Monday, April 30, 2012
Here are the clips I used in my break-out session at the recent (and amazing) Mockingbird Conference in NYC. To listen to my talk, go HERE, and to listen all the other wonderful conference content, go HERE, and for myriad resources from this great ministry, go HERE. (Note: videos that aren't separated by a header below are intended to be watch without pause. If you're listening to the talk along with watching, there is lecture wherever there is a header.) Click on "Read more" below to see the clips.
Friday, April 27, 2012
The EastChicago Bulls
Joakim Noah is the living embodiment of the theology of the cross. No one with a jump shot that ugly should be playing in the NBA. And yet, there he is, bringing life out of death.
Miami’s supporting cast has been playing more and more poorly, as though they, too, want LeBron to stew in his own juices for eternity. Miami will get to the East Finals, but “not four, not five, not six…” will continue to haunt more than the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Everyone’s wondering if a team without a legitimate superstar (and no, Danny Granger, you don’t count) can win a championship. No.
Since moving Kevin Garnett to center, the Celtics have been on a tear. In related news, Kevin Garnett is a bully who should have to wear a muzzle.
The Hawks have been the same team for the last five years. They did get rid of Mike Bibby’s rotting corpse (and I’m a fan…we started at Arizona at the same time…so, um, we’re the same age) and replaced it with Jeff Teague. However, they insist on trotting out a person named Zaza Pachulia. “Zaza” is Russian for “first round exit.”
Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy have the same amount of love in their relationship that a Venus Flytrap has for the fly. Stan Van has one playoff series left before TNT makes him buy blazers that fit.
New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony’s tacit assassination of Mike D’Antoni this year was inexcusable. You know, unlike other kinds of assassinations, like JFK and Anthony’s more active assassination of offensive flow.
See comment on Indiana Pacers, replacing “Danny Granger” with either “Elton Brand” or “Andre Iguodala.”
The WestSan Antonio Spurs
Can anything good come out of the Old Folk’s Home? Apparently, just the best record in the league and my pick for NBA champion.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kendrick Perkins thinks a perma-scowl and a couple of hard (and cheap) fouls per game will make people think he’s Kevin Garnett. It works, as long as they’re both on the bench. In more related news, James Harden, the Thunder’s most important player, seems to be recovering well from…
Los Angeles Lakers
…Metta World Peace’s ridiculous elbow. His seven game suspension is the fourteenth of his career. He’d own Queensbridge by now if not for all those forfeited game checks.
The sleeper in the West. Led by O.J. Mayo, the Condiment All-Stars (okay, he’s the only one) will go as far as Zach Randolph will take them. That’ll be about as far as the next Carl’s Jr.
Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin makes you think, “Good God, what is he going to do now?” every time he jumps into the air. Vinny del Negro makes you think, “Good God, what is he going to do now?” every time he calls timeout.
Can you name the best player on the Nuggets without the help of the internet? If you said rookie Kenneth Faried (a.k.a. “The Manimal”) (seriously, “The Manimal”), you’re right. Also, you’re a liar.
I was going to say, “Watch out for the Mavericks. They’re poised to replicate last year’s nobody-believed-in-us” run through the playoffs.” Then I remembered that, this year, they have Vince Carter on their team.
Owners of the “most inexplicable name” award trophy, which is a wrought-iron bust of Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Okay, fine. They spent their first five seasons in New Orleans, where free-form jazz is beloved. In Salt Lake City, you can’t even walk on the grass.
Eastern Conference Champions: The Miami Heat.
Western Conference Champions: The San Antonio Spurs
NBA Champions: The San Antonio Spurs
Finals MVP: Tony Parker.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
The recent Danny Boyle film 127 Hours is not very good. Or, more accurately, there's not a lot to it. In the filim, James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a hiker who got his arm stuck under a rock while canyoneering in Utah in 2003. After the titular amount of time, Ralston amputated his arm with a generic Leatherman and walked to safety, having long since run out of food and water. Boyle does a good job ratcheting up the tension (despite everyone knowing exactly what's going to happen and when) but doesn't really give us anything beyond the guy-standing-next-to-a-rock narrative. Well, that's not quite true. He tries to give us more, but comes up short.
