Archive for June, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – A Review

“Less than Fantastic Voyage”

The talk of a Silver Surfer movie began in earnest back in the 80s. The idea intrigued many a fan boy and much like the early talk of a Spider-Man movie, I’m glad that the efforts didn’t come together until the special effects technology caught up with the idea (I can only imagine what a silver spray-painted surfer movie might have looked like. Then again, the Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four movie is still floating around out there, so we don’t have to imagine too hard what the effects might have been).

Now, if you weren’t a fan of the original, you have no business complaining about this movie: you knew what you were going to get. Spare me you “it’s in the spirit of the 60s era/Silver Age/Lee-Kirby Fantastic Four” people – I wasn’t a fan of them either. Written by Mark Frost (Greatest Game Ever Played), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer succeeded in what the original sought to accomplish. The family dynamic gelled better: you actually had the sense that these characters cared for one another. Sue (Jessica Alba) is still the taken for granted wife/member, but she loves her guy. Reed (Ioan Gruffudd) still struggles with getting his head out of the lab. Ben (Michael Chiklis, The Shield) teases Johnny (Chris Evans) as much as he’s teased. They are a dysfunctional family of super-heroes and sustain the air of silly fun the movie sets out to have.

First, my quibble: Just because an actor is contracted for the sequels doesn’t mean you are obligated to use him. Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon of Nip/Tuck) doesn’t have to be in each movie (just like Magneto doesn’t have to be in every X-Men nor Lex Luthor in every Superman). Of course, this could simply be my reaction to his horrific acting. Now for a bigger issue: we are still essentially dealing with four blank slates for characters. Johnny Storm, we get it, he’s vacuous. But even the most self-absorbed people can be fleshed out characters. Actually, he epitomizes the characterization problem. We’re shown over and over how vain he is, but there is no attempt to explore his vanity.

“Some are beginning to wonder if the hand of God is at work.” –newscaster

Preparations for the celebrity wedding of Mr. Fantastic to the Invisible Woman (a bit of social commentary that doesn’t, um, comment) are interrupted by strange phenomena of cosmic origin. The Silver Surfer in question is the herald of Galactus, the forerunner who prepares the way for his master, Galactus. Galactus is a force of nature, so (comic fans) don’t think:
Galactus is like the ultimate environmental threat. In fact, if you have problems with the Galactus of this movie, then you probably have problems with Warren Ellis’ re-imagining of him in Ultimate Nightmare. Galactus, a kind of cosmic judgment, is also how a lot of people view God, but that’s an excursus some may want to just skip.

[skippable excursus!]

“Who do you serve?” –Sue

Galactus as wrath brought to mind a famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, the salient portion of which reads:

“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God.”

This goes hand in hand with the idea of God pouring His wrath on Christ. But I’ve always had issues with this idea of sacrifice washing away our sins, appeasing the angry cosmic destroyer God. No wonder so many have this image of a petulant God. “I made you but I really don’t like you” seems to be the portrait given, which naturally would lead people to ask “is this the kind of God you want to serve?”

“What do you mean you have no choice. There’s always a choice.” –Sue

God can be wrathful, but that is not the only dimension to Him. Just like God is good, but goodness is not the only dimension to Him. Just like there is a respectful fear we should have of Him, but, paradoxically, He is love and perfect love drives out fear. It brought to mind a quote from an early theologian, Athanasius:

“It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die ; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits. As, then, the creatures whom He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning? Surely it would have been better never to have been created at all then, having been created, to be neglected and perish ; and, besides that, such indifference to the ruin of His own work before His very eyes would argue not goodness in God but limitation, and that far more than if He had never created men at all. It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.”

[end skippable excursus!]

