Why I am a Christian

I am a Christian because evil exists.

It exists within me and outside of me. It is the air I breathe and the air I exhale.

I am a Christian because I long for good, for beauty, for truth.

I breathe out evil and breathe in evil and still I know I was not created for evil.

I sit like a mutated frog in my bog, my swamp, my putrid sewer but look up and glimpse a star, and long for that star.

I am a Christian because I have discovered that I have no power within myself to help myself.

I came to the end of myself and found myself was not enough. I needed help from the outside. I needed help from something stonger than myself.

And when I called, Help answered.

The Star came, the Star rained down, the Star invaded the bog, breathing life where I only breathed evil.

I am a Christian because Beauty, Truth and Goodness are real things.

Because I was not created to sit in a putrid swamp but to enjoy a nuptial feast as a beloved bride.

Because my Bridegroom lives, I am a Christian.

The Discovery of What?

My friend was dropping his son off at their small, Christian school and could tell the boy was troubled. The eleven-year-old is an earnest, hard-working, eager to please child. Some may say too eager to please. A little too desperate to be perfect, perhaps.

So when he didn’t want to go to school, that was a big red flag.

After some gentle questioning, the boy said he was having trouble with his science small group. He was the leader, you see. The responsibility rested on his shoulders, you see. And he was proud of that and took that seriously, you see.

So what’s the problem? The dad asked.

“There’s a kid who keeps laughing. He won’t take it seriously.”

“What makes him laugh?”

“I don’t know. That’s just it. We’ll be working and he’ll suddenly start laughing. And he won’t stop.”

“Is he showing off for a girl?”

“No,” said the boy, his brow furrowed with worry.

“Is he goofing off with a friend?”

“No,” said the boy.

“Is he making fun of someone?”

“No, I don’t think so,” said the boy, sighing with resignation, “He just starts laughing and won’t stop.”

So the father gave him a few words of encouragement and wisdom, hoped for the best and nudged him out the door. It didn’t seem to work. The boy’s shoulders were stooped with discouragement. Through the open car window, he called to his son, “Hey! What’s the name of the project?”

In complete frustration and yet total innocence, the boy called back, “The Discovery of Uranus.”

Review: Dreary ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ Makes Case for Dying Young

Most of my life, I’ve looked forward to growing old. It seems like it could be a kick, what with wearing clothes that shock the neighbors, developing unreasonable and unyielding demands, and devising new ways to irritate and embarrass my children.

A good time, all around.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film opening today, changed all that.

Billed as a quirky and whimsical comedy about growing old, it is so dull and unaware of its own messages that it passes being not funny and becomes downright depressing.

Suddenly, dying young doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

The problem isn’t with the setup, at least in theory. Beset by financial woes, seven British retirees agree to “outsource aging” and move to a luxury hotel in vibrant India. The brain child of Sonny (a charming Dev Patel), the idea is that since industrious and creative Indians have taken on all the jobs Westerners no longer want to do, why not add caring for the elderly to the list?

It’s a classic fish out of water setup, flashing with vibrant saris and the aroma of spicy food.

Mrs. Greenslade (all the residents speak to each other using surnames, being British and all) has just lost her husband, only to discover that he left her no money and a pile of unresolved debts. She is played by the sublime Judi Dench. Maggie Smith plays Ms. Donnelly, a downright racist woman who plans to return to England posthaste as soon as those yucky Indian doctors replace her hip on the cheap.

The troop is rounded out by a retired judge (Tom Wilkinson), an unhappily married couple (Billy Nighy and Penelope Wilton) and a matched set of a lascivious playboy (Ronald Pickup) and gold-digging playgirl (Celia Imrie), who respect each other’s tactics but are not a couple.

The problem also is not with the lead Judi Dench. At 77, she has a fantastic assortment of wrinkles and more than a little thickness in the waist. Yet, with her big, blue eyes and expressive manner, she fills up the screen better than girls half – scratch that – a quarter of her age. I could watch her all day.

The British fish in Indian waters story is supposed to be whimsical and adventurous, but the decampment of elderly people to a whole new land never rises above mildly unsettling. Some of the characters have grown children, some do not, but in teeming India they are wholly alone. At least the aged Indians squatting in huts have family and friends who care if they live or die.

Ms. Donnelly, for instance, has a moment of unintended tragedy when she goes to the hospital, alone, to have surgery. She’s cared for, but there’s no one pacing the waiting room. After recovering, she returns to the hotel, alone. She is a woman with the entire Indian population to potentially serve her but not a single person to love her.

It’s not supposed to be heartrending, but it is. The very idea of having surgery without one caring friend or family member fluttering around to bring flowers, to harass the doctors, or to lie about how well I’m looking fills my heart with dread.

