sharpening the Pencils…What to Do?
Whether your children are taught at home or in a public, private or Christian school, about now you’re probably gearing up again for the annual academic adventure. So what should you be doing as a parent to help your student(s) prep for the year to come?
1) Prayer – As our kids become teens and a giant filter seems to descend between our mouths and their ears, we may begin to wonder how much of an impact we can have in their lives. Don’t worry, they still hear you. But if we really want to help our kids, we’ll direct more of what we say to God. Pray not just for your son or daughter, but also for their friends, their teachers and the school administration. (Colossians 1:9)
2) Supplies – Check school letters and websites for supply lists, but realize that some teachers will tack in extras after the year begins. (Doubt the son who says “The school is supplying most stuff. We just need to buy rubber bands and paper clips.” He’s just quoting Bart Simpson.)
3) Clothes – Good time to discuss “Needs vs. Wants”, “Materialism”, “Why We Don’t Have to Keep Up With the Joneses” and “Modesty”. Also get to know the school dress code before hitting the stores.
4) Financial Plan for the Year – There will be all kinds of financial decisions that come up during the year, such as the plain yearbook versus the yearbook with 3-D Holographic Projections, banquets and student trips. Discuss now what you’ll help with financially and what you won’t.
5) Sleep – If your kids have settled into a midnight to noon sleep schedule, it might be good to break it now. Do a little research on the average sleep requirements for different ages, but you probably know better than anyone how much your son or daughter needs, not just to get by, but to thrive.
6) Academic Schedule – Find out from school counselors and colleges what classes are required for graduation as well as college admission.
7) Daily Homework Plan – Talk with your student before the school year about your expectations for study time. If you will be asking your student regularly about homework and checking it, let ‘em know now – then follow through.
8) Faith Challenges – If your kids are going to public school, there will be challenges to their beliefs in the classroom. Discuss this before the school year begins and find resources that will help student deal with the attacks on Christianity that may come in biology, English, history or even an art class.
9) Moral Challenges – Even if your kids go to a Christian school, there will be more pressure in the year to come from other students to cheat on tests, party, experiment sexually and some special surprise temptations. Academics are important, but shouldn’t as a rule take priority over church, youth group and personal and family devotions. Your student needs all of those resources to meet the challenges to come.
10) Prayer. Yeah, I said it before. It’s that important.

The new school year is starting and though you’re looking forward to seeing friends, you’re dreading the same old, same old. How can you avoid boredom for the next nine months? Perhaps you can follow these simple steps to a more interesting school year.
1) TRY OUT FOR A NEW SPORT OR ACTIVITY – Haven’t ever gone out for a school sport? You might not make the basketball or soccer team, but what’s the big deal if get cut? Maybe you’ve always done sports. So how about the school newspaper or yearbook? A school play or musical? Perhaps even a community service group, like key club? More stuff looks good on the college resume. But more important, it could be fun.
2) WRITE ABOUT JESUS IN A SCHOOL PAPER – Maybe in a “What I Did Last Summer” paper, you can write about a church mission trip. If you get a choice for a history paper, you could write about the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther or the Azusa Street Revival (look it up.) Get bold in a speech class and tell about how you became a Christian.
3) SIT IN A DIFFERENT PLACE FOR LUNCH – Do you sit at the same table or by the same tree every day at lunch? And with the same people? Get a friend and seek out someone who has no one. Or have lunch on top of the school sign. Whatever.
4) CHEER AT A LOW ATTENDANCE SPORTING EVENT – No, I’m not talking football. When I wrestled in high school, we didn’t exactly fill up the stands. The same might be true for your school’s bat mitten team. Get some friends someday, go to a game and cheer like crazy. Especially if no one else is doing it.
5) FIND A FRIEND THAT WILL KEEP YOU IN LINE – I don’t know what your temptations will be this year. Maybe to party. Maybe to cheat. Maybe it’s sexual temptation. Find a Christian friend that you can talk to about your temptation and agree that you will tell him or her when you’re tempted to give in.
6) IF THERE IS A CHRISTIAN CLUB AT YOUR SCHOOL: GO – Of course, if there’s not one, you could start one. If you go to a Christian school, maybe you could start a missions club. (A good time to start might be September 24th, when there is the national “See You At the Pole” event. Go to www.syatp.com to find out more.)
7) FIND A TIME TO SPEND WITH GOD EVERY DAY – It might be morning when you talk to God about the day to come. It might be at night when you read a chapter of the Bible before you go to bed.
8) PRAY FOR YOUR TEACHER(S) – In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said, “Pray for those who persecute you”. Who persecutes us more than teachers? So pray for God to bless ‘em, and you’ll be amazed by what God does.
9) BRING A SNACK – Some day bake a pie and pass it around at lunch. Or check to see whether you can order a pizza for class. Surprise people.
10) CHANGE SOMEONE’S LIFE – Yeah, this year, make someone’s life better. You can do it. And your life will be better, too. And this year will be anything but dull.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Batman on Wire

