The Hangover: Extreme Edition

Comedy unlike other genres remains largely critic proof.  In the end, it’s not about how good a movie it is, but whether or not it delivers laughs.  The other thing about comedy is that it is largely subjective.  More often than not, what I find funny my wife may find abhorrent (read:  Borat says what?).  Neverthe less, I truly loved The Hangover.

The Hangover was quite clever in its premise and execution and now it is out for the second time on DVD and Blu Ray.  There are two versions of the movie available, the standard, theatrical version– which runs at 100 minutes– as well as the “Unrated Version”, which is eight minutes longer.  Both of which were released earlier this year and are in this Extreme Edition.  The unrated version delivers more of the same, extending a few scenes and thus exacerbating the pacing issues of the movie which was a fairly moot point as long as it keeps us laughing.  We care more about too long a stretch without laughs than one without plot sense.

If you care about extras, you will be disappointed.  The non-extreme edition and the Extreme Edition are mostly the same in the special features department.  What little new extras there are feel like ill thought out toss ins designed to milk a good thing.  They include a 28-page, hardcover “wedding album” along with the “CD Sampler” with a handful of songs from the movie.

It’s a common practice for studios to commit double dipping:  releasing a low thrills version of a movie then releasing subsequent versions of the movie with more and more extras.  The Hangover isn’t exactly a movie from the AFI list of greatest of all time in need of dissection or scholarly report.  So unless it can add a slew of new funny, it’s just not worth it.  This Extreme Edition just isn’t enough to justify buying the movie again, but if you don’t already have it, then this might be enough to push you into buying it.  Otherwise, you’re better off waiting for the inevitable The Hangover 2.

Ways to Live Forever – A Review

In Ways to Live Forever, Sam Oliver McQueen (Robbie Kay) is an eleven-year-old child, terminally ill with leukemia.  Encouraged by his teacher, since Sam needs answers to the “questions nobody answers”, he complies a diary/scrapbook/video blog during the last two months of his life.  In that book, he includes stories, amusing facts, lists, and his own diary. One of the lists he makes gives the movieits structure. “List No. 3: Things that I want to do”.  So with the help of his best friend Felix Stranger (Alex Etel), an ill 13-year-old child, he embarks on a quest to do things like go up down escalators and do teenage things, like kiss a girl.

“Mrs. Willis told us about how works of art launch themselves into people’s hearts.  She told us we should write something about ourselves.” –Sam

With the help of his teacher, they conduct various experiments, Sam and Felix break world records (including the world’s smallest night club).  But the diary continues to return to Sam’s numerous lists of “questions nobody answers”, centering around wrestling with the questions about why kids have to die.  Questions about God, death, dying, the nature of pain, and suffering – questions that don’t really have answers, though we often comfort ourselves with platitudes, but are important to wrestle with nonetheless.  One of the first question people ask in the face of tragedies like this is “why?” And it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask: how could a good God allow such evil things to happen?  In fact, the question gains a more terrible weight in light of the fact that the laws of nature is so out of the control of humans, and the “evil” of nature can only be set at God’s doorstep.

Many children go through a phase where they become fixated on the idea of death.  As in the movie, My Sister’s Keeper, the prospect of dying forces us to face the stark reality that we’re all going to die we just never know when. Be it by disease, accident, age, or random crime, death adds gravitas to life. By thinking about death, we focus on what’s important in the time we have. It causes us to re-prioritize and make us realize what is really important. Yet in the living, we have to find a way to feel and navigate the pain of life in a fallen world without numbing ourselves from it.

“Who’s going to be interested in my story?” –Sam

Like in the movie Snowmen, Sam tries to find meaning and a sense of eternality by leaving his story behind as well as pursuing the breaking of world records.  Part of our soul yearns for immortality. Sometimes, it’s an issue of our self-worth, wanting to show that our lives meant something and that we made a difference or mattered while we were here. Thing is, as a relational being, not only do we find our meaning in our friendships and in our family, but our relationships have an eternal aspect to them. We can get caught up in wanting to do something big, something profound, only to realize that setting the world records wasn’t the point. As we go about our daily lives, we experience God moments, opportunities to create memories and touch other people’s lives. Where the doing the things that “matter” may be as simple as helping people through tough times and thus impacting the lives of lose around him. As we reflect on our life stories, when people talk about someone living, good life, it’s not what they think, but how they did it. Being a good friend leads to ripple effects and becomes truly profound.