As he's running out of water and energy, Franco gets out his camcorder and records a good-bye to his parents and family. Then, as his delirium increases, he starts talking about other things in his life. One of the things he reminisces about is his tendency to tell no one his canyoneering plans, as the solitude adds to the adventure: he's more of a heroic character if there's no possibility of rescue. Boyle's mistake is introducing this potentially powerful idea more than halfway through the film.
As he faces his more and more imminent demise, Franco chastises himself about this sort of faux heroism and terminal self-reliance.After the auto-amputation, he walks out of the canyon and spots some other trekkers. Boyle shows everything out of focus, Franco unable to muster the strength to speak. Finally, he shouts, "Help me!" Then Boyle cuts into a crystal-clear close-up in which Franco exclaims,enunciating clearly, "I need help!"
This character arc (as poorly developed as it is in the film) is a distinctly Christian one. The Law, says Paul is Galatians 3, served as a "disciplinarian until Christ came." In other words, the Law functions to drive us to to Christ, to our need for a savior. That rock in the Utah canyon was Franco's "disciplinarian," driving him to acknowledge his need for a savior, driving him to his admission that he needs help.
Of course, now that Christ has come, Paul says that we are no longer under a disciplinarian. That's the Good News...that the boulders of our lives, the painful teachers, hold no more sway over us, and we are free.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Brian Phillips is a writer for Bill Simmons' sports and pop-culture website Grantland.com. His writing is gorgeous. Last year, he wrote several articles about Roger Federer that include some of the most lyrical sports writing I've read in a long time. The other day, he wrote an article about Pele (likely the greatest soccer player of all time) on the occasion of Pele's critical comments about Lionel Messi (likely the greatest soccer player playing today).
But then part of Pele's post-career shtick is that any high praise given to another player in his presence is a boorish deviation from the continuous celebration of Pele mandated by Pele as part of the ritual of Pele. Pele doesn't give respect. He can't; it's all been trapped by the pull of his own gravity.
The truth is that it is sensationally pleasant to mean something to people. However enervating celebrity can be, however bleary you feel after the 500th radio interview or spiritually dead after the 1,000th Vanity Fair party, there is a low-level electrical hum that goes along with mattering that I suspect becomes almost impossible to do without. That the world loses its color, etc. Think about this: For 20 years, wherever Pele went, the fact of his being there became that place's organizing principle. He was the most famous person in the world, "the most loved athlete in the history of sports," as Jon Miller put it in the broadcast of his last competitive game. In every situation he experienced, the fact that he was there experiencing it was, to everyone else, its defining characteristic, the whole thing.
I love the way Phillips puts it: "it is sensationally pleasant to mean something." Pele meant so much to so many for so long that the idea that someone else could mean as much is heresy to him.
Wouldn't you do what it takes to stay out of the display case, day to day? To keep your life your life? I would, I'm pretty sure, even if it meant that other people, somewhere off camera, rolled their eyes and snickered when I talked.
We are this way. We'll do whatever we can to maintain our meaning. For Christians this is what makes giving up on the idea of our "free" will so difficult. "You mean I'm not in charge of this whole thing?" "You mean it's not all up to me?" Pele can't abide not mattering. In order to maintain his importance, he cuts down anyone to whom he is compared. We can't abide not mattering, either. In order to maintain our importance, we subconsciously (and continually) reduce the importance of Jesus. "After all," we think to ourselves, "it was our good decision to invite him into our lives in the first place."
Luckily (though painfully) for us, God's primary work is tearing down our idols, and he often begins with our self-sufficiency, our "meaning." After what is often a rude awakening, we are given the best gift of all: the knowledge that it is no longer we who live, but that it is Christ alive within us (Galatians 2:20).
Monday, April 16, 2012
I think Luc Besson is a genius. His three English language live-action features (The Professional, The Fifth Element, and The Messenger) are three of my favorites. There's no denying that they're, at base, crowd-pleasing schlock, but count me among the pleased crowd. He knows his way around a camera, an impeccably tight screenplay, and action handled deftly and humorously. Perhaps Besson's greatest genius, though, lies in knowing when to hand the reins of a project over to someone else.