While police sirens whine far below, this man looks from a towering skyscraper down at Gotham as he prepares to step into the abyss. He knows that what he will do is not legal, but thinks that it will benefit others. Even more, he is drawn -- by his very nature -- to act.
If you think I’m writing about Batman in The Dark Knight, well, I’m not (at least not just yet). I’m writing about Man on Wire, a documentary about tight rope walker and proto performance artist Philippe Petit, who wire walked between the tops of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in August of 1974.
Director James Marsh uses a combination of vintage footage, contemporary interviews and dramatic recreations to tell the story of how Petit dreamed up his mad scheme, recruited his motley band of helpers and circumvented security to bring his dangerous plan to fruition. In some ways, the film works as a caper or heist film wherein in a team is gathered to steal the jewels or break out of prison.
There is no mystery about whether he will be successful. After all, Petit is interviewed in the present day (so we know he lives), and no one would make a film about someone who wasn’t able to pull off an elaborate stunt over thirty years ago. The fun is watching how it was done. But it can be a bit unsettling to watch as blueprints for the World Trade Centers are laid out to plot a stunt, when we know that in the years after 1974 the blueprints for the buildings will be studied for much more malignant reasons.
But as a Christian, it is odd to be put in a place of rooting for someone who’s breaking the law. In Romans 13: 1 & 2 the apostle Paul wrote “1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Petit’s comrades argue that since he has no ill intent, it doesn’t matter if he breaks the law. In the film we are shown some of Petite’s stunts prior to the WTC, tightrope walking between the towers of the Norte Dame Cathedral and the towers of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. After being arrested in Sydney, Petit swipes the watch of one of the policemen who arrests him.
I think when we’re young we all have an impulse to break or at least bend the law. (I know as a kid and a teen, I might not have always strictly followed laws scrupulously concerning trespassing when with a friend off-roading or toilet papering houses or…the traffic laws or… how much of this do I want my kids to read?) And part of the fun of watching movies is seeing characters do what we would never do. But this is a real person committing a real crime that could have not only cost him his own life, but the lives of onlookers and the police called to bring him in.
And yet watching a man walk back and forth between those massive structures is captivating and at times quite beautiful. Can we become too obsessed with following legalities?
Jesus certainly was not always a stickler for the law. The Pharisaic law said that one should not do any work on the Sabbath, including healing. But we have this story about Jesus from Matthew 12 – “9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
11He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.”
But there is a difference. When Jesus broke the law, it was always clearly for the glory of God, the benefit of others and the furtherance of the Kingdom. It wasn’t just on a lark or for self glorification.
So back to Batman. Yes, I did see some similarities between these films. One of the most fascinating things in The Dark Knight (directed by Chris Nolan) is Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) wrestling with the outlaw nature of his work as a vigilante. He sees his work as necessary to protect the lives of others, but he would rather be able to live within the law. But he finds he can’t.
In The Dark Knight, Wayne uses all the tools at his disposal to fight a war against crime and terrorism (as personified by the Mob and the Joker played by the late Heath Ledger). But he comes to realize there will be a cost to such a battle not just for himself, but for those who join him in the battle. And he agonizes over the potential costs in the lives of others. (Petit in Man on Wire rarely seems concerned by the costs paid by those who join him in his quest.)
These moral quandaries, never fully answered, are what make The Dark Knight a little more thoughtful that the average summer superhero epic. And it was odd to find that the fictional blockbuster was more serious on a moral level than the documentary from the BBC and Discovery Films.

