Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Review of Peter Englund's History, "The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of WWI"

Let me preface this review by saying I am a believer in the just war theory and counter the bumper sticker I believe war is sometimes the answer (and not just to questions like, “Aside from frat parties, what human activity is most like to bring out man’s depravity?

But much in this book is a reminder that WWI in particular was blundered into and neither side truly went about the work of preventing evil, but the actions of war on both sides were ultimately futile and only helped lead to another great war in barely a generation’s time.

Englund takes an interesting approach in this book, following the war histories of various soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict, from a German school girl to an Australian army engineer to a Danish soldier to a French civil servant.
Their stories are compelling on a variety of levels. Though the book does not attempt to provide an overview of the war, it does bring out many fascinating details.
Here is some of the details I enjoyed learning about:

*The word “tank” come from a deception employed in the weapons construction when they were passed off as “water tanks”.
*Trenches were at times decorated with furniture (chairs, coaches, even beds) looted from homes.
*Prostitutes in France sometimes charged hire rates if they could pass along an illness that might get a soldier away from the front.
*German soldiers would not sing the second verse of “A Mighty Fortress” (Ein Feste Burg) because it might be perceived as a lack of faith in the military (Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing).
*Censorship in French papers led to large blank spaces when stories were removed at the last minute. (Because the Spanish papers were more free, the reporting on those papers on disease led to the name “Spanish Flu”, though the illness struck other nations first.)
*Pigeons were used as message couriers because horses and dogs panicked in battle when tried. (Of course humans were used as runners. Such as Adolph Hitler.)
*Ernest Hemingway’s account of the battle of Caporetto in “Farewell to Arms” was written in Kansas City, a year before he went to Italy.
*Leon Trotsky led a Russian delegation in peace talks and drove Germans crazy with the saying, “Neither war or peace.” (So he should never be mistaken for Leo Tolstoy.)
*American forces had a strict ban on alcohol (and this was before prohibition in the states.)

I enjoyed learning such trivia. But the real riches in the book are the lives Englund brings to life through his diligent work of digging through letters, journals and reports that are now nearly a century old. Sadly, the true war to end all wars is yet to come.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You know that "2010" was meant to be "2011". Sorry

Favorite TV Shows in 2010

Since we have only the most basic of cable, there are some shows I might enjoy that I have not seen, so they don't make the list. (Still no "Boardwalk Empire" or "Game of Thrones" on DVD for instance. I'm cheap, I get my DVDs from the library and I don't do pay streaming.)
So here are my rules:
1) I must have watched it on broadcast TV or DVD this year.
2) If I watched it on DVD, it doesn't matter if it was 2010 episodes as long as the show is still running.

I went with a basic top ten:

10) "Chuck" This show was in my last spot last year and it certainly has its weaknesses. (Morgan gets the Intersect? It's good this is the last season or someone might get a pet dog that gets the Intersect.) But I enjoy the characters. Especially Casey, a rare conservative television hero. (He went after a villain when he learned he had cheated Rush Limbaugh.)

9) "Modern Family" Consistently funny. My favorite character is young Luke. It will be interesting to see if he can keep the funny as he gets older. (I am amused by the agenda that is occasionally mentioned by actors in the show that the gay couple on the show will make conservative viewers more open to gay marriage. Just give me laughs, that's what I want it sitcoms. Which the show does, so no gripes. But I'm not looking to sitcoms for political or moral instruction.)

8) "Raising Hope" Aside from, perhaps Nolan Gould as Luke mentioned above, no one plays funny dumb better than the cast of this show. And Hope herself is still cute. Hope Hope doesn't ruin things as she ages.

7) "Sherlock" - Come on BBC....Three episodes? Really....Three Episodes? I guess it says good things that I wanted more from this tale of Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century. And fun to see British "Office"'s Tim as Watson (and interesting that they could have Dr. Watson still serve in the military in Afghanistan). But still, three episodes with a cliff hanger in the third? Come on.

6) "Luther" BBC is stingy with the episodes again. But at least there were 6 in the first season if only 4 in the second. And the second season didn't have nearly enough of the pycho-klller Alice helping and tormenting our already tormented homicide inspector John Luther (played by Stringer Bell with a British accent.) Short season 2 did have a quite satisfying resolution, though.

5) "30 Rock" - Speaking of stingy, NBC held on on Fall adventures of Jack and Liz. But they'll be back in the new year. Consistently smart and funny, a liberal writing staff willing to take shots at liberal politics as well as conservatives.

4) "Breaking Bad" - Who would have thought the awesome daffy father Hal (Bryan Cranston) from "Malcolm in the Middle" could be awesome as a dying meth maker. Banality of evil wonderfully presented as still quite evil.

3) "Community" - And now NBC is not giving new episodes in January of an even higher ranking show. But I guess the show should only go one more year to go with the college schedule. Always makes me laugh. Amazed that they expect the audience to know "Pulp Fiction" and "My Dinner with Andre", so I guess that's why the ratings are not wonderful, even though the show is.

2) "Mad Men" - Love when the focus is on the advertising biz more than the relationships, but they do it all well. Great writing and acting.

1) "Justified" - Raylan Givens just makes me happy. So happy they put a show in Kentucky. So there are states beside CA and NY. Does the comedy and the drama well. The Hitler painting collector had such an unexpected, moving twist at its conclusion. Anxious to get season 2 in the mail come January.

Happy TV viewing in the new year to you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oscar for Best Picture - Christian Division

Fall / Winter is serious film season. Sure, there will still be explosions and Adam Sandler just put on a dress. But there will also be serious films about historic figures, war and dysfunctional families in upcoming films such as “The Descendants”, “War Horse”, “The Iron Lady”, “A Dangerous Method” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”.

Critics are guessing these films to be likely Oscar winners.

They could be great films. But most probably won’t have Christian worldviews. These days, films that do so are in the minority. It wasn’t always so. But great Christian films have always been rare. But through the years, there have been Best Picture Winners that not only deserved to win, but also let people understand the God and His call a little better.

So if you have a little extra time to stream a flick over the holidays, consider my TIME FIVE CHISTIAN(ISH) BEST PICTURE WINNERS:


This film doesn’t an explicit Christian message. But it is based on a series of novels written by one of the most prominent Christian writers, J. R. R. Tolkien. Of course, this films and its two predecessors (2001’Ss FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS and 2002’s THE TWO TOWERS) present a Biblical view of good and evil. But one of the things that I’ve always found most encouraging about the film is the characters of the hobbits, Biblo and Samwise. They are models of humility, gentleness and self-sacrifice, living out the Sermon on the Mount in ways that is rarely seen in human characters.
(Rated PG-13 for violence.)

4) 1984’s AMADEUS

This film tells the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart whose musical gift is envied by Antonio Salieri. Salieri argues with God that he is more worthy of the gift because he is a more righteous man. The film teaches that with God’s gifts and grace, “dissevering’s got nothing to do with it” (to qoute Clint Eastwood in that other Best Picture winner, UNFORGIVEN.)
(Rated R for nudity and sexual suggestions.)


Tells the true story of Eric Liddell, a man who ran in the Olympics before serving as a missionary in China. When he ran, he “felt God’s pleasure”. What do you do that allows you to feel the same?
(Rated PG for I’m not sure exactly what.)

Sir Thomas Moore, like Eric Liddell, faced a moral choice that was made before the nation and the world. But Moore faced his choice with his life and the line. Robert Bolt’s screenplay, based on his play, presents an elegant and passionate battle between following God or Caesar.

1) 1959’s BEN HUR
You could argue whether a couple of the above are truly “Christian” films. But since this one is subtitled “A Story of the Christ”…
Ben Hur is a Jewish prince who pursues a path of revenge. But crossing paths with Jesus of Nazareth turns him in the direction of forgiveness. (As a bonus, there is a chariot race that is arguably the best action sequence in the history of film.)

Honorable mention to 1944’s GOING MY WAY and 1965’s SOUND OF MUSIC for their positive presentations of priests and nuns. (Though SofM’s song “Something Good” is theologically wretched.) Happy viewing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

WOODY ALLEN is a different kind of case. For a while in the '80's I saw and loved everything he made. He is still doing work many critics admire, such as this year's "Midnight in Paris".
But Allen's off screen behavior has been so repugnant, I've had a difficult time enjoying any of his work. This is especially true when he is on screen (such as in "Scoop", which reminded me of something that is scooped off the sidewalk.)

I find many of the remarks he's made about religion and politics (particularly about 9/11) disgusting, but I can separate the art and the artist with these films made well before Bush Vs. Gore.

10) BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994) John Cusack (we're back to the beginning of the week) subs for Woody onscreen in this farce about the theater and gangsters. ("Don't speak!")

9) HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) Michael Caine rightly received an Oscar for his performance in this film, but he couldn't collect in person as he was filming JAWS: THE REVENGE (for which he didn't receive an Oscar.)

7)SLEEPER (1973) Woody is very funny as a man of the '70's who wakes up in s sci-fi future. He makes a very good robot butler.

6) TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969) Yes, I like his early, funny films (along with the aliens in STARDUST MEMORIES.)

5) ZELIG (1983) Allen beat Tom Hanks to Forrest Gump by a decade.

4) BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) One of the few times an Allen film (and the character he protrays) can be described as sweet. Fortunately, its funny as well (especially the shoot out in the helium balloon ware house.)

3) ANNIE HALL (1977) It beat out STAR WARS for the best picture Oscar, and perhaps deserved it. Allen's most creative comic bits (I especially like the grade school students who tell what they will do in later life.)

2) PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) Woody isn't on screen in this fantasy about a cinematic hero who comes off the big screen to romance an abused wife. Equal parts funny and heart breaking. (Okay, maybe funny gets an edge.) Jeff Daniel's playing the movie star and the screen character is excellent (say, has that SOMETHING WILD star made a good film in the last ten years?)

1) CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989) Allen's masterpiece as far as I'm concerned. Explores the questions of what to do when evil prospers and righteousness is punished. Allen asks the right questions in the film. He just seems to have come up with the wrong answers in real life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

This one is certainly more of a personal preference, It is even hard for me to believe that once there was a time I looked forward to seeing a film because MELANIE GRIFFITH was in it. Like Sly Stallone, she made some bad films good.
But for the last ten years, that has not been the case. It's not just because she's a woman getting older. Age has not stopped Siggy Weaver or Michelle Pfeiffer (how does she manage all those 'f's in her name) from being pleasures to see on the screen. Scary plastic surgery may have something to do with it, but MG became a warning sign in the credits.