“Somethings in life are perfect from start to finish, but you don’t know that until you’ve lived them.”  -Sam

Given the subject matter, there was no way Ways to Live Forever could avoid being a non-stop tear jerker, even if it didn’t push any of the manipulative buttons.  Yet, the movie maintains a kind of distance from the audience, as if knowing the sheer weight of the emotion of the story could crush the viewer.  It’s like it remains above the emotions to be more of an intellectual meditation on death.

Bilal’s Stand – A Review

“Game’s still the same”

Written and directed by Sultan Sharrief, Bilal’s Stand tells of Sharrief’s personal experience growing up as a Muslim (not Nation of Islam black Muslim, as the movie takes pains to note) high school senior and the choices he faces.   Bilal (Julian Gant), Sharrief’s proxy, works at his uncle’s (Nadir Ahmad) taxi stand, picking up fares when he’s not in school trying to maintain his grades in order to help his struggling family.  Despite the family’s expectation that he pick up the family business, school is his main hustle.  A letter of acceptance to the University of Michigan opens up a whole new world of possibilities and he scrambles to figure out a way to pay for it.  Including taking up the art of ice carving (“Black people ain’t got no business carving no ice!”) in order to win a scholarship. Soon he is forced to decide whether he will continue working at the Stand, risking being considered a sell-out and betraying his family, or take a chance to move on up … and out.

Bilal’s Stand has an amateurish yet authentic feel to it.  It is a community coordinated film project by students of Sharrief, made piecemeal over four years.  It mixes trained actors and actual figures from his life, such as his ice-carving coach (Charles G. Usztics).  As such, it has plenty of performances that are rough around the edges, to say the least.  The movie’s moralistic tone covers familiar territory as it builds its inspirational story.  He has to fight his neighborhood, the naysayers (teachers who expect/train him to fail), as well as his own family as Bilal’s mom (Angela G. King) demands that he stop thinking about attending college.

“There’s the world that everyone sees on the outside, and the one I can see existing in me.” –Bilal

The film is held together by Bilal’s singular voice.  The narrative is fairly freewheeling though has the inventive energy of being told in a first person style.  To illustrate his worldview, the film … illustrates his worldview.  Animations are drawn over the live action to show how he sees the world versus what the audience sees, to mostly comic effect.

It’s all about perception.

While it is easy to demonize our “culture of violence” (from the atomization of nuclear families, to what passes for entertainment, and our glorification of guns), those things don’t address the individuals. Our young people often seem determined to sabotage themselves before they get started. Take, for example, the culture of disrespect. Sometimes, when all you have is your name and your rep, your pride becomes of critical (if not overwhelming) importance. Disrespect becomes an assault on one’s sense of being. Couple that mindset with a cultural affirmation of fighting to display toughness, anger or apathy at their general situation, and we have a perpetuating cycle.

“It’s not the world itself that matters but it’s the way people see the world that make it the way it is.” –Bilal

Maybe we–the people, the community–need to do to bear our share of the burden. I’m reminded of the two most important laws, echoing the law experts of Jesus’ day, are to love God and to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Yet we continue to fail to be good neighbors and keep looking for loopholes of “who is my neighbor?  We face a systemic problem and education is the only silver bullet we have, especially when combined with the dual values of moral and economic responsibility. We need to begin buying into a worldview that promotes dignity, work, marriage, family, and healthy community. We all have our roles as parents, leaders, church members, and, frankly, adults to point young people to a better way of living. We need to be giving our young people some reason to pursue a full way of living beyond the consuming and materialistic mentality they are being programmed with.

“The real world can be depressing sometimes, especially in Detroit.  So I choose to look past the surface and see things for how they really are.” –Bilal

Movies about middle class black families are rare enough, so I often rejoice in the stories when I see them.  Sometimes Bilal’s Stand can be a little too on point with its message of hope and education, nearly getting tripped up by its own earnestness (such as, while Bilal is internally debating whether his choices are selfish and a betrayal of the family/community, the movie stages a class discussion about “social mobility vs. community abandonment”).  Such heavy-handedness and noble intentions are leavened by the spirited scrip and strong voice.

Gant’s performance holds the film together and movies it along with a light bob.  The dialogue is witty and authentic.  And the movie itself has heart … a keeping it real aesthetic.

