The Groaning of the Black Fish

Last night my wife made me watch the CNN Documentary, Black Fish.

(The type of “made me” where she just knew (because she knows me) that I would WANT to see it. Mixed a bit with the “made me” where she had already watched it and wanted to be able to have a shared experience with me.)

If you’re unfamiliar with this documentary, in a nutshell it is about how Sea World took Orca Whales from the wild, breeds them in small confined quarters, rips babies from their families, and causes sure psychological damage to these animals. And, as a result, far too many people have been brutally attacked, injured, and killed.

It was certainly one of the most disturbing things I’ve watched in a while. Heart breaking on a number of levels, including a very selfish one: our family (our boys!), have absolutely LOVED going to Sea World. It’s been our family’s place of choice to go have fun. We’ve probably been half a dozen times in the past two years, and each memory is precious to us.

But, of course, after watching Black Fish we will never step foot in that place again (unless it’s a midnight mission to free Willy).

Reflecting on the documentary and sharing all the thoughts I have would take too long, and I couldn’t do it justice. So I just invite you to watch it.

However there has been one thing that hasn’t left my recently haunted mind yet.
Something that, once the credits began to roll, caused my inner-self to weep.
The part of me that is specifically and uniquely “human” was very, very sad.

To explain what I’m getting at, here is an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

18 Now I’m sure of this: the sufferings we endure now are not even worth comparing to the glory that is coming and will be revealed in us. 19 For all of creation is waiting, yearning for the time when the children of God will be revealed. 20 You see, all of creation has collapsed into emptiness, not by its own choosing, but by God’s. Still He placed within it a deep and abiding hope 21that creation would one day be liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 For we know that all creation groans in unison with birthing pains up until now. 23 And there is more; it’s not just creation—all of us are groaning together too. Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete— (Romans 8:18-23, The Voice)

We (humans) sit at the top of the food chain. We sit at the top of the consciousness chain. We sit at the top of the Creator’s Creation.

We are the collective CEO’s entrusted with this place. What happens on our watch, to the creatures and the environment in our care, is on US.

And when I watch something like Black Fish, I am struck with this thought: We have an incredible capacity to fuck up our jobs.*

The Orcas, that we have captured and ripped from their families (and continue to rip from families), that we keep locked up and forced to do our bidding, are part of the creation that has “collapsed into emptiness.”

Watching those whales last night you could see (and hear!) the “groaning” for liberation.
The pleading for the caretakers (us, humanity, the CEO’s) to help actually take care of them.

The sense I get from Paul, in the above passage, is that part of what he’s getting at is this: you and I (meaning, humanity) have been given a wonderful and beautiful gift in Christ and through God’s Spirit, the gift of freedom, of new life, of redemption and liberation. But creation and the created order has not yet entered in to that reality. It has a deep and abiding hope that one day it will be “liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

We have a gift.
They don’t.
Therefore we are under obligation to be aware of that, to cause that to matter to us, to do something about it.

The Bible begins, for Pete’s-sake, with the charge for us to care for Creation.

Anyways, Black Fish was a profound experience. Listening to the Orca families literally weep as their kids are ripped from them was haunting enough, and then on top of that I had Paul’s words from above filling the chambers of my mind, demanding to be heard amidst the cries of the Killer Whales.

We can do better.
We have to do better.
It’s on us.
It’s on you.

You have been given the gift of liberation.

And when you hear the groaning of the black fish,
Use it wisely.
Use it well.

- – – – – – – – – – – – -

*I realize that some of my readers are uncomfortable with my choice in words here. And I do apologize if I caused you to read/say/think a word that you try and generally avoid. That being said, I chose it with great purpose and intentionality, for it is probably the only/best word to convey the deep sense of anger, frustration, and intensity of my emotion. To say that “ripping babies from their families” is really messing up, or really screwing up, just doesn’t cut it. And I’m willing to bet you’d agree.


God in Film: Beasts of the Southern Wild

One of my favorite movies from 2012 was the Indie success story and Oscar nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

As part of our annual God in Film series, I lobbied to get to preach a sermon from this film. I knew I wanted to unpack the way the movie explores death (specifically, the fear of death).

What I didn’t know, is just how much the studying for this message would impact me.

A huge thanks and shout-out to Richard Beck ( for his amazingly brilliant insights in to our Slavery to the Fear of Death. (Be on the lookout for his upcoming book on the subject. So good!)

So, if you’ve seen the film, and you’re curious where I went with it, then I invite you to give it a listen.

If you haven’t seen the film, then I highly recommend it. And then maybe come listen to my talk. (or vice versa, I guess… doesn’t really matter).