Man on Wire is rated PG-13 for language, nudity and sexuality.
The Dark Knight is rated PG-13 for language and violence, but the violence probably should have earned it an R rating.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

In Honor of "Hellboy II", An Old Review I Did

Pan’s Labyrinth
Fairies, an evil step-father, a faun
Guns, explosions, Fascists vs. the resistance, torture
Forbidden fruit, eternal life, blood atonement, sacrifice
So you have a fairy tale, a war movie and a Christian parable, all to be found in Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish language film -- elements that will certainly attract and repel viewers in equal numbers.
Lovers of fantasy may be lost when they learn of the graphic scenes of shootings, stabbings and battlefield surgery in Pan’s Labyrinth (or El Laberinto del Faurn). Enthusiasts of World War II might not be pleased to learn that the central character of the film is a little girl, given three tasks to prove that she is the princess of an underground kingdom. And I read critics who were not pleased that with the film’s Christian imagery.
The film is an adult fairy tale, and the criticism that fairy tales are for children is addressed within the film itself. Ofelia, the heroine of the story, is told by her mother and stepfather that she is too old for fairy tales. And yet she finds within her fantasies wisdom to live in a difficult and dangerous world. The moral clarity found in such tales is occasionally scoffed at by some grown-ups as simplistic. They argue the world never has any clear heroes or villains, black or white, only shades of grey. They would also argue that only the material world exists and it is foolish to believe in anything outside of what we can perceive through our senses.
I would argue that the stark contrasts between good and evil found in fairy tales can at times be found in the real world. In the Old Testament battles, God was on the good side in many of the battles between Israel and evil foes. During our Civil War, ultimately the side defending slavery was in the wrong. And in World War II, one side definitely could be defined as right and the other as wrong.
And those who believe that there is nothing beyond ourselves and what we can see and hear, touch and taste and smell, they have bought into a lie much darker and devoid of truth than any story Disney ever animated.
We are given a grim picture of what it was like to live under the repressive regime of Franco’s Spain during World War II. The government kept the people dependant on itself for foods and goods. One scene shows soldiers dispersing bread to citizens, and as they do they announce that the daily bread comes through the beneficence of the government. God’s providence is given no place in such a dictatorship.
The very worst of the government is personified through Ofelia’s stepfather, Capitan Vidal, a sadist shown torturing captives and casually killing the innocent. Those who would say such violence has no place in fairy tales just don’t know how grim the Brothers Grimm could be.
I found the most interesting aspect of the film was introduction of the theme of blood atonement. To avoid spoilers, I can’t tell too much about how this theme is used in the film, but it is there, with great Biblical resonance.
Hebrews 9: 22 says, “Without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins.” This essential Biblical doctrine at times seems like an outdated piece of myth and legend. But by placing this theme in the midst of a war, a time when the shedding of blood is a daily transaction, we are reminded of its truth.
We tend to think of sin as a petty offense that should be cleared up as one would pay for a parking ticket. The film reminds us that when dealing with issues such as life and death, war and sin, is not child’s play, but we do need childlike faith.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Spoiling in a Good Way