Café – A Review

There’s a writing exercise I like to do where I go to a mall, a train station, a coffee shop—anywhere there’s people—and make up stories for the folks I see there. Because everyone has a story, some wear their stories so you can read them just by the way they carry themselves, some it’s more fun to put a story on them. Either way, everyone has a story to tell … and everyone is an interesting story. Stories that connect with one another. That’s the premise of the movie Café.

A group of regulars frequent the local West Philly Grounds coffee shop in Philadelphia who we get to know by eavesdropping on their conversations. Ordinary folks: the baristas who work the coffee bar (Jennifer Love Hewitt, The Ghost Whisperer), the ever present writer who is working on his screenplay or “Great American Novel”, the computer geek, the couple engaging in the getting to know you dance, and the neighborhood troublemaker (Jamie Kennedy). A tragedy occurs which makes them realize just how connected they all are.

The movie has a quirky charm as it ambles along, but its power is in its writing. The conversations are so rich and real with such a rhythm to them that one can get fully absorbed in them. The characters are richly drawn and you find yourself rooting for each of them, heroes in their own stories, to triumph.

“I would create a virtual world, filled with beauty and opportunity. And everything and everyone in that world would ultimately be one. But they just didn’t know it.” –Ellie

While the coffeeshop may seem to be the nexus that connects the stories, the true nexus is Elly, a little girl only a couple of people notice. Elly—Elohim being the first name of God found in the Bible meaning “Creator, Mighty and Strong” (Genesis 17:7)—is the portrait of how God works in our lives. She’s like a computer programmer who built free will into the software and interacts with it, but without overly intruding or forcing herself onto the system, “talking back to whoever chooses to tune her in.” Knowing us intimately, having a personal relationship with us, and working through us to affect Her will. Always available and present, and at work in every moment in every part of reality, she finds the ordinary as intriguing as the extraordinary.

“I live in a state of endless possibility and limitless dimension.” –Elly

Café reminds us of several things. It’s easy to forget that God is available and accessible in all circumstances of life, even the mundane activities of daily living. Simply assuming that God is present and then living accordingly can greatly impact one’s life. We become formed by this simple yet profound discipline as we learn to appreciate every encounter, every circumstance, as an opportunity to know God. Life is about seeing God at work in the ordinary. Believing that this is a magic infused world, filled with wonder and mystery; that our every action has meaning and eternal consequence. This world is about finding your purpose and joining in the mission, using your gifts, to be a blessing to one another.

We’re reminded that we need to be in-the-moment relationship builders. Constantly making connections and being a part of people’s lives. Conversations need to be the end goal, listening and learning about people for their own sake. It becomes about building relationships and seeing where they go. That through relationships with one another, we create a strong and vital bond to weather the pain and tragedies of life, or, as Ellie points out, “there’s no more brilliant light than that which follows complete darkness.”

“When you can go either way, but you choose to do the right thing, there’s nothing more gratifying.” –Elly

Marc Erlbaum who is local to the area wrote the screenplay at West Philly’s Green Line Cafe (which is used for external shots). Writers, “noticing things that other people ignore,” are professional observers, trying to make life meaningful. Or at least poetic. If Donnie Darko had come from a spiritual bent rather than a science fiction one, it would have been Café. Or this is what the book The Shack might look like if it were made into a movie. Either way, it’s one of those movies where you get so wrapped up in it, you just hope it ends well so the experience can be fully rewarded. And while not having a perfect ending, Café is small (intimate the way independent movies can feel), filled with mystery, whimsy, and magic.

The Yankles – A Review

“The Bad News Jews?”

It was either that or a variation on A League of Their Own, the other movie The Yankles gets its inspiration from.  Charlie Jones (Brian Wimmer) is “the boozer who botched the ball,” having dropped the catch that would have sent his team, the Los Angeles Spirits, to the World Series.  After his third drunk driving conviction, he’s released from prison needing to do 192 hours of community service.  A group of Orthodox, Jewish yeshiva students have formed a baseball team called The Yankles.  They’re the only ones willing to give him a second chance.  “They” being the brother of Charlie’s former girlfriend, Elliot (Michael Buster) who once had a promising baseball career until he opted to join the yeshiva.  Much to the chagrin of his father (Don Most, Happy Days), with whom he has a strained relationship.