Happy listening.

(right click to save/download: God in Film_Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Following in the Way of Katniss: You Have to See the “Other”

Last week our church launched our annual “God in Film” series (I wrote about that, here), and I kicked things off with “The Hunger Games.

It was my first foray in to the world of doing a talk based on a film and while it was quite the challenge to prepare for (pretty different than a “normal” talk) I will say I thoroughly enjoyed it! And I can’t wait to do it again in a couple weeks with “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

One of the points I make in the sermon comes from the scene in the movie where Katniss auditions her battle skills for the gamemakers and potential sponsors. You remember that scene: she picks up her bow and arrow and lets loose an arrow at a target, but misses completely. The gamemakers/observers laugh it off and then go about their business (chatting with each other, eating, drinking) and completely ignore Katniss. They were unimpressed and dismissed her, so when she fired her next arrow and scored a bullseye no one even noticed or cared. Annoyed at such indifference towards her, she strings one more arrow but this time shoots it up at where they were all sitting, and fires it straight through an apple that was resting in the open mouth of a cooked pig.

This quite obviously got their attention.

They turn, half amazed and half terrified, and stare at Katniss. She merely says, “for your consideration,”  takes a bow, and then exits the arena.

Brilliant scene.

In my sermon I use this scene as an example of creatively choosing a third way when people who are in power over you are ignoring you, oppressing you, or both: not Flight (passively walking away, sulking, and just accepting your lot), and not Fight (shooting arrows AT the people, picking off a few before you’re arrested or killed yourself).

No, she choose a third way.

A way that, essentially said, “Here I am. Right here. And you have to SEE me. I won’t let you ignore me any longer.”

I think that this is, in the Kingdom of God, one of the primary ways that the divide between “us” and “them” begins to dissolve. When people actually “see” the other.

SEE the oppressed.
SEE the forgotten.
SEE the outcast and the outliers.
SEE the ones society ignores.
SEE the ones the church has scorned.

“Seeing” makes all the difference. Or, at least, it’s a really good place to start.

When those who have power/wealth/privilege (the HAVES) remain isolated from those who have-not, then they can remain ignorant of what it actually means to be a have-not.

One of the questions I often pose to people who disagree with me, and are opposed to same-sex marriage or think that all expressions of same-sex attraction are a sin, is this: who do you know that is gay? What same-sex family have you taken the time to really get to know? Have you had them over for dinner? Have you gone to their house, and seen how they live, how they act, how they raise their kids?

Do you SEE them?

Of course, some people respond with, “oh I have lots of gay friends!”

Fine. That may (or may not actually) be true.

But most of the time the answer I get is silence.
No response.

Because they have not gone out of their way to “see” the other.

It’s easier, is it not, to sit in our comfy houses and continue with our non-messy lives. Where the world is easily dividable between “us” and “them.”

Turning around and looking to SEE “them?” That’s hard. That can take work. That can be scary.

But it is oh. so. important.

If you hold the position that gay people don’t deserve equal rights like getting married, then I implore you to get to know a same-sex family. I’m not saying your minds will instantly change, but if you don’t SEE them, then you are willfully choosing to remain ignorant, and you’ll never understand that these are real people.

And for folks like me, who HAVE a degree of power/influence/privilege (i.e. i’m a straight/white/male), part of our challenge is to discover how we can be more like Katniss. How can we get people to SEE, without choosing violence? Without causing more hatred and animosity? What do creative “third ways” look like as we live out this desire to eliminate the us/them divide?

Why Do a “God in Film” Teaching Series?

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at April 5, 2.28 PM

Why would we talk about “worldly” movies in CHURCH?!

This Sunday, at Missiongathering, we are kicking off our annual Spring teaching series: God in Film.

Being still a relative newcomer to Missiongathering, I can say I am stoked to find out that our church does this series every year. Not just because I’m a huge fan of movies, but because I’m a huger fan of thinking critically about art and culture.

I love to explore how things like movies, music and books move us, unsettle us, transform and inspire us.

This Sunday I’ll be kicking off the series as I engage with The Hunger Games.

As I’ve been thinking about and writing the sermon for this week, I wanted to stop and reflect on the reason why we do this.

Why engage with movies like this at church.

So here are some of my thoughts on that.

Breaking the False Divide

If you’ve spent any amount of time (like I have) in the Christian sub-culture, the bubble of conservative christianity, you quickly discover how bizarre it can be.
Everything gets classified in to two categories:

Christian or non-Christian.
The Sacred and the Secular.