“How do you want to spend your last few minutes?” –Johnny

At 90 minutes you have none of the bloat that has infected most sequels. Not to say the movie is good, but rather, alright. Something about the movie never quite comes together for me. The actors seem more comfortable in their characters’ skins, though “comfortable” isn’t quite the same as “good acting”. The script hits most of the right notes, but “hitting the right notes” (also read: “air of silly fun”) isn’t quite the same as “this movie makes perfect sense” (do not think about things like why this famous family has to fly passenger planes at all. Or how someone who was given power by the one he was a herald for manages to … nevermind). The characters do all the things you expect the Fantastic Four to do, though “characters” isn’t quite the same as “well characterized.”

In other words, the tone was right, the execution was off. In short, the movie didn’t have the decency to truly suck thus making it a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of entertainment (and give me the opportunity to really rip into it). Mind you, this is seen through the eyes of a comic book nerd/quasi-adult. Kids will see this movie totally differently. The Incredibles was more of an intense, dark movie than this was. If safe family fare is what you are after, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer delivers.

It’s a big dumb movie that appeals to young children, but it still manages to improve on the first. But the Silver Surfer himself was cool and I hope this serves as the springboard for his own movie.

Negative Testimonies

We have a natural sense of God as our protector and desire to seek His protection. We want His protection, especially in light of the fact that we can’t protect one another. When bad things happen, it’s like we long for God to step in, in a more direct way, and control things. We don’t ask such things when things are going “okay” (or as we’re making our own bad decisions). It’s like we want a “sovereign” God when it’s convenient.

I’ve been mulling over the idea of what it would be like to give a “negative” testimony about God. We’ve all heard the “God gets the glory” testimonies when things go well for us, when circumstances work out in the end. But what if we don’t get “the end” – what if we can only see the darkness and all we have to offer is the “where was God when … ?”

How do we go about sitting the blame at His doorstep? In learning how to live in tune with God, how do we deal with the negative things that happen to us? I know Christians who have no idea what it means to be with Him. Just as I know many self-proclaimed atheists who have a greater sense of how Christ lived with a sense of His grace, love, peace, and desire for social justice. Who understand a time to grieve, a time for lament, better than many who claim to follow Christ.

Maybe it boils down to our fairly flawed concepts of God. Sometimes it’s like we have to prove He even exists, or we believe that during our dark times, He always seems to be busy elsewhere. On the one hand, He’s pretty unrelatable, beyond anything our minds can even comprehend. Even the idea of trying to have a relationship with Him, of loving Him, or Him loving us, often staggers our imagination. On the other hand, we tend to “humanize” God, make Him relatable. To a degree, we have to in order to attempt to understand Him. But it’s like we have forgotten that Jesus was fully human, someone we can relate to and more importantly, someone who can relate to us.

We see God as outside of everything, picking and choosing at random when He chooses to intervene. Saying that He’s sovereign, but not knowing what that means. We may have the idea that all things are under His ultimate control, but hate when He has to let some things play out to not run roughshod over our free will. It’s like what we have to sometimes do as parents: we have to let out kids make their bad decisions and live by the consequences of them in order to let them be formed into the people we want them to be. Other times, we’re seemingly powerless, and have to watch our children go through unfortunate or tragic circumstances, with our children not always realizing how we grieve with them.

There does seem to be a great mystery in when God chooses, or can, to intervene; and when He doesn’t in order to fulfill His greater scheme of love. Sometimes we simply want to be shown how things are, all around us, written in us; we sense when things aren’t how they should be and long for how things were meant to be. In the mean times, in the darkness, there may be nothing good in the situation, but we still believe. We want to trust in the belief that God grieves with us, alongside us. In the frustration of not being able to protect the ones you love, the situation still sucks. So sometimes I have to honestly cry out:

I’m still angry. I’m still hurting. I don’t know what good you’re going to bring out of this. I don’t know what lessons you’re trying to teach through all of this. It’s not fair, but it’s not like my sense of fairness is greater than Yours. It’s not like I have a greater desire for justice than You. I don’t love my people more than You do. Help me to have the faith to believe that you are good. That you are in control.