“I understand what drew him to it in the first place.  Community, history, spirituality.” –Deborah (Susanne Sutchy)

Easily a half hour too long, the movie especially takes too long to get going.  Thin on laughs and heavy on sentiment, The Yankles attempts to wring laughs out of the cultural differences, but “look how Jewish we are, but respect the culture” doesn’t translate into a lot of guffaws.  The Rebbe (Jesse Bennett) imbues every conversation, character, and aspect of the game with meaning, so much so that it stifles whatever natural laughs might accidently bubble up.  He teaches us the lessons rather than letting Charlie and Elliot naturally learn them.

“A good book is always a blessing.” –The Rebbe

At its heart, The Yankles is about the journey of redemption of Charlie.  Redemption is the story of God’s mission to restore. God unfolds His relational Word, in conversation, in Laws, in history, and, ultimately, in Christ. He seeks to rescue His people and usher in His kingdom, a new way of living.

“Some of us are happy right where we are.” –Frankie Dubs

It’s easy for us to get stuck in patterns of self-destruction, believing ourselves to be so broken as to be beyond redemption.  The thing is, brokenness can be redeemed. Real love risks and offers redemption and when loved well, we’re taught about God. In all of our brokenness and (self-) deception, in all of our brokenness and desperation, we can come before the Lord and be fully accepted. The Holy Spirit wants us to dine on truth.  That we’re an image bearer of God, a beautiful creation.  Yes, we’re sinners, but there’s conviction, repentance, and redemption from that.  And freedom.  Freedom from the chains of our addictions, our self-loathing, our self-protection, our “ugliness”.  We’re loved as we are for who we are.  We need to set aside the lies we’ve come to believe about ourselves (or that have been programmed into us by others)

Being fully human means to participate in the story, embracing all aspects of life, but living with the goal of loving everyone and everything with holiness and imagination. It should impact how we work, how we play, and how we relate to one another; finding our redemptive mission in continuing the work He began to reconcile all of creation to Him.

“The slightest act can have the greatest of consequences.” –The Rebbe

If we DO, it should be from the overflow of what Christ has done for you. If we DO, it should be us working out what it means to join in God’s mission to reconcile the world back to Him. If we DO, it should be from the wellspring of love. There’s no searching for redemption in our acts of service. There is only thinking of others as more important that yourself and serving them.

“We can be like that again.” –Charlie

Where The Yankles trips up is when the movie decides it’s more important for it to drive its lessons home than let the story unfold.  It struggles to find its sense of rhythm, often not knowing which character to follow, following various characters in a scattershot fashion.  Filmmakers David R. Brooks (Director and co-writer) – together with Zev Brooks (co-writer and co-producer) deliver an earnest movie, heavy on the sweetness though not entirely without its charm.

The Space Between – A Review

I’m in an interracial marriage.  One of the things that struck my wife was how different the world looked and treated us once we were married.  Suddenly she experienced and saw prejudice, where before our stories were joined, she had the option to not see it, much less be the object of it.  The coming together of two very stories and the journey they go on is the theme of The Space Between.

Melissa Leo (Conviction, Homicide:  Life on the Streets) plays Montine McLeod, a hard-drinking flight attendant carrying around a lot of pain and existing on the edge of burnout.  A ten year old Pakistani-American boy, Omar Hassan (newcomer, Anthony Keyvan) tests as a genius and is offered a full scholarship to a special school in Los Angeles and has to fly from his New York City home to there … on the morning of September 11th, 2001.  When the plane they are traveling on is grounded in Texas, Montine chooses to drive him cross country to return home.

The movie sets itself on the strong shoulders of Melissa Leo.  She has a lot of material to work with, between the tragedies she carries around with her, the drinking, her dissatisfaction with her job, and her own mother dying.  Anthony Keyvan isn’t asked to do too much and his performance isn’t especially nuanced.  Then again, his role doesn’t exactly allow for much other than for him to be an oddly distant good boy who stands in for everyone to look at as “The Other.”  Their road trip is fairly standard, as is the thawing of their relationship, but it’s as if writer/director Travis Fine didn’t trust his audience to not get his message.  So the emotional resonance the movie strives to evoke plays out almost as manipulation.

“See, we’re stuck together whether we like it or not.” –Montine

Reminiscent of the movie Crash, the movie points to two things: reality is relationships and we live lives of overlapping stories. If this movie is about anything, it is about how prejudice keeps us from seeing the people around us as they are.  At some point, we, as a people, “lost our frame of reference.” Our lost frame of reference, our fallen-ness, has led to broken relationships and a downward spiral of anger, fear, eventuating in death.  As Billy explains “some people think that God created the earth and everything that happens after that is just chance.  Others would say that things happen because of man’s free will.  Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes we make bad choices.  But I think there’s some mystery to it cause there’s some things that happen in this world that we just can’t fully understand.”