I want to warn you now that this article is full of spoilers.
What? Some of you are unclear on the term “spoilers”? You haven’t been reading your internet movie reviews. At a variety of movie sites you can read reviews of movies that are seen before the films are released. Sometimes you can read reviews of scripts before a film is even produced. Often the reviewers will warn *minor spoilers* or *major spoilers*, depending on whether they plan on giving away minor plot details or every twist and turn in the story.
Some people like spoilers, some don’t.
I prefer not to know what’s going to happen in the movies I watch and the books I read; I want to be surprised. On the other hand, my wife Mindy often reads the ends of novels before deciding if she wants to go on reading. She does this with mysteries. This is a mystery to me.
Some people like spoilers, some don’t.
*Major Spoilers*! I plan on giving away the whole plot of a certain film, and not only that, but some major spoilers about life itself.
So if you were planning on rushing out to rent F.W. Murau’s silent German Expressionist classic The Last Laugh, and you don’t want to know how it ends, quit reading now!
Emil Jannings plays the doorman (or porter) of an elite German hotel. He is proud of his job and especially proud of his gaudy uniform. When he returns from work to his dilapidated tenement, his neighbors treat him with deference and respect because of his big lapels and shiny buttons.
But the doorman is getting on in years, and when the manager of the hotel sees him take a long break after struggling with heavy luggage, the manager demotes him to restroom attendant.
The new job does not have the status of doorman and does not have a uniform.
So the former doorman decides to steal a uniform so he can still wear it when he’s back in his neighborhood. But when a neighbor spies him at work in the restroom, he becomes the laughing stock of the neighborhood.
The man breaks down in tears when he returns the uniform to the hotel security guard. And then the film makers show one of the most amazing title cards in silent films.
I’m paraphrasing a bit, but the card says something like this: “In real life, the porter would have little to look forward to, except his own death. However, the writer took pity upon the man and added this unexpected epilogue.”
The film then shows guests in the hotel laughing as they read a newspaper article. The article tells about a millionaire who died in the arms of a hotel restroom attendant. The millionaire’s last will and testament specified that his entire fortune would go to the person who held him as he died.
The final minutes of the film show the former doorman of the hotel enjoying the hotel’s luxuries, along with his friend the security guard. The film ends with the new millionaire tipping all of the bell staff before riding off in a convertible.
The title card that changes the doorman’s fortune is a classic “Deus ex machine” device (or ‘God from the machine’). This is a phrase that originated in Greek drama, when the writer would paint his characters into such a difficult situation that the only solution was an arbitrary plot intervention by one of the many Greek gods.
It is usually quite an annoying device in a play, book or film.
If an ordinary Western story concludes with a UFO blasting the bad guy with lasers in the climatic gun fight or a parent’s objection to the love match in a Victorian romance resolved by having Dr. Phil enter in and give counsel, the audience is understandably upset.
But somehow, this device works in The Last Laugh, because the film makers are so transparent about its use. A (slightly) more recent use of blatant “Deus ex machine” is found in Wayne’s World. The film appears to be ending with our hero Wayne losing the girl and the villain triumphant. But Wayne speaks to the camera and suggests a different ending. They first try the Scooby Doo ending (“I would have succeeded, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids”) and then finish with the mega-happy ending.
I think the “God from the machine” device works because there is an acknowledgement of a creator outside of the fictional world. Of course, we get ourselves into impossible situations. Particularly, we’ve got the problem of sin (Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin is death”), and we need help to get us out of our predicament.
Fortunately, help did come from out of our world, when Jesus came to save us (John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling with us.”)
I don’t mind that “Deus ex machine” at all. And when I said before that I don’t like spoilers -- well, Jesus perhaps gave away the biggest spoiler of all when He said in John 14:3, “I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
I don’t mind that spoiler at all.

The Last Laugh (1924) (original German title, Der Letzte Mann) directed by F.W. Murau, written by Carl Mayer, starring Emil Jannings. No objectionable content.

Wayne’s World (1992) directed by Penelope Spheeris, written and starring Mike Myers. Some offensive language and humor, and a gratuitous sex scene clearly marked with subtitles as “GRATUITOUS SEX SCENE”

Monday, June 30, 2008

Post below on line

The "Baby/Puppy" article below in on the Assembly of God site, On Course now. It has been editted and gussied up some:


New Collection of Christmas plays

"I Spy Christmas" from CSS is out now, http://www.amazon.com/Spy-Christmas-Three-Candlelight-Service/dp/0788025511 . I have three plays in the book. "I Spy Christmas" is about kids exploring the cloak and dagger aspects of Yuletime. "Taking Jesus" is about a kid who steals the main prop from his church's Christmas program. "Open Audition" is about a Christmas program behind schedule who presents the audition rather than the program to his church.
The book also includes a Candlelight service by Rod Tkach.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What is Best for the Puppy? What is Best for the Kid?

