Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Ten Favorite Films of 2013

Not the best films, I may not have even seen the best films that came out this year. But as for the films that entertained, enlightened, informed (especially entertained), here’s the top ten.

10) “Much Ado About Nothing” – Directed by Joss Whedon

This might have ranked higher if the Kenneth Branagh’s version of the classic wasn’t out there. I’m not ready to say one is better than the other, but I do wish Whedon had covered new Shakespearean territory. But two roles were certainly cast better than in the KB version. Sean Maher captures the pettiness of Don John is much better than the awful Keanu Reeves, but most anyone would be. And Nathan Fillion is really funny as Dogberry and reminds one that Shakespeare wanted people to laugh.

9) “Frozen” – Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

It is good to see a love story for children that is not about lovers (primarily), but instead about siblings. At turns funny, at others moving, but always gorgeous to look at. After Pixar’s amazing steak, for three years in a row the “Disney” film is better than the “Pixar” film (both are actually Disney now and many of the same people work for both divisions.) I liked Pixar’s “Monster’s University” but “Frozen” was better. Last year “Wreck It Ralph” from Disney was better than “Brave” from Pixar and the year before that “Winnie the Pooh” was greater than “Cars 2”. And next year there is a Disney film, but no Pixar film.

8) “Frances Ha” – Directed by Noah Baumbach

Baumbach often makes cynical and abrasive film, but this tale of a young woman (the darn cute Greta Gerwig) growing up in NYC is quite sweet. If you wonder about the title, you’ll have to wait to the end. It’s worth the wait. (Now on Netfilx.)

7) “Gravity” – Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

I wrote about this film in the blog here, but for now I’ll just say that not every filmmaker is making a false choice between a good story and amazing special effects. Both are possible.

6) “No” – Directed by Pablo Larraín

I wrote about this Chilean film as well, the only foreign language film on my list. One of the best films about politics since the foreign language film with a shorter title, “Z”.

5) “Mud” – Directed by Jeff Nichols

This is my only film on the list that I didn’t see in the theater, caught it on DVD from the library. It would have been fun in the theater to see the beauty of the Mississippi River. The story of two young boys helping a man on the run will remind many viewers of Huck and Tom and the amazing thing is it stands up to the comparison.

4) “Inside Llewyn Davis” – Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

After I see the film another time or two, this film might become by favorite of the year. But I saw this film recently and like many Coen films I need time to mull it over some. The wonderful thing about this film is you want to mull over this episodic story of a folk singer in Greenwich Village in the early ’60’s. A marquee in Minneapolis captured some of the spirit of the film advertising the film starred “A cat and John Goodman” and on the other side, “Inside Llewyn Davis, Outside Very Cold.”

3) “12 Years A Slave” – Directed by Steve McQueen

Maybe the most important film of the year, maybe the best, and I like it very much, but it wasn’t my favorite. The true story of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery is at turns grueling and heart breaking and at other times inspiring. As a Christian, it is a good reminder that some at this dark portion of our country’s history were inspired by their faith to fight evil while others used the trappings of faith to hide their evil.

2) “The Way, Way Back” – Directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

I wrote about this film as well. Two things I loved about this film so very much: Sam Rockwell channeling early ‘80’s Bill Murray and an example of how to love teenagers.

1) “Nebraska” – Directed by Alexander Payne

Maybe it was dealing with the loss of my mom this year that made me appreciated this film all the more. Will Forte plays a son dealing with his father, who is convinced he won the Publishers’ Clearing House big money and must go to from Montana to Nebraska to collect. A funny, tough and tender look back at a man’s life; the accomplishment and failures, dreams unfilled and unexpected gifts.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Films I Watched in 2013

Warm Bodies – Theater***

Side Effects – Theater**

56 Up – Theater***

No – Theater***

The Place Beyond the Pines – Theater**

Ironman 3 – Theater***

John Dies at the End – Netflix*

The Sapphires – Theater**

Star Trek Into Darkness – Theater*

42 – Theater**

Francis Ha – Theater***

The Numbers Station – Netflix*

Monsters University – Theater***

Upstream Color – Netflix**

The Last Stand – DVD**

Much Ado About Nothing – Theater***

Broken City – DVD (No stars)

Pacific Rim – Theater**

The Way, Way Back – Theater***

Fruitvale Station – Theater**

Snitch – DVD**

The Purge – Theater**

Blue Jasmine – Theater***

The World’s End – Theater***

What Masie Knew- DVD***

You’re Next – Theater**

Parker – Netflix*

Trance – DVD*

The Wolverine – Theater**

To the Wonder – DVD**

Bullet to the Head – DVD*

Mud – DVD***

Gravity – Theater***

Emperor – DVD**

Captain Phillips – Theater***

Olympus Has Fallen – DVD*

The Great Gatsby – DVD*

The Counselor – Theater**

Mama – DVD**

The Heat – DVD*

Redemption – Netflix*

Phantom – Netflix**

12 Years a Slave – Theater***

Stand Up Guys – DVD*

Escape Plan – Theater**

Thor: The Dark World – Theater***

The Conjuring – DVD**

Only God Forgives – Netflix*

Nebraska – Theater***

Computer Chess – Netflix**

The Call – DVD*

Europa Report – Netflix**

Frozen – Theater***

Inside Llewyn Davis - Theater***

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – DVD*

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – DVD*

Zero to three star scale, only one film bad enough for the zero. A film a week average, twenty nine in theaters.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Five Films I Hated the Most in 2013

This isn’t a film of the worst films of 2013 or even the worst films I saw in 2013. There are bad films I enjoy. “Olympus Has Fallen” is not defensible as a piece of art or even coherent narrative. But I still was amused watching it, like a junior high production of “Die Hard”.
And there are many films I knew would bore my or disgust me, so I didn’t take time to watch them. These five films I had hope for, and those hopes were dashed. So I’ll say why I had so hope going in, and went out without pleasure.

5) Trance

Why I had hope – This film was directed by Danny Boyle who directed not only some of my favorite films, but my favorite films in a variety of genres. “28 Days Later” is a great zombie film, “Trainspotting” makes you laugh as well as cry along with heroin addicts, “Millions” is a wonderful children’s film with a rich spiritual message, “Slumdog Millionaire” won the Oscar for best picture….The guy is no slough.
And this film starts well, with a cleverly planned art heist. But then it brings on the plot twists. Questions of identity and guilt and sexuality come fast and furious and then it starts to seem that the screenwriter and the director don’t have the answers to these questions and the whole thing collapses in a big, wet mess. And James McAvoy is annoying, as he often can be.

4) The Heat

Why I had hope – The director, Paul Feig, is a very funny guy. He created the wonderful one season wonder “Freaks and Geeks” and has written some hysterical autobiography. And a number of critics and audiences really liked this Sandra Bolluck/Melissa McCarthy vehicle.
But I found this tale of female odd couple cops boring and obnoxious. Every buddy cop cliché is repeated but without anything fresh added. And it had one trope that never fails to annoy me. Bollock’s character is an uptight FBI agent who doesn’t swear. And obviously, you can’t be a cop if you don’t use foul language. So it’s a big turning point when she finally lets F-bombs fly. Clue to film makers – vulgar language in our society is not a rare thing, and converting someone to its use is not a plus.

3) Redemption

Why I had hope – Jason Stratham bests people up. That’s usually all I require from a film. A bad action film is not a bad thing in my book. This year I watched Sly in “Bullet to the Head” and Arnold in “The Last Stand” and then Sly and Arnold in “The Escape Plan”. Their action films make me laugh. I’m not going to see Sly in “Grudge Match” because when these guys make comedies I don’t laugh. I also enjoyed Stratham in “Parker” and will probably see him in the Sly penned “Homefront”.
But then they had to bring bad politics and religion into my action film. Stratham is another of those soldiers turned by the government into a “killing machine”. Unless he’s drunk, he’s going to kill people, it’s not his fault. He meets and nun and they have a peculiar relationship. He kisses her and feels he needs redemption, which apparently he gets through killing people. Hey writers and directors of JS, just provide fights, chases and shootings. We can get our religion, philosophy and politics elsewhere.

2) Only God Forgives

Why I had hope – Director and writer Nicolas Refn and actor Ryan Gosling had recently teamed up for a fairly good modern noir film – “Drive”.
But this is not “Drive”. Our “hero” is asked by his mother to avenge his brother’s death. His brother was a child molester who was killed by mobsters for his crimes. Stylish, but empty and morally bankrupt. No thank you.

1) Broken City

Why I had hope – Look at that cast… Russell Crowe, Mark Wahberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper, Jeffery Wright, surely they wouldn’t sign on if the script was dull, pedestrian and paint the numbers, would they?
They would. A boring political thriller that reminds us that TV does these things so much better these days in shows like “House of Cards” and “Boss”. There is more political insight to be found among campaign managers for 9th grade class president than is found in this film. And yet for some reason I watched the whole stupid thing, hoping it would get better.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all these films were rated R. Hollywood does a fairly poor job making films for adults these days.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Top Ten TV Shows of 2013

Not exactly breaking news to say TV is different now than it used to be. Growing up, you'd choose at any given primetime hour one of the shows three networks or perhaps an old movie on an independent station. But you could be pretty sure when you went to school the next day that a number of your friends watched the same thing.

Now, few of us watch the same things at the same time. We don't even have cable TV at our house. I watch most things on Hulu or Netflix or perhaps on DVD. So I may watch something that airs on TV the next day on Hulu or months later on Netflix or DVD. So these are my rules for my list. Shows on my list have to have been broadcast in 2013 and I have to have seen the show in 2013 (even if I'm watching them later then people with cable do.) So here are my top ten, five comedies and five dramas.

Sadly, none of the shows below are really family friendly ("Moone Boy" comes the closest.) But these are things that I liked and the drams particularly show the need of a fallen world and fallen people for a savior.