“Sometimes things happen in life that are painful to deal with.” –Montine

We live in a multi-cultural world, whether we want to call it a melting pot, tossed salad, or whatever new paradigm we choose to live under. We don’t often get the humiliation of going through life always being treated as a suspect, guilty until proven innocent. We don’t often get the humiliation of casual victimization. We don’t often get how our reactions to those constant humiliations fuel our anger and further hatred leading to tragic consequences or can even lead to a binding moment of shared commonality.  A journey of shared pain.

When people no longer tell or listen to others’ stories, they become locked in their provincial mindset, cultural ghettos of their own making. In fact, when people become so removed from another’s story, they become compelled to destroy those (other’s) stories for they suggest other ways of living. Their stories become a threat.  What we can’t afford to do is let one story keep us from participating in other stories.

“Some of the most important moments in your life happen when you’re not even looking.” –Montine

The Space Between is a quiet character study of great depth and treads in the waters of powerful emotions.  Though it’s not flawless and sometimes a little heavy handed;  its soundtrack alone is like being beat with a message stick.  Even if that wasn’t the case, the movie would likely find some resistance if only because the material is so on point.

It’s difficult for people who live within one story to relate to the lives of those in another and it requires work to be a part of one another’s story.  For some, the events of September 11th are still too fresh to think about.  Those of us not in New York may never fully understand the trauma and nightmare of those events and don’t have to live with those scars or memories.  But anyone who has had their sense of safety and security shattered can relate, as we’re all thrown together by pain and tragedy.

Legend of the Guardian: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – A Review

“Fellowship of the Owls”

Considering how much CGI he used in 300 and Watchmen, it seemed only a matter of time before Zack Snyder directed a fully animated film.  Based on the The Guardians of Ga’Hoole books by Kathryn Lasky, he turns out a dark fantasy film reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings that is a truly stunning work.  The film follows Soren (Jim Sturgess), the hobbit, uh, a young owl who grew up listening to his father’s stories about the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a mythic band of winged warriors who had fought a great battle to save all of owlkind from the evil Pure Ones. While he internalized the folk tales with the secret hope of one day joining the Guardians, his older brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), rejects the idea.

Like the Biblical brother, Jacob and Esau, the brothers vie for their father’s favor, with Kludd’s jealousy leading them to a great fall from their treetop home to be carried off by the Pure Ones.  The Pure Ones in Mordor, uh, seek amass enough flecks to do great harm to the Guardians.  Soren escapes with the help of other owls, forming a fellowship as they soar across the sea in hopes of finding the Great Tree, home of the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole.  Only with their help does he stand any hope of defeating the Pure Ones and saving the owlkind.

“Stories are part of our culture and history.” –Noctus (Hugo Weaving)

The fundamental journey of the hero, as described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), contains a number of stages, which includes: 1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline; 2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails; 3. Achieving the goal or “boon”, which often results in important self-knowledge; 4. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail; 5. Applying the boon, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world.  Whether beginning (Mage: The Hero Discovered) or ending their journey (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), heroes share many traits: noble, trustworthy, loyal, just, and good.  Put another way, the essential story, the monomyth, echoes the story of Christ.

“We are for power and purpose.” –Nyra (Helen Mirren)

In the state of their world, the owls had fallen. Those held captive by the Pure Ones were moon blinked:  they bought into a lie (that they were orphans) and forgot who they were, to the point where they were slaves.  Pure Ones abhor weakness, all about empire and their twisted sense of values as they have bought into their system of empire and oppression:  the strong triumph, the broken should be put out of their misery, and honor is another word for weak.  Soren chose a different path.

“Words were the only proof I had that you were real.  And that didn’t stop me from believing.” –Soren

Motivated by the conviction of things not seen (the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1), Soren’s journey began as all of ours do, with discipleship. The journey is all about wrestling with our faith and choosing what we want to believe as we attempt to become who we were meant to become. Learning how to “trust your gizzard”.  The stories shape and form him in that he made the stories real through his faith and his life’s journey.