A three year old boy asks his parents for a puppy. When asked who will care for the dog, the boy assures his parents he will train the dog, feed the dog and take it for walks. Do you believe that kid? I think you’re smarter than that.
Many parents give in to their child’s big eyes and cute pleas for a puppy. Those parents have gone to the pound and brought home that poodle or Labrador retriever or St. Bernard and, soon found themselves taking care of that dog because doggie care is beyond the capacities of your average three year old.
I’m thinking of those three year olds as I watch the NBC reality TV show The Baby Borrowers. The show entrusts teenaged couples with babies, then infants and then children. In the interviews in the first episode, some of the girls speak with assurance that they can handle the challenge of parenthood.
Just as that three year old has no understanding of all that is involved in caring for a dog, these teenagers have no idea of all that is involved in caring for a child. I know this is true, because I was 28 years old when my wife and I had our first child, and we had no idea all that was involved in raising a child. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for us with a decade less of life experience.
I find it even harder to imagine what it would have been like to take care of a child alone.
But many young women find themselves alone, taking on the challenge of a child because it sounds “fun.” Just like that dog sounds “fun” to a three year old. As one of the actual mothers on the television show said, “Once you become a mother, you need to realize it is no longer about you anymore, it’s about the baby.”
Recently there was a news story about a group of teenaged girls in Gloucester that, according to initial reports, had made a pact to get pregnant together. The truthfulness of the report was then brought into question when some of the girls said that the pact was actually made by a group of pregnant girls to help each other out.
One of the children was fathered by a twenty-four year old homeless man who obviously was not going to play a part in the child’s life. Another of the children was parented by a couple that was practicing birth control. (An interesting word “practicing.” They obviously hadn’t got it right yet.)
Whatever the truth of the story of the “pact,” at the heart of the story is a group of 24 single teen girls bringing children into the world without the resources of a stable family with a mother and father, of education and income. Not every child is going to have those advantages. But studies show kids are much better off with a father as well as a mother to care for them.
It would be wise for those girls to consider letting their children be adopted by stable families.
Throughout Scripture, the importance of fathers is stressed. Proverbs 1:8 says “Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching.” The child benefits from the teaching of both parents.
The importance of fathers in Scripture can be seen in the fact that God is called our Heavenly Father. Hebrews 12 says “God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? …How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
Share wisdom and holiness with your child. Sex can wait for marriage. Parenthood should be saved for marriage. (You might even want to wait on that puppy.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Young@Heart and Other Reasons to Sing