So much for magic and adventure. The film makes the case that one’s own flat with a nice cup of tea and a dear friend or two is worth more than the entire world, although it was trying to make the opposite case.

The second troubling ethos of the movie is the idea that these Baby Boomers, in their 60s and 70s, are still trying to find themselves. As the movie progresses, one gay character comes to terms with a romance of his youth and others come to terms with their failed relationships. Everybody embraces change and new frontiers. It’s supposed to be sweet, but it made me wonder how miserable their lives must have been for the last 50 years. All those decades were just wasted time?

Seriously, shoot me if I reach 70 and still am looking to find myself.

News flash for Boomers: You have already found yourself. Whatever you are, that is you. If you’ve embraced duty or shirked it, found love or avoided it, sacrificed for children or failed them, chased worthwhile passions or empty ones, that is you.

The end of life is for basking in the glow of a life well lived or atoning for failures – or probably for most of us – some combination of the two.

Listening to those seniors babbling on about new beginnings and psychoanalyzing themselves made me impatient with their selfishness. These characters are still very much the Me Generation, absorbed in contemplating the lint in their own navels.

At least one character, one you’d least expect,  connects with another human being in a real way and finds a way to make herself useful to humanity in the time she has left.

She can come back to the West. The rest of the lot, they can just stay in India. Good riddance.

Rated PG-13 for (implied and discussed) sexuality and language.

Review: ‘Avengers’ is Very, Very Good but Not Great

Months from now, when we’re bloated and gorged with yet another explosive summer blockbuster, we’ll look back on early May as a more innocent time, a time when a movie like Marvel’s The Avengers brought out the best in America, when children looked forward to the opening with anticipation, when fanboys raved on message boards, when critics lauded it to the skies.

In early May, after enduring the oh-so-serious Oscar season and doldrums of late winter movie duds, we’re all in need of a good bump, a superhero hit to get us through until Summer Movie Season officially begins.

And thus, along came Avengers, a movie perfectly calibrated for May 4, when it opens, one that would cause much less of a splash in July. It’s a fast-paced, high-octane funride with plenty of special effects, wit, and meaning to keep viewers glued to their seats, but not enough to earn a spot in the Superhero Movie Hall of Fame.

Call it a B+ effort.

Built on the foundation of years of superhero movies telling backstories of everyone from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Captain America (Chris Evans), this movie has been hotly anticipated.

It seems unlikely that a millionaire playboy (Downey), a Norse god (Hemsworth), and a superenhanced World War II hero (Evans) would team up with a spy named Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), and a green rage monster and/or scientist (Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk).

What do they really have in common? Besides being Marvel characters, I mean?

The first half of the movie plays quite well with this concept. The Captain doesn’t like Iron Man’s breezy, cynical witticisms. In his day, people didn’t make light of sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy. For his part, Iron Man doesn’t much care for Mr. I’m-A-God-And-Your-Puny-Being-Can’t-Even-Fathom-What-That-Means.

Plus, Thor talks funny, like Shakespeare in the Park.

It all works together for the good of the audience. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Thor and Iron Man in a knock-down, drag-out fight.

It’s positively seismic.

This is something I’ve never understood about superhero teams. I mean, they’re all pretty much undefeatable, including the villain, Thor’s Norse demigod black sheep of a brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

When undefeatable people fight, you get a lot of people throwing other people through buildings, hitting each other over the head with airplanes, dropping each other from unimaginable heights. That kind of stuff.

It seems like a lot of effort when the other guy just shakes it off.

A game of chess would have about the same level of determining a result.

The slamming, throwing, and smashing is more fun to watch than chess, though.

There is that.

Anyway, when Loki threatens to open a portal to another world in order to import his nasty, skeletal army to take over earth, the kids with special powers have to work together. Led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and joined at times by arrow-wielding Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), they zip off to save New York from the possible invasion.

Which, of course, means they must destroy large portions of it in highly entertaining ways.

The film starts strong, too, with grand themes that make superhero movies so epic. Loki wants to rule earth for the glory of it and because it is his right. Forcing the populace to kneel before him, he tells them subservience is better, easier, more right for them, than freedom. Humanity only wants, no needs, to be told what to do.

This happens in Germany and there is a sublime moment when an elderly German man stands up, refusing to kneel and risking his life to do so. There’s an even more sublime moment when Captain America comes in and breaks up Loki’s little party.

It’s the U, S, of A, friends. Freedom is what we do.

At another point, Captain America wonders if the stars and stripes aren’t a little “old fashioned.” After all, isn’t a team of self-sacrificing heroes a little “old fashioned” in itself, someone else wonders.