5) "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (on FX and Netflix) - Highly offensive material performed by vulgar, degenerate characters. I cannot in good conscience recommend this show to anyone. The Christmas episode featured prostitution, thief, violence, mild cannibalism, and Danny DeVito nude. But is is funny. Very funny.

4) "Arrested Development" (Netflix) - I watched the first three seasons of this show "live" when it played on Fox. Apparently, I was one of dozens that did and then it was canceled. But it got a following on DVD and Netflix brought it back for a season and there may be more. Many complained it wasn't as funny as the original series, but when you start with one of the best sitcoms ever, not as good can still be pretty good. Nothing funnier this year to me than Will ("Getaway") Arnett and Ben ("Wonder") Stiller finishing each other's word groupings.

3) "Brooklyn 99" (Fox and Hulu) - One of my favorite sitcoms was "Barney Miller". Set in a police station, there are police officers that say it was the most realistic show ever to portray their profession. I'm sure they won't say the same about this show, as realism is not a priority, but it's almost as funny. And it shares an actor from my all time favorite cop show ("Homicide"), but now Andre Braugher has been promoted from detective to captain.

2) "Moone Boy" (BBC and Hulu) - A show about the imaginary friend of a young Irish boy growing up in the 1980's. Rather like the great "Malcolm in the Middle" except Martin Moone had sisters rather than brothers. The worst thing I can say about it is it only has six episodes so far. But more will come.

1) "Parks and Recreation" (NBC and Hulu) - From entries #4 and #5 on this list, one might get the impression that you need to be mean and cynical to be funny. But this show features a whole lot of nice. There are married couples that really love each other, friends that will go to elaborate extremes to help each other and people who try be excellent in there jobs. Most everyone on the show would make a good friend. Except Jerry...I mean, Larry...He's the worst.

Honorable Mentions: "New Girl", "Veep", "Modern Family" and two shows that ended this year, "30 Rock" and "Don't Trust the B"


5) "The Walking Dead" (AMC, Netflix and DVD) - Arguably the most popular show on TV, it certainly has its ups and downs. It can be slow at times, but it is important to remember it is not chiefly a show about zombies, but rather a show about how people deal with zombies or any kind of catastrophe. It has moments as powerful as any drama on TV. (Cute dogs and even cute children are not safe on this show.) And Daryl is the best redneck ever presented on the air.

4) "Ripper Street" (BBC and Netflix) - How rough was it for the police force that didn't solve the crimes of Jack the Ripper? This show answers that question. It is a procedural of a kind, with stand alone episodes, which can be nice. It's characters are people I enjoy spending time with. (But it does have that old BBC blessing and curse of not many episodes.)

3) "Mad Men" (AMC, Netflix and DVD) - People have complained that season 6 of the show was the weakest in the series. But I watched season 5 this year and it had great episodes in the life of this mid twentieth century ad execs and their family, friends and lovers.

2) "Justified" (FX and DVD) - Raylan Givens is a 19th century lawman who happens to live in the 21st century. I listed it as my favorite show last year, but this year it was beaten by...

1) "Breaking Bad" (AMC, Netflix and DVD) - There are people writing now that this may be the greatest TV series of all time. I'm not ready to go that far, but than again I've still not seen the series final episodes. But I loved those I watched this year. Sure it's about a cancer patient turned meth maker but that doesn't mean it can't at times be fun. One word that proved that true..."Magnets".

Honorable mentions... "Almost Human", "Game of Thrones", "Luther", "Top of the Lake", "Sons of Anarchy", "The Blacklist"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Books I Read in 2013

Goodreads reminded me of the books I read in 2013. It excluded the children's books and graphic novels and said I read about an even hundred. These are the books that I read that were published this year:


7 Men by Eric Metaxas

Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm by Monte Reel

The Deserters by Charles Glass

The Friedkin Connection by William Friedkin

Gulp by Mary Roach

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky

How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God by Ian Punnett

Lincoln Unbound by Rich Lowry

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain


Dexter’s Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay

Evil Eye by Joyce Carol Oates (Short stories)

Identical by Scott Turow

Joyland by Stephen King

Never Go Back by Lee Child

Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta (Short stories)

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Many of these books I reviewed over the year here at my blog. "Nine Inches" was probably my favorite new fiction I read this year. "How to Pray" by Punnett may well be my favorite new nonfiction book of the year (with "Man and Beast" as my favorite history book, if catagories were divided further), but Goodreads doesn't list a great book I read that comes out December 31; "The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins" by Tim Stafford. It's a great book and I'll review it soon. (I also started "Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell" by Chas Smith.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


As you may know, in the card game Uno someone puts a card (with a color and a number) on a discard pile and the next person must put down a card that matches the previous card somehow...It could have the same number but a different color or the same color but a different number.

If you've never played Conversational Uno, here's how it's done. One person tells a story. Say someone tells a story such as "I went to Marine World/Africa USA on a school field trip and while riding an elephant, the creature reached up with its trunk and stole the Oakland A's cap that was on my head."

The next person clockwise in a circle then tells a story that matches some part of the previous story. It could be a story about a school field trip or an elephant or the A's or a baseball cap or a theft.

The card game Uno has various wild cards, so feel free to assign those randomly, because someone is going to be reminded of a story about say, sky diving and be desperate to tell it, even though it's been two or three stories since sky diving was mentioned.

This game has been tested for safety at the Mount Hermon Writers Conference and various youth groups. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Review of "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown and Company - 2013)

Reading Gladwell’s description of the Biblical tale of David’s battle with Goliath, I began to have a bit of trepidation about where the book would led. This, along with the story of Noah’s ark, is one of the most commonly told story in Sunday School classes and often many details of the story are omitted or smoothed over for young ears (David chopping off Philistine’s head with his own story isn’t usually exactly highlighted.)

I have enjoyed all of Gladwell’s other books, so I wasn’t concerned that the book would not be well written or interesting.

But I was concerned that Gladwell was going to turn a story about a boy’s faith in God into a story primarily about tactics. He points out that ancient armies often divided into cavalry, infantry and shooters (with slings or bows), and that infantry man would often lose out to a man well trained with a sling at a distance. He also speculates that Goliath’s great height may suggest a disease or aliment that would have put him in to less than fit fighting shape. These are reasonable suppositions, but what does the story really have to say or teach if we leave out the element of faith in God.

Fortunately, Gladwell’s book is not lacking in the vital spiritual element. He obviously was concerned about issues of faith. In fact, in the acknowledgments, he credits his “theological consultant, Jim Loepp Thiessne of the Gathering Church in Kitchener, Ontario”. He prefaces each section of the book with an appropriate passage of Scripture.
And most significantly, he presents stories of people from history and the present whose battles with giants relied greatly on their faith in God. From the last century, he highlights people of faith (including Fred Shuttlesworth, the “swearing preacher”) in the civil rights movement who mobilized churches to do God’s work against segregation. He highlights the work of the Huguenots in France who saved thousands of Jews from the Vichy (and Nazi regiemes.) And ordinary people like Wilma Derksen who obeyed God’s call to forgive the man who murdered her daughter.

The book is full of wonderful stories about people who took on odds that seemed too great to achieve personal success, but more often fought for the good of others. Not only does the book give a perceptive look at the battle of Elah, it also provides many illustrations of people living out the Sermon on the Mount.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I believe this is my 3rd appearance in the SF Chronicle...

First it was an article I was paid for, then a letter to the editor and now a letter to Mick. It doesn't seem to be going uphill....http://www.sfgate.com/movies/askmicklasalle/article/Ask-Mick-LaSalle-Ray-Liotta-no-more-Mr-Bad-4924317.php

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review of "Never Go Back" by Lee Child (a Jack Reacher Novel - 2013)

There are some things that Child does better than anyone else writing today. One of those things is keeping the reader turning the pages. For me, no one is better today at ending a chapter with a hint or clue that makes me anxious to answer a many mystery.
But ultimately, his Reacher character is not as deep a guy as Child seems to think he is and he can't ever really change. So when this story opens with some intriguing possible changes in Reacher's life... (mini-spoiler) Will he rejoin the army? Find true love? Be a dad? Of course not, because he must continue as a wanderer who rights wrongs. And there is a certain satisfaction in the formula. But most of the novels are like very well made episodes of "Have Gun Will Travel". Like going to In and Out Burger, a good, filling meal, but never very different from the last time you went.

And I small complaint about how Child continues to deal with the hospitality industry. In books before, he has portrayed night auditors as crooked fellows who gladly sell empty rooms off the books to take all the money for themselves. Not happening with me, Reacher. This time, he goes to a motel in West Virginia and pays three twenty dollar bills for two $30 motel rooms. The clerk doesn't ever ask for a credit card or for a deposit or I.D. which leaves the guest free to steal the TVs. And even in a hotel, they only take a $50 deposit? No protection from theft or room damage. Oh well, most readers, rightly, don't care. They probably shouldn't, the important thing is keeping the plot moving, which Child does well.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Eleanor Rigby in Prose: a Review of "Nine Inches" by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin's Press - 2013)

Okay, let’s deal with the title first. It’s the title of one of ten short stories in a collection. On the cover it is used for a naughty pun, but in the story it is the distance Jr. High couples are to keep between themselves during a school dance. Every story in the book is about the distance between people, every story in the book is about loneliness in one way or another.

Perrotta uses both first and third person forms, but each story focuses on a someone who feels separated from the world, by circumstances beyond control (for example, an head injury that rips a high school player off the football team) and some circumstances foolishly chosen (adultery makes more than one appearance.)

Though I enjoyed parts of Perrotta’s last couple of novels (“The Abstinence Teacher” and “The Leftovers”) and I appreciated his bold attempts to deal with religion in our culture, the tone and substance always seemed off to me (an Evangelical Christian.) With the exception of “The Chosen Girl” (a fine, sad piece) this collection eschews religion and focuses back on the suburbia that he has covered so well in “Joe College”, “Election” and “Little Children”.