“I just want them to be prepared.” –Noctus

Discipleship is not instant but rather it was basically apprenticeship. The goal of the student is to become as much like the teacher as possible, as discipler and disciple are on a journey together to learn how to fly.  Discipleship would involve a changed in three areas: belief (as we turn to our Master-Teacher), behavior (our lives become slowly transformed, centering our lives around living out the kingdom mission; putting feet–action–to our faith and knowledge), and belonging (we join a specific faith community), in Soren’s case, to the Great Tree as a Guardian.  The guardians’ mission, in clear opposition to that of the Pure Ones, is to make strong the weak, mend the broken, and vanquish the evil.

Legend of the Guardian:  The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a truly marvelous film.  The animation was lush and Snyder brings his eye for cinematic action to the battle scenes.  Some of the battles may be intense for young ones who may be confused and thinking they are seeing Alpha and Omega or some other lighter fare.  This is not that kind of animated film.  It is dark, it is thrilling, it has great fight sequences, and it has depth (both cinematic and in its storytelling).  In short, to quote Ezylryb (Geoffrey Rush),“That was exemplary, but we’re not finished yet, boy.”

Chasing 3000 – A Review

I was never much of a sports fan. The idea of watching grown men paid exorbitant amounts of money to play kids games never really appealed to me.  While at work, I found myself listening to a lot of talk radio and Tony Kornheiser hit my radar.  I found him quite entertaining and got to know the stories and soon found myself following the storylines of sports rather than rooting for teams specifically.  For some people, the game—baseball especially—has memories attached to it.  There is a human connection which has the power to move and bond people.  That is the idea explored in Chasing 3000.

The movie follows the story of two brothers, Mickey and Roger, obviously iconic names in the game of baseball, recalling Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.  Told in flashback as an older Mickey (Ray Liotta) recalls the love that he and his brother share of Roberto Clemente and why it is so important that his family make it to a very important game.  His younger brother, Roger (Rory Culkin) has Muscular Dystrophy, the stress of which causes their father to abandon them.  The family has to move from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles for Roger’s health.  Mickey has trouble adjusting to his new situation and decides that purpose can be found in seeing Clement hit #3000.  So the two decide to drive cross country.

Chasing 3000 is essentially a road movie/buddy pic with brothers trying to find their way home.  Unfortunately, the movie is as subtle as the names of their characters.  In fact, it’s a character study with not particularly interesting characters.  Roger, especially, needed more material to work with as the movie only scratched the surface with him and their relationship.

“Never underestimate the love of a mother.  Or a brother.” –Mickey

There are a couple of themes crossing in the movie:  what it’s like to have the love of a brother as well as the anguish of a mother helpless to spare her sons pain.  The main underlying theme, however, is the power of the game to touch and unite people.  And the power of story to pull family together and find healing .  The brothers want to be a part of the story and history.  They read Roberto Clemente’s bio as if it were Scripture, learning from his life and teachings as the book “gets better with each read”.

“We loved the game.  So much so that someone got into a fight nearly every day over it.” –Mickey

No matter how bad things got in his life, Mickey had the game.  Baseball is one of the few games where numbers reign.  Averages and records, RBIs, ERAs, strikeouts, streaks, true adherents can cite the magical numbers off the top of their heads.    Yet Mickey has a FAITH in the game, he feels connected to a greater story.  That’s the true heart of a fan.  It can’t just be found in a box score or stats, his belief is more than just a set of facts.

“Got to use your heart, not your head.” –Mickey

Faith is an intuitive leap to what you choose to believe and how you choose to process the world around you. Any choice of a worldview requires a leap of faith, to believe that your worldview is the “right” one. I believe quest/knowledge journeys begin with a leap of faith, that is, what we choose to put our trust in. For some, it is ourselves (the individual or humanity). For some, it is science (the determination of our senses). For some, it is the spiritual (under the assumption that there is more to this life than presented, both in terms of the spiritual and in terms of after this life). To quote from the blog of my friend, Rich Vincent:

“Christianity does not consist in a series of verifiable and interlocking hypotheses. Nor is it a philosophical system consisting in satisfactory, mutually consistent propositions… the way that truth is sought and engaged with is not through detachment but through a living relationship of faith and love with the object we seek”. The Christian seeks more than “objective truth,” facts, or information. “The goal is not to find information, or even to discern fact, but to bring ourselves, as living subjects, into engagement with reality, culminating ultimately in a participation in the ground of what is real”.