Now the field was thinner for ten good films than it was with the week's earlier choices... So I included some of her bad films that are true guilty pleasures, largely because of Ms. Griffith's presence.

10) CHERRY 2000 (1987) My wife and I are lonely fans of this sci-fi post-apocalytic epic about Melanie helping a poor schlub fine an android love in the forbidden zone. She shows some real action chops in this cheese fest.

9) RKO 281 (1999) Sure, it's made for TV, but this is the last good film MG has made, a film about the making of a great film, CITIZEN KANE. MG played Marion Davies, an actress from history who surely has no parallel in the utterly fictional KANE.

8) THE DROWNING POOL (1975) A sequel to Paul Newman's great detective classic, HARPER.

7) NOBODY'S FOOL (1994) After many years, she again teamed with Paul Newman in Robert Benson's fine drama.

6) STORMY MONDAY (1988) A good British noir, without a doubt, Sting's best film.

5)BODY DOUBLE (1984) Griffith is quite good as Holly Body (no, this is not a James Bond film) in Brain De Palma's horror/action film set in a quite sleazy Hollywood.

4) NIGHT MOVES (1975) Griffith caught the attention of many critics and Gene Hackman's detective character in this fine film from Arthur Penn.

3) SMILE (1975) How could I not mention this classic Micheal Ritchie satire of beauty pageants? After all, it was filmed in my home town, Santa Rosa, CA.

2) WORKING GIRL (1988) This was Melanie Griffith's great star turn (her best chance for an Oscar, it really could have happened). She was such fun as a secretary who becomes an executive with the support of Harrison Ford (and in spite of Sig Weaver). Classic Mike Nichols comedy.

1) SOMETHING WILD (1986) This Jonathan Demme film is one of my all time favorites. It starts as a comedy and then Ray Liotta's incredible performance turns the film very dark. But Griffith is fun, sexy and cute and this is the film that made me love her (at least until the Y2K bug did not end the world as we know it.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

This is a particularly frustrating case, because I have no idea why he hasn't made good films for the last decade. Part of John Cusack's charm was in his youth and the charm that wasn't taken by age has been lost in a self-seriousness that might possibly come from his politics. Ford's age keeps him from doing action like he did and he seems to have gotten lazy.

But STEVE MARTIN's creative juices are still flowing. He's writing good novels and great short humor pieces. He's still funny on talk shows and variety shows. I loved his banjo album, "The Crow". So maybe his creativity is just flowing in different directions. And yet he's made not one but two Pink Panther films. Really?

Anyway, on to the films of Steve Martin I love (and I'm not including cameos in "The Muppet Movie" and "Little Shop of Horrors".)

10) "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982) Spoofing noir classics proves a challenge, and sometimes the comedy doesn't fit the clips used. But when it does, this collaboration with Carl Reiner works very well.

9) "The Man With Two Brains" (1983) Sadly one of Martin's raunchier films, but it can also be quite funny. Plus, it has a mystery with one of the most unexpected of villain reveals.

8) "All of Me" (1984) I haven't seen this for a long time, but I remember being quite happy to see Martin teamed with one of my other comic idols of youth, Lilly Thomplin.

7) "The Spanish Prisoner" (1997) A rare dramatic role for Martin and he is quite good in this David Mamet con flick.

6) "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (1988) Funniest scene with a fork ever.

5) "The Jerk" (1979) It was awesome to see the Martin of the comedy albums I'd memorized on the big screen. A bit of a mess, but so many funny bits.

4) "The Three Amigos" (1986) Amigos Martin Short and Chevy Chase also give very funny performances in this variation on "The Seven Samurai". (Chevy's droughts have been longer and deeper than Martin's.)

3) "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" (1987) Great teaming with John Candy in this John Hughes holiday (Thanksgiving) classic.

2) "Bowfinger" (199) Martin's last good film was a great film. One of the best satires of Hollywood.

1) "L.A. Story" Sweet and strange and very funny. It's like a Fellini film, but I like it so much better than any Fellini film. If you didn't know Shakespeare is buried in Los Angeles, you can learn that and so much more from this film.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

The next on the list is HARRISON FORD.

Not just one of my favorite stars, but several of his films are among the most popular ever made (and a couple of these among the most critically acclaimed.) And it says something that there are several films I like I have to leave off ("Working Girl", the Jack Ryan films and "Air Force One" among them.)

And the films of the last decade have, for the most part, been painful.

10) "Presumed Innocent" (1990) A courtroom drama, that makes the list because of the great twist at the end. (Scary haircut for Ford though. And he plays 'Rusty' Sabich. Rusty?)

9) "The Mosquito Coast" (1986) A rare time when Ford plays a crazy guy, perhaps a bad guy. He did very good work with Peter Weir.

8) "American Graffiti" (1973) A wonderful historic relic that shows that at one time George Lucus could be funny and write human dialogue.

7) "The Fugitive" - (1993) Perhaps the best TV to movie adaptation ever (that competition may not be too rough, but it is a great film.)

6) "Witness" (1985) His other great film with director Weir. Ford was Oscar nominated and deservedly so.

5) "Apocalypse Now" (1979) & "The Conversation" (1974) Okay, the reason I put these films together is because Ford's parts are so small in these two Francis FORD Coppola Best Picture nominees. (And in my opinion, "Apocalypse Now" should certainly have beat "Kramer Vs. Kramer" and more controversially, I think "The Conversation" deserved to beat Coppola's "Godfather II".) It's awesome that Ford was Col. Lucas in "Apocalypse."

4) "Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977) A film I saw many, many times and it made me very, very happy. (Sorry there wasn't room for you, "Return of the Jedi", one of my happiest theater experiences.)

3) "Blade Runner" (1992) Ford may be one of the weakest things in great film, and he is very good. Arguably the best science fiction film ever made.

2) "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) Most of this summer was devoted to the question, "Is Darth Vader really Luke's father?" Because we no longer questioned who was cooler Luke or Han...It was Han by a mile.

1) "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) The best adventure film ever made. I've seen it more than any other film (partly because I worked in a theater that showed it for a year.) I like "Doom" and "Crusade" but the awfulness of "Crystal Skull" almost makes me wish no sequel had been made. But that's not really true. But I do love "Raiders" and hate "Skull".

Monday, October 24, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

I've noticed that some of my favorite stars of my early years have stopped making anything of value after 2001. This isn't true for all my favorites. Bill Murray and Robert Duval, for instance, have done much quality work since HAL went mad and was disconnected. But I'm going to focus on five stars this week that have sadly stopped making good films by highlighting their best with a Top Ten List (or Top Five if that's all they managed.)

Let's start with JOHN CUSACK

This is a particularly sad case because I love his early films and his latest have been so very bad. ("The Ice Harvest" and "1408" are okay, but their meager achievements are blotted out by "War, Inc." and "Grace is Gone".)

10) "One Crazy Summer" (1986) The film career of director Savage Steve Holland has been light, but glorious.

9) "The Journey of Natty Gann" (1985) A sweet Disney drama (quite a contrast with say #6 on this list.)

8) "Eight Men Out" (1988) John Sayles' telling of the Black Sox Scandal.

7) "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994) Woody Allen directed. (Woody barely avoided a place on this list.)

6) "The Grifters" (1990) A very dark, yet funny, tale, which describes much of Jim Thompson's writings.

5) "High Fidelity" (2000) The last great Cusack film, based on Nick Hornby's novel.

4) "Gross Point Blank" (1997) Now this is what class reunions are supposed to be like.

3) "Being John Malkovich" (1999) One of the strangest films ever made by a major studio. I like it very much.

2) "Better Off Dead" (1985) Savage Steve Holland's Masterpiece

1) "Say Anything" (1989) Cusack's best film, Cameron Crowe's best film and, yes, Ione Skye's best film.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Head Vs. Heart: Moneyball

Heart vs. Head
You’ve seen variations on this plot before: an established business is disturbed when the hotshot comes in with an emphasis on the bottom line and effectiveness statistics. The newcomer shakes things up, but soon learns that the old timers have a lot of wisdom and the most important element of any business really is heart.
In 1957’s “The Desk Set”, Spencer Tracy tries to bring these new fangled computers to the research department of a television network until Katherine Hepburn shows him that a machine can’t match the heart of a librarian.
In 1986’s slightly racist, “Gung Ho”, Gedde Watanabe tries to turn around an American auto plant with the principles of Japanese efficiency until Michael Keaton shows him that those business models are no match for the heart of the American worker.
Even last year’s “The Company Men” pitted the sinister bottom lined focused Craig T. Nelson in the world of shipping versus Tommy Lee Jones who, once again, values people as people, not as economic units that can be eliminated to help the stock prices. (Not a bad little film, this.)
This year’s “Moneyball” takes some of these same themes into the world of professional baseball. Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) comes to the Oakland A’s and tries to turn around the fortunes of a small market team. The film pits Beane as a manager who values cost cutting, statistics and the bottom line vs. the coaching and scouting staff who value intuition, institutional wisdom and decisions made by the gut.
Except this time, the film gets the audience to root for the guy with the metaphorical slide rules. Beane comes saying he doesn’t care whether a player looks good in a uniform or has “heart”, he just wants to know the player’s on base percentage.
And Beane is forced by the owner’s budget to highly value the bottom line.
Yes, through the film, we see Beane honoring the dignity of players (as a former player himself) and making decisions not at all based on economic factors. But the importance of science, statistics and economics shines through.
One of the most amazing feats of the film is making what on its face is a very dry subject (baseball strategy and building a team) into a very entertaining, funny, and touching film. (A friend of mine, who hates sports, enjoyed the film.) A lot of the credit goes to the script writers, Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (who last year made a topic even more unlikely, the founding of Facebook, into a wonderful film, “The Social Network”.)
Credit must also go to Pitt and Jonah Hill (as his assistant) presenting a highly unlikely partnership that blooms into a wonderful friendship. Readers of the fine book which this film is based on might be surprised by the addition of Beane’s family life, which makes this one of the few father/daughter baseball films.
In the church, I think we are also highly distrustful of those who bring “science” to church policy. When someone brings up church growth studies, many of us are tempted to dismiss such people as unspiritual. Shouldn’t we just close our eyes and let the Spirit lead us by faith?
Why bring management theory into church board meetings? Shouldn’t we rely on Scripture alone?
Yes, Scripture, the leading of the Spirit and prayer should be the primary church decision making.
But if you look at Acts 6: 1-7, you’ll see leaders of the young church in Jerusalem facing the administrative task of feeding people, and they find a solution to the problem that might be encouraged by a MBA.
Even in the church, we need to value the head and the heart.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Future Through the Eyes of the Past

A couple of weeks ago I was watching the 1987 non-classic Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction film, “The Running Man”. And no, I’m not proud of this. The film tells the tale of a man in the totalitarian future of 2017 who is unjustly accused of a crime and is therefore sentenced to fight for his life on a gladiatorial TV reality show. Based on a Stephen King story, the film attempts to say profound things about the dangers of voyeuristic media but is chiefly remembered for the being the one place you can see Richard Dawson outside of “Hogan’s Heroes” reruns and “Family Feud” Youtube clips.