Thanks to the world of marketing, we now have:

Christian music and Secular music.
You have Christian books and Secular books.
Christian art and non-Christian art.

And so on…

David Dark, a prolific writer who teaches in Nashville at various institutions, says “there is not a single secular molecule in the universe.”

Or as Rob Bell says, “everything is spiritual.”

In David Dark’s book, “Everyday Apocalypse” he challenges us to return to the original meaning of the word “apocalypse:”
Which means “revelation,” or to uncover, to reveal.

And in the book he explores popular movies, t.v. shows, and music to demonstrate how we can look at things in such a way as to discover how there is a sacredness in everything.

He says,

When you begin to view all truthfulness as somehow bearing witness to God’s coming kingdom, you’re gradually able to view all kinds of art much more redemptively than a market-defined “Spirituality” or “Contemporary Christian Music” category can allow.

There is a division that has been created, a FALSE division, between things that belong to the world of “Christianity” and things that are Secular, or non-Christian. One of the things our God in Film series is trying to accomplish is to break down that false, invisible wall. To expose the myth that some things have spiritual value to them, and others don’t. Or that some products are “Christian” and so should be consumed  hook, line and sinker… while everything else is secular, scary, dangerous, and to be avoided at all costs.

But it is THIS separation, I would argue, that is thing that is dangerous, scary, and un-biblical (if you’ll permit me to use such a phrase), and it is the creation of these divisions that must be avoided at all costs.

We want to be people who develop eyes to see the Divine in all things. And so as we explore, over the next 6 weeks, these six different films, hopefully as a community we’ll all get some much needed exercise in seeing how everything is spiritual.

(That is NOT to say, of course, that everything is redeeming, or edifying, or has equal value to the soul. That is an equally dangerous position to hold. But that blog post is not this blog post.)

The Power of Movies

Movies are a powerful force, I think you’d agree.

Some movies inspire us to want to become more than we are, to live better stories, to keep moving forward in the pursuit of being the person we really want to be.

Other movies expose the lies that we live. They speak of messages that certain forces in this world would have us believe. That certain things or people can bring us happiness and satisfaction. And we find ourselves confronted with a choice to accept that this movie is either telling us something real about life, or exposing it to be a sham.

Other movies get underneath our skin, and unsettle us, unnerve us. They challenge us to look more closely, more critically at what we think and how we believe.

But movies are, ultimately, a medium for telling stories. And stories are one of the world’s most powerful forces to change people, to inspire transformation. And so God in Film provides us the chance to do a bit of apocalyptic work on some of last years most interesting movies.

To Reveal, really, ways in which we can say, “wait, that’s God!”


“wait, that is NOT God!”

Of course, that begs the question, what does one mean when they say, “That’s God,” or “that’s NOT God.”

And much could be said about that (in fact, if you haven’t already, I invite you read Rob Bell’s newest book What we Talk about When we Talk About God for a fresh way to think about the word, name, and person of God), but I’ll try and sum up just briefly what “I” mean when I say things like “there, there I see the PRESENCE of God,” or “there I see the ABSENCE of God.”

The Presence of God

When I say I see the presence of God in something, what I DON’T mean is that God wasn’t previously present but now IS. I don’t mean that God magically appears in one moment, and then disappears when the moment is over.

We often find ourselves saying things like,
“That was a God moment” or
“Then God showed up”

And while I get the sentiment (and find myself at times defaulting to similar types of expressions), we have to remind ourselves that that sort of language implies that other moments are NOT God moments, or that we are suggesting that God is not in a place most of the time but only shows up when we can see evidence of it.

But I don’t think, if we really stop to consider it, that THAT is what we mean. Or what we really think.

So when I make statements like “seeing God in a movie,” what I’m trying to articulate is that there is something in that scene that resonates in a more obvious and profound way with the things that make me think about God.

Or there’s something about that plot development that echoes with things that I feel represent the character or passions of God: be it the pursuit of justice, or the work of reconciliation, or the process of renewing and redeeming something or someone.

Or, perhaps in a specifically Christian perspective, I might say that there’s something in that character and her choices that reflect the type of life that I see modeled in and taught by Jesus: be it forgiveness or working towards peace or loving the outcast.

And all good movies (all stories, really), in someway or another, tap in to what is true about life. And when that happens, like David Dark says, when we see that all truthfulness somehow bears witness to God and God’s Kingdom, then we can say things like “I saw God in that film.”

The Absence of God

But I think another way we see God in Film is when we DON’T. You could call this seeing the ABSENCE of God.