Perhaps what I love most about Perrotta is his willingness to dive into the world of adolescence, from the perspective of parents, teachers and, of course, young people as well (capturing the voice of youth quite well for someone who’s getting up there… he’s 52 at publication date, a couple of months older than me.)

Sex (occasionally with a bit of graphic detail) is often an aspect of these tales, but rarely does it bring people together. There are also scattered outbursts of violence from characters whose frustration, boredom or impotence seeks an outlet, but nothing brutal enough to move the book to the Mystery or Crime fiction section of the bookstore.
Ultimately, several of the stories do migrate to glimpse of hope that come when someone remembers the good that can be done with a kind word or a tender touch.

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned that as always, Perrotta is funny. Don’t expect Comedy Central, but I did laugh out loud at times. Though you might be just as likely to fine yourself a little teary eyed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In Defense of the Same Old Thing (a Review of Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking” – Broadway Books, 2013)

In a book full of studies and personal anecdotes, the most heartbreaking are those of parents who don’t understand the personality and disposition of their child and force them into awkward, even damaging situations.

For instance, parents of an introverted child, new to a neighborhood asking their daughter on her birthday to take cupcakes to children she doesn’t know in the hope she will make new friends and learn a lesson about giving. Those misguided parents in this example aren’t in the book, I’m talking about my own family and my poor, introverted daughter.

I know this technique is a bit tired and hackneyed (“And that person….Was Me!”) but in my defense, Cain uses the same technique in the book. But I think everyone, extroverts and introverts will find themselves in these pages and better understand their family, school and work relationships.

One of the most interesting thing I found coming from studies of introverts is the idea that most introverts are not just shy about new people, they tend to dislike new things in general. They tend to prefer taking their time getting to know new places and situations and prefer to study a few things in depth rather than many things superficially.

I was very pleased that Cain deals with the importance of these concepts in the church. There are churches geared to extroverts (loud, big mega-churches where everyone is expected to sing loud and hug the neighbor they don’t know) and churches geared for introverts (small liturgical congregations where silence has a place along with a consistent order of worship.) But if we believe the church should a place that, according to the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28 has “neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free”, than we probably should find a way that it includes introverts and extroverts.

Among the many fascinating studies mentioned in the book, I was very interested in a study of phone conversations. It was found that when introverts and extroverts talked on the phone, extroverts were much better at determining if the person they were talking to was happy or sad. But if introverts and extroverts were listening to two parties in a taped conversation, introverts were a little better at reading the mood.

Of course, there are strengths and weaknesses to all personality attributes, but we need to realize we need each other, learning to adapt and learn from each other. This book is a good place to start if you haven’t given these issues a lot of thought (this probably means you, fellow extrovert.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Review of "How to Pray When You're Pissed at God" by Ian Punnett (Harmony Press, 2013)

If the title of this book makes you angry, that’s okay. One of the main arguments of the book is that anger is a healthy emotion, if it is dealt with in a healthy way. So free to say, “I feel angry when I see vulgar language used in a religious context”. You know, say it in the phraseology that therapists use. What? Using the stilled jargon of psychiatry is sometimes not satisfying way to express anger? Yeah, well, that’s another argument that Ian Punnett makes in this short, but helpful book about prayer.
Though Punnett is ordained in the Episcopal Church and he writes in the acknowledgements that “the main intention of this book was to honor God” it is not strictly a Christian book. He wanted to write a book about the appropriateness and benefit of angry prayer for everyone, even atheists and agnostics. He cites medical studies that show that prayer and meditation are healthy and other studies that show healthy expressions of anger are healthy and argues that therefore anyone could benefit from expressing their anger through prayer.
I found it interesting that though he thinks angry prayers are helpful to all, he also mentions that Islam has no place for such prayers. The Koran notes Job was righteous, but doesn’t say anything about his railing against God. The angry Psalms are not a part of the Koran. But angry prayer is a rich part of the Jewish tradition and Punnett interview various rabbis that make that point.
Punnett also makes it clear that anger can be very unhealthy, in fact dangerous, when it is misdirected or is habitual. One of the reasons expressing anger in prayer is important is that it may allow us to move one from our anger. If we are angry about something that takes place in the workplace, it is not healthy to kick the dog or yell at our children or even kick the children and yell at our dog. The healthy response is to stand up for ourselves in a respectful manner at the workplace AND bring our anger before God who can handle it better than dogs and children.
One of the best features of the book is the use of the Psalms from Scripture as a model for praying out our anger. Punnett writes about an experience from his days as a hospital chaplain. A mother asked Punnett to help her son stuck in a hospital bed to “turn to God”. Punnett talked to the boy, and found that the boy was not thrilled with not sick and not being able to play with his friends and especially with the hospital needles. Punnett assured the boy that there were times Jesus wasn’t pleased with His situation either. He taught the boy the words, "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) And the boy found strength in shouting out those words when he was given a shot (the nurses hated it.)
Punnett has a wonderful section where is reworked Psalms for people in different situations, such as “An Angry Prayer for Somebody Suffering with Depression During the Holidays” and “An Angry Prayer for a Victim of Bullying by the More Popular Kids”. I did think though that he overdoes it in using the violent language of the Psalms (the knocking the teeth out kind of stuff.) It makes sense for the angry prayers about street gangs and child abusers, but not so much for the angry prayers for those who cut you off in traffic or make campaign commercials.
Oh, and I wasn’t too keen on the title when I first saw it on the shelf, after reading the book I came to see that the “Pissed” was not gratuitous. Punnett makes that case that some pretty harsh language can be found in Scripture and that sometimes people need to pray freely without worrying about their vocabulary. I think he’s right when he says that God can take it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Powerful Pull of Prayer

Sandra Bullock stars in this film, “Gravity,” about an astronaut who has to keep the space shuttle going at 55 mph or it will blow up; it’s subtitled “Speed 3”…. I kid, I kid.

Really, this is a film about prayer in space. You may think I’m kidding about that, but I’m not. You can enjoy this new film from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón as a straight adventure film, but there is more going on than the story of astronauts trying to get home.

George Clooney, along with Bullock, plays an astronaut doing repair work on a space telescope when a barrage of debris from an exploded satellite sets the two adrift in space. The rest of the spare 90 minute film is about their attempt to make it back to earth.

Now, if you don’t like tension in your film viewing experience, you may wish to pass this movie by, because as events go badly for our space travelers early in the film, they quickly get worse and the tension keeps ratcheting up.

But does any of this have to do with prayer? Early in the film, radio contact with Houston control is lost, but Clooney keeps talking as if they’re listening, updating his status. Bullock asks him why he keeps talking. He responds that Houston may well hear him, even if he can’t hear their response. Many of us become frustrated in our prayer lives because we feel like we’re talking to a brick wall; no one’s listening. But silence doesn’t mean God isn’t listening. It might just mean He’s listening but giving us space to talk. Psalm 4:3 assures us that “the Lord hears when I call to Him.”

It’s interesting that objects related to prayer (not strictly Christian) are seen throughout the film. In a Russian spacecraft, there is an icon of a saint. In a Chinese craft, a small Buddha statue sits on top of a control panel.

Later, the film is more explicitly about prayer. In fact, one character says, “No one taught me to pray.” Many of us are under the mistaken impression that we need some kind of magical formulation of words in order to get God’s attention.

There are things to learn about prayer (the Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request to be taught how to pray), but it’s interesting what sound is heard immediately after this character says, “No one taught me to pray.” Because I don’t want to spoil plot points and because it would take too many words to explain, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the sound is a baby’s cry.

Psalm 18:6 says, “In my distress I called to the LORD: I cried to my God for help. From his
temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” We don’t need a secret formula to pray to God. He hears us when we cry.

“Gravity” does have some harsh language earning it a PG-13, which understandably might lead some to choose not to see this film. Fortunately our harsh language won’t keep God from hearing us. There are also some gruesome images in the film, which might make some in the audience turn away. Fortunately, God doesn’t turn away from our pain.

The famous tag line for the movie “Alien” was “In space no one can hear you scream.” The tag line for “Gravity” could be “In space God will hear your cry.” He hears it on earth as well.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Short (Like the Book) Review of Michael Card's "The Walk"

A book about two men whose work has brought me great encouragement through the years, musician Michael Card (whose album "In the Beginning" was playing in the room when Jill was born) and William Lane (who wrote what has proved for me the most useful commentary I've encountered, his work on Mark.)
Card writes about Lane as his mentor, as a college instructor and then for a couple of decades after that as a close friend.

The book is a moving story of discipleship, and a reminder of what is worth accomplishing in life. Card writes about Lane never completing what he thought would be his magnum opus, a study of the Apostle Paul. But he writes that he came to see something as more important. "While the call may be to write books or sermons or poems, the deeper call will always be to give ourselves away to others whom God places within our reach."
A short book, well written, is a very good thing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Review of "Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong" by Joyce Carol Oates (2013, The Mysterious Press)

In the first of four stories, in this little thriller anthology, one of the characters references an episode of "The Twilight Zone". The story has hints of the supernatural and the reader may begin to suspect the book will a collection of stories that could have been presented on the classic Rod Sterling series. But soon one sees we're not in the twilight zone, but in the world of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents".
In that other classic anthology series, the supernatural was occasionally implied but never really came through. The dangers were be found in the all too human hearts and minds.

As the subtitle of the book indicates, all the stories deal with a twisted love, but that love isn't always romantic. Parental love takes a dark turn as does the love of a child for a parent and even love between siblings.

Oates does a wonderful job at times of sowing curiosity and dread about the characters which pulls the reader along to an often gruesome conclusion. Of course, the content would have kept a couple of the stories off television in the black and white days. "The Execution" has a quite detailed and brutal description of murder. And "The Flatbed" is quite graphic (but not licentious) in sexual detail.

But "Evil Eye" and "So Near...Any Time...Always" would have been quite cheerily introduced by Hitch, the cherubic host, with assurances after the last act that the guilty were caught and all came out well (said to please the censor, but the audience knew it really wasn't so.)