But the reason I bring this fairly lame film up is because of a prop used in the film. Again, the film is set thirty years in the future for the filmmakers and is six years in the future for us. There are many scenes of sadistic TV show host Dawson making threats and demands in his phone. So the film’s property master was assigned to make this phone of the future.

The property master had to think about what a phone of the future would look like. He or she came up with a kind of cool design of a thin, white cylinder for the phone. And it’s corded. Yes, this phone of the future is not a cell phone and Dawson is tethered to a 5 foot radius as he plots his nefarious schemes with his evil phone buddies.

The makers of the film didn’t dream of such a thing as a cell phone, or even a cordless one.

This is an interesting thing about science fiction film and literature. It often says more about the time it was written rather than the future. If you watch 1960’s era Star Trek you’ll believe that the future is mini-skirts and sideburns. According to “2001” Pan Am took us on commuter flights to the moon a decade ago -- but sadly, Pan Am is no more.

And “Back to the Future II” says that in three years we’ll still be going to books to look up our sports trivia.

That’s one of the big things the creators of science fiction missed. The internet. With all the whiz-bang rockets, robots and computers envisioned throughout the first ninety percent or so of the twentieth century, no one imagined what has become a central facet of modern life.

All this makes me think of heaven. Yeah, it’s a long and winding road from Arnold schlock films to the Celestial City, but I think it’s worth the trip.

Those who write about the future are limited by the vision of the present. In 1638, Francis Godwin, the Bishop of Hereford, made the bold imaginative step of writing about a trip to the moon. But the mode of transportation of the hero of the tale is a chariot pulled by geese. It wasn’t in Godwin to imagine rockets.

In the same way, we have a difficult time imagining heaven. As Christians we might inwardly mock the Muslim vision of heaven for men as the Prohibition singles bar where seven babes are waiting.

But is our vision much better?

We think of seeing loved ones or a grand banquet or a big mansion and Scripture allows for those images. But there will be more than we can imagine.

C. S. Lewis said our attempts to envision heaven are like a little boy who’s told about the intimate love between a man and woman. The boy wonders if chocolate is involved.

A simple rule about Heaven: Jesus in John 14:2 said that He is going to prepare a place for us. He said in John 10:10 that He came to bring us life to the full. Whatever we think of as glorious in Heaven will be a mere shadow of what is to come. It will be so much better than we can think.

But to close on a completely different note: we are just eight years from the time of “Blade Runner”. Where’s my hover car?

New Book at Amazon

Here's "King Con" http://www.amazon.com/King-Bill-Warthog-Mysteries-Anderson/dp/1584110945/ref=pd_sim_b1

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Sacred Dump

(I found this little devotional I wrote after a missions trip to Mexico)

Unwrapping the pieces of sliced cheese, I looked for a place to throw away the plastic wrappers.

“Throw ‘em on the ground,” Dave said.

Dave was the local Vineyard worker who had taken our mission team to the Mazatlan Dump. We were making cheeseburgers for scavenger workers at the dump. Dozens of men and women every day sort through the dump for trash to sell; cardboard and plastic.

Dave told us when they first began to preparing hot lunches for the workers, they used to be mobbed. They were afraid that the food would run out. But now the people waited patiently until the food was ready because they had learned there would always be plenty for everyone.

Anyway, back to the unwrapping the cheese thing; it was shocking to realize that we could just drop the plastic wrappers on the ground. Because we were…you know… at the dump. And it’s OK to litter at the dump, because it’s not littering, because the dump is the place litter is ultimately supposed to go.

For me, that makes the dump a sacred place -- or at least an image of a sacred place. That sacred place is the cross where we can drop our garbage, our sin. Colossians 2:13b & 2:14b explains, “God made you alive in Christ, He forgave us all our sins…nailing it to the cross.”

We don’t need to hold on to our sins, we can dump them at the cross of Christ.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"King Con" This Month?

I said last month that the newest Bill the Warthog was coming out at the end of August. Let's try September...

The Sistine Chapel Plot

(This story appeared in Brio.)

I started dreading art class. It’s weird, because the same things had happened in biology and Civics, but I never expected to enjoy biology, and in political science there was a chance to argue back. It was different in art class; I didn’t expect to debate my faith in there.
I’ve always enjoyed art. I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist for a long time. I liked being able to draw and not get in trouble for doodling. (I can’t tell you all the times Mrs. Alvarez has given me grief for doodling in the margins in English.) I was even enjoying the history part of the class. It was cool getting to see the work of great artists of the past. So you can see how one of my favorite things was getting spoiled. It was like finding dill pickles in my chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
The worst thing was, we couldn’t argue back. When I tried to give the other side, Mr. Jeffries would say, “This isn’t the time or place to discuss these issues. This is an art class.” While showing slides from his trip to Europe and lecturing about the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, he did it again.
“This is, of course, the famous image of God creating Adam, their hands touching. It makes one wonder what Michelangelo might have painted today; perhaps a dramatic abstract of the primordial ooze. He was a brilliant man, and surely if he lived today, he would concur with scientists that there is no Creator, that we are not here by plan or design, but we and this world are the result of purely natural and random causes.
“But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Though we can no longer believe the fairy tales this work of art is based on, we can still appreciate its beauty and craftsmanship. Yes, Paige?”
“Mr. Jeffries,” I began, “You can’t talk about scientists as if they have one viewpoint. There are many scientists that believe that God...”
“Paige, this is an art class, we don’t need to go into those issues. Now you will see in this next photograph...”
See what I mean? It’s one thing to hear we’re just a result of monkeys learning to stand in biology class, you expect that. And in Civics, Ms. Daniels talked about the dangers of the religious right, but she gave us Christians in the class a chance to have our say.
Things seemed even worse when I talked to Elizabeth. She’d started going to youth group with me. It seemed like she had been listening during the Bible studies, but she told me she was going to quit going. I asked her why.
“I don’t know, Paige. I’m beginning to think the stuff they talk about at your church is just a load of... You know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been thinking about some of the things that Mr. Jeffries talked about. Like about the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition where the Christians killed everyone who disagreed with them, and how Christians have tried to ban great art through the ages. And the stuff he was talking about the other day. How we’re probably just here because of random chance like the scientists say.”
I tried to tell her the other side of it, but she didn’t really seem to hear me. After all, I’m just a student, and Mr. Jeffries has been to graduate school and must know more than me.
That was the last straw. I didn’t like that garbage Mr. Jeffries was saying, but I wasn’t falling for it. But if Elizabeth was, others maybe were too. So I needed to do something. And that’s when I started to get the Idea.
I’m not saying the Idea was a good idea. I’m not recommending anyone do what I did. I’m still paying for it. That’s why I won’t explain how I did what I did, because I don’t want anyone else to do what I did. I’ll say this much. It involved paint and brushes and pencils and charcoal and a ladder and duct tape on a window lock and an alarm clock set to go off early on a Saturday morning. But let’s just jump to Monday morning in Mr. Jeffries’ class, third period.
“Before we get into today’s material, I suppose we must discuss what I’m sure is on top of all your minds, or least above your heads. So everyone may look up.”
Most everyone was already looking up, of course. In section of the ceiling above Mr. Jeffries’ desk was a waterfall scene, with a light fixture as the sun. There were also a couple of cows, an elephant, a lion and a tapir, and a naked man and woman behind strategic bushes.
In the middle of the ceiling there were pencil sketches of a hospital and a college. Next to the hospital was a sketch of Jesus putting his hand on a leper (which, I’ll admit, had a rather graphic depiction of decaying flesh.) And next to the college was a sketch of Jesus talking to a crowd and monks copying a Bible. On the other third of the ceiling there was…nothing. (If you guessed that the vandal became nervous when she thought she heard someone coming, so she took off before finishing…good guess.)
“Now I’m going to ask this once. Does any one know what happened here?”
I gulped, and raised my hand.
“Yes, Paige.”
“I’ve been thinking, Mr. Jeffries, maybe these works on the ceiling are accidents. People paint in here, so maybe paint has just randomly splashed up to the ceiling, and that’s the result. It might just be a cosmic accident.”
“Paige, do you really expect me to believe that random splashes caused this? There was planning and design that went into this graffiti. I believe, Paige, it was your planning and design.”
“Yes, it was. And I’m planning to pay for the damage and doing detention and all that. But I just want to know why you’re willing to admit there was planning and design involved with what’s above us, but not in the world all around us.”
“I see. So you were making a point that the world has a Creator. Obviously the reason you drew the nature scene. How droll. But why the pictures of the buildings?”
“Those are hospitals and universities. A lot of times this year, you’ve mentioned evil things Christians have done, like the bloodshed during the Crusades of the Middle Ages; things that went against Christ’s teaching. But aside from art, you don’t talk about all the good the Church has done through the centuries. A majority of the first hospitals and universities in the world were founded by followers of Jesus.
“I’m sorry for going all Michelangelo on the ceiling. But you’ve made a lot of snide remarks about Christianity this year, and I wanted to respond. And you’ve said we should communicate through our art. That’s what I was trying to do.”
“That will be all, Paige. Now, if we’re finished with religious studies, let’s return to the Renaissance.”
OK, so I didn’t score a lot of points with Mr. Jeffries that day. It probably didn’t help my grade, my bank account took a hit, and I’m just finishing the detentions. But Elizabeth is coming to youth group again.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lightening Over Water

