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.)