Facts can only take us so far.  Faith imbues facts with meaning, or, better said, it’s hard to get to the truth of faith through objectivity. Sometimes faith means that we have to come to the conclusion that we don’t have many things figured out. That we have to learn to get comfortable with that and the idea of mystery (read: the great “I don’t know”).  And when those facts come into question and the game has the cloud of taint, his faith allows him to still believe in the ideal of the game.  Sometimes it gets harder and harder and faith is tested, but the mission perseveres.

Inspired by a real story, Chasing 3000 scores a little too high on the schmaltz meter.  Characters are nearly reduced to tears at the mention of the name Roberto Clemente (who died in a plane crash on his way to deliver relief aid to Nicaraguan earthquake survivors in 1972 soon after he reached 3000).  The movie dragged and featured trite dialogue.  You keep waiting for the movie to take off or to delve deeper and it never quite does.

Alpha and Omega – A Review

With Hollywood’s recent obsession with slapping 3-D onto everything, we’re past the point of saying that converting any old 2-D movie cheapens the 3-D experience.  It’s already been reduced to little more than a marketing tool.  We still need a crop of movies willing to take the technology, or rather, movie makers willing to use the technology, to regularly add the kind of sense of depth putting the audience more “in” the movie rather than have stuff fly “out” at an audience.  Otherwise, whatever power and promise that came from James Cameron’s Avatar will be relegated to quick cash grabs, a cheap ploy to wring dollars from the most mediocre of movies.   Case in point, Alpha and Omega.

In Jasper Park (Canada) two packs of wolves have one valley to live in.  Each pack has two classes among them:  Alphas (hunters/leaders) and Omegas (fun loving jokesters).  Kate (Hayden Panettiere), the daughter of leader and heir apparent to leadership has her duty to unite the pack bys marrying her counterpart among the eastern pack, Garth (Chris Carmack).  Garth, an otherwise strong, proud, an alpha’s alpha, is prone to howling dysfunction.  Complicating this scenario is Humphrey (Justin Long), an Omega from Kate’s western pack who is desperately in love with Kate.  He and his merry band of Omegas are the main comic relief trying to sustain the movie.  These star-crossed wolves inadvertently get relocated to Idaho and have to get back to Jasper before the whole East Coast/West Coast tensions erupt into something bloody.

Alpha and Omega
didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be.  While it may aim to be this generation’s Lady and the Tramp, it is a jumbled mess which feels likes it drags on well past its fairly short running time.

“All I ask was for you to follow the customs.” –Tony

All of the parents keep citing the “law of the pack” as their raison d’etre for everything.  Their goal to unite the pack might be forced to work under the law, however, it seemed more that they were trapped by the rules that define the pack and needed a new covenant, a new paradigm or way of looking at things.

The Bible is one story with two covenants. The Old Testament (Covenant) was the story of God saving the world through a specific people, the story of the nation of Israel. In Christ, we have the fulfillment of the story. The New Testament (Covenant) was the climax and conclusion, if you will, to that story. Jesus fulfills the story–without undermining the necessity and vitality of the Old Testament–bringing the story to its ultimate end. We are all adopted/grafted into the story of Israel. So what we have is essentially two acts of the same story.

“I am a stickler for tradition, but this one I don’t understand.” –Paddy (Eric Price)

While her father, Winston (Danny Glover) represented the law, through Kate, a child of destiny, a sacrifice on her part is required to unite the pack.  She ends up wounded for their transgressions, which allows them to form a new pack, adopting in all kinds.  The Mosaic laws were about defining a people, a nation. That was their point and their focus. In Christ, we have freedom and equality from class structures.

“Remind us all to have fun.” –Winston

Though earnest, Alpha and Omega has a forced sense of fun and uses a juvenile crassness to cover his flaws.  It’s dull, without any interesting characters or anything approaching very crisp dialogue.  This not compelling, not funny, ode to mediocrity ends up being a more lackluster Barnyard than an attempt at a How to Train Your Dragon.  Filmmakers need to remember that, like any bandwagon or trend, too many bad examples of movies in 3D can kill the industry.

Inception – A Review

“Welcome Home”

The first time I tried to watch the movie Memento, it was late at night, I made it ten minutes into the movie, and I realized that I wasn’t awake enough to take it in.  The second time I watched the movie and loved it, though it took me a day to fully appreciate it as I chewed on it for quite a while.  The third time I watched the movie with a group of friends.  When the movie was done, the room was pin drop silent … until a lone voice piped up with “can someone explain to me what just happened?”

Inception is a high concept science fiction Memento with a $200M dollar budget.

