Movie Review: The Martian


I originally posted this on my other site – The Reviews.

If you’ve just landed on this planet and have no idea what this movie is about (see what I did there?), The Martian is the story of what happens if you accidentally stranded a botanist astronaut with a sarcastic sense of humor on the planet Mars. It’s based on the book of the same name written by Andy Weir.

Fans of the book (which I am one and have probably already rushed out to see this movie) need to know there is a 87.4% that you will really enjoy the movie. Yes, the book is more detailed, more nuanced, more geeky with science and numbers hence the 87.4%. I freely admit that I missed not having all the numbers and details in the film but there was no way all of that was ever making the final cut. Never. Yes, there are a couple of details left out of the movie – Watney losing battery power as he heads towards Aries 4 and the more personal interactions between Watney and his crewmates – but neither of those two detracted from the enjoyment of watching this film.

For those who have not read he book, just go watch it and enjoy the ride. It’s a great story full of humor and doesn’t overreach for the drama. Matt Damon (who plays Mark Watney) joins Tom Hanks as the only actors who have successfully pulled off a ‘stranded-alone-trying-to-survive-against-the-odds’ movie success. It has proven to be virtually impossible to carrying a movie with just one actor fighting for survival – just ask Sandra Bullock and Robert Redford – and Tom Hanks still is the gold standard here. Matt Damon does extremely well, showing off both his dramatic and comedic skills.

In Castaway, it was Hanks alone for close to 90 straight minutes on the screen. In The Martian, director Ridley Scott never allows that happen cutting from the drama on Mars to the drama on Earth in perfect timing. The downside of this is that you never really get the sense of total aloneness of one man on a distant planet. The upside is there is enough drama and tension spanning the universe, you don’t really miss it.

It’s hard to pick on anything that doesn’t work in the film.

Ok. I can pick on two things.

First, there is not enough use of Jessica Chastain. She plays Commander Lewis and you will recognize her from Zero Dark Thirty as well as Interstellar. Maybe it’s because I am in love with her red-hair or maybe it’s because she’s an incredible actor. Or both. The point is she is so good at being tough as nails and tender as down. She completely handles being the mission commander and there are too few scenes of her.

Second, the tension between the NASA Director played by Jeff Daniels and the Flight Director played by Sean Bean wasn’t fully developed. The tension is in the film but it’s not near as tight and deep as it needed to be. In the book, this was the central conflict on earth while Watney fought for his life on Mars. The crux of the conflict centered on telling the returning crew who left Watney on Mars what was really happening. Do you protect the 5 and sacrifice the 1 or do you risk the 5 in order to get all 6? The lives of the many versus the life of one? In the book, this conflict builds to the point of subterfuge and even mutiny against NASA. The film doesn’t completely capture this.

Neither of these issues submarine The Martian. It’s a great watch with plenty of places to laugh out loud and tear up. The supporting cast is SO GOOD. There isn’t a weak performance among any of them, although I am sure Kristen Wiig fans are going to be screaming that there should have been more of her in the film.

It’s no Interstellar in terms of dealing with deeper issues and themes, but there are plenty of opportunities to talk about what makes the human experience unique, the need for community and companionship, how humanity was never designed to live alone. One thought that got attention during the trailers but was never fully developed in the film was the idea that there is this desire in humanity to help those in need.

Overall, I enjoyed the film immensely. Makes for a great matinée date

The Martian is rated R for language. Check IMDb for full details but younger teens might want to steer clear.

Analyzing Fantasy Draft – Chubby Chernobyls Team

This is my team in one of my leagues. I drafted 9th in a 10 team league, PPR. I am the defending champ in this leagues. However, after the draft repeating as champion seems unlikely.

I made a crucial mistake in round 5 that I think may come back and sink me.

Pick 9 C.J. Anderson, Den RB,
Pick 12 Rob Gronkowski, NE TE

I like these picks considering who was available. Big surprise of the 1st round? There were a few – both Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers were drafted before my pick. Left a great RB for me at 9. A RB and WR was taken with 10 and 11. Knowing my next pick was 29 – I grabbed Gronk. Don’t regret these picks at all.

Pick 29 T.Y. Hilton, Ind WR
Pick 32 A.J. Green, Cin WR

In a PPR league, it was important I get two solid WRs. Johnson, Jones, and Cobb were all gone by this point. As was Brady, P. Manning, Wilson, and Brees. Sanders of Denver was available at 29 but was gone at 30. He was my pick at 32. A.J. Green is not a bad consolation prize.

Pick 49 Carlos Hyde, SF RB

Best RB available and the WRs were pretty much gone at this point. And this is where I think I messed up. Manning, Big Ben, Matt Ryan, Romo, and even Bradford were available here. I wasn’t really in love with ANY of them but I felt a need for one more back…and Arian Foster was there and I know he’s hurt now but would he last till pick 69??? But I need a QB…

Pick 52 Arian Foster, Hou RB

And immediately I regretted the pick. The next 19 picks were just brutal. Manning, Big Ben, Romo, Matt Ryan, Bradford – all gone. I was now officially and completely upside down. Guess who was left?