Tales of suspense by one of the world's most celebrated writers that can be read quickly with at turns pleasure, heebie-jeebies, and moral unease.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The World's Greatest Car Game (Hat Tip to J. B. Rudell)

DVD players and portable gaming systems have cut down on the “Are we there yet?”s on long car trips. But many choose the car rather than the plane so that children will see the country and not just video screens. But how to keep our kids interested in what is outside the window?

Certainly, use the alphabet license plate game, along with “I spy with my little eye’. But what has become a favorite on country roads is “Hey Cow!” It is a simple game. If there are cows feeding in a field along the road, slow down, roll down the window and someone calls out, “Hey Cow!”

You then count the number of cows that look up. Everyone in the car takes turn and you total up the upturned heads for a total. I’m sure you can play “Hey Horse!” or even “Hey Dog!” in urban areas. But nothing beats “Hey Cow!”

(And yes, in Mexico, play “Hoy Vaca!”, just so they’ll understand.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A review of John Piper's book, "The Passion of Jesus Christ" (Crossway Books 2004)

“As parents, we know we would never do anything to harm our children. So we know that God the Father didn’t send His Son Jesus to the cross. But we learn from this that God suffers senseless pain just as we do.”

And with that, a row of pastors collectively jaws dropped. It was Good Friday in Felton, California where traditionally a group of protestant churches gathered to remember Christ’s death. On that day, seven pastors were sharing seven to nine minute sermonettes on the last seven words of Jesus. A new pastor to the San Lorenzo Valley was invited and she was giving her take on, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”

She argued there was no inherent purpose in Christ’s death on the cross and that it seemed to take God the Father and Jesus by surprise. But the good thing we get out of it was that whenever we suffer on boo-boo, we can know that God feels our pain.

The next pastor up dropped his prepared text and used Scripture to take the previous talk apart. But I’ve been amazed at how many clergy people I’ve come across through the years since then who believe Christ’s death on the cross was some terrible cosmic accident.

I recently read a book on theodicy by a Catholic priest who claimed to love the song “How Great Thou Art” except for that nasty verse three that reads, “And when I think, that God, His son not sparing, sent Him to die”. He argued God would never do such a thing.

John Piper’s “The Passion of Jesus Christ” not only cites Scripture that shows that the crucifixion of Jesus was part of God’s plan, but that it was in fact The Plan of History. Piper then goes on to show fifty different purposes God accomplished through the death of Jesus.

Obviously, many of those purposes will come quickly to mind to anyone who has stayed awake through a communion service in church. Jesus died for our redemption, justification, sanctification and salvation. Piper makes it clear that these are different things and uses God’s Word to show why each of these theological concepts are important and great gifts.

But he also points to unexpected benefits of the Cross such as strengthened marriages and battling racism and many other great things were accomplished at Calvary.

A fairly short book with a powerful message; it would be a great devotional during lent.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Review of "The Way,Way Back"

Nobody seems to have station wagons anymore -- the go-to family vehicle is a mini-van. So when the new film The Way, Way Back opens, with the 14 year-old protagonist, Duncan, is seen sitting in the way back of a Buick paneled station wagon, I wondered if it was a period film. It’s not. The car is the treasured “classic” possession of Duncan’s mother’s boyfriend Trent (played with grating smarminess by Steve Carell.) They’re on the road (along with Duncan’s mother and Trent’s daughter) to a beach house in a resort town, not just for a summer vacation, but to see if the car’s occupants can form a family.

Duncan sitting in the way (way) back of the wagon is a nice image of the boy’s adolescent isolation (as is the picture of Duncan in the film’s poster, where Duncan is sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool. That pool image is reminiscent of Ben [Dustin Hoffman] Braddock in The Graduate and doesn’t appear in the film).

His parent’s divorce and his own social awkwardness has not done wonders for Duncan’s self-esteem. Trent, his potential step-father, isn’t helping, either. Early on, he tells Duncan he’d rate Duncan a three on a one to ten scale. Of course, he says this just to help Duncan, you know.

At the beach town, Duncan tries to escape from his family by visiting a local water park. There he meets a park manager who takes an interest in Duncan (who stands out at the park as the one person wearing long pants). Sam Rockwell plays Owen, the park manager, in full Bill Murray circa Meatballs era wisecracking mode.

Owen takes Duncan under his wing, hiring him -- apparently for the job of listening to Owen’s tall tales. Owen just hangs out with Duncan, assuring the boy that he thinks he is a great guy.

Owen is doing what I was always taught is the work of good youth ministry: enter the world of young people in a nonjudgmental way. Just hang out with a good ear. And believe that kids are worth your time. Some call this kind of ministry “incarnational.” It’s following the model of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:14, NIV). God thought we humans were worth spending time with. Sometimes we adults forget that students are worth our time.

Carell’s Trent and Rockwell’s Owen are competing father figures, but one wants to get something from Duncan and the other is looking to give. Sometimes the thing adults look to get out of young people is a sense of superiority through verbal or even physical abuse. This is what led Jesus to talk about millstones tied around necks (Matthew 18:6).

I saw the film with my son, and heading for dinner afterwards, I caught myself making a sarcastic remark not at all unlike what Trent would have said. We like to think of ourselves as heroes in our own films, but quite often we are, in fact, playing villains in films starring others.

Jesus calls us to be supporting players in other people’s stories, because He was willing to be that for us.

(Rated PG-13 for language, and references to sex and drugs.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Review of Rich Lowry's "Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream - and How We Can Do It Again" (Broadside Books, 2013)

The premise of this book should be quite obvious, but I hadn't given it much thought before. Abraham Lincoln did not start his political career wanting to win a bloody war, preserve the union or even free the slaves.

Because none of those things are not exactly in the purview of an Illinois legislator. Rich Lowry (editor of National Review) explores in this book Lincoln's fundamental political values through biography, primarily of his early career.

We also have images of young Lincoln reading by fire light, splitting wood and wrestling. The frontier boy and man in ill fitting buckskin. There is truth in all of that imagery. But what Lowry makes clear in his book is that it was Lincoln's motivating desire in life to leave the wilderness behind and remold himself into a modern, prosperous, even urban individual.

The American Dream of pursuing happiness, and yes, wealth, was not just a pretty picture in Lincoln's mind, but rather one of his deepest ambitions.

Lincoln often spoke of the importance of hard work and how it was key in one's life for advancement. He often quoted from Genesis about man earning bread from the sweat of one's brow. (It is interesting as he always seems to quote this Scripture positively, though it is part of Adam's curse.)

In his late teens, Lincoln was forced to work to pay off his father's debts. This led to his hatred of seeing others prosper due to other men's labor. Apparently, this drew him to a desire for fair laws of property, so no one could be swindled out of land; suspicion of confiscatory taxes; support of the right of unions to strike; and, yes, opposition to slavery.

Lowry points to the tendency of politicians to claim Lincoln as their own. Most recently, President Obama has encouraged the image of himself as a second 16th president, pointing to Lincoln's support of education and public works projects.

But Lowry ably argues that the first great Republican would remain a great Republican, and that the GOP needs to remember and embrace Lincoln's embrace and proclamation of values that go back to the nation's founding.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Imagine You Can Smell Bread Baking...

Because while I preached this communion sermon last January, I had bread baking in the kitchen for the congregation to smell. Get some Bridgeford's Bread from the supermarket from the store to cook while you listen to recreate the effect: http://www.healdsburgcommunitychurch.com/index.php/2013/03/all-the-bread-you-can-eat-jan-6-2013-sermon/

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Review of Jacob Tomsky's "Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hopitality" (Doubleday, 2012)

An important disclaimer, this book is dedicated to me. Right there in the acknowledgements, Tomsky thanks “every single hotel employee who ever clocked in.” See, I’ve clocked in and continue to clock in at a boutique, luxury hotel.
Therefore, much of this memoir of hotel life rang true for me, but not all. The primary dijfferences between my experience and his can be found in the size of our hotels. Tomsky has worked in New Orleans and New York in hotels with hundreds of rooms. I’ve worked in a motel with twelve rooms and my largest hotel had 56 rooms.

This leads to a variety of differences in our experiences. Tomsky has worked as a valet, front desk agent and housekeeping manager. He’s obviously worked with bellmen, doormen, security and concierges. The roles in a large hotel are all quite distinct. As night auditor in a small hotel, I’m often alone and have to fill all of the above roles in a single night. This makes the complex relationships between the roles above a little simpler, and I enjoyed reading about his evaluation of people in different jobs.

He describes bellmen as tip hunters, always looking to get cash in the palm. Can’t disagree greatly with that. Remember as a hotel guest that like waiters, bellmen work for tips. So smiles and verbal thanks are fine, but green is what they truly understand. (And we are talking paper money, an early story in the book tells of a bellman drop kicking quarters received for surfaces. He later retrieves the quarters.)

He describes concierges as snooty narcissists. Now again, it might be from working at smaller places and not in NYC, but the concierges I’ve worked with have been sweethearts.

He describes those who choose to work the through the night shift as strange creatures indeed. As someone who has worked night audit for years, I’d like to disagree with him. I’d like to, but I really can’t.

As for his experience with management, he admits it’s been a mixed bag. But his experience when his NYC hotel was bought out by a private equity group led to an adversarial relationship that provides some of the best stories in the book. Working in smaller places, I’ve always known the ownership and quite fortunately, liked them, so his tales of fighting big, bad bureaucracies differ greatly with what I’ve experienced. One can understand why he appreciates his union card. I’ve never worn the union label.

A couple of things he gets very right. Just because you wear a name tag, does not give the guest an immediate right to your name. And it’s great if you continue to use your cell phone while interacting with a desk agent, you are an oblivious jerk.

He gets a few things wrong, in my experience. He spreads the myth that hotels have a magic room hidden away for movie stars and you. It might be true that sold out doesn’t mean truly sold out when you have 1000+ rooms. But when you have 56 or 36 or 12, sold out means sold out. I do not have a room with two king beds, a hot tub and an ocean view hidden up my sleeve.