They say when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In that way, it makes sense that when film director Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without a Cause”, “King of Kings”) learned he had terminal cancer, he decided to make a movie about it. He asked his friend, German film director Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire”, “The Buena Vista Social Club”) to assist him.
Together, they do make a film, “Lightening Over Water” (1980).
Ray wants to make a fictional film about a painter. A painter with cancer without much time left to live. This painter achieved great fame and wealth with his early paintings, but the painting he made in his later years would not sell. So the painter robs his own paintings from museums and replaces them with “forgeries”, his own paintings recreated. Really, the artist is trying to recapture his youth, his early acclaim, and his self-esteem.
Wenders assesses the physical condition of his friend, and knows that such a project would be impossible. He agrees to make a film with him, a documentary of Ray’s last days. But it is not a pure documentary. Along with footage of Ray’s day to day health struggles, conversations between the directors and such outings as a lecture about film that Ray gives at Vassar University, there are fictional vignettes added (such as Ray playing a scene as a modern King Lear.) Some of the ‘documentary footage’ seems staged as well.
As Ray approaches death, he seems concerned about proving that his life and work had significance. It’s something that many of us wonder about.
Wenders wonders if he is helping or hurting his friend with the draining work of writing, directing and ‘acting’ in a film when his strength is depleted. He wonders if he is putting the film itself before his friend. (I don’t think that dilemma is unique. I think there is often a danger in ministry of designing programs to help people, and then we become more concerned with the programs than with the people they were designed to help.)
There are humorous and tender moments in the film. But ultimately, it made me sad. For Ray faced death without reference to the hope from in Jesus Christ. It could be that Ray did have some kind of religious faith; but it that is so, it was not a part of the film.
Ray seemed to face death with no assurance that there was meaning to his life, or more to hope for after death.
Recently, the great theologian and writer, John Stott passed away. And I was struck watching the film how different this man’s passing would have been. I just finished reading John Stott’s book, “Why I Am A Christian” (Inter Varsity Press, 2003). Stott argues that the very human needs of significance and transcendence can only be met in a relationship to Jesus Christ.
Stott argues that all of us fear death (he quotes Woody Allen who said, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”) Further, Stott argues that no one who is in fear, is truly free; only in Christ, in His resurrection, can be found hope of overcoming death and ultimate extinction.
(“Lightening Over Water” is not rated, but it does include strong language and brief nudity.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Random Top Ten List: Favorite Classical Composers

The classical station I listen to, KDFC, is doing a readers poll of their 40 favorite classical (symphonic) composers. They are now down to #6 and are just wrong. Of course, the starting list was wrong because it didn't include Virgil Thompson ("The River".) So here are my top ten:

10) John Williams (KDFC ranking, #13) Maybe he shouldn't be on the list. Perhaps he should be on pop rather than classical. But since he's on there list, he's on mine. Love "Star Wars", "Superman", "Schindler's List", the neglected "1941" and so many more. But nothing beats the "Raiders March".

9) Johann Strauss II (not yet listed on ranking) Because the Blue Danube takes me back to skating at the Sparky Schultz rink in Jr. High.

8) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (not yet ranked, must be top three) During the Disco era I bought an album of his music "Eine Kleine Nacht Fever".

7) Peter Tchaikosky (ranked #7 on KDFC list, WE HAVE A MATCH!) Love the cannons in the 1812, but my favorite is "Sleeping Beauty". Thank goodness Disney had the smarts to use it for the animated feature.

6) Johann Sebastian Bach (not yet listed) - Of course we are grateful for his fathering P.D.Q. Bach, along with so many others, but I truly appreciate the Godliness of his music. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is possibly the single most beautiful piece of music composed on this planet.

5) George Gershwin (ranked #11) - Okay, I probably have him here for "Someone to Watch Over Me" more than the "classical" pieces like "Rhapsody in Blue" (which I also love.) Sue me.

4) Felix Mendelssohn (ranked #15) - Love many of his works (like the Scottish) but he is here because of Symphony #5, the Reformation (which uses "A Mighty Fortress".) I'm a sucker for hymns and spirituals in compositions. (As can be seen in my next choice.)

3) Aaron Copland (ranked #18) - He brought vivid images to mind with his music, such as "Billy the Kid" and "Rodeo" but never better than "Appalachian Spring". (A cherished memory of torturing Kirk Nystrom with a Copland album I bought in Canada.)

2) George Frederick Handel (ranked a shockingly low #17) - Love the Fireworks and the Water, but when you're talking Handel, you're talking "The Messiah". Please stand.

1) Ludwig von Beethoveen (not yet ranked, but must be in top two) - I'm sure the droogs of "Clockwork Orange" agree with me. Sheer greatness we're talking here, in all the symphonies especially. Love the icon which is the 5th and the beauty of the chorus in th 9th, but the sense of humor of the 7th makes it my favorite.

So, I'll keep listening KDFC, though your readers are just wrong.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Christian Book Has the New Bill the Warthog

"King Con" is now available for order, delivery at the end of August:


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tree of Life

Sometimes expectations make all the difference. If you go to a museum with the expectation of seeing representational art, pretty pictures of landscapes and beautiful people, and instead find abstract combinations of colors and shapes, disappointment ensues. If you hadn’t gone in expecting a Rubens, you might have really liked that Jackson Pollack.

All this is to say, do not watch Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” with an expectation of a summer blockbuster. Or even a straightforward narrative. The film is an impressionistic work that doesn’t just move in and out of the character of Jack O’Brien from the present to his birth and his childhood in the early ‘60’s in Waco, Texas; we also see the creation of the universe and quite possibly the characters in the afterlife.

The film jumps from domestic scenes of family tension to static shots of great natural beauty to flights of fantasy. So if you just go into a film wanting to see “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy marries girl” or “man robs bank, cop chases robber, big shoot out”… Disappointment ensues. In fact, some theaters screening this film in some parts of the country have posted a sign saying, “This film does not follow a conventional narrative structure” to cut down on demands for refunds.

These tendencies are not new to Malick. His first films, “Badlands” (1973) about a less glamorous version of Bonnie and Clyde and “Days of Heaven” (1978) about farmers at the beginning of the 20th Century, featured leisurely meditations on natural beauty -- but within a traditional narrative structure.

Writer/director Malick took a couple decades off before returning with “The Thin Red Line” (1998) about the Pacific during the Second World War, a film that began Malick’s downplaying of narrative. “A New World” (2005) about Pocahontas and John Smith had even less narrative drive, and with “The Tree of Life”, Malick seems to work without traditional cinematic storytelling altogether.

But if one goes in without expectations of a traditional narrative, there are treasures in this film. It beautifully captures what it was like growing up in a certain time and place. Even more, it captures remembering growing up. There are wonderful, natural performances by the children, especially by Hunter McCracken as young Jack. Jessica Chastain is luminous as Jack’s mother and Brad Pitt gives one of his best performances as a father giving his all but perhaps not giving where he should.

What I appreciated most about the film was the consideration of Biblical and theological issues. The film opens with verses from the book of Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? …while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Chapter 38, verses 4 & 7.) We then see the characters dealing with loss as Job did, but we are given the context of the Big Bang through the dinosaurs. It is important to remember that God knows our grief, but He views it in a much larger context.

We also see Jack choosing between the path of Nature (what Paul refers to as the Natural Man) as represented by his father and Grace as represented through his mother and brother. Jack even paraphrased the Apostle Paul from Romans 7:15 that he does what he does not want to do. We do see Jack’s progress to finding salvation through grace.

If you are open to a different movie experience, you may want to see the impressionistic work of Terrence Malick. Or this summer you have lots of opportunities to see superheroes and stuff blow up real good. Just know what to expect.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Random Top Ten List: Favorite Jimmy Stewart Movies

10) "The Philadelphia Story"

It's odd to start this list with one of my least favorite Stewart performances in a movie I love. Stewart could play a tough guy, but he doesn't seem like the hard bitten reporter here. He has a couple of good scenes (love the what a gentlemen does speech), but Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and even Virginia Weidler (the kid) out shine him. His Oscar for this film that was probably a make-up for "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".

9) "Winchester '73"

Before Sam Peckinpah, these Westerns that Anthony Mann did with Stewart are what people thought of when they talked about "Adult Westerns". Stewart really is a tough guy in these films. (He was, of course, a tough guy in real life. He was a decorated pilot serving in WW II, and I believe in Korea and Vietnam.)

8) "Harvey"

When I worked on my bad Stewart impression, I went to Elwood P. Dowd and his wonderful speech about how he met his 6 foot rabbit friend.

7) "The Man Who Knew Too Much"

Stewart made four films with Alfred Hitchcock, tying with Cary Grant for the most leading man performances with Hitch. This film is one of those rare remakes that's better than the first. Stewart is very good (though he seems like an old father.)

6) "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

The film Stewart should have got an Oscar for this film, especially for the filibuster scene. One of the most patriotic films ever made (and I mean that in a very good way.) Those Republican, Capra and Stewart, worked well together.

5) "Vertigo"

"Rope" is the only Hitch/Stewart collaboration that won't make the list (though I like "Rope" very much.) "Vertigo" makes the top ten all time film lists of many critics. It captures the state of a dream, a nightmare.

4) "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence"

Getting to see John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart work together is a very happy thing. This is the go to film for impressions trying to do either actor. Also, fairly profound meditation on history and legend.

3) "Anatomy of a Murder"

Probably my favorite courtroom drama. Sordid material of rape, handled with in a very mature fashion by Otto Preminger. Stewart's ah shucks country lawyer is smarter than everyone else thinks he is, but not as smart as he thinks he is.

2) "Rear Window"

Not quite my favorite Hitch film (but easily in the top five), but Stewart is great as a photographer stuck in a wheelchair in his apartment. With the limitations of movement, Stewart still delivers a powerful performance. And Grace Kelly is beautiful.

1) "It's a Wonderful Life"

Favorite film ever. 'Nuff said.

Friday, July 8, 2011

How Bill Book Covers Are Made



Friday, July 1, 2011

Interview With Me

(Thanks, Donna, for leaving out the truly incriminating quotes)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Random Top Ten List: Cop Shows

Note this says Cop Shows, so it must focus on policeman. Sorry Rockford, sorry Monk, you are not on the payroll to protect and serve. (By the way, if this was crime shows, you would have a shot, Jim. But then, so would Tony Soprano. Adian…not so much.) JUSTIFIED would certainly be contending in the top five, but I wasn’t sure if a Federal Marshall counts as a cop.