The PRESENCE of God often lifts us up, inspires us, encourages us…  with things like love, redemption, sacrifice, joy, etc…

But films that deal with the ABSENCE of God are often the ones that unsettle us… disturb us… bother us and stick with us for days. Because we see, for instance, in movies like Schindler’s List a certain “that’s-not-rightness.”

When gross injustices are shown on screen, and we stare deep in the face of the evil and wickedness that humankind is capable of, we find ourselves knowing on a profound level that that is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Other times it’s more subtle.

And still other times we might be completely oblivious to it, or we might be downright deceived.

(I think that Romantic comedies often fall prey to this. We often witness a fairytale sort of ending where everything works out and the guy gets the gal, or vice versa, and we leave the theater feeling all warm and fuzzy, and our ears were tickled… but really, we just spent 90 minutes being lied to. Because life ISN’T that way. That’s NOT really love. That’s not how relationships work. And we find ourselves constantly unhappy in life because our brains have been re-wired to expect the world that cinema gives us. But anyways…)

That is the ABSENCE of God.
The telling of a story that wars AGAINST the Kingdom of God.

Looking for God in Film

The God in Film teaching series allows us to engage with the medium of film in a way that invites us to explore how the stories we watch might be tapping in to something beautiful and true about God  and God’s Kingdom, OR be exposing stories that war against God’s Kingdom.

This 6 week exploration allows us to exercise our vision to see how everything is spiritual, and to think critically about what it is we are consuming.

Hopefully some of you found this a little helpful with regards to why we do this series every year.

And, if none of that was interesting or helpful, it’s also just a lot of FUN!

So if you’re in the San Diego area anytime during the next 6 weeks, I invite you to join us at 9am or 11am for God in Film at Missiongathering. Or, head over to each week to download the latest message.


If you love Jesus, MUST you hate religion?

So, you’ve probably seen it. This video where the spoken-word poet talks about loving Jesus but hating religion. I’ve watched my FB blow up with people sharing this, and tried to avoid it just because… but I decided to watch it today.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

Since this IS my blog, and all, here are my thoughts on it (as you read this, picture me standing somewhere cool, looking in to a camera, attempting to do “spoken-word.”)

So I see that this video has been going around,
tickling peeps ears with the spoken-word sound.
Almost 7 million views of this one video,
and so to stay relevant, to YouTube I go.

Watch it and listen, is what I just did,
but honestly it left me slightly sordid.

Was Jesus REALLY anti-Religion?
Or just anti the purchase of a temple-sold pigeon…
I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive
in the same sort of way that the this dude on YouTube did.

Jesus was angered by EMPTY religion,
seeing the poor and the hurting who lived in,
the time when God’s people were called out to bless,
but they cared for their purity and said “to hell with the rest.”

I guess what I’d rather this poet had done,
was emphasis Jesus as being the one,
who said,There IS a religion in the Kingdom of Heaven,
See for yourself… James 1:27.

This video creates false dichotomies,
but since it’s done real pretty we say “yes please!”
Before you click ‘share’ and repeat this sensation,
perhaps in your status place this iteration:

“In Jesus I’ve found the way of truth, love and peace
A religion that offers a hope for all things.
In Jesus we seek no hypocrisy,
cause THAT is what drove this Teacher crazy.”

Not “religion.”

(or something like that…)



Andrew Peterson

Harry Potter Books

Fresco of Jesus

Like my wife says, “Three of my favorite things converge together: Andrew Peterson, Harry Potter, and Jesus.”

If you like any of those three I invite you to read this fantastic blog by singer-songwriter/author Andrew Peterson, and his thoughts on the Harry Potter series.

Among other awesome things he says, he writes this pretend letter to Potter author, J.K. Rowling and says:

By the way, I’m a follower of Christ, and I see him in your story. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, but you should know that he’s in there. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that reading your books has helped me to praise him even more for his courage, his sacrifice, and his strength to conquer the hosts of hell to save us.

To which I offer a resounding AMEN!

I have fallen in love with the Potter series over the past 10 years, and ardently defend it against those who would believe it is somehow evil or inherently wrong for Christians to read. These sorts of statements merely come out of ignorance, so I try not to get too worked up. Nonetheless, they are beautiful books, an amazing story, like Peterson says, Jesus is in those stories.


Where the Wild Things Are: 5 Reasons I Loved It (And You Should Too)

5 Reasons to Love Where the Wild Things Are

Recently my wife and I were privileged enough to get a night out alone, and so we made our way to the local theater to catch the newly released and much anticipated film adaption of the beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. And as we entered the empty theater (only to have it remain empty… which was interesting in itself. Have you ever been the only ones in a movie theater?) we excitedly took our places midway up, and right in the center, hoping the following 101 minutes would match the hype (or at least match the epic quality of the brilliantly crafted trailers).