But many people will read the book for the odd stories of the scandalous and sordid aspects of hotel life – sex, drugs, celebrities behaving badly, ladies of the night, nakedness, etc. Yes, he has those stories; everyone who’s worked any time in hospitality has those stories. After I told some of my stories to a friend, he was quiet for a bit and said, “None of this stuff ever happens at my accounting office.” Good for Tomsky (not his real name) to find a way to get paid to tell them.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

One Other Western

I should have made more of a point in my top ten list that aside from my Top Ten Westerns, many other film makers continue to practice the form. In fact, one of my former youth group members (from Concord Bible Church) made a Western a few years ago. To make any feature length film takes Herculean effort, a period film like a Western all the more so. So kudos to Jared Isham and "Bounty". http://www.amazon.com/Bounty-Austin-OBrien/dp/B003VADRWO

Random Top Ten List: Best Westerns of the Last Decade

I haven’t see the new version of “The Lone Ranger” but it doesn’t look very good and from the box office reports to looks like it will lose the Disney Studios tens of millions of dollars (everybody “Whaaaah!”) It’s bringing out another chorus of “The Western is Dead” from critics. For decades some have claimed this to be the case. People were making the claim before “Dances with Wolves” won Best Picture in 1990 and since “Unforgiven” won Best Picture in 1992.
But if you look at the last decade, there have been a number of good Westerns, especially if your definition isn’t bound by time (“the Olde”) or place (geographic West rather than the Spirit of the West.) Here’s a list (alphabetical) of my favorite ten Westerns for the last decade:

“3:10 to Yuma” (2007) – This remake (with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale) might not be as good as the 1957 original (with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin), but it’s still very good. Both films present a good man with the temptation to choose a short cut to provide for his family. Crowe plays an excellent tempter to Bale’s good man. (Also fun to see Peter Fonda decades off his Harley on a horse.)

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007) – The film was longer than the title, but worth everyone of its 160 minutes. Cinematographer Roger Deakins filmed perhaps the most gorgeous Western ever made, and writer/director Andrew Dominik wrote one of the most thoughtful of Western scripts, with great insights on the danger of lusting for fame. Brad Pitt is good as James, but Casey Affleck is better as Ford.

“Django Unchained” (2012) – Yeah, the Western is dead when just last year a Western made a huge profit and was nominated for Best Picture. (Perhaps, technically, a “Southern”, but it’s a Western.) Quentin Tarantino’s salute to spaghetti westerns is very violent and goes more than a little over the top in the third act. But its righteous indignation at the evil’s of slavery is well earned. Christoph Waltz deserved his second Oscar under Tarantino’s direction.

“Meek’s Cutoff” (2010) - A rare Western that doesn’t focus on lawman or outlaws, cowboys or soldiers but rather ordinary settlers. In fact, rarer still, it focuses on the women settlers and was directed by a woman (Kelly Reichardt). A sad, and disturbing tale of the Oregon trail that won’t be wholly unfamiliar to fans of one of the first educational computer games.

“No Country for Old Men” (2007) – Ethan and Joel Coen are the only film makers today that will draw me to see a film, no questions asked. Though set in the present day, this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy novel is a Western tale of bad guys and outlaws and those that come between them. I love the film, and it did deserve its Best Picture Oscar, but I miss the sheriff’s theological musings from the novel.

“Open Range” (2003) – Perhaps I’m cheating on the time frame to include Kevin Costner’s very traditional Western, but I love it so I don’t care. Robert Duvall is a joy as is most everyone in the cast. The first R rated film I showed my teen and near teen aged kids, because I was thinking it was PG-13. (The rating was earned with one graphic gunshot wound.) I don’t regret it.

“The Proposition” (2005) – Now this violent Western really earns its R rating. Set in frontier days of Australia, Nick Cave’s screenplay sets up a nasty situation wherein a man (Guy Pearce, who managed to be in several of my favorite films of 00’s) must track down and kill his older brother…or his younger brother will be killed. Though not parallel, the situation has the feel of the proposal the disguised Joseph gave his brothers toward the end of the book of Genesis.

“Rango” (2011) – Some of the same people involved with new “Lone Ranger”, writer/director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp, made this deeply strange animated Western about a lizard who joins mammal townsfolks to confront an outlaw snake. (Tim Olyphant, star of “Justified”, the best “Western” currently on television, provides the Eastwoodesque “Voice of the West”.)

“Serenity” (2005) – Okay, it’s spaceships instead of horses, but this still is a great Western, a sequel to the great Western television show, “Firefly”, created by Joss Whedon. Arguably, much of the appeal of the Old West is the libertarian spirit of freedom, which is at the heart of this legend of outlaws (from the show’s theme song, “Take my love, take my land, Take me where I cannot stand, I don’t care, I’m still free, You can’t take the sky from me.”) Probably, you are advised to watch the entire run of the show (13 episodes) before viewing the film, but if you do that, it will make you laugh and it will make you cry.

“True Grit” (2010) – The list ends as it began with a remake of a traditional Western. But I think this film is even better than the 1969 original (which is pretty amazing since the original had an Oscar winning performance by the King of the Westerns, John Wayne.) This is also the second appearance on the list of writer/directors (producers/editors) Joel and Ethan Coen. They capture, even better than the original, the redemptive aspects of the Charles Portis novel. So, yeah, people will continue to say the Western is dead. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Coen’s still have another good Western hidden up each sleeve (which would be four more great Western, by my count.)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Review of "Where the Hell is God?" by Richard Leonard

The book is plugged as an unique blend of the personal and theological, but the personal aspect of it is not especially powerful.
Leonard does have some good things to say about the importance of free will and God's presence through suffering.

But chapter five in the book, an argument against the supplementary atonement of Christ's death and its purposeful nature is borderline heretical. To quote Matthew 16:21 - "21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Peter objected to what Jesus had to say, and I believe Jesus might have had a "Get thee behind me, Satan" for Leonard here as well.

Leonard's less than wholehearted affirmation of miracles is disappointing as well. He seems to lean toward the idea that "modern science" has ruled out the miraculous, but God can still do miracles "through us". He seems to believe that since a miracle didn't happen for his quadriplegic sister, it won't happen for anyone. Scripture teaches that God does indeed intervene in the world, even if rarely and not by human weems. Much better treatment of the miraculous can be found in C. S. Lewis' "Miracles" and Tim Stafford's recent book of the same name. (And while one is looking at Lewis, see also "The Problem of Pain" and "A Grief Observed" for the classics in dealing with these issues from first a theological and then a personal perspective.)

But Leonard does have some worthy arguments and is worth a look for people struggling with the problem of evil and pain.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

First Half of 2013 Screened Films

(Watched at the theater or on Netflix or on DVD. A basic *, **, *** bad to best rating system. And just because I rated a film as bad doesn't mean I didn't have a good time watching it. Listed in the order I watched 'em.)

"Warm Bodies" – Theater***

"Side Effects" – Theater**

"56 Up" – Theater***

"No" – Theater***

"The Place Beyond the Pines – Theater**

"Ironman 3" – Theater***

"John Dies at the End" – Netflix*

"The Sapphires" – Theater**

"Star Trek Into Darkness" – Theater**

"42" – Theater**

"Francis Ha" – Theater***

"The Numbers Station" – Netflix*

"Monsters University" – Theater***

"Upstream Color" – Netflix**

"The Last Stand" – DVD**

"The Purge" - Theater*

"Much Ado About Nothing" – Theater***

Monday, June 24, 2013

About the novel "Joyland" by Stephen King

The cover of this "Hard Case Crime Novel" is a con, but that's okay. Because it's about an amusement park and the carnies, so a con is not out of place. Though it looks like a hard boiled thriller by Donald Westlake (who the book is dedicated to), it is really much closer to the film "Adventureland" with Jesse Eisenberg than Mickey Spillane. It's firstly a coming of age novel with a touch of crime and the supernatural. It is a fun read. (But why the stupid political cheap shot toward the end? Dick Cheney did much more good for the world than you ever will, Mr. King. Any surveillance he authorized was to keep the country safe, unlike the current administration which seems to do so to get even with political enemies and cover their own behinds. Why even bring politics into a silly little carny thriller?)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The New Pixar is Almost Here...

Until recently, I found nothing more exciting on the movie calendar than a new Pixar release. They had an amazing streak of eleven good to great films. But the last couple...broke that streak. Here's hoping "Monster's University" gets that streak going again. But as I wait to see if Mike and Sully bring back the magic, here's my ranking of all the Pixar features.

13) CARS 2: The one really bad Pixar film. Somehow, they tricked many of us that would never go to a Larry the Cable Guy film into going to a Larry the Cable guy film, along with very bad espionage satire that couldn't compare to the "Get Smart" reboot series that probably no one but me remembers. As for its "message" - why use a film that celebrates CARS to tell us how bad fossil fuels are.

12) BRAVE - A swing and a miss. Not really bad, not really good. Feels like a homework assignment to make something nice about a girl, because they hadn't done that yet.

11) CARS - Major step up in quality here. One of the big pluses is the voice of Paul Newman. One of my first favorite "grown-up" films was "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", so it was great to hear Butch (and Eddie Felson and Cool Hand Luke and Henry Gondorff, etc.) one more time.

10) MONSTER'S INC. - CARS 2 makes me a little worried about the sequel to this film, but the other Pixar sequels you will see rank quite high. Jonah Goldberg has a rift about the problem with the modern idea of making all monsters safe and nice (see Sesame Street), but this film doesn't deny their is real evil and corruption in this world (see Randall voiced by the awesome Buscemi).

9) A BUG'S LIFE - I love "The Seven Samurai" and its remake "The Magnificent Seven" but I also love the other unique genre of the fake "samurai" found in "The Three Amigos", "Galaxy Quest" and this film. Also played a big part in making credit watching essential (when we saw this in Scotts Valley, CA, I yelled to the audience that was starting to leave, "There's more" and they were glad to stay for the "animation outtakes and flubs".)