Besson's name is the first one on screen in the new film Lockout, which he produced, co-wrote, and for which he had "the original idea." However, his co-writers (and directors) James Mather and Stephen St. Leger (making their feature debut), take all the blame (Note: You know you're in trouble when the film's poster proclaims "From the Producers of Taken." It's like the trailer for Battleship: "From Hasbro, the company that brought you Transformers." Yikes).
Lockout stands in the often-great tradition of films like Die Hard and Under Siege, in which a wise-cracking butt-kicker must go up against a seemingly insurmountable enemy force to save the day. Here, it's Guy Pearce's wise-cracking butt-kicker who must save the President's daughter from a recently-taken-over-by-inmates supermax prison/insane asylum. Oh, and the prison? It's in freaking space. There is so much here for which one must suspend one's disbelief that one might as well check one's disbelief at the door. Seriously, one. Do that. But we American action movie fans are no strangers to the unbelievable. In fact, we relish it. An off-duty cop with no shoes? Check. A trophy-hunting alien with infra-red vision? Check. A combination supermax prison and insane asylum in space? Check. The problem with Lockout lies elsewhere.
Actually, it's in the screenplay and with Maggie Grace, who plays the aforementioned President's daughter. Both are terrible. The cracking wise becomes tiresome quickly, and is incredibly overdone. Grace doesn't know when to be tough or afraid, and her character apparently believes that constantly berating the man who's come into space to save her is a good plan. The screenplay doesn't know when to quit either. The original conceit is plenty, but we get double-crossing secondary characters we didn't care about, sleight-of-hand tricks that don't mean anything, and "witty" banter that's so saccharine it makes our teeth want to rot. It can't even manage to pay off a ham-handed first act foreshadowing.
There are fun moments here, but they simply serve to throw the rest of the picture into tedious relief. All in all, I wish Besson had directed this generic actioner; perhaps he could have brought something unique to the table. Oh, well...next time I'll just watch The Fifth Element instead.
Lockout: 1.5 stars out of 5.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Ozzie Guillén is the manager of the Miami Marlins, one of several high profile Latin acquisitions the club made in an attempt to appeal to south Florida's large Latino population. The Marlins' overtures to this community even went so far as the opening of a new stadium in Miami's "Little Havana" neighborhood. After only five games in the dugout, though, Guillén, a famously controversial figure, has made the Marlins cringe in the worst possible way.
In a recent interview with Time magazine, Guillén apparently expressed his admiration for Fidel Castro. Google "Guillen Castro" for more stories on the subject than you can shake a stick at. Suffice it to say that this is a large problem for the Marlins, which exist in the midst of a city populated largely by Cuban refugees and their descendants. Guillén apologized in a press conference yesterday (4/10), blaming internal translation issues (he claims that he was thinking in Spanish and trying to speak in English, and didn't say what he really meant) for his blunder. The question now becomes, "Will the Miami community accept his apology?"
Yesterday on the Mike Lupica radio show, Don La Greca suggested that there are some people who won't forgive Guillén, whatever the quality of his apology. In other words, no amount of contrition will be enough. He likened the reluctance to forgive to the class of people who, no matter what, can't forgive Michael Vick for what he did to dogs. When I heard his comment, my first thought was, "How can you possibly compare one man's verbal support of an unpopular (albeit a really unpopular) politician to another man's murder of animals? One is just a spoken thought, while the other is a nefarious action!"
And then I remembered the worst verse in the Bible.
Matthew 5:22: "But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire."