May all of your expectations be frustrated,
May all of your plans be thwarted,
May all of your desires be withered into nothingness,
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child
And can sing and dance in the love of God,
Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

• The Benediction by Brennan Manning

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She was Loved

Yalaina Symone Griffin

born at 6:18 p.m. May 11th, 2007

died at 9:30 a.m. June 26th, 2007

“Rarely has one who lived so few days touched so many lives.” –Chaplain Burton

Yesterday has gone
Another day has come

Do something new in my life.

Yesterday has gone
Another day has come

Do something new in my life.

Do something new in my life.

Something new in my life,
Something new in my life,

Something new in my life, today.

Something new in my life,
Something new in my life,

Something new in my life, I pray.

–A song my aunt learned in Ghana. It became a bit of a theme song for us.

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The Riches – A Review

“Stealing the American Dream”

For some reason, I can’t get The Jefferson’s theme song “Moving on Up” out of my head every time I think of the premise to The Riches. FX, home of The Shield and Rescue Me, gives us another slice of edgier television drama, one that explores the heart and mores of our culture. The Malloys, a family of Travellers–Irish-American gypsies grifting their way through life in the South–scam their way into pretending to be a deceased family, the Riches.

The Riches is probably the most on point show exploring America’s value system when it comes to our pursuit of wealth and the costs of consumerism, much like Nip/Tuck explored our ideas of beauty and youth. They become trapped in lives of deceit (ironic for grafters), living in the not-too-subtly named Eden Falls. Wayne (British comedian, Eddie Izzard) goes from outsider/ drifter to the head lawyer for real estate firm who often discriminates against outsiders. Dahlia (Minnie Driver), a recovering drug addict, after a bid in prison, now lives the suburban lifestyle, putting the desperate in Desperate Housewives. Together they are painfully wonderful as the heads of a family striving to get by in the sadness and hypocrisy of their lives.

Doug (Wayne): “Conner, I’m a fraud.” Conner: “It’s Eden Falls, Doug. We’re all frauds one way or another.”

Too often we believe that if we can just get that dream, that castle, that we’ll have the time and the opportunity to make up the costs of what it took to get them. We have faith in the belief that once we attain the dream, everything will work out. So we seek a new, presumably better identities for ourselves, surrounding ourselves with the trappings of success, ever wanting improvement for our lives, accepting the costs of moving on up.

This is where many of us find ourselves: examining our lives trying to figure out what is true and what is false. Like each character in The Riches, we’ve constructed a false self, where we are defined by what we do, by what we have, and by what people think about us. It’s like we are all trapped by these false ideas of ourselves. These false selves, these false ways that we see ourselves, start developing when we’re young: how our families shape us, how we let our friends define us. We derive our self-worth from what we do; we’re of value because of how we behave or what we have.

“I’m going to get us the life we deserve, whether we want it or not.” –Wayne Malloy

We believe this lie and try to fix it ourselves, essentially creating a self-salvation scheme as we try to re-create ourselves. “I am not”–where I should be in life, for example–but “I can be if”I have the right job, the right house, the right kind of money, the right family, go to the right school, and live in the right neighborhood.

And yet some part of us is miserable under this definition of who we are and longs to find a way out from under it, to the point, like Dahlia, we’re forced to lament “I don’t know how to be myself.”

“We’ve got so much. What are we going to do now with all of this good fortune? … We just going to keep it to ourselves? We gonna build a big old wall around us so nobody can get in and threaten what we got? “ –Dahlia

In a lot of ways, The Riches is an indictment of the priorities of our culture:

Consumerism – From the cars we drive, to where we live, to the clothes we wear, we have bought into a lust of life.

Materialism – that quest for more stuff that shrivels people’s souls and empties their lives. We, like any good Americans, are discontent consumers, constantly on the move to satisfy our inner longings.

Entitlement – The bastard son of our lust of life is a perpetuation of a sense of the need for immediate gratification, perhaps even a sense of entitlement, as far too many of us are duped into pursuing these things.

“Don’t you get it? Life is shit, Wayne, and it hurts and it tears at us. And we can’t change it. All you can do is be together.” Dahlia

(Hyper-)Individualism – this “me first” narcissism which fragments community. It is the lie of Wayne’s boss, Hugh (Gregg Henry) who believes “if you’re going to make it in this world, you’ve got to make it alone.”