Then, after the final fade to black and closing credits, after depositing our trash in garbage cans (sidenote: don’t be the annoying people who leave your trash on the floor at theaters. Thanks.), and after walking through the lobby and out in to the parking lot, my wife and I did our customary, “so, what’d you think?” A strange thing happens to me when Katie and I embark on this ritual, I tend to have two different responses prepared dependent on whether I ask her first, or whether she asks me first. I think sometimes, if I’m asked first, and I really liked the movie but can’t be sure whether or not my wife did also, I may answer with a reserved sense of appreciation. But if I’m certain she liked the film as I did, then I enthusiastically begin my review. Naturally, if I get to ask her the question first, it gives me the advantage in going second.

This time around, Katie asked me first. And this was one of those times that I was uncertain as to how she felt about it. So, I kinda responded with a 75%, “I really liked it… alot.” To which she replied, “I absolutely loved it!” Instantly provoking me, “Yes! Me too! It was amazing!” (okay, call me strange… I’m just being honest here)

We talked all the way home about how we loved Where the Wild Things Are, and I’d like to share just 5 reasons why I/we loved it, and ultimately why I think you should too.

(1) The Lush Visuals
I’m a sucker for eye-candy. So much so, that I found myself in the small minority (as opposed to the “large” majority?) of people who “liked” last years “Speed Racer.” The way things look have a large impact on my opinion of most films. The grandiose, massively impressive visuals (Lord of the Rings, Slumdog Millionaire, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Gladiator). The brilliantly shot, masterful perspective visuals (There Will Be Blood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Gangs of New York, Everything is Illuminated). The CGI masterpieces that defy reality (Transformers, The Dark Knight, 300, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Pan’s Labyrinth). And the artsy, stunningly original and creative visuals (The Matrix, Big Fish, Moulin Rouge, and this, Where the Wild Things Are). As you watch this movie, you’re drawn in to an alternative world (wonderfully adapted from Maurice Sendak’s illustrations) that at once mystifies and terrifies you. You both want to be there, and hope to never arrive. I was in awe of writer/director Spike Jonze’s eye for the unique, the original, the “only a crazy artist-type would go there.”

(2) The Max
Sometimes you have to watch a movie just for the performance of an actor (Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, Sean Penn in pretty much anything). I would argue that it would be worth watching Where the Wild Things Are simply to enjoy (then) 10 year old Max Records (yes, his real name is “Max,” too). Young Max has that beautiful ability to capture an entire lifetime of emotion in a simple expression, and he’s only 10. As I watched him, I couldn’t help but see and feel everything he was seeing and feeling. He makes you feel happy, sad, enthralled, depressed, and ultimately, hopeful. You find in him the tension between living how you WANT to live, and living how you OUGHT to live. You feel the frustration of not knowing how to articulate and express your deepest pains. You get caught up in the freedom of throwing dirt clods because nothing else feels right. You empathize with the longing to be loved and needed. And he’s only 10.

(3) The Wild Things
Two reasons to love the Wild Thing creatures: how they look and who they are.
In a world of Transformers, Terminators, and King Kong, one would expect these giant Wild Things to have been created solely through CGI. However, director Spike Jonze chose the road less travelled, and it made all the difference. Giant, human operated puppets occupy Max’s alternative world, and they’re strikingly wonderful. The only CGI is their faces (the original robotic puppet heads turned out to be too heavy for the actors to maneuver), but you can hardly tell. But you CAN tell, however, that the Wild Things are physical, tangible, rideable, squishable and real. They’re crazy fun to watch.
But even better than how they look is the actual characters themselves. Each Wild Thing seems to parallel some part of Max and/or his family, helping Max to see and learn things about himself and others that he wasn’t learning on his own, in his own world. I loved how each Wild Thing was specific enough to Max and his story, and yet broad enough that the viewers could easily relate too. For instance, Carol (sort of the lead Thing) just sorta wants everyone to stay together and get along, and he gets hurt when his best (girl) friend goes away to play with her “new” friends Bob and Terry. Carol and his friends spent hours together building a miniscule model community, until everyone lost interest and left him to finish alone. He doesn’t seem to have a censor button, and when he gets angry he shows it, even if it means destroying their houses. Max finds himself in Carol, angry that his mom is dating some other guy, and his sister prefers to play with her other friends… his family, too, is coming undone from his perspective. Alexander, another Thing, is the token “nobody ever listens to me” of the group.  The frankness and hesitancy  to trust of Judith. The constant people-pleasing Douglas. And the list goes on… They’re each such wonderfully written personifications of real life qualities and character traits. I dare you to not go, “oh yeah, that’s me” at least several times throughout the film.

