12 YEARS A SLAVE: Absolutely Essential

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How long can a movie stick with you?  Some popcorn flicks are so forgettable; they fade before the credits end.   Such temporary respites barely hold boredom at bay.  The best films may carry over to Monday morning and become worthy of a water cooler conversation.   In the month since I saw 12 Years a Slave, I have thought about it every single day.  No particular social cues resurrected the torture, terror, and exploitation of others found in 12 Years.   But the extended scenes of suffering are … [Read more...]

THE SPECIAL EFFECT OF SHORT TERM 12

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It has been a strong season for independent film, from the Southern gothic MUD to the inner city tale, FRUITVALE, and the nostalgic comedy, THE WAY WAY BACK.   The freshest, funniest, and most original film of the summer slips into theaters as students head back to school.   SHORT TERM 12 captures the angst of adolescence in raw, riveting and revelatory ways.   It focuses upon teenagers who are neglected and overlooked, offering them the dignity they richly deserve.  Brie Larson stars as Grac … [Read more...]

FRUITVALE STATION: Oscar, Trayvon, and Us

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There has been plenty of heat generated by the jury’s verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.   I have read so many heartfelt responses and blog posts in an effort to understand what transpired.   Some have been more helpful and insightful than others.   With the Florida jurors now chiming in, Trayvon Martin’s shortened life may be buried under the rush for television ratings.   That is why Fruitvale Station is such a timely and important movie.   It allows us to step into the shoes of another you … [Read more...]

Making Hay in the Man of Steel’s Cornfields

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 Some loved the reimagining of the Superman story in Man of Steel.   Others were not impressed by the wall-to-wall action that culminates in an uncharacteristic act by Kal-El.  Millions of fanboys and fangirls are definitely discussing it online.   I contributed to the heat surrounding the marketing of Man of Steel to the Christian community by penning sermon notes available at ManofSteelResources.com.   Eric Marrapodi at CNN’s “BeliefBlog” noted how pastors have both embraced and reje … [Read more...]

FROM TAKING TO RECEIVING: EYES OF THE HEART ALTERS OUR PERCEPTION OF PHOTOGRAPHY

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We don’t spend much time thinking about the nature of photography.   What is it we are trying to capture in a single frame?   How does the presence of the camera on our smart phones potentially undermine a beautiful moment?  I’ve often found myself so caught up in trying to document one of my children’s events (a school play, a music performance, a championship game) that I miss the experience itself.   How might we approach photography to enhance our sense of presence rather than as a barrier or … [Read more...]

MUD: McConaughey on the Mississippi is an instant classic

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Searching for a movie full of heart and soul?   Mud is a scrappy bit of Americana, hewn from the banks of the Mississippi River.   Filmmaker Jeff Nichols taps into his Arkansas roots to craft an instant classic, like Tom Sawyer, circa 2013.    But Mud isn’t just a sentimental glance back to life on the Mississippi.   It is a heartfelt paean to the power of love amidst trying circumstances.   The crippling effects of poverty may threaten families and undermine stability, but the desire to build a … [Read more...]

Greatest Graduation Speech of our Era? DFW’s This is Water.

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As a college professor, I have endured sooooo many graduation speeches.    It is a tough assignment, speaking to graduates who simply want to march across the stage.   The clock is ticking against graduation speakers before they even begin.   How to capture the attention of grads who veer between naivete and cynicism?   Steve Jobs delivered an inspiring salvo at Stanford. Speakers must resist the temptation to put forth empty platitudes.   The grads may respond to cynical humor that matches their … [Read more...]

Health for Hoarders (like me): Jeff Shinabarger’s More or Less

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  My closet is loaded with clothes.   My garage is full of boxes.   Even my inbox is crammed with correspondence.   I am surrounded by so much stuff.    Jeff Shinabarger’s perceptive book, More or Less, was written for people like me.   We may call ourselves “collectors” or “enthusiasts” or simply someone who has stocked up on a few items in case a disaster strikes.    We may not want to hoard and store up, but the sheer volume of things we acquire over the years can threaten to overwhelm us.   … [Read more...]

EYES TO SEE: TO THE WONDER

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To the Wonder aspires to nothing less than showing us Absolute Reality in the face of brokenness.  It is a sun kissed paean to the power of love that unfolds at a maddening pace.   Director Terrence Malick has made a ballet, a symphony, a kaleidoscope that harkens back to the glory and simplicity of silent film.   Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki captures luminescent moments.  Five editors (!) were called upon to craft the free flowing improvisation into musical passages.   It is cinematic sympho … [Read more...]

APPRECIATING EBERT: IN SEARCH OF TRANSCENDENCE

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On the occasion of Roger Ebert’s funeral, I pause to offer two days of appreciation.   My movie love preceded “Siskel & Ebert At the Movies,” but not by much.   For my generation of film fans, they were the key critics at the right moment.    Their weekly, televised reviews arrived in the eighties at the same time that so many classic movies arrived on home video.   What had previously been the province of film societies suddenly opened up to a much broader audience.   Gene Siskel and Roger E … [Read more...]

THE VIKINGS VS. THE BIBLE

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The History Channel has an epic new mini-series premiering this Sunday night.  I saw a huge, four-page fold out ad for it in this month’s Wired (right behind the cool Star Wars cover).    Billboards along Sunset Boulevard declare “The Storm is Coming” with the airdate, “3.3.13”.   The Los Angeles Times Calendar has a front-page story and photo on it today.   A reviewer at io9 raved that “it’s like Game of Thrones without the nudity.” All this buzz is being directed at a show about Vikings.   Not … [Read more...]


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