The Travellers, though a lot of their background remains unexplored, represents a tight, hierarchical community the Malloys strove to escape from (since it had become corrupted by a lone psychopath, Dale Malloy (Todd Stashwick), on his own quest for power). In tossing the baby out with the bathwater fashion, the Malloys ran from the rules and traditions that had kept them going (“The Code: The hand of one is the hand of all.”) to the point where they didn’t know what the rules were and have to make them up as they went along. Eventually, this catches up to them, leaving them so degraded and de-humanized, even Rich is forced to admit – “I don’t even remember what I’m supposed to want.”

There is an interplay between community and the individual: to be truly human, you have to become part of, feel a responsibility to, and serve the community. What happens to the communal gathering affected the individual and what happened to the individual had an impact on the community. Life is not about being controlled by money, things, or greed; but about relationships.

“It’s up to you to decide who you are.” –Dahlia

Our story traditions are rife with loveable rogues, from Robin Hood to pirates. The Riches are cast from that same mold. The show has just enough comedy to balance the hint of sadness to their lives. The air of menace to the show squelches any possible leanings to become preachy. Thing is, it never has to be preachy. It can be content to tell the stories of this family, flaws on display to the world, in its sophisticated
fashion, and be perfectly true to itself. It walks that fine tightrope of balancing the house of cards life the Malloys/Riches have built for themselves. How long they can maintain the charade and not strain credulity is up to the ability of the writers. So until the show is forced to re-invent itself during season two after writing themselves into a corner, The Riches is to be enjoyed.

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Friends Doings

Simon Wood continues to disgust me. Simon Janus is happy to announce that Bad Moon Books will be publishing his horror novella, THE SCRUBS. It will be available in limited edition paperback and a collector’s edition hardback. THE SCRUBS takes place in a fictionalized version of the real life prison of Wormwood Scrubs in London. It’s the story of Michael Keeler, a convicted killer, who volunteers to be part of the North Wing project in order to gain a pardon–except no one has ever returned from the project. THE SCRUBS will be out summer 2008.

What does this have to do with Simon Wood? His horror publications will be under the name Simon Janus, while his thrillers and mysteries will continue to come out under Simon Wood. He explains it all here. I await his latest chastising of me (“if you’d quit blogging so much, you’d get more books written. But keep blogging about me.”)

Gamasutra just ran a lengthy interview with Richard Dansky talking about writing for games.

And Alice Henderson is in a chat on the Buffy and Angel: The Authors site TONIGHT at 4pm PST/7 pm EST. Go to this site. Click on the CHAT tab, and then JOIN to chat.

And my brother was hanging out with comic, Louis C.K. He sent me a photo to rub it in my face.

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The Closer – A Review

“True Confessions”

The Closer in question is Atlanta native Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), all Southern belle charm, who heads up a special division of LAPD (the Priority Murder Squad. Seriously, the PMS?). In a lot of ways, TNT’s The Closer reminds me of the show Prime Suspect: strong female lead (mirroring Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison) in charge of a mostly male unit (used to doing things their way), good police procedural, with just enough politics, professional and personal, to sustain an air of intrigue.

As the show enters its third season, theme of family keeps rearing its head. From Brenda’s work family, her squad, which has taken her up until now to gel and develop trust; to the family she is trying to build with her boyfriend, FBI Special Agent, Fritz (Jon Tenney), as well as her own mama and papa. Her personal life is generally a mess, but she’s a genius at work. We are now used to the take charge Brenda, barking out orders and delegating duties all under a beaming smile followed by her trademark “Thank you.”

“I like to have the answers before I ask the questions.” –Brenda

“Closing” refers to her ability to push through the bureaucracy and shut cases quickly and accurately; in short, to get a confession from a suspect. Now, make no mistake where I land on the topic: Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) of Homicide: Life on the Streets was the best character in “the box”, out-closing any character. Brenda is number two. “The Box”, the interrogation room, is little different than a confessional booth.

