Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Favorite Jokes

I mentioned one of my favorite jokes at Facebook today, which made me think which jokes I've been telling for many years. The one at Facebook was this:
"Did you hear about the dyslexic, agnostic insomniac? He stayed awake at night, wondering if there was a dog."
I'm not sure I have ten very favorite jokes, but I'll try to see if I come up with them in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Spies Like Us

Intrigue is everywhere. In the workplace, schemes to rise in the ranks and pull others down proliferate. Alliances form and dissolve based the current authority or who seems to be rising in power.

Many families are mine fields of buried grudges never far below the surface and fingers ready on the trigger to respond to new insults. Sadly, the church often is not a stranger to intrigue. Power plays in the church often take place outside of the power of the Spirit.

The prevalence of intrigue may account for the ongoing interest in spy stories. I’m not writing about the spy stories of Ian Fleming/James Bond variety which feature a handsome hero versus a campy villain with plenty of beautiful women, science fiction gadgets, car chases, and explosions (which can be cool, I’ll be line for Daniel Craig in “Skyfall” in November.) Rather I’m talking about the more subtle spy stories of John le Carré.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, a 2011 film release in an adaptation of one of a le Carré novel that features an anti-Bond spy, George Smiley. Played with charming blandness by Gary Oldman, Smiley is quiet, middle-aged bureaucrat who relies on shrewdness and experience rather than his good looks (nonexistent) and gun (at the ready but not used.)

At the beginning of the film, Smiley has been forced to retire. But one last assignment comes his way. There is a double agent in the upper management of British intelligence service (“the Circus”) and Smiley is asked to root out the Soviet mole. Of course, he finds that nothing is as it seems and long established relationships cannot be trusted.

Some may the film slow, and my daughter, Jill, had trouble distinguishing between some characters because they are all, in her words, “so very British”. I loved the very British cast, with some of the best of the young and old to be found on the BBC (John Hurt, Colin Hurt, Tom Hardy and the wonderfully named Benedict Cumberbatch among many.) If you enjoy keeping track of the clues and red herrings in a good mystery, you’ll probably enjoy director Tomas Alfredson’s tale, which does a good job of fitting a complex, 400 page novel into two hours.

But after the film, I wondered, should the Christian life reflect the life of a spy in anyway? There are spies in Scripture, of course. Moses sent out Joshua and Caleb as spies to observe the Promised Land, and they were honored for their work. But spying necessarily involves deception which is contrary to Scripture’s devotion to truth.

The search for a mole in the film led me to think of a parable of Jesus told that can be found in Matthew 13: 24 – 30. A farmer sowed good seed in a field and his enemy sowed weed in the field at night. The farmer’s servants ask him whether they should pull out the weeds, and the farmer says that because some good seed may be lost, it was best to wait for the harvest.

Of course, in the church there are some who are in the words of the parable, weeds, or in the words of the film, moles; people who aren’t truly followers of Christ. But Jesus didn’t give us the job of figuring out who in the church is genuine and who is not. Unlike the spies in the film, we are not to look for opportunities to put a knife in the back, but rather to treat every other person with love.

But there is a way we should be like the spies of the film. The spies in the film are constantly in search of good information (or “treasure” in the film). To know whether information is good or not in the world of intelligence requires knowing the source of the information and requires comparing it to what is known to be true.

In the church, we need to compare all teaching to Scripture, our true treasure.

(“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is rated R for language, sexual situations, nudity and violence.)

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Top Ten Films in 2011

My rules for the list, the film was released in 2011 and I have to have seen it in 2011. (So there are films that might prove list worthy, such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Guard that I didn’t get around to seeing.)

10) Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol

It helps that I saw this film in IMAX, so the scenes shot at the Dubai tower were frightening and exhilarating. The cast was fine and Simon Pegg was particularly amusing. The action sequences made were fun and exciting. Brad Bird can obviously do the live action as well as the animated. But the back story didn’t make sense to me. (Spoiler: If Cruise told me the reveal he told Renner at the end of the film, in the rather smug way he did, I’d want to smack him.)

9) The Way Back

Peter Weir (The Last Wave, Witness, Master and Commander) has long been one of my favorite directors, so it was good to see him working again and on an epic. Hollywood finally comes to the realization that the Soviet Union was an evil empire only a couple of generations after Reagan. The story of an escape from a Siberian Gulag is heart rending and exciting. Sadly, it does have its share of clichés (such as “tastes like chicken”.) I very much enjoyed Colin Farrell’s performance as a man who perhaps deserved to be in the camp.

8) Attack the Block :

If you see only one Nick Frost film about aliens from last year, make sure it’s this one and not Paul. The story of a gang of young English street thugs fighting alien invaders is fun and has a couple of moment of tenderness. Fun stuff.

7) The Descendants :

Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, About Schmitt) has not made a bad film yet. This is just one of his lesser works. The script is great, as are most of the actors, especially the young ones. My only problem was I didn’t believe George Clooney as a father or a cuckolded husband. But he’s still fun to spend time with.

6) Rango :

The best animated film I saw this year. Johnny Depp is quite fun in another telling of The Seven Samurai in the 3 Amigos/Bug’s Life mode of the mock hero that comes through. I particularly enjoyed Timothy Olyphant as a thinly disguised Clint Eastwood.

5) Captain America :

My favorite super hero film this year. I’m quite glad they choose to place the film in WWII period as should be for the origin of Cap. I loved the character as a kid and enjoyed seeing him come to life in a form better than the crappy ‘60’s animation I watched as a kid. They even found a creative way for Cap to punch Hitler. Yes, I will be seeing The Avengers right when it opens.

4) 50/50:

Yes, you can make a comedy about cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen are not surprisingly excessively crude at times, but overall it really works. It’s about friendship as much as it’s about disease.

3) Win Win

Sure, I’m happy to spend time with Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan, especially if it has a realistic and funny family drama and features high school wrestling. Because as a former high school wrestler I say there is not enough of it in movies.


2) Tree of Life:

Not an easy film, but a great one.


1) Moneyball:

What can I say, I’m an A’s fan.