Often when people explain why they don’t like musicals they say, “I just can’t believe people would just be talking one minute and then break out into song the next.” These same people might not be bothered by loud explosions in space in a science fiction film or a man shooting a six shooter accurately a couple of hundred yards away in a western or a miracle amphibious vehicle that allows its passengers to survive not one but three falls over large waterfalls. But spontaneous song is going just too far.
Maybe it’s because we live in a society that spends much money for concerts and downloads to enjoy the music of others while fewer people are making music of their own.
That’s not a problem for the members of Young@Heart, a chorus depicted in the documentary movie of the same name. In 1982 this chorus group, whose members are all 70 years old or older, was founded. Initially they performed vaudeville songs like “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” but their director, Bob Cilman, pushed the chorus to try something different: rock and roll.
Many of the chorus members had a preference for classical music, opera or the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. But they were willing to take on the challenge of music by the Talking Heads, David Bowie and the Clash (or as the 92 year old member Ellie refers to them, “The Crash”.)
The new songs are not always greeted with good cheer. When Cilman is asked how he thinks the members will react to Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” he cheerfully says “They’ll hate it.” But when interviewed, the members insist that the challenge of new music keeps their minds and voices active and alive.
At times, though, I wondered how really new some to the music was to the members. The film was made in 2006. “I Feel Good” is introduced to the singers, and I was thinking that James Brown released that song in 1965. That means that chorus members in their 70’s were in their thirties when the song was released. When Mick Jagger is going to turn 65 this year and Paul McCartney just turned the same age, and Elvis would have been eligible to be in Young@Heart if he had lived, it makes one wonder if rock and roll can still be considered a young person’s game.
And at times during the film I wondered if the filmmaker (Stephen Walker) and the audiences don’t approach the chorus in a condescending manner (“Isn’t it cute those old people singing rock songs!”) But the group’s music is genuinely powerful. The music video of the group singing the Ramone’s “Sedated” is energetic and funny. Coldplay’s “Fixed” which was meant to be performed as a duet but becomes a solo is heartbreaking.
The members of Young@Heart have a unique understanding of the command in the Psalm 96:1 “Sing to the Lord a new song.” So many of us are content to listen to the oldies stations on the radio that play the music of our youth. In church, we want to sing only the songs we know. But that’s not what God wants for us. He wants us to sing a new song not just to keep our minds fresh but also our spirits.
Considering the age of the group members, it should not be a surprise that in the film we see the group struggle with greater challenges than tricky rhythms and lyrics. Illness and even death plays a role in this film as it does in the members’ lives. Their grace in facing life’s ultimate challenges will inspire the view even more than the film’s music.
Young@Heart is in theaters as I write this, but that might not be the case where you are so you may have to wait for the DVD of this PG rated film. You might want to put one or more of the following musicals on your library or Netflix list as you wait for it to be released:
Singing in the Rain (1952) Often called the greatest musical of Hollywood, it also is a very funny satire of Hollywood’s transition to talkies. Gene Kelly’s swing around the lamp post is one of the most joyous moments in cinema.
Swing Time (1936) All the films that Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire made together are worth watching, but the direction of George Stevens (director of Shane and Gunga Din) and the music of Jerome Kern (“The Way You Look Tonight”) make this my favorite.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) The Beatles debut on the big screen was just plain fun. This is where MTV videos were born, but don’t hold that against it.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971) The story of a small Jewish village in Russia in the years prior to the Bolshevik revolution has wonderful music, dancing and humor. But I most cherish Topol’s marvelous depiction of Tevye’s relationship with God.
Once (2007) All the other recommendations are rated G. The winner of last year’s Best Song Oscar is rated R for adult language. The opening scene drops F-bombs with abandon and this continues throughout the film. But if you can make it past that, this is a very sweet film about a romance between musicians that is just not meant to be.
The great thing about musicals on DVD is that you can push the closed caption button and along. God does want you to sing. It’s never too early to start practicing for those heavenly choirs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Iron Man or Spirit Man