There is a power of confession. There is something about looking someone in the eyes, face to face, and telling them what you’ve done. A burden lifted off you, a relief. Keeping secrets take work because the lies have a way of eating at you and the truth has a way of bubbling out. And yet, whenever someone spills the truth, they feel better or at least are now in a position to do something about what it is they kept bottled up inside them.

It’s foolish naivete to believe that people don’t sin or have their share of messes, but many people simply do not have a mechanism of confession. Of course there is an air of hypocrisy in most people’s lives: in constantly playing the sin game, we’ve created an environment of condemnation. People are quick to jump on a person’s sin and leave it at that, with the person ground under the heel of judgment. Thus it is no wonder that people find it easier, more convenient, to create the false persona of having their act together on the surface; never dealing with the reality of their unconfessed (or worse unadmitted even to themselves) sin. As a consequence of this, we get greater layers of secrecy and deceit.

Carlos: I did what I did for justice. Brenda: I know that, Carlos, but that kind of justice is against our laws. Carlos: Your laws didn’t work for my parents.

Rather than a hypocritical environment we need to create a safe one, one that engenders a spirit of honesty. We need an environment that still treats “sin” as a serious offense, but is mindful that the goal of restoration is always first and foremost. Like in The Closer, things don’t end with a confession. Things aren’t just forgiven and then swept under a run; there is still a penance. Acts have consequences, and criminal actions have penalties to be paid; with repentance comes a road to travel, one often paved with grief and regret. However, with the need for that secret to be there gone, there is a way to justice and redemption. There is a path to finding forgiveness along with the ultimate goal of restoration.

Brenda Johnson is today’s equivalent to Columbo, outsmarting her criminal counterparts with her deceptive charm and keen wits. Sedgwick has great charisma and shoulders the show easily, though her character has plenty of quirks (such as her sweet tooth and her efforts to hide it). When you think of a series built around the quirks of a detective, say for example, Monk, the act can get quickly tiresome, especially if the character doesn’t grow or worse, the personality ticks are piled on to wring out more laughs.

In The Closer, there is a great and largely under-utilized cast to spread things around. From grumpy, acerbic, just-this-side-of-lazy, Det. Lt. Provenza (G.W. Bailey) to her former beau now boss, Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons from Oz and Spider-Man), to the man who covets her job, Commander Taylor (Robert Gossett). The show is well acted and well scripted, with Brenda Johnson’s tough and polite charm holding it together.

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Evan Almighty – A Review

“Sermon on the Ark”

I’ve always struggled with the story of Noah’s Ark as kid friendly fare. After all, it’s the story of God sending a flood to destroy most of the life on the planet due to the extreme corruption running rampant. Somehow that didn’t seem the stuff for Sunday School flannel graphs, no matter how cute the animals were. Now along comes Evan Almighty attempting to wring laughs from this back-story.

Bruce Almighty, the 2003 comedy hit, sought to answer the interesting hypothetical of what we would do if we encountered God in a real, tangible way. Director Tom Shadyac and writer Steve Oedekerk return, upgrading Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Office) to lead in order to fill Jim Carrey’s vacant shoes. Morgan Freeman also reprises his role at God.

For the sequel, Evan Baxter wins a congressional seat then piles his wife, Joan (Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls) and three sons — Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips) and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett) — into their Hummer and move to Washington. She prays for them to become closer as a family, he prays to figure out a way to change the world. God appears and cajoles him into building an ark. Wackiness ensues.

Unfortunately, Evan Almighty suffers from the same sort of bloat that has infected other summer blockbusters, such as Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Being the most expensive comedy ever made, the movie has succumbed to the overblown, bigger is better, mentality. Though Wanda Sykes joins John Michael Higgins and Jonah Hill (Accepted) in getting the most laughs from the thin material given; John Goodman walks through his role as villainous politician. Steve Carell works his particular brand of “dull everyman in awkward situation” laugh magic. Yet the movie still relies on corny poop jokes to propel this vehicle designed for kids and their paying parents.