This worst verse in the Bible follows Jesus reminding the people of the law that they're more familiar with: "You have heard it said, 'Thou shalt not kill.'" The fact that a spoken thought, either "You fool!" or "I love Fidel Castro," carries the same punishment as an outward act is, as Keith Olbermann might say, the worst thing in the world. If you extrapolate a little further, and use Jesus' injunction against lust as an example, the thought alone is enough. This just could not be more crushing. It levels the playing field...totally. This is what prompts Paul to claim that no one is righteous...not even one. The fact that the bad news is so bad (Can you imagine? The audacity to require that our thoughts be pure and holy?) means that the Good News better be great. Luckily, it is:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Jesus: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
P.T. Anderson is (almost unarguably) one of the greatest American filmmakers currently working. The five films he's directed (Hard Eight [originally titled Sydney], Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood) have an obscene average Rotten Tomatoes score of 85.4% fresh. A true visual artist, Anderson's films are often as much about enduring images as they are about affecting performances. His skill has left his many fans impatiently excited for the release of his next project, The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic leader of a Mormon-like religion.
Hard Eight (1996)
The muse of P.T. Anderson's early career may well have been John C. Reilly. Before Reilly took a sharp left turn into sophomoric comedy (Talladega Nights, Walk Hard, Step Brothers), he was a series (and very talented) dramatic actor. In Hard Eight, he plays a down-on-his luck gambler who falls in with father-figure Sydney (Philip Baker Hall, another Anderson staple). The film is a little raw for an Anderson picture, but for a debut feature, it's pretty stunning. Boasting a cast featuring Reilly, Hall, Gwenyth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson, Hard Eight is an assured film by a novice writer/director. As tight and well-done as Hard Eight is, Anderson would only get better.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Just a year after making his name with Hard Eight, Anderson brought the house down with Boogie Nights. A gorgeous, captivating, and heart-wrenching film about the world of adult cinema in the 70s (when videotape was threatening the "high art" aspirations of adult "filmmakers), Boogie Nights features wonderful performances from Anderson regulars Reilly and Hall, who are joined by William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, and Mark Wahlberg's...ahem...member. Only the fifth film in which Wahlberg wasn't credited as "Marky Mark," Boogie Nights made him a star. It is the story arcs, though, of Wahlberg, Macy, Hoffman, Cheadle, and Graham that are most affecting. Brilliantly written and acted, Boogie Nights is not to be missed.
Also known as "the movie that proved Tom Cruise could act," Magnolia opened to hugely excited crowds...and sort of disappointed them. Though for my money Anderson't best movie (and certainly featuring one of the greatest opening scenes/monologues in the history of film), Magnolia is not as accessible as Boogie Nights (or even Hard Eight). Whereas those films have a single story-line followed from beginning to end, Magnolia is the ultimate these-people-are-all-interconnected movie. It's not derivative, though; it's brilliant, innovative, heart-breaking, full of wisdom, and ultimately religiously hopeful. The wonderful actors giving wonderful performances are too many to list. See this movie, and, if you can, consider the ending without dismissing it.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Also known as "the movie that proved Adam Sandler could act," Punch-Drunk Love wasn't seen by much of anyone. A love story between a normal woman (Emily Watson) and an intensely socially awkward man (Sandler), Punch-Drunk Love is just one more entry in the "P.T. Anderson knows how to pull the human heartstrings without being cheesy" canon. My only criticism of this movie is that it's too short: at a brisk 95 minutes, I would love to engage with these characters for much longer. I could absolutely stand for Love to clock in at Magnolia length (a daunting-but-doable 188 minutes). Bearing special mention here is the Jon Brion score, especially in the scene during which Sandler interacts with one of his many sisters in his "office" about whether or not he's coming over for dinner. A movie that didn't make back its budget, Punch-Drunk Love deserves a wider viewership than it got.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
There Will Be Blood could have been conceived as a vanity project for star Daniel Day-Lewis. He is so good in the role of oilman Daniel Plainview that it led to the most anti-climactic Academy Awards ceremony of all time. Despite George Clooney, Johnny Depp, and Tommy Lee Jones also being up for the award, I can't imagine the vote being close in any way. Audiences left theaters not remembering much about the film other than Day-Lewis' titanic performance (and perhaps the fact that he wanted to drink their milkshake). Though his highest rated film to date, There Will Be Blood is notable for Day-Lewis to the exclusion of everything else.
...and so we await The Master with breath held...