(4) The Story
Okay, to be fair, this 100 minute film is adapted from a 10 sentence, 338 word book. So there’s gonna have to be some filling-in-of-the-holes, and creating story lines ex-nihilo. While you may argue that you don’t “like” the story that Spike Jonze wrote, I don’t think it’s worth arguing that he didn’t stay “true” to the book. He may not have stayed true to what YOU got out of the book as a child, but that’s not the same thing.
I, for one, am a big fan of what he came up with. The story gives you just enough to follow along, to root for Max, to understand some of the dynamics of the Things, and to know what to hope for, but also leaves it open for so much interpretation. I don’t always like to be spoon fed the story, “here’s what I’m going to tell you, here’s how you should feel about it, and this is what it all means.” There’s a place for that type of story telling, to be sure, but in a film like this I much prefer the fodder for further thinking and contemplation. And the story, the characters, the dialogue, the one-liners, they all played together so well. In the end I found myself thinking, “who wouldn’t want to spend some time in a crazy world hanging out with unwieldily personifications of our own selves and those around us, so that we can ultimately learn more about who we are and who we want to be?” Okay, so maybe that terrifies us and and we wouldn’t want that… so the next best thing is we watch someone else do it, and find that we can grow and learn through THEIR experience.
In the end I walked away full of hope that life as it is now does not have to be life as it will always be. I’m reminded of the “now-and-not-yet” tension of the Kingdom of God. That peace and beauty and love are possible here and now, but are partnered with hate and destruction and war. One day the world will be put to rights, and that is our hope. This story invites you in to that tension, and encourages you that things can get better. We can grow, and heal, and learn even in spite of our fears and insecurities and uncertainties.

(5) The Intangibles
Lastly,  it’s the little things in this film that kept making me smile. The music was beautifully crafted and matched perfectly with the visuals. The set pieces and locations were both this-and-other-worldly, allowing you to suspend just enough belief to be in both places at once.  The originality of the story telling. The camera angles and perspective. The one-liners:

  • “Now you are king and you will be a truly great king.” -Carol
  • “I don’t won’t you to go, I’ll eat you up I love you so.” -KW
  • “If I was stranded on a desert island and could only take one thing, it’d be Douglas. We can share him if you want.” – Carol
  • “Happiness isn’t always the best way to be happy.” -Judith
  • Max: Did you make this?
    Carol: Yeah, yeah.
    Max: It’s very good.
    Carol: We were gonna make a whole world like this. Now, everyone used to come here, but you know… you know what it feels like when all your teeth are falling out really slowly and you don’t realize and then you notice that, well, they’re really far apart. And then one day… you don’t have any teeth anymore.
    Max: Yeah.
    Carol: Well it was like that.

I could go on, but I’ll sum it up by saying that this movie if full of little moments and intangibles that contribute to a fantastic viewing/hearing/feeling experience.

Where the Wild Things Are seems to be one of the movies that people either love, or hate. I haven’t come across, or read about, many people who just think it’s “allright.” So judge for yourself whether this makes your top film list for 2009, I know for me it has, and I HOPE for you it will too.

Make no mistake, this is not really a “kids movie.” It’s a movie about a kid and some Wild Things… for adults… because it’s really about the kid and the wild things inside all of us. As we watch young Max grow up, we ourselves grow just a little.

If you’ve already seen it, what did you think?
If you haven’t seen it, what have you heard so far? Do you plan to see it?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and contributions to the conversation.

HP6: The Movie in Review

Reviewing The Half-Blood Prince

Reviewing The Half-Blood Prince

It began with a Stone.

Continued with a Basilisk in a chamber, a murderer escaping from an un-escapable prison, a tournament of wizards from around the world, the return of Evil, and the formation of an army to rise up against him.

It’s the story of a boy-who-lived and his legendary quest to stand up against he-who-must-not-be-named.

And it’s one of the most beautiful and beloved stories of our generation.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the 6th part in J.K. Rowling’s 7 book masterpiece, and in many ways it serves as merely the prelude to the final chapter, setting in motion the things that must take place for the forces of good to challenge, and triumph, over the forces of evil. And this past week, Director David Yates (who also helmed Order of the Phoenix) partnered with Screenplay Writer Steve Kloves (who wrote all BUT Order of the Phoenix screenplays) to take on the challenge of adapting the gorgeous story of book 6 into the tricky, fickle art of film.