“God, please help me change the world.” –Evan

At its core, Evan Almighty is a message movie masquerading as a comedy. Evan Baxter sets the laudable goal for himself of wanting to change the world, to make a difference with the time he has been given in life. So even though he’s not much of the praying type, he’s willing to take all the help he can get. As Evan begins his journey of faith, we find that he is not living in tune with his beliefs: his agenda is all about appearance and power, climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of his family. People who want to change the world typically don’t know where to begin, often overlooking the obvious in starting where they are, at home.

“Get it out, son. It’s the beginning of wisdom.” –God

Evan enters into a dialogue with God, not realizing that the answer to his prayers may not be the kind of answers he had in mind. God’s plans are not always a part of our plans.: when He does break into our lives, it’s rarely convenient, though not all of us will experience animals showing up at our workplace two by two. Partly, this stems from us having little idea who God is other than what we tend to project onto Him. Praying for love or patience may result in God giving us opportunities to love or to be patient.

Evan’s journey of faith not only tests his faith, but also the love of his family, providing some of the films few honest feeling moments. For example, when God tells Evan “Whatever I do, I do because I love you” Evan replies “Do me a favor: love me less.” Or when Joan explains that “Maybe God didn’t mean a literal flood …” it causes Evan to exclaim “If that’s true, I’m gonna be so pissed.”

“I like stories.” –God

So what does an old story have to teach us? It’s a love story about faith, story, and a plan. It’s a story that goes back to seeing “the original design” of Creation, thus, one of the reasons for the movie’s strong environmentalism message. As the story catches us where we are today, it exposes the sins of modern life such as twisted ideas of beauty (“When you’re in the public eye, image is everything” says Evan. “You care too much about your outward appearance” replies God ), corporate greed, political corruption, and idolaters of magnitude (bigger houses, bigger cars).

“I don’t understand why you chose me,” may mark the beginning of Evan’s spiritual journey. Yet, if we try to seek God, we too might start to see Him everywhere. In the seeking, we become transformed into the types of people He wants us to be and the faith result is demonstrated in the doing, even though they seem like the little things, one Act of Random Kindness at a time. By the end, we’re caught up in a dance with God and come to understand that “He chose all of us.”

“So how about it? Feel like living on the edge?” –God

Despite its demonization, Hollywood isn’t stupid. In this post-The Passion of the Christ age, they know there is a market left largely untapped and uncourted and have no qualms about turning over every cushion in the church couch to get at that extra change. The comparisons between Evan Almighty and Bruce Almighty are inevitable with Bruce Almighty feeling more authentic and honest; while Evan Almighty strains to be safe and inoffensive. I had the nagging feeling that I was watching a sequel to Oh God (though I’d take Morgan Freeman over George Burns any day) rather than Bruce Almighty.

A bit more heavy-handed than the first, Evan Almighty panders to the family friendly, moral majority crowd and feels a little like preaching to the choir. The laughs are a little forced—I kept waiting for a laugh track cue—slapstick in lieu of organic comedic moments. It’s a Hollywood Sunday School confection—with none of Noah’s post-flood nude, drunken activities—with a genial predictability that succeeds at the expense of being engaging. A harmless film parents can take their kids to guilt-free.

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Evan Almighty – Tom Shadyac Interview

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Shadyac, director of Evan Almighty, for a roundtable discussion. As we quickly learned, he’s a long-haired, whirling dervish of manic energy, constantly defying people’s expectations.

RT: As compared to Bruce Almighty, it seems as if there was a conscious effort to stay away from anything possibly offensive, other than, say, poop jokes, in this movie.

Tom: It was a conscious effort to invite everyone to this movie. This is an ark story, with animals, a flood, and a big boat, and I thought it would be insane to not invite a two year old and a grandparent and everyone in between. The ark story speaks to everyone and I thought this movie ought to. It dictated to us what to do. So, no, you don’t find those things that I’m still absolutely fine with. Although, maybe you ought to not read your bibles then, because it has a lot of violence, sexual impropriety and people with multiple wives and deception – but the darkness is used to light.