8) FINDING NEMO - The biggest Pixar money maker and #1 on many people's list. I love the comedy of Albert Brooks and it was great to have this way to introduce him to our kids. And Dori is one of the more adorable characters ever featured in any film (animated or live-action.)

7) RATATOUILLE - A single speech gets this film above classics like Nemo and Monster's, Peter O'Toole's words about the superiority of creativity over criticism.

6) WALL-E - My son's favorite Pixar film. I like much in the later part of the film, spoofing science fiction and human laziness. But I like the opening, silent sequences best, honoring the great silent comics (especially Buster Keaton.) And I've always been a sucker for the score of "Hello Dolly".

5) UP - Yeah, I'll admit it...It made me cry. But it made me laugh too (especially the dog.)

4,3,2) TOY STORY 1, 2, and 3 - I was concerned before both the first and second sequel to the classic "Toy Story" (with a screenplay partly by the great Joss Whedon.) But somehow, they pulled off the cinematic miracle of not just one, but two sequels that matched a film so beloved. (If I had to pick a favorite...which I don't...I might pick the second film because Stinky Pete is my favorite villain.)

1) THE INCREDIBLEs - Not only the best Pixar film, but arguably the best comic book superhero movie ever made. Packs in comedy, adventure and wonder. A family film with a real family, parents that are real and kids that are real. And they save the ubiquitous John Ratzenberger cameo for an awesome finish (especially for those of us who know and love the Fantastic Four.)

You can do it MU...Get the streak going again.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bringing Justice to Baseball (And I'm not talking about Dave)

I don’t believe I’m going too far out on a theological limb when I write that God cares about baseball. Now understand, I’m not saying God waits anxiously on His golden porch for a celestial paper carrier so he can fervently study the box scores. Not saying the heavenly cries of “Holy, holy, holy” are muffled when an ump shouts “Play ball!”

But He does care.

There was a time in America when pigmentation along with talent was a part of the criteria for playing professional baseball. And I know God was not pleased.

All of Scripture proclaims that our God is a God of Justice. And the rules that barred black players from baseball were not just. Therefore, God’s people shouldn’t have been pleased with the situation either.

Sadly, many Christians didn’t give the matter a thought. After all, it’s just a game.
And when there are people starving and souls to be saved, why bother with a silly game? Anyway, there was a Negro League, so why not just let things go as they were, “separate but equal”?

Writer/director Brian Helgeland’s film, 42, tells the history of two Christian men who sought to bring God’s justice, a bit of His Kingdom, to the world of baseball.

Branch Rickey (played by Indiana… sorry, by Harrison Ford) believed it was his duty as the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (sorry to you, Giants fans) to field the best team possible to take his club to the World Series. He also believed that his beloved sport being segregated by race was an affront to God’s justice and needed to end. In Jackie Robinson, Rickey saw an opportunity to pursue both of these goals.

Robinson (a breakthrough role for Chadwick Boseman) had felt the brunt of racism throughout his life. (He was court-martialed in the army for refusing to go to the back of a bus and other fraudulent charges, but was acquitted.) He was excited to take the opportunity to join the big leagues, partly because the money was much better than in the Negro Leagues. He wanted to play at what was seen as the highest level.

But he wondered why Rickey had chosen him. In the film, Rickey tells Robinson, “You’re a Methodist, I’m a Methodist, God’s a Methodist.” Rickey knew that to face the bureaucratic obstacles, petty inconveniences, and outright hate that integration would bring their way, their faith would be essential – as would be the knowledge and practice of Jesus’ teaching.

Rickey told Robinson that if they were to succeed, Robinson would need to have the courage and strength to put into practice “our Lord’s” command to turn the other cheek. He asked Robinson to take the curses, the spitting, the bean balls -- even being spiked by cleats -- and not strike back.

It was Jackie Robinson’s faithful obedience to Christ’s words that brought a relatively quick and peaceful end to the abomination of segregated baseball.

God does care about baseball, because people He loves care about the game.

He cares about the work and play of all of His people.

As Martin Luther wrote, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn while she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

In your part of the world, in your work or play, is there a way that you can bring God’s justice and love where it is missing? If so, God may well be calling you to wear “42” on your back as well.

(42 is rated PG-13, primarily for harsh language including racial epithets.)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Catching up on the best of 1934 - a review of Erle Stanley Gardner's "The Case of the Howling Dog"

I've watched much of the Raymond Burr serious, but this is the first Perry Mason book I've read. The book was on par with the series for sexism (secretary Della Street is a "girl"), but the racism quotient is higher (the Chinese cook is a "chink".) Perry in the book, as opposed to the TV series, is even more willing to skate near or cross over the line of the law for his client. And surprisingly, the murderer does not stand up and confess in the final dramatic courthouse scene ("And I'd got away with it, if it wasn't for those meddling kids and there crazy dog." Sorry, wrong series. But there is, as one can see by the title, a dog. Maybe more than one.) Paul Drake, in any incarnation of these tales, remains the essence of cool.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Review of "The Friedkin Connection" from Harpercollins

Do Two Great Films Make a Life?

One hand, holding a pair of glasses, covers the bottom half of his face. William Friedkin lets us know with the photo that he won’t be revealing his whole self in this memoir. That’s okay. He can keep all the gossip on his failed marriages and his other non-cinematic to himself. The important thing is that he shares great stories about his filmmaking career.

The cover also blurbs, “Legendary Director of The French Connection and The Exorcist”. Really, those are the two films that people will always associate with the director, his hugely commercial and critically acclaimed hits. And there are great stories about those. Friedkin admits he wasn’t thrilled with the selection of Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle for “The French Connection” and that even through production he wasn’t sure if the performance that eventually won an Oscar would be adequate. He cops to breaking laws and endangering lives to film the famous car/train chase in the day before CGI. He recounts his battles and feuds with “Exorcist” William Blatty over the horror film’s content and with voice actress Mercedes McCambridge over the film’s credits. (There are also wonderful anecdotes about what the actress went through to achieve her demonic tone; after years in AA, and with council from clergy, she glutted on cigarettes, Jack Daniels and raw eggs.)

But Friedkin’s less successful films provide good stories as well; his encounters with basketball legends in the making of “Blue Chips”, the production shut down over Al Pacino’s too short haircut for “Cruising”, Friedkin’s passing of counterfeit bills that were props for “To Live and Die in L.A.”, and many other fun tales from even lesser films. I also enjoyed his stories about his second career directing opera.

Friedkin admits to his arrogance, temper and other personal failings. He gives some details about his struggles with health and even faith. He never gives his whole self, but refreshingly doesn’t claim to.

Discussing near death experiences, he wonders whether he his life had meaning. In my mind, he isn’t one of the great directors. Film makers such as Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and contemporaries like Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and the Coen Brothers have made a number of masterpieces over decades of work. Friedkin has two masterpieces made over a couple of years in the early seventies. But that ain’t too shabby. (Though he is also responsible for the awful travesty entitled “Deal of the Century” with Chevy Chase and Gregory Hines, one of the films I most regretted paying to see. He does not discuss the making of this film.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Place for Fathers and Sons

If you’re a mechanic and someone’s car is towed to your shop, and you get it to run, you’ve done your job.

If you’re a carpenter and you make a cabinet that is pleasing to the eye and holds what it’s supposed to hold, you’ve done your job.

A salesman meets his quota, a general wins his war, a runner wins his race. Clear goals…clear accomplishments.

But how does a father know he’s done his job right? I hope I’m exaggerating, but I think most fathers aren’t sure what their job is, let alone if they’ve done it well.

A Place Beyond the Pines is a film about a couple of fathers that seem to fail miserably. Kind of like a lot of other fathers. And yet somehow, perhaps, things come out right.

Ryan Gosling plays a motorcycle riding carnie, Luke, who returns to a town to find he fathered a child the last time his stopped. He quits the carnival so he can be with his son, but soon realizes his has no real skills to support him. At least not legally.

Bradley Cooper plays a police officer, Avery, whose pursuit of Luke will result in a case that can lead to either professional glory or disgrace, but his pursuit of his profession is time consuming and leads to neglect of his son. Still, he puts everything into his job, perhaps for his son’s sake and perhaps to please his own father.

Writer/director Derek Cianfrance weaves together the story of fathers and sons over a number of years and shows how a father’s best intentions can at time have the worst of results. And yet somehow love and grace work their way into the tragic stories of patriarchs.

Looking through Scripture, it’s hard to find shining examples of fatherhood. Isaac set up a bitter rivalry between his sons that led to Esau’s deadly pursuit of Jacob. Noah got drunk and passed out naked in the company of his sons. Sure, Abraham was obeying God, but did Isaac ever forget his father holding a knife over his bound body?

Fathers want to provide for their children without spoiling them. They want to do things for their children and yet teach self-sufficiency. They want to set high standards for their children and yet not discourage them. And somehow, the balance never seems quite right.

One of the most terrifying psychological truths a man can consider is that most people’s initial image of God comes from the image they have of their fathers.

But Jesus at least gave fathers the benefit of the doubt for good intentions. In Luke 11: 11 & 12 (NIV), He said, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?”

Sure, that’s setting the bar pretty low. But Jesus assumes that fathers want to do what is best for their children. But if fathers can provide one other thing, it can make up for many flaws. If they can provide the Bread of Life along with the bread for sandwiches, it will make up for many mistakes. If they can introduce their children to their Heavenly Father, it can make up for many earthly mistakes.

So this Father’s Day, if you can, let your dad know that you know his job is impossible. But that’s okay. Because we share a Father whose specialty is the impossible.