Writing about Iron Man almost a month after its debut does pose some challenges. The first four points I’ve written here contain information that you probably know if you have read anything about this film (and you certainly know if you’ve seen the film). So if you want, you can skip past these first four points and go straight to some points that are a little more unique.
The film is based on a Marvel comic and has been compared favorably with other comic book films; even the other comic ‘Man’ films (‘Super’, ‘Bat’ and ‘Spider’.) But an interesting difference between the hero in this film and the heroes of ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’ and ‘Spiderman’ is that those heroes make great effort to avoid deadly force. Batman has a policy against using guns. Superman uses his great powers to jail rather than kill villains almost without fail. Spiderman’s villains in the films die because of their own hubris rather than at Spidey’s hand (or web or whatever). Iron Man has guns and missiles built into his suit that are intended to kill people, and he does that very thing. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking of taking the young’uns. (If you want to know how I think it compares to the other superhero ‘Man’ films, I’ve ranked them below.)
The cast is great. Gwyneth Paltrow takes the role of Pepper Potts, the loyal assistant that could have been a cliché and an offense to feminists, and makes the character into a charming blend of strength and vulnerability. Jeff Bridges ably projects ironic menace as Obadiah Stane. Terrance Howard is okay, but not nearly as interesting as he has been in other films. But it’s all about the guy who plays Tony Stark, the man who becomes Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. is excellent in the film. He is the single best reason to buy a ticket. It’s fun to see a forty-something year old not so chiseled hero (the power is in the suit). Downey plays the billionaire playboy munitions manufacturer as someone whose top concern is amusing himself. Downey has given similar top drawer performances in such films as last year’s Zodiac or A Scanner Darkly from the year before that. But very few people saw those films. (Super hero films tend to be more popular than docudramas about serial killers or animated dystrophic science fiction.) In real life, Downey has struggled with abuse problems, and it’s a pleasure to see him in such an entertaining breakout role.
This movie is making a lot of money. It made one hundred million dollars in its opening weekend alone. There has been a drought of exciting popcorn films in theaters, and many are rushing to see a film they hear is just plain fun.
You might want to stay past the final credits to get a hint of sequels to come.
As I said, all this has been written about before. So what can I add for the church newsletter? How about a ridiculous comparison to Scripture? Why not? If you can’t write silly about a super hero film, what can you write silly about?
The first suit worn by Tony Stark in the film is built by the character in a cave in Afghanistan. He is being held hostage by terrorists who want him to build a missile system. He uses the materials system to build a mechanical suit that allows him to escape. When he returns home, he builds a bigger and better suit.
So let’s take a look at how the armor of Iron Man compares to the armor of God described in Ephesians chapter 6.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Right off the bat, we get a big contrast between the two suits. Iron Man’s armor is used to protect against flesh and blood. Though for PC reasons the film does not label the terrorists in the film as Muslim, they are quite obviously modeled after the Taliban. Tony Stark has no compunction about killing with bullets those who would kill him or innocent bystanders.
Paul makes it clear in this passage that our real enemies are not other people. Those people that seem to be our enemies have been deceived by the powers of darkness, and we must do our best to show love to people who strike out against us. (Note I am not saying here there is not a role for police officers and soldiers to use force to protect the innocent.) But we need to pray for and love those who ridicule Jesus Christ and His teaching, and not treat them as enemies.
Paul makes it clear that there are real evil spiritual forces in the world, Satan and his minions along with destructive philosophies and teaching. That is where the battle lies for a Christian.
14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
In the film, Stark runs a munitions company. When captured by terrorists he sees that they are using his company’s weapons for nefarious ends. He then pursues the truth about how they obtained his weapons, knowing the exposure of the truth may have a great financial cost. As Christians, we need to pursue the truth, even if it is costly.
As the film begins, Tony Stark is definitely not a righteous man. We see he is a gambler, a heavy drinker and sexually promiscuous. But when a character in the film sacrifices his life for Stark, we see Stark realize that he should not live his life so selfishly. Because someone gave His life for us, we need to pursue righteousness.
15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Stark’s feet are equipped with rocket packs. But I’d argue that God’s Spirit can get us where we need to go to share His good news faster and farther.
16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Stark’s whole suit is a shield. His basic power is invulnerability. We have the armor of God, which will not necessarily protect us from illness or pain or poverty. But if we trust Him, it will protect us from the flaming arrows of the evil one that would have eternal, damning consequences.
17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Stark uses all kinds of offensive weaponry. He has all kinds of guns and missiles and his very armor acts as a weapon. But the sword is the only offensive weapon in God’s arsenal. We need to get to know the Bible, the Word of God, well. It’s the only weapon of God we have. And all we need.
18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Iron Man pretty much fights alone. We, like a real army, need the support of others. We need the prayers of our fellow believers. And we need to pray for them.
The kid in me watches Iron Man and thinks, “I wish I had a suit like that.” But the Spirit in me says, “You have something better.”
(Iron Man is rated PG-13 for violence, sensuality and language.)
[For the geeks: my rating of how Iron Man compares to the Superman, Batman and Spiderman films.
On par with Superman, not at good as Superman II, but far better than the horrible Superman III and Superman IV and the mediocre Superman Returns.
Better than Batman (1966), Batman (1989) and far better than the wretched Batman Returns, Batman Forever and worst of all Batman and Robin. Its not as good as Batman Begins and the jury’s still out on The Dark Knight with Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, which will be released July 18th.
On par with Spiderman, not as good as Spiderman II and far better than Spiderman III.]