RT: You worked a lot with people’s image and conception of God, how God is depicted and how we imagine God. That seems to come from your own spirituality because it’s consistent with Bruce Almighty.

Tom: It does, it does. That voice you see in the movie, that God voice, is very personal to me. I’m very exacting with it. How he delivers it, the way he says it. Yes, it’s very specific and personal to me the way God is presented in these movies.
RT: What do you want people walking away thinking about this dialogue with God?

Tom: Everything I do is a reflection of where I’m standing or something that I believe in. So as a story-teller, we want to spread that. I took a journey in my life. I’ve had a great deal of success. I’ll say blessing/curse because they go hand in hand. I think it can be very deceiving. Because I was an idolater of magnitude, the bigger the better: the house the money, the thing. And I had to learn about personal change. For me, this is an expression of that. So do I want them to take that specific message? If it speaks to them, yes. Hopefully there’s enough here so that we can meet people right where they are. Art is best when this great Thing works through us. We don’t even know what we’re doing. That’s my personal journey, but how many other journeys are involved in this web?

RT: It’s not clear in the film whether the biblical account really happened. As part of the film’s back-story, God gives an interpretation of the story but he doesn’t quite come out and say that it did happen…

Tom: This is a new telling, a new approach to the Noah story. I couldn’t tell you whether it happened or not. It wouldn’t shake my faith either way. I’m sure there are those who will say “it happened, it happened.” Maybe it did, go with God. I don’t approach with “I know,” I approach it with an openness.

That story could absolutely fully exist as it was. We are not contrary to that story at all, I believe. Let’s say it happened, He’s saying, “I once destroyed the world, because there was so much corruption. We’re here today. I no longer have to destroy the world, look at what you’re doing. To each other.

There’s been some talk about the Christian environmentalists at work. How can we not be concerned about the environment? Because the environment is not a tree, it’s not the air, it’s how we treat each other. You and I are now in the same environment, we’re creating an environment here. I hope one of respect. This movie is about the environment, meaning you, me, and this gift of a world that we live in.

RT: Bruce Almighty was made four years ago, before what some people call “The Passion Effect” where everyone says Hollywood’s changed in terms of how they deal with spiritual themes and religious audiences. Having worked on religiously themed movies before and after that, what differences have you perceived?

Tom: Well this one difference I have perceived: I’m not doing anything different. I’m just doing movies that speak to me, whether there’s a passion effect or not. As far as studios go, they are aware a faith-based audience exists. It is the great unknown x-factor of how a movie will do. No one knew what it would do for The Passion [of the Christ], or [The Chronicles of] Narnia. But they are aware now, that there are people out there, a new audience, that can come to the movies in droves if they feel a kindred spirit with the themes in the movie. When I showed the studio the movie, they put more money into advertising in order to reach that faith-based audience. We don’t know what that will mean. It could be the big x-factor that puts us into the stratospheric box office. It could mean very little.

RT: There are people that you work with that know you are a Christian. When they see you working on a project like this, does it ever bring up any conversations or start them asking questions?

Tom: I will tell you the best preaching I’ve ever done is without words. As the saint of all saints, Francis, would say “preach the gospel wherever you can and where all else fails, use words.” I’ll tell you a story about effective preaching: people come up to me all the time and they say “where do you get your energy?” I’m 48. I look younger. I have kids in my company and I kill them all – they can’t keep up with me on a bicycle, on a surfboard, or in a debate about life. So they want to know “what’s going on with you?”

I started riding a bicycle right after Bruce, because the gift of play is a gift and I think we’ve lost that in our culture. It’s about working, working, working – we live to work, we don’t work to live. So I started riding a bicycle. I didn’t preach about riding a bicycle, I just rode a bicycle. I’m in really good shape, I could ride for a hundred miles, I have more energy. And now everyone in my life has a bicycle. I never told them to ride a bicycle, I just rode a bicycle.