(A Place Beyond the Pines is rated R for language, violence and substance abuse.)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hmmm...That Does Sound a Bit Like a Buckley Book

Review of Nathan Harden’s “Sex and God at Yale”

In the conclusion of Nathan Harden’s “Sex and God at Yale”, he warns that the things that happen at Yale will echo in schools throughout the country. I’m afraid the warning comes a bit late. Yale had its first “Sex Week” in 2002. I went to San Diego State University in the early 1980’s. At that time, pornographic films such as “Deep Throat” were screened on campus. We had a Playboy centerfold autographing magazines in the campus bookstore. (SDSU was ranked at that time by Playboy in their list of top ten party schools.)

SDSU may not have the academic legacy of Yale (when I was there, if you were in class at high tide, you were a scholar.) We may not have had any United States Presidents as alumni as Yale does (though we do have as alums the actors who played Apollo Creed, Myra Breckinridge and Mrs. C on “Happy Days”.) But we were arguably a head of the Ivy League in the crass exploitation of sexuality.

Still, Harden’s descriptions of Yale’s Sex Week are disturbing. Because Yale has professed in century’s past a higher standard, and continues to be the training ground for many of the nation’s leaders. The concerns Harden raises in the book about moral relativity, academic standards and the shabby treatment of women at this august institution have serious implications.
But the book probably must first be appreciated as a memoir. Harden’s dream of going to Yale began when he was 11 years old. His homeschool background made his acceptance unlikely and he was turned down two times before he was finally accepted. His love for the history of the school and its unique academic advantages shine through. His admiration for the tradition of “For God, For Country, and For Yale” is what makes his disgust for the school’s denigration more all the more heartbreaking.
Two of Harden’s powerful arguments against the culture that lead to ‘Sex Week’ are appeals against commercialism and sexism on campus.

Many of the events during Sex Week at sponsored by pornographers and other parts of the sex industry. Pornographers that portray the worst kinds of verbal and physical violence toward women play a large part in the events of the 11 day week. Harden argues that the university would never allow say, McDonald’s, to be the sponsors of Nutrition Week at Yale, but what takes place is much worse.

Harden also argues that though the school administration and culture would claim to value women’s rights, the values promulgated during Sex Week are quite the opposite. Harden argues that the fear of being considered judgmental in the area of sexuality has serious consequences. He writes “you can’t believe in moral relativism and the equality of women. You have to choose one or the other.”

Harden notes that there are some positive events at Sex Week, such as a seminar on the destructive nature of sex trafficking. But such events are much more poorly attended than lectures by porn stars and pick-up artists.
Harden also argues that the elitism on campus extends to the belief that such “smart people should be immune to moral accountability.”

Yale was originally founded to train Christian preachers and missionaries (‘For God’.) It went on train many of the world’s academic, commercial and governmental leaders (‘For Country’.) But now the school’s primary concern seems t be self-preservation. It would be a shame if the vast financial, historical and academic resources were wasted on teaching students to, say, touch themselves (a skill that Harden notes most people, if ultra-sound pictures are to be believed, learn in the womb.)

Yale is free to follow the course it chooses. But it might be wise to follow the wisdom of the Scripture it once cherished but now spurns, the apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1023, "’I have the right to do anything’, you say--but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything’--but not everything is constructive.” Surely, the resources of Yale could be spent things much more beneficial and constructive than Sex Week.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

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Monday, April 15, 2013


You might notice as the film No begins that the colors are faded, the images aren’t very crisp and the whole thing kind of looks like a Youtube clip of an MTV video they recorded back in the eighties. And then you’ll begin to observe that this is a good thing. The tattered cinematography allows the director, Pablo Larrain, to weave news footage, telenovela clips, commercials and music videos from a quarter of a century ago seamlessly into his political drama of the 1988 referendum on the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, drawing the viewer back to that time and place.

This Chilean made, Spanish language film tells a fascinating story that makes reading the subtitles well worth the effort. In 1988. Pinochet was feeling the pressure from other nations (particularly the United States), to put himself in the hands of the electorate after years of military dictatorship. The vote will be a simple one. “Yes” means Pinochet will be in power another eight years and “No” means he must leave office.

The “No” campaign has little hope of success. They are given 15 minutes of television air time each day for twenty days. The “Yes” campaign also has 15 minutes a day (along with the other 23 and a half hours a day, along with glowing press and radio coverage guaranteed by the dictatorship).

The “No” campaign is composed of all political parties opposed to the President: Communists, Social Democrats, Libertarians, etc. Most have little hope of actually winning the election. But they hope to use the air time to expose the wrong doings of the government. They envision a daily barrage of the names and faces of the people wrongly imprisoned, killed or “disappeared” by the government.

But along comes a director of television commercials who wants to run a very different campaign. Rene (a fictionalized version of a real ad man played by Gael Garcia Bernal) wants to sell democracy using the same jingles, happy images and garish colors he uses to sell soda and microwave ovens. Many are appalled that these important issues would be trivialized in such a way, but Rene has one advantage that others in the campaign lack: he believes he can win.

The film follows Rene’s work to use all that he has learned in advertising (humor, imagery, marketing, etc) to bring down a dictator. Along the way, he is threatened with the loss of his job, his home and the safety of his family. But he persists.

Now if you want to avoid spoilers, please don’t look in any South American history books before you see the film. The central conflict in the film reminded me of one that many organizations face, that even the Church faces: should we ever compromise the things we hold dear to make our beliefs and values more palatable to the world? Especially, can we ever use humor to discuss such important issues as sin and salvation?

Watching the film, I thought about G. K. Chesterton’s response to critics who reprimanded him for making jokes about serious topics: "The truth is, as I have said, that in this sense the two qualities of fun and seriousness have nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable than black and triangular" and "[The critic] thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else."

Jesus certainly changed His presentations between the disciples and the masses; from deep teaching to entertaining stories (Matthew 13: 10 – 17.)

This world desperately needs to overthrow the Dictatorship of the Prince of Darkness (Ephesians 12:6), and the church should use art, wit, laughter, every tool at our disposal to see that he loses the vote.

(No is rated R for language and violence.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Review of “Between Man and Beast” by Monte Reel (2013 - Doubleday)

A number of years ago, I was talking with Gary Richmond (zookeeper, pastor, author, great guy) about where one would go if one could go any place, anywhere in history. Gary said he would want to be one of the first European explorers to search Africa for the legendary gorilla.

Monte Reel takes us on that adventure with a most unlikely explorer, Paul Du Chaillu. Du Chaillu’s story is a true Horatio Alger tale of a man who started with nothing, but found in Africa intellectual treasure that would him bring fame and wealth, leading a long life that ended in poverty (rather like Alger himself.)

Du Chaillu’s clouded parentage him afforded him little advantage in his young life, except a familiarity with Africa. It was in the 19th century truly seen as the Dark Continent, feared for its savage people and creatures, impenetrable geography and plentiful diseases. But Du Chaillu explored the land, being one of the first white men to encounter cannibals and pygmies (whom he called ‘ongobongos’) and most famously gorillas.

The gorilla became a focal point of two of most debated topics of the time, evolution and race (which continue on as subjects of contention.) There were some early believers in evolution that argued the black man was closer to the gorilla than the white man. As the Civil War approached in the United States, blacks were often compared to gorillas (as was Abraham Lincoln.)

There are heart rending accounts of the slave trade, which Du Chaillu eventually takes on in this life as a quite personal cause. We see how Du Chaillu grows as a scientist along with the science of the time. When Du Chaillu begins his career, zoologists are one in the same with hunters. How else was one to bring back samples of fauna? (Even John Audubon shot many more birds than he painted early in his career.)

Du Chaillu’s story spans three continents (Europe and North America as well as Africa), and brings in an amazing cast of historical characters. As one would expect, Charles Darwin plays a role, as do African explorers such as David Livingston and Richard Burton. But we also have appearances from the world of politics (William Gladstone and Edwin Stanton), show business (P.T. Barnum and King Kong) and literature (J.M. Barrie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.)

But the cameo I found most interesting in the book was the preacher Charles Spurgeon who sees in Du Chaillu a model of God’s light entering darkness. The account of the explorer’s appearance in the preacher’s mammoth sanctuary is comical and touching. (Spurgeon charged for the event, as he did for Sunday services, but the money went to a Temperance organization; even though Du Chaillu credited alcohol for sustaining his health in the jungle.)

Reel’s book satisfies as a story of adventure and biography, but also provides insight about class and culture, science and sociology. I’m glad to have a chance to have met Paul Du Chaillu, even though many gorillas wouldn’t share the sentiment.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tomorrow's Easter Skit: "A Very Prestigious Tomb"

Cast: Joseph of Arimathea and his wife

Wife: I’m NOT sharing a tomb with a perfect stranger!

Joe: I certainly don’t think of Jesus as a stranger. As for perfect, that’s another matter.

Wife: Don’t you dare change the subject. That tomb was meant to be OUR final resting place!

JOE: What else could I do? Jesus wasn’t from a wealthy family, and he certainly didn’t keep anything for himself. He gave everything away. I don’t understand why this dark little cave matters so much to you.

WIFE: I’ll tell you why it matters. That tomb showed that YOU were somebody, which means that as your wife, I was somebody. Have I ever told you about my grandfather’s burial? They stuffed him into a cistern. But they had waited too long and the cistern was too small. So they had to break his bones to fit him in. And I heard that. But that’s not all I heard. I heard some of the other girls snickering. They were laughing because he had to be buried in a cistern near the city dump, and that showed he was a poor man, an unimportant man.

JOE: So you thought of our tomb as a status symbol?

WIFE: Of course it was! When I told the girls at the club in Arimathea that we had an unused tomb at the garden, with its own gardener…they were all so jealous they hated me. It was wonderful.

JOE: Does it matter so much what other people think?

WIFE: Well, what other people think certainly matters to you. Why did you keep it secret that you were a follower of Jesus?

JOE: You’re right. I’m ashamed now how I treated Him in life. I would disguise myself and stay at the edge of the crowd when Jesus spoke. I went to see Him at night so my business partners and those Pharisee busybodies wouldn’t see me. He was the greatest man I’ve ever known, and I was afraid to let people know I knew Him. I’m a coward.