Monday, April 28, 2008

Best Basketball Documentary Since Hoop Dreams

THE HEART OF THE GAME How is it that even sports documentaries seem to end with the great film cliché, “The Big Game”? You know how it works: you start with the scrappy underdogs that don’t have a chance. Then that key player or coach comes in and turns every thing around and suddenly there is a chance to be champions. But it all hinges on that last big event when the whole world seems to be watching.
Maybe it’s because that last pass, shoot or race can still put a lump in the throat and tear in the eye of even the most hardened of sports fans and movie goers. The Heart of the Game, a documentary about a girl’s high school basketball team, the Roosevelt Rough Riders of Seattle, Washington, follows a new coach as he builds the team over seven years.
Ward Serrill, the film maker, could not have known he would end up with the aforementioned cliché when he began the project, but he must have been thrilled when it came about. Bill Resler, the college economics professor who became the team’s coach, dreamed about the cliché of the big game and had to live through turmoil until “the big game” came about. And that turmoil, particularly the trials of two star players, Devon and Darnella, provides much of the drama for the viewer.
The film is out on DVD and I highly recommend it for the sporting thrills, social commentary and unexpected humor (archive footage of early twentieth century woman’s basketball. And you thought the guys used to have funky uniforms).
There are ways the church is like a team, but I was struck by the differences. To be on the team, you had to go through try-outs to prove you were worthy. Christ welcomes every one into the church, precisely because we are not worthy (He is).
On a team the star player often is given preferential treatment if that person can make the difference between winning or losing. In the book of James, preferential treatment in the Church is expressly forbidden.
On a team, by its nature, the players have many superficial similarities. The players are the same age, gender, usually from the same geographic location (an exception to this rule provides much of the film’s interest) and similar talents. The church the Apostle Paul describes has people of every demographic.
When you think about it, the church is quite a unique institution. And there is no way it could stick together if we didn’t have the Coach we have. (The Heart of the Game is rated PG-13 for strong language and was released this year.)
And since we’re talking about sports films, let me give you some recommendations, in no particular order, my Top Ten Sport Films:
Chariots of Fire (1981) is a great sports film, Best Picture winner, and one of a handful of mainstream Hollywood films with an evangelical Christian as its protagonist. Eric Liddell, “The Flying Scotsman”, a sprinter who made a stand for Christ in the 1924 Olympic Games and captured the imagination of the world. The film doesn’t move as quickly as Liddell, but moving it is. (rated PG for reasons hard to discern)
Field of Dreams (1989) is a film about baseball, nostalgia, and becomes (rather surprisingly) about the prickly but vital relationship between fathers and sons. Kevin Costner is at his best, and there’s the treat of seeing Burt Lancaster in one of his last roles. Never mind that it inaccurately shows lefty Shoeless Joe Jackson as right-handed, it gets everything else right. (rated PG for language)
Rocky (1976) is a great film because of its ending. Sly Stallone wrote his own first starring role, wisely celebrating the boxer’s limitations as much as his hidden virtues. Like Field of Dreams, it celebrates the courage of “going the distance”. (rated PG for strong language and a lot of pugilistic violence)
Hoosiers (1986), The best formulation of the cliche of building the team up for the big game. (rated PG for language)
Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) is one of Robert de Niro’sfirst great starring roles as a big league catcher who isn’t too bright. Michael Moriarty plays the friend that looks out for him. The film makes one consider what it takes to be his brother’s keeper. (PG for a lot of strong language)
It Happens Every Spring (1949) beats out Major League, Tin Cup and even Caddyshack as my favorite sports comedy. The other three are very funny, but their crass humor earns their R ratings. Spring takes a more whimsical approach, as a professor (Ray Milland)invents a chemical that repels wood and figures out a sporting application for his product.
North Dallas Forty (1979) is not at all a family film. I got into hot water when I recommended this film to an InterVarsity friend of mine when the film was first in theaters. But I love this film, if just for the opening scene of Nick Nolte as NFL veteran feeling every bruise and break from years on the field as he gets out of bed in the morning. It also asks some good questions about the price put on integrity and one’s very soul in the world of professional sports (and the world in general). (rated R for sexual situations, violence, language, alcohol and drug abuse)
Cinderella Man (2005) and The Rookie (2002) I likebecause I’m getting older, and it’s nice to see other older guys succeeding in the arena (Russell Crowe as Jim Braddock in boxing and Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris in baseball). But the stories are true, and the men’s Christian faith is a part of both stories. (CinderellaMan is rated PG-13 for language and violence, The Rookie is rated G)
I doubt The Heart of the Game would have been made if it were not for Hoop Dreams (1994), a three-hour documentary that follows two young African Americans who go from boys to men, following their dream of basketball saving them from the ghetto. A great sports film, but even more, a film about the narrow vision of opportunity offered to those in poverty. (rated PG-13 for language)