I think people are asking all the time about each of us. If they see something worth inquiring about, and emulating, and incorporating they will, but it has to come from our change. I don’t think they care much about what I think of Jesus, I really don’t. I think they care how I embody the Sermon on the Mount or how I greet you. So the preaching is in the doing.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Ruminations from Father’s Day

So I was sitting here, cutting my food into bite size bits and staring at my double-knotted shoes, I came to the startling epiphany: I bet my parents used to be cool. Maybe not all parents, mind you, but I’m betting many of them used to be cool before they had kids. I know I used to at least be coolER.

Continued on Ruminations from Father’s Day.


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Selling Salvation

The dilemma (from a reader): I was told just recently that a church’s “success” is seen in it’s fruit. If you can’t point where souls are being saved, then your church is stagnant and something is wrong and instead of playing the blame game, you need to start by looking in the mirror … Do I need to love more? Yes. Do I need to show more mercy? Yes. Patience? Yes. Self-control? Yes. Etc, etc etc. Add that to the “how many souls are you saving?” line and you can start feeling like crap.

It boils down to this: how should one approach evangelism, especially in an environment of “all Jesus sales pitch, all the time.” Since I covered this one in a previous blog, I have a friend guest blogging for me.

Guest Blog by Rob Rolfingsmeyer

Yes we are called to go and preach the gospel to the world…but…we are also called to be fully human. To be fully human we must build relationships with people. Now, if you build relationships with people for the sole purpose of trying to preach the gospel to them, you’re not really building a relationship…you’re building a customer base. We are not here to sell the gospel…St. Francis said to his disciples, “Go and preach the gospel to the world and, if you must, use words.” In other words, preaching doesn’t have to be oral.

For example, I hired a guy who had just reawakened to his faith and was just absolutely adamant about convincing people about the truth of God and Jesus. He used to get mad at me because he would drag me into an argument with whoever he was talking to. I’d end up saying something “profound” and the room would just go quiet. Usually it was agreeing with his viewpoint but coming at it from completely out of nowhere. I never tried to engage these folks in discussions about it. All I did was build relationships with them because they were good people and I liked talking with them.

One day I was working a six hour mini-shift with this girl who was ardently against God because of the whole suffering happening to good people thing. She asked me how I can believe in a good God (came to find out later, SHE never started conversations about God). I came at it from a different angle than what she had been hearing, then finally I left it with, “when someone suffers, don’t you think God cries too?” She burst into tears (I have that effect on people)…of course this was the end of a four hour conversation. After that she was really interested in this whole Jesus thing. I never set out to convert her, trust me on this, I’m a Catholic who used to be Protestant, I get people trying to convert me a lot…there is nothing more annoying.

This is GOOD NEWS that we’re talking about. Your life should quietly preach the gospel to others. There are times that you may feel prompted to explain Jesus to someone but there are others where the other person must prompt it. Being a human being and developing relationships is essential to the gospel…in the movie “The Big Kahuna”, Danny Devito says basically that if you want to preach to someone, ask them how their kids are, find out what there dreams and hopes are. In other words, don’t develop a relationship for the sole purpose of conversion. Once again it’s selling something to a customer. As a car salesman I developed relationships with customers first and sold them a car. The whole point of the relationship was to get them in that car. Is that what we’re supposed to do? Is evangelization just a tool to get someone to think like us, act like us, believe what we believe? No, Jesus came to restore the relationship between not only God and man, but man and man. Think about how Jesus evangelized. People came to him. He didn’t seek people out to convert. He built relationships with disciples, news spread of this man who was saying things that no one had ever said before. Maybe we need to revamp our message and look at different angles, maybe we need to act in such a way that people seek us out, and not try to pass out tracts or hammer someone with the gospel message. Maybe we need to be friends first, fulfilling our humanity.

Sorry this was so long, I don’t know if it clears anything up for you. If I sound like a heretic, well, I’m sorry.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.