Writer and director Christopher Nolan once again chooses to cleanse his creative palate, following up his latest entry in the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight, with a movie of considerable originality and sophistication.  Always a risky gamble in today’s Hollywood, especially when employing stars not as guaranteed to generate box office as they used to be.

At its heart, Inception is essentially a heist picture.  In this case, it’s corporate espionage led by Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), an “extractor” paid to invade people’s dreams in order to steal the ultimate intellectual properties:  their top-secret ideas. Cobb, being the best in his field, finds his job increasingly difficult as his is haunted by the memory of his late wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who tends to pop up at the least convenient moments to shatter the dreamscape con jobs he has going on.

Because there’s “always one more job” in a heist movie, the actual plot of the movie involves wealthy businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), hiring Cobb and his crew to plant an idea rather than steal one—thus the title “inception”—that will lead to the break of his soon to be rival, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy).

The movie isn’t flawless.  Because of the cerebral demands the movie places on the viewer, it spends nearly the first hour explaining the rules of the movie.  Because they have to explain what you’re going to see and the dialogue moves like stilted exposition.  Everything from how the dream sharing technology was originally designed for military application to how the more you change things, the more the mind (subconscious) converges on you to “dream time” vs “real time”.  Between the dreams within dream scenario and nested storylines, there is a lot to keep track of in this movie (at one point, four parallel stories).  The thing about fully imagined worlds is that they better pay off:  rules have to be applied consistently and logically dictate what has to happen. To be fair, you need the thorough grounding to navigate this world.

“You keep telling yourself what you know, but what do you believe?” –Mal

Inception explores a common theme of many of Christopher Nolan movies from The Prestige to Memento, the question of “What is real?”.  That there is a truth, an objectivity, and we want/need to get back to it.  Like most of Nolan’s movies, Inception is ultimately a character study following Cobb’s journey of guilt and letting go.

“I’ve come back for you to remind you of something you once knew.  That this world is not real … to take a leap of faith.”

There is an ever present danger for the characters that create and enter dreams:  once they experience it, reality won’t be enough for them.  It becomes easy to lose ones grasp on what’s real and what’s a dream.  And there is a great desire to want to live inside of the dream, a false self or sense of reality.  The characters can sense that things aren’t as they should be, that creation, the world around them and the people that inhabit it, aren’t as they should be. That they were created to be something else, yet somewhere along the line, things had gone awry.  They even carry small totems to help ground them in reality.  It’s little different than our situation.

“Do you want to take a leap of faith or become an old man filled with regret?” –Saito

An idea is like a virus, resilient and infectious.  A bad idea entered us:  to be our own dreams and dream makers; to build a world for ourselves.   Transformed us, our way of life, our way of prioritizing what is important, our ways of thinking and going about life.  The dream may change everything about them, become viral, spreads, invading our very systems, imbued into the very fabric of our social structures.  Nothing around us remained untouched by it.  Like Mal, we become locked in a dream, become stuck; locked in regrets, knowing that things need to change, but not knowing how.  Trapped, unable to change “that moment” (whatever regret that is), locking ourselves in prisons.  Lost, not knowing what’s real, yet thinking we’re certain.  Until all we’re left with is rage, fear, and insatiable desire seeking to be quenched which only eventuates in a spiral of death.

“I think I found a way home.” –Cobb

There is a hope for a cure for that way of life.  Truth is that idea that caused you to question.  A truth, like Mal, we’d once known but chose to forget.  Dreams always need an architect, someone who designs the dream.  Christ is the Liberator with a mission of liberation, to free us from the bonds of this world and its systems.  Possessed by one simple idea that changed everything, the good news is about accepting freedom and finding your true self.  Getting back to the real reality, it took forgiveness, embracing the freedom of leaving guilt and shame behind, before redemption could be found.  It was the only way Cobb could finally find his way home.

“We all yearn for reconciliation.” –Cobb

An ambitious, surreal thriller, Inception is loaded so full of ideas and dizzying special effects that it is a cinematic achievement of rare breed.  Filmed in so many different countries, it may remind some of a Bond movie (especially one particular ski sequence).  Though there are moments that could spark some “ending of Total Recall”-type arguments, Nolan doesn’t abandon his viewers and keeps it from descending into a heady mess.  The top-notch cast brings their A-game, making the movie both technically brilliant and emotionally human.  In short, Inception equals wow.  And your brain may hurt for a while afterwards.