The answer comes: Maybe in hard times, people might just need a little “old-fashioned.”

As the movie progresses, however, these grand ideas are generally abandoned. The citizens of earth neither stand nor kneel. Mostly, they run from explosions and huddle in stunned terror. As things march to their conclusion, we never quite get that beat that says freedom is the right of humanity and humans will not give it up.

That would have catapulted this very good movie into the realm of excellence.

As it stands, this is a fantastic movie to enjoy with kids, family, friends, heck, even strangers. Rated PG-13, it is squeaky clean. The most drastic language is “damn,” and that’s rare. There is one fleeting reference to marijuana from Iron Man (he’s incorrigible!) The women wear tight suits, but focus on kicking, fighting, and punching rather than vamping it up. There is no sexual, or even romantic, content. This movie is fine for the whole family, for any child old enough to endure fast-paced (but not gory) action.

I guess we’ll have to wait for The Dark Knight Rises for more insight into the human condition.

Navy SEALS from Act of Valor: We Feel Hollywood Misrepresents Us

How do real soldiers feel about the ways they’re represented by Hollywood?

Not so great, as it turns out.

“They felt that Hollywood misrepresented their community for so long that it would be great to get their story authentically told,” explained director Mike “Mouse” McCoy.

With Scott Waugh,  McCoy directs of “Act of Valor,” a film highlighting real Navy SEALS in their work tactics and code of honor. The movie follows a SEAL team as they rescue a covert agent and move to prevent the global terrorist plot she unearthed. Part action film, part warrior manifesto, it is an account from our armed forces on why they do what they do.

The two directors were no strangers to machismo. With long careers as stunt men in Hollywood and projects covering the world of motorcycle racing and surfing, they naturally seek out stories of strong men.

But when they started down the road that led to “Act of Valor,” they were unprepared for the caliber of men they met in the United States Navy SEALS, men who offered a glimpse of the reality behind the Hollywood myths.

“That was what hit us right between the eyes when we met with them,” added Waugh.

“What we were going in with was the Hollywood representation of the commando guy, some screwed up Rambo terminator guy. We met these men who were so humble and quiet, but so extremely intelligent, intellectual, down to earth. They were just so different than how they’d been portrayed it almost felt like a crime,” McCoy told me when we sat down in Washington DC.

“They’re fathers and husbands,” said Waugh, “These kinds of complex characters. A warrior on one side, yet literally one of us. They have the same problems we have has humans. Taxes, these relationships with their kids when they’re there.”

For McCoy, despite all his previous bruising manly jobs, there was something more intense about the SEALS. “You really connect with the brotherhood really how deep that goes. Wow. I’ve never seen that before amongst men: men who will step in front of a bullet for each other. Once again, the sacrifice became really apparent. Ten years of sustained combat deployments. But more importantly, the families and the wives. When we sort of connected with them and what their families had been through during this time, we were like the only way to really do service to this is with the real guys and real scenarios and have an authentic look. And then it became how do we do this, what does this look like?”

Waugh and McCoy filmed the SEALS over two years, working with their deployment cycles to catch the soldiers as they did training missions. Unlike most Hollywood sets, they used real bullets and live weaponry. It’s not your usual movie job. I’ll give you the directors’ description in a later post.

Update: Read about the making of the movie and why it’s the real deal.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

Bottom Line: This third movie out of four is more of the same: frothy romance with a rotten core.

The Gist: Bella Swan marries her glittery vampire boyfriend, but their unbelievable honeymoon is cut short by trouble. As always, werewolf Jacob Black, vampire Edward Cullen, and the lovely Bella emote, grow angry at each other, stalk out, reunite, emote some more and have huge problems that require lots of emoting. Oh, and Jacob takes off his shirt.

The Verdict: Skip it. Run far away. For more on my reactions and why Bella would be better off dumping both Edward and Jacob to go to law school, read my full review.

Be Aware: Rated PG-13, the film covers married honeymoon sex, which is shown but not shown, and a bloody medical situation, which happens mostly off camera but is rather intense. Plus, Jacob takes off his shirt a lot.

The Sunset Limited

Bottom Line: A heavy and philosophical drama in which two different men explore God, life, death, hopelessness and hope.

The Gist: A secular, white professor (Tommy Lee Jones) steps in front of a train, only to be rescued by a Christian, working-class black man (Samuel L. Jackson). Convinced the man is still suicidal, the uneducated worker engages the overlyeducated desponedent man about faith and the meaning of life, keeping him from running off to finish the job. This is a film of the play by the great writer Cormac McCarthy.