10) DRAGNET – If you go back and watch a lot of old dramas today, they just don’t hold up. I’ve gone back to favorites from childhood like Starsky and Hutch and the old Hawaii 5-0 and they seem so hokey. They follow one story line doggedly, the writing is pedestrian and acting (particularly by the secondary players) can be really stiff.
The great thing about DRAGNET is it was corny when it aired. Back in the day people made fun of the wooden line delivery and leaden pace. Which is why it was awesome then and is now; because the stories were true, it took something special to make everything seem so fake. I watched the color version with Harry Morgan, which had the incredible ‘Blue Boy’ drug episode. And if I’m not mistaken, creator/star Jack Webb voted Republican.

9) LUTHER – No, this is not a show about a German theologian who fights crime on the side. Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from THE WIRE) stars in this BBC show about a British police officer who, well, you know, plays by his own rules and lives on the edge. Which has been done a thousand times (best on the big screen with Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry), and if that’s all there was, I’d still watch because Elba is very good. But what makes this show stand out is the help he receives from a killer he couldn’t get the goods on, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). She is scary, funny and unpredictable.
If I had a chance to see more than 6 episodes of this show, it might rank higher. (I don’t get BBC America, so I’m still waiting for the DVDs to get the Season 1 cliff hanger resolved.)

8) LIFE – As annoying as it is to have a favorite canceled, sometimes it is not all bad. This NBC LA cop show about a policeman falsely convicted of murder, released from prison with a promotion to detective and a really big cash settlement, may have been improved by not having a chance to linger and let its personal mysteries fester too long (see Monk.)
Damien Lewis, who was wonderful in Band of Brothers, is wonderful in this show. His quirks, such as an anger management problem that he tries to handle with a Buddhist self-help tape, come across as real and not gimmicks. And the procedural plots that don’t connect to the big mystery of who framed Charlie Crews for murder are usually clever and creative. A strong support cast that continues to pop up on other shows.

7) MIAMI VICE – There’s something to be said for style over substance, and Michael Mann said it with this show. The show blended great camera work, settings, clothes and music into something special. Has there been another time than when the show use “I Can Feel It Coming” that Phil Collins has been truly cool? (Don’t misunderstand. I like Phil Collins. I have two ears and a heart. Just not sure cool at any other time has been the word to describe him.)
Don Johnson as Crocket with the boat, the car and the alligator…Well, I wanted to be him. That’s why I bought the white jacket. Didn’t buy the loafers, though. And hurrah for its advocacy of letting the shave wait a couple of days. (And what other show has had Sheena Easton and Penn Juliette as guest stars?)

6) BARNEY MILLER – I read someplace (probably the TV Guide) that many policemen consider this the most realistic cop show. It was a sitcom, rather than a drama, but it rarely became too outlandish. Hal Linden as Barney seemed to be the boss anyone would want (a father figure as well.) The supporting cast was very funny. Abe Vigoda was ancient as the time (and yet is still going and was the breakout star (even getting a spin-off, “Fish”.)
But I really liked Jack Soo who raised sloth to an art. Steve Landesberg’s Dietrich was one of the most likable intellectuals on TV. But my favorite was Max Gail’s Wojo, who was dumb, maybe, but never as dumb as you thought he was.

5) THE SHIELD - I was pretty shocked when I watched the pilot of this FX show when Michael Chiklis as the anti-hero Vic Mackey stops straddling the line between legal and illegal and just strides right over it. This show pushed the violence and language content rules to the limit, but usually for good reasons and for strong payoffs.
Loved the supporting cast, especially CCH Pounder as the detective who doesn’t trust Mac or his strike force, Jay Karnes as Dutch and Wally Goggins as Shane. I didn’t see the full series when it aired, so I’m trying to catch up now.

4) COLUMBO – Why would you want to watch a mystery when you find out who did in at the very opening? Peter Falk kept you watching, not just for an hour, but for up to twice that long in these NBC mystery movies (moving later to ABC.)
I gave a speech in a Junior College speech class on doing a Columbo impression, using the dirty trench coat, cigar, slumped posture and catch phrases (“Just one more thing”.) But Falk was always better than his imitators.
There was a bit of a class warfare tension going on with the show. Killers thought their status, wealth, fame, etc. would keep them from justice, but the Lieutenant always showed that just wasn’t so. And the guest murderers, Faye Dunaway, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, Jack Cassidy, Robert Conrad…. Were always great.

3) THE WIRE - There are many who argue that this is flat out the best television show ever made. I won't argue. I like it very much. But I still enjoy two cop shows more.

2) HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS – David Simon created this show as well as The Wire and set them both in Baltimore, which made one very much only want to visit that city on TV. One of the great props on the show was a white board. If a murder was unsolved, it was on the board in red ink and when it was solved, it was changed to black ink. Some murders on the show always stayed in the red.
There were many great characters and actors on the show, but Andre Braugher’s Frank Pembleton stood out. Perhaps one of the best combination of actor and character ever on television (Falk/Columbo is close, though.) The story arc of Frank overcoming a stroke to work again was heartbreaking and funny and great television.

1) HILL STREET BLUES – Maybe it was when I saw this show. During my college and seminary years, this was sometimes the only show I made a point to watch. Thursdays at 10 PM on NBC, I was there. I loved Furillo, Washington, Coffee, Bates, Ranko, Bobby,Phil and Howard and Henry. And Belker. Especially Belker when he growled and pounced and used his favorite invective, “Hairball”. Never could stand Fay Furillo, though. The one thing that could have improved the show was a different actress to play Frank’s ex, but I guess no show is perfect. But the Hill came so very close.
I was so happy to meet Dennis Franz and be able to thank him for his part in making Hill Street Blues. If by some weird chance, anyone else connected with this show reads this, thank you, too. (Sorry, Ms. Bosson.)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Different 100 Books List

People are always making those lists of books one should read to be literate. I'd like to make it clear I've read all of these books.
How literate are you? See how many these of these works you’ve read. If you have read it, put the title in bold (or put an ‘S’ after the title for ‘Smart’), if you started it and didn’t finish put the title in italics (or put an ‘GI’ after the title for ‘Good Intentions’) and leave it alone (or put an ‘I’ after the title for ‘Lame’.)

1) “The Haunted Hall” – Partridge Family Novel Tie-in #2 (Author Unknown)
2) “Star Trek Memories” – William Shatner
3) “Star Trek Movie Memories” – William Shatner
4) “The World of Star Trek” – David Gerold
5) “Star Trek 1” – James Blish
6) “How to Care for Your Monster” – Norman Bridwell
7) “Where’s Spot” – Eric Hill
8) “Good Dog, Carl” – Alexandra Day
9) “Carl’s Afternoon in the Park” – Alexandra Day
10) “Carl Goes Shopping” – Alexandra Day
11) “Carl’s Christmas” – Alexandra Day
12) “I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This” – Bob Newhart
13) “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book” – Jon Stone
14) “I Can’t Wait Until Christmas” – Linda Lee Maifar
15) “Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Casebook” – Antonio Prohias
16) “Attack of the Deranged Killer Mutant Monster Snow Goon” – Bill Waterson
17) “The Revenge of the Baby Sat” – Bill Waterson
18) “Goodnight Moon” – Margaret Wise Brown
19) “It’s a Magical World” – Bill Waterson
20) “Scientific Progress Goes Boink” – Bill Waterson
21) “Happiness is a Warm Puppy” – Charles Shultz
22) “Peanuts Cook Book” – Charles Shultz
23) “Miss Suzy” – Miriam Young
24) “Frank and Ernest” – Alexandra Day
25) “There’s a Stewardess Flying This Plane: Films of the 1970’s” – Ron Hogan
26) “Little Bear” – Maurice Sendak
27) “A Kiss for Little Bear” – Maurice Sendak
28) “Chicken Soup with Rice” – Maurice Sendak
29) “The Great Brain” – John Fitzgerald
30) “More Adventures of the Great Brain” – John Fitzgerald
31) “Me and My Little Brain” – John Fitzgerald
32) “The Great Brain at the Academy” – John Fitzgerald
33) “The Great Brain Reforms” – John Fitzgerald
34) “Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective” – Donald Sobol
35) “Film Flubs: The Sequel” – Bill Givens
36) “Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day” – Donald Sobol
37) “Full Metal Trench Coat” – Dean Anderson
38) “Guarding the Tablets of Stone” – Dean Anderson
39) “Attack of the Mutant Fruit” – Dean Anderson
40) “The Bogus Mind Machine” – Dean Anderson
41) “If Chins Could Kill” – Bruce Campbell
42) “Just One More Thing” – Peter Falk
43) “So Far…” – Kelsey Grammer
44) “Camp Foxtrot” – Bill Amend
45) “101 Places Not to See Before You Die” – Catherine Price
46) “Foxtrot: En Masse” – Bill Amend
47) “At Least This Place Sells T-Shirts” – Bill Amend
48) “His Code Name is Fox” – Bill Amend
49) “The Return of the Lone Iguana” – Bill Amend
50) “Black Bart Says Draw” – Bill Amend
51) “He Saw, She Saw” – Dean Anderson
52) “Barnaby Goes Wild” – Gary Richmond
53) “Hop on Pop” – Dr. Seuss
54) “Oh the Thinks You Can Think!” – Dr. Seuss
55) “The Golden Turkey Awards” – Michael Medved
56) “The Butter Battle Book” – Dr. Seuss
57) “The Foot Book” – Dr. Seuss
58) “Happy Birthday to You” – Dr. Seuss
59) “Fox in Socks” – Dr. Seuss
60) “The Making of Star Trek” – Stephen Whitfield
61) “Everything and a Kite” – Ray Romano
62) “The Movie Brats” – Michael Pye
63) “The Best of 50’s TV” – Michael McCall
64) “A Year at the Movies” – Kevin Murphy
65) “The Great Movies” – William Bayer
66) “The Sneetches” – Dr. Seuss
67) “Yertle the Turtle” – Dr. Seuss
68) “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew” – Dr. Seuss
67) “Buffy the Vampire: Pop Quiz” – Cynthia Boris
68) “Sunnydale High Yearbook” – Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder
69) “The Disney Films” – Leonard Maltin
70) “Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint” – Jay Williams
71) “Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine” – Jay Williams
72) “Danny Dunn and the Heat Ray”- Jay Williams
73) “Cake Wrecks” – Jen Yates
74) “The Adventures of Homer Fink” – Sidney Offit
75) “Matthew Looney’s Voyage to Earth” – Jerome Beatty Jr.
76) “Martin Luther Had a Wife” – William Petersen
77) “The Far Side Gallery” – Gary Larsen
78) “The Far Side Gallery 2” – Gary Larsen
79) “Babies and Other Hazards of Sex” – Dave Barry
80) “The Far Side Gallery 4” – Gary Larsen
81) “The Far Side Gallery 5” – Gary Larsen
82) “The Prehistory of the Far Side” – Gary Larsen
83) “Don Martin Steps Out” – Don Martin
84) “Don Martin Drops Out” – Don Martin
85) “Don Martin Bounces Back” – Don Martin
86) “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” – Al Jaffe
87) “Cruel Shoes” – Steve Martin
88) “Horror in the Cinema” – Ivan Butler
89) “The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body” – Joanna Cole
90) “The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor” – Joanna Cole
91) “The Magic School Bus in the Time of Dinosaurs” – Joanna Cole
92) “Jay Leno’s Headlines: Book 1” – Jay Leno
93) “Late Night with David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists” - Dave Letterman
94) “Where’s Waldo?” – Martin Handford
95) “One Hundred and One Elephant Jokes” – Robert Blake
96) “101 Uses for a Dead Cat” – Simon Bond
97) “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” – Laura Numeroff
98) “Growing Up Brady” – Barry Williams
99) “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” – Bruce Feirstein
100) The Title of “Finnegans Wake” - James Joyce