It’s always delicate when watching the movie of a book you love, and in an upcoming blog I will talk about the ever present “book versus movie” dialogue, and why it can be unfair to compare the two. But for now, I’ll say that it’s impossible to NOT, however, think of one when engaging with the other, so in my review it will come up from time to time. Just know that we’ll jump in to this topic in further detail later. (Warning: if you don’t know how this, or the whole, story ends, there are plot spoilers to follow.)


One of the more frustrating scenes

One of the more frustrating scenes

When the credits rolled, and I walked towards our car, I couldn’t stop thinking, “wow, I LOVED that movie!” Meanwhile, my wife, who is arguably a bigger fan of the Potter series, kept uttering, “wow, I HATED that movie!” As we talked, we realized that we had different criteria by which we judged the movie (which is, obviously, part of the beauty of art). I couldn’t get over how incredible the movie looked and felt. The cinematography, the photography, the way the shots were framed, the coloring (oh,the coloring!) were all brilliant. It felt like a ‘grown up’ film, if that makes sense. The sets were gorgeous (if not a bit distant from previous established Potter sets). The lighting reflected perfectly the mood of the film. Credit goes to David Yates for creating a beautiful movie. And these sorts of things tend to receive more weight in my mind when I judge films.

By contrast, my wife tends to focus on the nuances of the story and the relationships, the characters and finer plot points. And as she processed through the movie, it became clear that some of these aspects of the film could be weighed and found wanting.

What I’m getting at, is that because of how I initially react to films, I started from a place of really liking the movie. Then, as I began to sort through what I liked and didn’t like, I soon found out that there was quite a bit I did not like about the movie… several pieces of the story that were mis-handled or not handled at all.

For instance, the potions book belonging to the Half-Blood Prince played a significant role in the story. However, in the film, it felt like they resented having to include it. The blossoming relationship between Harry and Ginny was both poorly portrayed and awkwardly shown. Some of the visual effects felt like an afterthought (the first scene of the bridge being rent, the Inferi at the end). Hogwarts didn’t “feel” like Hogwarts (where was the art on the wall?). Much of the actual magic and magical moments in the film felt more “normal” or “non-magical,” if that makes sense. And the most offensive  of all was the slaughtering of the end. Every Potter fan was desperately awaiting the final climax, the moment where our 2nd favorite character finds his end. We sat on the edge of our seats expecting Dumbledore to “freeze” Harry so that he could not interfere with what was about to come. Because that’s PRECISELY what Harry Potter does: he rushes, without thinking, headlong in to danger to try and save the ones he loves. And by choosing to NOT have him be frozen, we get a false-Harry moment. It’s not believable to watch Harry from below the deck passively observing those final moments. And then, once the deed is done and Snape does the unthinkable, WHERE IS THE EPIC BATTLE AT HOGWARTS? No showdown between the Death Eaters and the Order? No funeral service for Albus Dumbledore? No final and beautiful moment between Harry and Ginny? Sorry, this may be the moment where I begin to break my own rules and say the movie just did NOT do the book, no, the STORY, justice.

However, in the end, I still feel like the movie was really good. There were flashes of brilliance: Harry when he took Felix Felicis (the best acting Danielle Radcliffe has done in 6 movies), the Quidditch match, the Weasley Bros joke shop, the jokes between Harry and Ron, the flashbacks with Tom Riddle, the character of Slughorn, and the music… mmm, the music was fantastic!

I’ll have to watch it again before I can rank where it sits alongside the first 5 films. And maybe after the final 2 movies come out (yes, if you haven’t heard, book 7 will be made in 2 parts, Nov ’10 and July ’11) we may look back and appreciate the way they handled the Half-Blood Prince a little more. If you haven’t read the books, close your internet and begin now. If you can’t do that, and you’ve already seen the first 5 movies, do not miss your chance to catch this film in the theater, you’ll probably love it even more than those of us who have read them, because it truly is a beautiful, well made piece of art. But, for the ending alone, I give it only 4 out of 5 stars.

What about you? How did you feel about it? What did you like or dislike?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 4.5 Stars

Ghandi, MLK, and Clint Eastwood: Thoughts on Gran Torino.

Ghandi :: MLK :: Eastwood?

Ghandi :: MLK :: Eastwood?