The Verdict: Watch it. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I have read the play. McCarthy is one of our great writers and understands the problems of both faith and unbelief. An excellent and profound work.

Be Aware: The film, from TV and not theaters, is unrated. Since I haven’t seen it, I cannot tell you if there is violence or language, but the play calls for two men sitting in a room and little else.

Trailer for ‘The Avengers’

Did you see the commercial for “The Avengers” during the Super Bowl? Marvel has been telling the backstories of heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. Now they’re bringing them together in as the Avengers team in a movie opening May 4. Here’s the trailer and I have to say, it makes me want to see the film.


 

Chronicle Review: Fantastic Superhero Coming-of-Age Story Feels Fresh and New

What with all the “Dark Knights,” “Smallvilles” and “X-Men: First Class” of the world, we thought we had seen everything there was to see about becoming superheroes. Hold on to your tights, Batman! The new movie “Chronicle,” about a trio of high-schoolers who develop superpowers, remakes the genre in a way that is fresh and new.

It feels like the first time.

Putting the “found footage” genre of moviemaking techniques to good use, the film is part “Smallville” but also part “Carrie,” which gives a well-trod subject some new super-bounce.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) lives with his drunken father and dying mother, a loner at his Seattle high school. He finds his only companion – it would be too much to call him a friend – in his cousin Matt (Alex Russell). One could argue Andrew’s best friend is the new videocamera he uses to chronicle every minute of his life, a presence that increases in importance as the film goes on.

The two attend a party, Andrew oddly filming himself and everyone on the dance floor, and meet up with Steve (Michael B. Jordan) in one of those drunken, unlikely alliances that happen at high school raves. Steve is everything Andrew is not: Confident, popular, and exuberant in his budding future.

The three investigate a hole in the forest floor, finding a glowing rock. Things go very weird, shown cleverly through the intermittent failure of the camera to record the proceedings, and when the three wake up, they find they have the power to control objects with their minds.

This is where the film gets fun. Without all the “with great power comes great responsibility” lecturing, the boys use their new powers as boys will do, starting with blowing wind up cheerleader’s skirts, throwing rocks at each other’s faces, and leading to an aerial game of football.

Instead of Spidey’s take home lesson about responsibility, the key phrase of this film should be “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Andrew, already troubled, introduces the first dark note when he punishes a honking, tailgating driver with what can only be described as overreaction.

His wrestling with the implications of his power and the two friends with him drives the rest of the movie and takes it to profound heights. DeHaan plays his role very well, with increasing hubris, reminding one of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. As his power grows, so does his dissatisfaction with his family, friends, and high school classmates.

The “found footage” style of filmmaking, hardly novel anymore, becomes a character in itself. The movie is viewed entirely through amateur screens: Andrew’s camera, another teen’s camera, then later, security tape, iPhones, and police dashboard cameras. At times Andrew plays with the camera, floating it with his mind into wide shots or panning shots, no camera man necessary. This is of course, an irony, as it takes skill to make it seem there is no camera man.

In one telling moment, an enraged Andrew faces a crowd and pulls every phone, camcorder, and iPad from them, arranging them around himself in the air to record himself at every angle.

It’s as if nothing is real unless captured on video tape. The all-seeing eye of the professional filmmaker has been replaced by the ultimately more invasive eye of constant documentation by the average person.

This is life in the age of Facebook and Twitter.

As with all superhero stories, the truth is not found in the extra powers, but in the character of the person wielding them. Andrew may be the strongest in power, but Matt and Steve must decide where they fit in and how long they will tolerate Andrew’s behavior. They’re just ordinary kids, but power has found them and they have great responsibility, whether they like it or not.

It all adds up to a fantastic film, the first truly great film of the year. I recommend it highly.

Rated PG-13 for intense action, sexuality, some teen drinking, and some language. The film is not really objectionable except for one story line involving Andrew’s attempt to lose his virginity. In the context of the film, this is a good thing. It’s a small part of the film, and not graphically shown except for a brief shot of him with his pants down and no nudity, but it is talked about and parents should be aware.

 

Russell Crowe likely to Launch Ship as Noah in Aronofsky Biblical Epic

Does this man look like the Biblical Noah to you? Deadline is reporting that Darren Aronofsky, who flirted with Oscars last year for his Natalie Portman ballet movie “Black Swan” is close to signing Russell Crowe as the title character in his movie based on the Biblical Noah.

The movie is rumored to be dark and comic-bookish in tone, not a traditional Biblical epic from the 1950s.

From Aronofsky? Of course. “Black Swan” wasn’t exactly “The Nutcracker,” after all.

Deadline also reports that Liam Neeson is in talks for another role.

*Russell Crowe photo from MySpace


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