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Win, Win

I wrestled in Junior High and High School. To say that wrestling did not receive the same kind of attention as football or basketball would be an understatement. We didn’t get as many fans as track or girl’s volleyball. Maybe even the Dungeons and Dragons Club.

During my Piner High years, the drill team was forced to attend. On more than one occasion I heard the reaction of certain girls on the team to the sweaty, six minutes of grabbling on the mat as “yuck” rather than “yeah”.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the film, “Win, Win”, which is partially about high school wrestling has not done boffo box office. But it is a good film and only partially about wresting.

Mainly it is the story of a struggling lawyer, Mike Flarety, (Paul Giamatti of the excellent “John Adams” mini-series) who takes on the guardianship of an old man, Leo, (Burt Young from the Rocky films) primarily for the money. Instead of giving personal care to Leo, Mike puts the man into a nursing home.

The lawyer’s wife, Jackie, (Amy Ryan of “The Wire” and “The Office”) becomes aware the guardianship only when the old man’s grandson, Kyle, (Alex Shaffer from nothing else, but he does a great job) shows up on the porch of the old man’s house. Mike and Jackie decide to take Kyle into their home.

Mike has an another job as the high school wrestling coach of a very bad team. He discovers that Kyle is a very good wrestler. So good that he might turn the team’s fortunes around.

When Leo’s daughter (Kyle’s mother) shows up unexpectedly, complications ensue.

Throughout the film, questions of motivation keep cropping up.

Does Mike agree to look after Leo only for the money, or does he care about the crazy old guy?

Does Mike care about Kyle just because he’s a needy, likable kid, or because he’s a great wrestler?

Is Leo’s daughter looking to get her family back together, or is she just there for her father’s money?

If we are honest with ourselves, most of our choices in life are made with a variety of motives, from altruistic to selfish. The apostle Paul often wrote about our mixed motives in ministry.

In Philippians chapter 1, Paul wrote: “15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill…18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

Here Paul seems to be saying, I don’t care about the motives, as long as the Gospel is preached, good is done.

And yet the same guy writes in the famous Love Chapter, I Corinthians 13, “2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

So which is it Paul, do motives matter, or not?

In “Win, Win”, we see the consequences of bad choices made from good motives, and some good choices made with bad motives. And fortunately, how love and forgiveness can redeem both.

This film, written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (“The Visitor” and “The Station Agent”) is rated R for language (including swearing by minors, something that personally annoys me greatly in films, it hasn't been funny since "The Bad News Bears") and brief, unappealing nudity (a mooning). (But it also portrays a strong marriage and church as a normal part of life. Both rare and worthy sites in contemporary films.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lent Devotional for HCC on Ps. 42: 1 & 2

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

Even if you’re not a naturalist, you may have noticed that deer do not carry bottle waters: not Evian, not Arrowhead, not even the twelve bottles for a buck at $1 tree. (I’d like to say the buck pun was not intended, but…)
My point is, and I do have one, that though we have a wide variety of sources to fulfill our thirst, from the kitchen sink to the office drinking fountain, a deer probably just knows one place to quench its thirst. It knows where to find that one stream. When thirsty, it will probably make every effort and risk any danger to reach that stream. The chance of a mountain lion or hunter in wait will not keep the deer from seeking out its source of water.
We have only one source for spiritual refreshment. Sure there rival claims for refreshment. People look for satisfaction from material goods, achievement, sensual pleasures or within themselves. But these sources do as much good as giving a dehydrated man a Coke or a Bourbon straight. Perhaps a better analogies would be a poisoned well or a full glass from the Pacific.
God alone can thirst the quench the thirst of the soul. At this time of lent, we are wise to take every opportunity, take any risk, sacrifice to seek Him.

Favorite Legal Films (as opposed to the illegal films I watch)

I was watching an old episode of Perry Mason, and you’ll never guess what happened!

Someone hired Perry to take care of a minor legal matter. Then someone was murdered and Perry’s client was arrested for the crime!

In the court, Perry eventually Perry proved his client was innocent and even got the true murderer to confess!

What’s that? You did guess what happened…. How? Oh, that’s right. Because Perry handled hundreds of murder cases in books, TV shows and even movies: and pretty much the same thing happened every time. (Well, Petty did lose one case, but that was his client lied about everything, so that doesn’t really count.)

I find there is something reassuring about the show, thinking that if I was ever in trouble, there would be a perfect advocate by my side. It’s a Biblical desire. In Job 16: 19, Job tells his “friends” who accuse him of some great, but unnamed great crimes that he “Even now my witness is in heaven, my advocate is on high.”

Considering the important (but not primary) role that the Law has in Scripture, it’s not surprising that lawyers, courts and lawsuits all can be found in the Bible.

So if you are looking for a legal story with a little less predictability than is found in Earl Stanley Gardner’s mysteries, you might want to consider Netflicking (or library ordering) one of my five favorite legal films.

5) “My Cousin Vinny” (1992)

This legal comedy, according to many lawyers, gets the legal details right telling the story of a young man from New York traveling through the rural South accused of murder.He calls his cousin to defend him, who is, well, almost a lawyer. Joe Pesci playing Vinny for the Defense is rude and abrasive in genteel court room, but proves an effective advocate.
We need a good advocate when we’re innocent but even more when we’re guilty. (I John 2:1, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”)

4) “The Verdict” (1982)

This is drama about a medical malpractice case brought by a lawyer (Paul Newman) intent on recompense for his clients as well as redemption for himself. (Directed by the late Sidney Lumet, who directed one of the films below.)
God is very concerned about this type of justice as we see in Exodus 23:6, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.”

3) “The Fortune Cookie” (1966)

This Billy Wilder comedy shows how the legal system can be abused. When photographer Jack Lemmon, he sees an unfortunate minor innocent; his shyster brother-in-law Walter Matthau sees dollar signs.
The Apostle Paul was concerned about this kind of abuse of the legal system, especially among believers. He argued in I Corinthians 6: 7, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”

2) “12 Angry Men” (1957)

We still hope that truth will prevail in the legal system, especially in the jury room. We hope for a Juror #8 (Henry Fonda). (John 14: 16 Jesus promises, “He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.”)

1) “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)

But justice is not always done on the courts of earth, even when the great Gregory Peck represents the defense. This wonderful story about justice (and race and family and childhood) reminds us that ultimately, only God will make things right. (Dueteronomy 17:8 If case come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge… take them to the place the Lord your God will choose.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Course Article


Friday, April 8, 2011

Lent Devotional for HCC

John 13: 34 – 35

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

If you happen to be in the mall and you see a young woman wearing a red, white and blue cap; and a red, white, blue and yellow blouse; and blue shorts; and tennis shoes; there is no doubt in the world that that woman works for Hot Dog on a Stick.

Not Macy’s or Panda Express or the Gap or Burger King. Hot Dog on a Stick has perhaps the most distinctive uniform in the world. If you walk up to their kiosk or store in a mall, you don’t need to see the sign, only the person and the outfit.

Jesus wanted His followers to be just as distinctive. He wanted us to stand out in the crowd. He wanted there to be no doubt about who we worked for. But He didn’t demand us to wear a special cap or name tag. He wanted us to love. Love as He loved, selflessly, spectacularly, sacrificially.

Of course, that kind of love will stand out. It can sometimes be misinterpreted. But Jesus talked to women in a misogynist culture; healed foreigners in a racist culture; kissed the man about to betray Him.

In other words, don’t be embarrassed by the uniform of love – just wear it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Family Feud

Have you ever had your kids come in while something rather embarrassing was on the screen? I don’t know what you were watching, but my TV was tuned to the “Family Feud”.

Yes, the insipid game show that left the networks and has been in syndication since the invention of the cathode tube (actually thirty years since it began with Richard Dawson on ABC and syndication).

I know what you’re thinking: “Family Feud” makes even “Deal or No Deal” look like the good stuff squeezed between pledge breaks. But I have my reasons. They may not be good reasons, but what excuse do you have for watching “ER” past its prime? So at the very least, after reading this, you may feel a little better about your mindless viewing.

1) “It can hurt your chances as a contestant if you are smart.” I find this fascinating. Since the answers are culled from a survey of random Americans, it is best to be of average intelligence. Any brilliant singular answer has been tossed, since at least two people must respond in the same way to make the survey. And in the initial showdown, you need the most popular answer. Which means “Homer Simpson” beats “Homer’s Iliad” every time, just as “Pamela Anderson” beats “Marion Anderson” in the category of female entertainer. Even more amazing, your answer may need to be factually incorrect to win, such as “whale” in the category “big fish”.

2) “The changing hosts say something about our time.” I’m not sure what it says, but it sure is interesting. Can you imagine Richard Dawson trying to lip kiss every contestant today? (He must have hung out with Bob Crane far too long.) Ray Combs sadly took his own life after his 1988 to 1994 run on the show, so that might not speak well of those years. Louie Anderson was hired in the midst of the whole Clinton-Lewinski thing, which seemed appropriate somehow. Surely the switch from Richard Karn (“Home Improvement”’s Al Borland from 2002 – 2006) to John O’Hurley (“Seinfeld”’s Mr. Peterman) foreshadowed the Democratic House and Senate in some weird red/blue state way. I haven’t given this a whole lot of thought, but surely some thesis papers are in order.