Lately I’ve been wondering (and by lately, I mean the past 2 years) what it means to be a Pacifist. Or, rather, to go back farther, I’ve been wondering what it means to follow Christ in such a violent, war-torn world. And the more I read, study, and walk with Jesus, the more I believe he would find more in common with Pacifists than with War-mongers.  Obvious statement, that… I know… but my point is that I really think Jesus was and is against violence, especially as means to a solution for “dealing” with, or responding to, violence. His ultimate destination, the way his revolution ended, as you know, was by being nailed to a cross. Both his death and his way of life (peace, forgiveness, mercy, justice, love) flew in the face of those who would use violence to fight oppression (the Zealots), and also stood in opposition to those who just threw their hands up, ignored the problem,  and fled to the dessert (the Essenes).

But the working out of his kind of response is so much easier said than done. What do you do in the face of monsters like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and others… how can Pacifism, or at the least, “Jesus-ism,” be an appropriate response? I don’t have great answers… there are others out there much more suited to answer those questions than me. What I can do is look at the lives of men like Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr., and see in their lives that a non-violent response is not only feasible, but also much more effective and good. Maybe Jesus was right, maybe fighting violence with more violence isn’t the best way.

Nonetheless, I say again that there are certainly no easy or simple answers.

I start with all this, because this is what I was thinking about when the credits rolled to the latest “great” film I watched: Gran Torino, by Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood (Walt) in Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood (Walt) in Gran Torino

(Caution: Spoiler ahead.)

Among many reasons, what I loved most about this film was how it ended. If you haven’t seen it yet, Clint’s character (Walt) is a war-veteran who fits the mold for the old, cranky, racist white guy who resents any non-white folk living anywhere near him. As the story progresses, his heart begins to soften by the Korean family that lives next door. The young gal, Sue, refuses to let Walt’s prejudice define him, and pesters him with attention and a smile. While the young boy, Thao, who starts off trying to steal Walt’s car (his “Gran Torino”) eventually becomes Walt’s project, as he tries to “man” him up, essentially becoming a father-esque figure. Thao’s cousins, who tried to get him to steal the Gran Torino, are part of a gang that eventually resents Thao’s refusal to join them and hates the fact that white-Walt is a part of their lives (believe me, I’m simplifying a very well crafted story). As the film progresses, the gang does a drive-by of Thao’s house, and also gang-rapes Sue. Walt, with a new found love for his neighbors, feels both enraged and guilted by what’s happened (he sorta provoked the gang when he proceeded to kick the crap out of one of the gang members for messing up Thao). The whole thrust of the story and characters is leading towards this climax where the audience is expecting Walt to go Rambo on this gang in retaliation. They show you his collection of medals and guns all film long. They build tension between Walt and the gang. They’ve built the whole story line to train your mind to think you know how it will end. And I found myself thinking, “seriously? if THIS is how the movie ends, I’m gonna be disappointed… but I can’t see how else it COULD end..” Essentially, my mind has been trained and framed by our culture to assume that the natural way to respond to this sort of thing is to “get-them-back.” However, I’m thrilled to say, that is precisely NOT how the film ended…

And this is what I loved. The film gave an amazing picture of what it looks like (in a sense) to live-out the peace mission of Christ. If you’ve seen the film, you know that at the end he goes, by himself (actually locking Thao in his basement, so as to protect him) to the gang’s house, and stands in their front lawn, inviting them to come out and face him. However, rather than reaching in his coat to grab his gun (which by now, you’re completely expecting… maybe even “hoping” he’ll do) he pulls out his cigarette lighter, and in doing so draws fire from the weapon of every single gang member. They pump him full of lead as he stands there, innocently, with no gun and no intent. One man, choosing to NOT respond with violence, but rather to give up his life in an effort to end the injustice. Beautiful. The police proceed to show up, and arrest each of the gang members on the obvious charge of murder, as the sacrifice that is Walt’s body is taken away.

There’s a lot to love about this film (the acting, the photography, the characters), and if you haven’t seen it yet, I hope you will… if for no other reason than to experience the end of the film. It may not have the same impact if you know what’s coming, but I have to believe it’ll still be a powerful moment. Clint Eastwood truly makes his character believable, and the film WILL cause you to think, to pause, to reflect… as all good art should.

How can we live out a Jesus-Pacifism? I don’t know, exactly. It’s not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But through thoughtful and creative ways, and by learning from men and women who’ve done it in the past, I believe we can begin to show the world that there is a better way… a way of love, mercy, forgiveness and peace. That’s what Jesus was. That was his mission. That is our mission.

For a modern day story of the beautiful picture of living out the peaceful mission of Christ, I have to suggest Gran Torino.

Gran Torino: 4 1/2 stars