WIFE: A coward wouldn’t have gone to the Romans to ask for the body of a man they had crucified. That was brave of you, Joseph. Even without that prestigious tomb, I’m proud to be your wife.

JOE: I hope you noticed that I didn’t use our linens or spices to bury Jesus. Nicodemus supplied all of that; seventy-five pounds of the stuff. I don’t know how much that set him back. But I know he’d give everything he has to have Jesus back. So would I.

WIFE: Joseph, didn’t you say that Jesus spoke of His own death?

JOE: Yes, He did. It was strange; I’ve never heard a teacher talk of such things.

WIFE: And didn’t He say He was coming back from the dead?

JOE: He did, but surely He was speaking in parables as He often did. We understood He ment that His teaching would live on, that God’s Kingdom wouldn’t die.

WIFE: Maybe. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if what Jesus said was really true? Perhaps He really is the Son of God as He said. Maybe you didn’t really GIVE Him our tomb, you only loaned it to Him.

Friday, March 29, 2013

"Dawn of the Living" an Easter skit

(based on Matthew 27: 50 – 53)

Cast: Father (Rueben)
Mother (Sarah)
Daughter (Ruth)
Boarder (Thad)

Scene opens with Father in chair and daughter playing on the floor. All wear “Biblical” dress.


Reuben: Ruthie, could you see who’s at the door?

Ruth: Dad…It’s Grandpa!

Reuben: Ruthie, tha isn’t funny. You know it can’t be Grandpa, because Grandpa is… (GRANDPA ENTERS) Grandpa!

Grandfather: Hello, Ruthie! Hello, Son!


Ruth: I’m so glad to see you, Grandpa! Hey, you don’t smell funny. Daddy, you said Grandpa would smell funny!

Reuben: Well, this is quite a surprise. I thought you were, um, somewhere else.

Grandfather: Why don’t you just say it, Son? You thought I was dead. You can say it.

Reuben: Yes, well, weren’t you…aren’t you…dead?


Grandfather: Oh, I’m sorry, Sarah! If there had been any way to let you know I was coming, I would have told you!

Sarah: Reuben, is it…a ghost?

Grandfather: No, dear, I can assure you I’m not.

Ruth: He’s not, Mom! I can hug him and smell him.

Reuben: But I don’t understand. I was there. You stopped breathing. There was not a sign of life. I helped bury you five weeks ago. We had dozens of mourners for your service.

Grandfather: Oh, yes. How was my service?

Ruth: It was pretty boring.

Sarah: No, dear, I thought it was very nice… What am I saying? How can you be here? What’s going on?

Grandfather: Yes, dear, I’m sorry. Explanations are in order, at least as much of an explanation as I can give. I remember lying in my bed and felling my life slipping away. I remember you were at my side, Son. Then all went black. I assume time passed, and I opened my eyses to see a bright, glorious Creature. He told me not to be afraid, but that he had come to give me great news. That Jesus is indeed the Messiah, and I was to go out and tell others that Jesus had risen from the dead. The Creature vanished, and I realized I was in the family tomb. Then the stone at the entrance shattered into pieces, so I came here.

Ruth: That is so cool!

Sarah: Ruthie, go outside. (DAUGHTER LEAVES.) That is simply amazing. I can’t say how happy we are for you and your… ah…undeadness. But if you were planning to come back to stay here, there may be a problem…


Thad: Hey, Reuben, Sarah… What’s going on?

Sarah: Oh, Thaddeus. I’d like to introduce you to Reuben’s father, Elijah. Elijah, this is Thaddeus. He’s been renting your old room.

Thad: Oh, you can call me, Thad. It’s strange, somehow I got the impression that you were…Oh, what do you call it?

Grandfather: Dead?

Thad: Bingo! That’s it.

Grandfather: I was dead.

Sarah: Yes, you were. And it wasn’t cheap to bury you. We had bills for the myrrh and the mourners. I couldn’t believe the charges. And then the Romans are charging what they call an “estate tax”. We had to sell your things. And take it Thad, here, as a boarder. We couldn’t have managed otherwise. And I don’t think it would be fair to Thad to kick him out because you didn’t stay…like you were.

Grandfather: Don’t worry, Sarah. I know it’s not convenient for you to have me alive again. Your boarder can stay, and I can certainly do without my former possessions. Those things are nothing compared to what I now have. I know the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, and I know that he has power over death itself. And I have been charged with sharing that news.

Reuben: Yes. And that, Dad. Lately, there hasn’t been a very positive sentiment about this Jesus. I know when you went to hear Him speak, there were throngs of enthusiastic followers, but things have changed. The religious leaders, and the Romans, too, came to see His message as a dangerous one. So they crucified Him. Now, I’m not in a place to make a judgment about the man one way or another. But it doesn’t seem like the safest time to go around proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. Who knows what the authorities may do? Why, even His disciples are in hiding!

Grandfather: And what exactly will these authorities do to me if they find our I’m proclaiming Jesus as Lord? Kill me? I don’t know whether I can die again, or if God will simply take me to Himself. I do know I don’t fear anything now but God alone.

Reuben: The authorities might not just go after you. You must consider what might happen to Sarah and Ruthie. And me.

Sarah: Reuben has a point. How do you know this isn’t just some freak occurrence? Maybe your resurrection is a an act of the evil one to fool us all. How do you know that Jesus is who He said He was?

Grandfather: May God forgive you for even suggesting such a thing! I know Jesus was the Messiah long ago. When I heard Him speak, I knew He had the authority of God Himself. I tell you, this is not the first time Jesus raised me from the dead. I was dead in my sin before I met Jesus. And He forgave my sin. Only God can do that.

Reuben: But that has nothing to do with us.

Grandfather: It has to do with you. It pains me to say it, Son, but you and Sarah are more dead to God than I was in the tomb. You must trust in Jesus as your Lord if you want to know eternal life.

Reuben: This is sedition.

Sarah: And madness. I’m sorry, Father…or whoever you are. I can’t let you stay here and allow Ruth to be exposed to this wild talk. I’m not even sure you are my father-in-law, or if you’re something that has taken over his body. I don’t want to hear anymore. I must ask you to go.

Grandfather: As you wish, dear, I’ll go.

Reuben: She’s right, I’m afraid. You must go. We don’t need to hear anymore.

Thad: I’d like to hear more. Can you tell me more about Jesus?

Grandfather: Certainly, young man. Come with me, Reuben, give Ruthie my love.

Reuben: Yes, I will. Goodbye, again, Father.

Grandfather: Goodbye, Son. Sarah. Consider what I said.


Ruth: Dad, Mom! I heard people saying Jesus is alive again, too! Do you think it’s true?

Sarah: Of course not, dear. If it were true, we would have to change our lives completely. That just can’t happen.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Random Top Ten Post - The Scores of John Williams

The nominations for the last Academy Awards made John Williams either the first or second most nominated person for Oscar with 48. He certainly passed costume designer Edith Head, but he’s behind Walt Disney who had 59. But how much was Walt really involved with say, the animated short “Three Orphan Kittens” from 1935? Williams certainly has the most noms of anyone who’s living.

One summer, I was changing shingles on my parents’ house and amused myself by trying to hum Williams’ scores. There are similarities between some scores. Many are big, romantic, with themes tailored to film characters that will stick in your head. Some people dismiss film scores, I think it’s the best orchestral music being written today.

But these are my ten favorite film scores (leaving out the Olympics and his fine work on TV’s “Lost in Space.”)

10) “The Cowboys” (1972) This was the western where John Wayne was killed by Bruce Dern (Wayne warned Dern the public might never forgive him.) I love western film scores (every real man does), could listen to them for hours. They should always be simple but inspiring (Elmer Bernstein did the best one ever, “The Magnificent Seven”.) This was a good year for Williams, he also scored “The Poseidon Adventure” (which wasn’t nominated for best score, but won for best song “The Morning After”, which Williams didn’t write.)

9) “Home Alone” (1990) A score that had to accommodate violent slapstick as well as potentially maudlin sentiment. But Kevin reuniting with his mom and family can bring a tear to my eye and Willaims had a part in that. I listened to this score several times on Youtube last Yuletide.

8) “Jaws” (1975) Everybody knows the “NaaNuh, NaaNuh” just before the shark attack. People remember the film’s scares. But there’s also an adventure element that the score captures just as well.

7) “E.T.” (1982) Yeah, this score can make me weepy too. But it earns its emotions, especially in the big goodbye finale.

6) “Schindler’s List” (1993) Written the same year as another film on this list. This is a much different score. It doesn’t have as full an orchestra as most Williams scores, often a single violin is heard. But it’s powerful, and like the film, tears out your heart.

5) “Superman” (1978) This musical theme was responsible for making many young boys think they could fly off their roofs. Inexplicably, there were no successful lawsuits.

4) “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) I could have chosen another of the series quite easily. The score is a wonderful thing in midst of the awful prequel, “The Phantom Menace”. I happen to like “Return of the Jedi” a lot, but that Ewok song could lead to madness. So I go with film that preserves that goose bump inducing opening fanfare as well as introducing the sinister Empire March.

3) “Jurassic Park” (1993) It’s amazing Spielberg made this the same year as “Schindler”, but Williams accomplishment is amazing as well. The incredible sense of wonderment one feels when the dinosaurs are revealed isn’t just the work of the special effects team, Williams played a part as well.

2) “1941” (1979) – A great score for a rotten film. The comedy doesn’t work, but the score blends a forties big band sound with military marches for something unique and inspiring. I listened to this soundtrack again and again, though I saw the film only once. I love that you can hear the late, great John Belushi on the final track.

1) “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1941) I worked at a theater that played this film for a year, and I never tired of it, or the music. As Spielberg wrote on the soundtrack cover, the score tells Indy what to do every moment of his adventure. The Raiders March fills the listener with hope and energy and makes one able to take on anything…Nazis, boulders…even snakes.