3) “The really dumb rituals.” The audience reading along with the revealed answers, “TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS”, and the handshake that starts the round. Something reassuring about a feud that starts with a handshake.

4) “You can watch it in Spanish.” And if you are willing to travel, you can see it in a number of other languages. This can be helpful in your language studies. But here in the good old U.S. or A. you can see it in Espanola as well as English. But the dollar amounts played for are less, and if they’re talking pesos, it’s really pathetic.

5) “ ‘Family Feud’ has provided the best ‘Saturday Night Live’ fodder of any game show outside of ‘Jeopardy’ with Will Farrell’s Alex Trebeck.” I forget, did John Belushi get an Emmy for the skit where he was a contestant that answered ‘chicken necks’ for everything? If he did not, a grave injustice was done. I believe Steve Martin was his father, whose only answer was the Romaine lettuce heads he farmed.

6) “Occasionally there are very attractive contestants that jump up and down in excitement.” ‘Nuff said.

7) “It has a home game.” Sure, they have the computer and DVD versions. But you want one of the classic old editions with the plastic sliders and the card with the red ink so the answers can’t be seen through the red plastic. It’s an investment that will pay off on “Antiques Roadshow” someday.

8) “Wouldn’t you rather a pollster called to ask your favorite red food or who’s the sexiest movie star rather than ask who you plan to support for Lieutenant Governor in the next election?”

9) “Really dumb answers.” For instance when someone is asked for something in an operating room, and then answers, ‘an operator,’ any previous tedium is worthwhile. Or when people answer ‘Nixon’ or ‘Adolf’ for one of Santa’s reindeer. Or when asked for an animal with three letters in the name they say ‘frog’ or ‘alligator’. (Though I guess, technically, they do have three letters in their names, and then some.) Or ‘Spring cleaning’ in response to a household chore done in the Fall. (These are, of course, all actual answers that may be found at the Family Feud Dumb Answers website [http://brandon.ikevin.net/feud/].)

10) “A more personal reason for watching ‘Family Feud’.” About twenty-five years ago, my dad had a stroke. He was in the hospital and most of the time was not very responsive. But for some reason, when ‘Family Feud’ came on, he perked up. I hadn’t remembered the show being a particular favorite of his before the stroke (he had preferred viewing any sports activities, up to and including televised bowling). But during those long days and evenings in the hospital, it was a joy to see him liven up and try to answer what America’s favorite breed of dog is according to 100 people surveyed. My dad recovered, and enjoyed many active years before passing away in 2003. Maybe this is the only real reason I stop at “Family Feud” when flipping the channels and have difficulty shutting it off till after the fast money round.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Also from Metaxas' Bonhoeffer biography

A quote from Hitler:

It's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? the Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?

For those who think Adolf was a Christian guy.

Amazing Bonhoeffer Quote

Came across this while reading Eric Mextaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. DB wrote this during his 1930-31 trip to the United States, "I want to have a look at church conditions in the South, which allegedly can be quite peculiar, and get to know the situation of the Negroes in a bit more detail. I don't quite know whether I have not perhaps spent to much time on this (race and segregation) question here, especially since we don't really have an analogous situation in Germany..."
This was, of course, before Hitler's rise, but is a reminder not to take our freedom lightly.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Top Ten Movie Theater Experience #1`: "The Terminator" (1984) & "Code of Silence" (1985)

It’s a difficult call for #1 movie going experience, but I knew it would be something I saw with Mindy. I always remember hearing in my youth that one should really be more creative with dates than dinner and a movie. But movies comprised a majority of my dating life, even, especially with Mindy (often without the dinner.)

So which experience to choose? I could have gone with the movie Mindy thought was our first date, “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985) which Mindy thought of as our first date. (But I just asked her to go at the last minute with another couple and didn’t think it was a date.) I could have chosen the film I thought of as our first date, “Desperately Seeking Susan” (1985). (Mindy wondered why I acted so nervous, like it was a first date, when she thought it was the second.)

I could have gone with the drive-in double feature of two really bad films (“Teen Wolf” and “Volunteers” both 1985) which we saw the night I proposed. Or the movie we saw on our honeymoon (“F/X” 1986).

But I have to go with a drive-in double feature that a bunch of us guys from the dorm of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School were very excited to see. Arnold and Chuck for the price of one. I had already seen “The Terminator”, but certainly wasn’t opposed to seeing it again. And “Code of Silence” was a Chuck Norris film that had actually gotten two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert and that did not happen very often.

So I asked Mindy if she wanted to go. She said no, but she began to pop popcorn for us to take to the show. I said to her, “Oh, come on, Mindy, you’ve never let us down before” and she agreed to go. I didn’t know that the reason she didn’t want to go was because the cost of the show would wipe out her remaining cash.

Several of us guys went, Mindy was the other girl. She rode in a different car than I did, but when we sat on cars to watch the show, she sat next to me. We came in halfway through “Code of Silence”, a film about a cop fighting police corruption. We then watched “The Terminator”, a film about utter awesomeness. We then watched “Code of Silence” in its entirety.

Mindy rode back to school in another car. But she had been right next to me for 2 ½ guy films. This won over my admiration almost as much as her willingness to listen to me talk about that incredible new comic, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

In the next couple of weeks, Mindy and I will celebrate our 25th Anniversary. Thanks, Arnold. Thanks, Chuck.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A "Weirdly Engaging" Bill Review


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stewardship Skit from a Couple of Years Ago

[Setting – Five people lined up in chairs with usher bringing offering plate. Voiceovers are used for each person as they hold the plate, starting with the usher.]

USHER: Nothing from that first row. What a bunch of cheapskates. How are we ever going to get the parking lot repaved unless these cheapskates start coughing up some dough?

KID: (pulls out handful of pennies): I got all the pennies from my brother’s piggy bank. This is going to be the loudest offering ever.

PARISHONER 1: (holds plate in lap while puzzling over amount to write on check): Now what has the entertainment value of this service been? The music was good this morning, but last week’s sermon dragged. I hope today’s will be better. It certainly was better than the Adam Sandler movie Larry dragged me to last night, and that cost $9.00. Of course, my cable bill is $30 but the whole family uses the TV, and that’s for a whole month. I know, I’ll give what it cost to see the community theater production of “Sound of Music”. It’s important to support the arts.

PARISHONER 2 (putting envelope in plate): I do need this tax deduction! Uncle Sam is going to take a hefty bite. I need to be careful to leave the envelope right side up so people can see the size of my offering. Should I add an extra zero on the envelope? No, it would probably throw off the usher’s count.

PARISHONER 3 (putting in cash): Okay, God, I’m putting in $5 for what I did to Betty, $10 for those extra bourbons the other night and $20 for the time on that website. You know which one I mean. Does that make us square?

PARISHONER 4 (putting in a check): Thanks God, for a chance to give back to You. You’ve given me so much! It’s such fun to be able to give back.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Top Ten Movie Theater Experiences #2 “The Star Wars Trilogy”

Sure, making it a tie between the original trilogy is a cheat, but who’s reffing the game, anyway?
The first footage I saw of “Star Wars” was a preview on Creature Features. The host of the show, Bob Wilkins, was lauding the film as the “Science Fiction ‘Gone With the Wind’”. But I wasn’t impressed. I thought the ape guy (Chewbacca) didn’t have make-up nearly as impressive as what was done in “Planet of the Apes”.

My family went on vacation the summer of ’77 to Colorado. And a cousin of mine told me I had to see this film. He spoke with awe about “Star Wars”. He had already bought the LP soundtrack. So I went with him to the theater in Grand Junction. Have no idea of the name of the theater, but it had a big screen. And when those space ships passed right over my head, I was in love.

So three years later, I thought I was ready for the sequel. Yeah, I expected to love it as well, but I didn’t think there would be anything that would surprise me as much as the original film itself. After all, I had been to that universe several times by then. I went with Gregg Naslund and Garth Shaw to the Corta Medera theater with the 70 mil and the huge speakers. While waiting in line, Garth (who had seen the film) hushed some people exiting the show. Apparently, there was some big secret. I was loving the film, but when Darth’s big reveal came, I was dumb struck. The rest of the summer of 1980 was spent arguing whether it could be true. We came up with all kind of theories to work out how Obi Wan’s claim that Darth had killed Luke’s father and that Darth WAS Luke’s father could both be true. (And just about every theory we came up with was better than the lame, punk exposition of the Lucas garbage second trilogy.)

I was anxious, desperate to see the next film. In the summer of 1983, I was working at the UA5. So I was able to go to the employee’s screening the night before the opening. This was before it was common practice to have midnight screenings for the general public. We felt like we were seeing it before anyone else in the world. I invited my sister Lola and her husband Dave to come. Lola was not impressed with Jabba’s muppets, but I was okay with them. But when it came to the scene with the great pit of Carkoon, the resting place of the powerful Sarlacc, well, the awe was back in full force.

Looking back, I’m with the general consensus that the ‘Jedi’ is the least of the originals. But on that night, as the story was completed and the heroes found victory….Well, as you can see by the rankings, the first viewings of each of these films I found were theater going highlights. And you may think it sad, but they were life highlights. (I don’t find it sad at all.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Cost of Pretty

At a recent memorial service for a dear woman of our church, among photos of the woman’s 90+ years hung a couple of landscape paintings. Pastor Becca commented, “She used to offer some of her paintings for sale at the Fall auction. But usually they didn’t sell. It made me sad.”
I recently finished reading a novel about the art world, An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin (Grand Central Publishing, 2010). The book covers the New York art scene from the 1990’s to the present(ish), focusing on a Holly Golightly-like character by the name of Lacey. Lacey ventures into the world of art for the love of it, but something changes in her when she works at a prominent auction house.
Martin writes, “At Sotheby’s, she started to look at paintings differently. She became an efficient computer of values. The endless stream of pictures that passed through the auction house helped her develop a calculus of worth…When Lacey began these computations, her toe crossed ground from which it is difficult to return: she started converting objects of beauty into objects of value.”
Lacey pursues art for money’s sake, and hurts a number of people along the way.
It is quite easy to fall into the trap of viewing art through the lens of monetary value. Not just painting, but also literature, photography, woodworks, etc. If someone is willing to pay for it, then it has worth. Stephen King wrote in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Scibner, 2000), “If someone is willing to pay for your work, you’re a writer.”
I’ve attended writer’s conference with fellow writers who seemed desperate to see their name in print. Desperate for the validation of a publisher saying, “I’ll buy it” and anxious that many readers would then buy it as well.
But most paintings are never sold. Most poems go unpublished. Most of the screenplays written are never filmed.
So was all that work pointless? Much of it was. But not all.
Paul wrote in Colossians 3: 23 & 24: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
The work we do, the art we create, can have great value, eternal value, if it is done for the Lord’s sake.
Recently, I watched the 1965 film, The Agony and the Ecstasy, a historical drama about the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Charlton Heston plays Michelangelo and Rex Harrison plays Pope Julius II. Both act with hammy abandon.
According to the screenplay by Philip Dunne (based on Irving Stone’s novel), Michelangelo did not want to take on the job. He was a sculptor who didn’t want to paint. He was not inspired by the assignment to paint the apostles. And he didn’t trust the Pope to pay him adequately because he had failed to pay him in the past.
He took the job because he felt he had no choice. He submitted to the authority of the Pope.
But eventually, he took the job. According to the film, he had a vision of the Creation of Man and that was the beginning of his epic recreation of stories of Genesis in what is arguably the greatest artistic creation in history.
According to the film, he was never properly recompensed financially. But I don’t think the artist ultimately cared about that; he came to see the work as something done for the glory of God and not himself.
Those paintings I mentioned at the beginning of the article? They do have an audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if God has his own gallery in which those landscapes are quite prominently displayed.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Airport Skit

Here's a skit I wrote for tonight's church dinner with a travel theme. Y'all feel free to use it.

Airport Setting

Roxanne: Dean! I didn’t know you were flying out today!

Dean: Yeah, well, my flight was delayed. With security and all, it can take so long these days.

Roxanne: These days it’s really smart to pack light, to get through security and baggage check.

Dean: I always pack light these days. I don’t bother packing shampoo and soap because the hotels already have it.

Roxanne: I learned from Survivor I don’t need to pack a toothbrush. I can always find twigs that you can fray to provide good dental hygiene.

Dean: I found if I bring a small deck of my cards, I don’t need to bring my lap top computer. I just use it to play solitaire anyway.

Roxanne: I don’t need to pack books anymore. I download books to my phone.

Dean: I don’t pack a hair dryer. I just stick my head out of the rental car where ever I’m going.

Roxanne: I don’t pack jewelry. I learned to make darling ear rings out of baggage claim checks.

Dean: I don’t bring T-Shirts. I’m going to buy souvenir shirts anyway, so I just where those.

Roxanne: I don’t pack nylons anymore. I bring along silk worms. They don’t take any space. They weave darling panty hose.

Dean: Why do you need a coat when there is always local game you can hunt for furs.

Roxanne: You can make such cute skirts from the local grasses.

Dean: Most places you go in the world you can find sheep and you can use their wool to make great sweaters.

Kid 1 (dragging trunk): Roxanne, you forgot your luggage.

Kid 2 (dragging bigger trunk): Dean, you don’t want to leave without this.

Roxanne: It’s lighter than it looks.

Dean: Mine too.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Top Ten Movie Theater Experiences #3: “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)

This is probably the best film on the list. It got the Academy Award for Best Picture the year it came out. But I didn’t see it the year it came out. I saw it in re-release when I was in the 4th grade. I think it I saw it at the Coddingtown Cinema in Santa Rosa. I liked it, but had a hard time following the plot. This could because I was in the 4th grade. It could also be because in re-release an hour had been hacked out of its nearly four hour length. This was not a top movie theater experience.
The next time I saw the film was in 1989 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The film had been carefully restored to David Lean’s original vision. (But not fully restored. Some footage appears to be forever lost, and other segments needed to be dubbed because the original sound track was lost.)
Mindy and I went to see the film in 70 mm, a huge picture on a huge screen. And that is how this film is meant to be seen. The story of a passionate, perhaps mad, Englishman who entered the world of the Arabian desert is perhaps the greatest epic ever made (step aside “Gone With the Wind”.) There is a scene in the film where Sherif Ali (Omar Sherif) thinks T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is lost in the desert and may never return. But then he (and we) sees a tiny speck on the horizon through the sand billowing in the desert wind. That speck becomes a man…Lawrence. That scene does not have the same impact in 35 mm on a smaller screen, let alone on a television screen (even a home theater.)
That was a wonderful night, but it was still not the best.
An even better experience, #3 on this list was when I could take my kids to see “Lawrence” in 70 mm at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. It is a true cinema palace, with art deco interior and an organ that plays before the show. The huge theater was full the night we went. It was amusing to hear the audience laugh knowingly when the dialogue referred to the foolishness of Western nations interfering in the Middle East (this was not long after the start of the second Iraq war.)
We watched up in the balcony. During intermission, the projectionist let the kids into the booth to look around.
But the best thing was being able to share with my kids the glory of Lean’s beautiful vistas, O’Toole’s impassioned performance and a story from history told with humor, majesty and mystery. One of the most lovely images in cinema is Lawrence spinning in the sand in his first native robe.
I’ve taken the kids to other films at the Castro (the original “King Kong” and “Blade Runner”), but this was a truly memorable night.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Top Ten Movie Theater Experiences #4: “House of Dark Shadows” (1970) and “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967)

As a kid, I love movie monsters. My brother, Dale, and I collected the move monster models. We had all the Universal Studio Horror Icons, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dracula.
I thought about monsters a lot. The first novel I tried (one of many that only went as far as a chapter or two) was about Godzilla. But I never got to see horror films. They were always on past my bedtime. The only monster films I got to see were the ones in which they met Abbot and Costello. Those were shown early Sunday morning (alternating with Francis the Talking Mule and Ma and Pa Kettle.)

Then an incredible thing happened. A soap opera added monsters. I always hated soap operas. They took daytime TV hours away from game shows, cartoons and reruns of “Leave it to Beaver”. But ABC took an average soap opera, “Dark Shadows” and added vampires, ghosts and werewolves. This made it “Must See TV” to me, long before NBC came up with the slogan.

I watched the show faithfully, and my two older brothers and two older sisters watched it as well.

So when a “Dark Shadows” movie came out, we went together. This was one of two movie outings that I remember with just us siblings and no parents. (The other was the musical version of “Scrooge” with Albert Finney. Both times we went to the Park Cinema in Santa Rosa.)

I’d always wanted to see a horror film at the theater. My parents must have been concerned I would be petrified. I was. It was great.

In the soap opera, everything moved at glacial speed and obviously character could only be rarely dispatched. All the actors from the show were in “House of Dark Shadows” but there must have been no concern for continuity with the show because characters were killed in rapid succession. (Usually being killed and then turned into a vampire so they could be killed yet again.)

And “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (with the alternate title “Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck”) was even scarier. My brother, Daryl, assured us this film was a comedy so it wouldn’t be scary. But the film was made by the great director Roman Polanski, so it managed to be funny and scary.

Polanski would make more frightening films (“Rosemary’s Baby”, particularly), but I wouldn’t see those until much later in life. (Polanski’s personal life was even more macabre.)

Even Dan Curtis who directed “Dark Shadows” would make better and scarier things (especially “The Night Stalker” and all the Kolchak adventures that would follow.)
But soon my mom made us stop watching “Dark Shadows” because Dale had nightmares. So I cherished this outing as a horror highlight in my life. Even though I’ve watched the show “Dark Shadows” as an adult and it has not held up well at all….I still consider this outing a movie going highlight. But now more because of Gwynne, Daryl, Lola and Dale than the films.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Noir Preaching

When I took my first film class I was surprised to hear the teacher pronounce the word “genre” with one syllable rather two. At he used the same definition I knew, a style or category of art. For instance, in film some genres would be romantic comedy, biography or horror.
The popularity of genres rise and fall. Musicals became big in the 1930s but began to lose their audience in the 60’s and have never come back strong. Super hero films were never really trend until the last decade. There was nothing more popular than the Western through the early days of film, until the 1960’s when they faded. But every once in while they pop back. “True Grit” by Ethan and Joel Coen which came out last year is a Western that has already made over $160 million.
There are sermon genres as well. The Hell Fire and Brimstone genre of sermon used to be very popular. But now, not so much. Now sermons about God’s love are more in vogue, and that’s all well and good. Sermons about sin aren’t very popular anymore either (though I kind of doubt they ever were.)
So it’s good there still is a genre of film that quite ably preaches about sin. That genre is Noir. The name comes from the French word for dark and it is used to describe films that focus on dark aspects of life; ruthless criminals and hapless murderers, shady detectives and beautiful, treacherous women. The first film by the Brothers Coen was a Noir. I just watched “Blood Simple” (1984) again and it reminded me that the truth about sin can never be silenced.
The film opens with a man and woman in a car on a dark night in Texas. They seem nice enough. The woman (Abby played by Frances McDormand) is married to a cruel man and the man (Ray played by John Getz) just seems to want to help. But they soon make a very bad mistake. Their affair leads to one death, then another and then another.
The Coens were working on a very small budget but with creative writing, camerawork and a dark wit. But perhaps the strongest piece of the film is the performance by M. Emmet Walsh as a greedy, vulgar detective whom assumes he can drag everyone down to him to his own detestable level. He’s right, of course.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” That’s not something we like to think about it. But the world of Film Noir reminds us that circumstances and the dark desires of the heart can lead even those that seem upright and respectable to consider and even commit the darkest acts.
“Blood Simple” is rightly rated R for language, sexual situations and extreme violence. There are some great Noir films from the days when film censorship kept such things off the screen.
Fred McMurray was a movie star that in Disney films like “The Shaggy Dog” and the TV show “My Three Sons” seemed like the nicest guy in the world. But in Billy Wilder’s great “Double Indemnity” (1944) the nice guy makes some very bad choices of the heart.
Noir films don’t even have to be about murder. “The Sweet Smell of Success” (1958) with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis is about the world of New York newspapers and shows that gossip can also be deadly.
As I said, Noir films preach Jeremiah 17:9 very well. They don’t do as well with verse 14, “Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” But I guess that’s what Sunday sermons are for.