Pick 69 Ryan Tannehill, Mia QB

Just go ahead and start laughing now. Complete panic pick but only option left was Philip ‘Cry Me A’ Rivers.

Pick 72 Bills D/ST D/ST
Pick 89 Philip Rivers, SD QB

So I did end up picking Cry Me A Rivers.

I made another mistake at pick 109…

92 Roddy White, Atl WR
109 Antonio Gates, SD TE

Yeah…I’ll have to take care of that in waivers because Gronk’s bye is week 4 and Gates suspension is 4 weeks. Great idea for a backup but completely worthless for the bye week.

112 Brandon McManus, Den K
129 Michael Floyd, Ari WR
132 Danny Woodhead, SD RB
149 Phillip Dorsett, Ind WR

I get another chance at redemption tonight. Let’s see if I can’t do a little better.

Coming Down The Mountain

So I’m back from a 4 week study break and an even longer break than that from this blog. I kinda feel like Moses.

I am in no way comparing my leadership skills or responsibilities to him. He had the weight of leading millions of people and the future of a nation on his shoulders and he was pretty much always in conflict with the very people he was trying to help.

What I’m talking about it are those few moments he had as he was coming down the mountain after spending 40 days with God to right before he heard the commotion of his people worshipping a golden calf. (Which I am relieved to report that there were no golden calf sightings this past Sunday at church…always good news.)

Moses spends 40 days on a mountain. Comes down with two tablets. 10 statements.

That’s it.

I wonder if he thought – is this it? Is this enough? Am I ready for this? Do I want to do this? Am I really just as close to God at the base of the mountain as I am at the summit?

Then all heck broke loose as Joshua tells him what’s going on in the camp. And Moses broke these tablets before he ever got to reveal them.

I have a greater appreciation for what Moses did. 40 days in the wilderness. On the mountain. Having to live, find food, water, shelter. On his own. Listening to Him as he did what was necessary to survive.

The normal becomes the holy.

The mundane becomes the gateway to the sacred.

In seminary I was forced to read The Practice of the Presence of God by a monk named Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a kitchen aide in an abbey in Paris, France in the 1600’s. He cooked, peeled potatoes, cleaned dishes, mopped floors. He was a nobody in the abbey. Hardly anyone paid attention to him and he liked it that way. He kept a journal that would eventually become this book.

I get it now. I understand.

When you practice the presence of God in the mundane – it is no longer mundane. It becomes holy.

Holy work.

Where I was staying was fairly rustic. I had a cabin with 4 walls, a roof, a bed and enough electricity to run some lights, a coffee maker, a refrigerator, and a griddle. Anything more than that – things started popping. I didn’t have running water or a bathroom or shower. I had to bring in my water. The bathrooms and shower were located in a ‘community’ shelter a few yards away. No air, no heat.

Everything took longer. I had to be intentional. Nearest town was 22 miles away. Nearest hospital was 42 miles away. No street lights at night. No noise except the wind and a screech-owl that loved to hunt around 1 am.

It wasn’t Moses on the mountain roughing it but it slowed me down, made me focus and think on the task at hand. It wasn’t Club Med.

The mundane became different. Get up. Get warm. Find water. Go to bathroom. Read and study. Cook breakfast. Eat. Go fish til lunch. Clean fish (if I caught anything). Take shower. Read some more. Jot notes in journal. Fall asleep with book on chest in chair in front of cabin. Late-afternoon walk to clear head. Cook dinner. Clean up kitchen. More reading and journaling.

Some evenings, I found myself over at another cabin playing games, swapping stories, and laughing till late at night.

Every activity had to be intentional. No TV. No cell phone. No email. Just me and the moment.

Meeting God in the every day. Doing the mundane with the Holy.

Being there with Him. No agendas. No lessons. No messages. Just Him.

There is a wonderful simplicity in just being in the moment with Him. I can’t quantify it. I can’t seem to quite communicate how to experience Him on the daily trips to get water. But it happened.

I remember the river with my grandparents. Sitting on the pier fishing with Mawmaw. Digging through the worm bucket. Waiting for the pole to bend. Just sitting with her. Watching the Coosa. I didn’t know Him then but that is as close as I get to understanding what happened over the last few weeks.

Meeting Him in the mundane may exactly be the point. That’s the secret of a life well invested, a life well lived.

Can I keep that focus in the noise of the world I choose to live in? Can I still practice the presence of God with carpool, cell phones, and grocery store runs? Is he as present in the plains as he is in the mountains?

Is what I’m coming down the mountain with enough?

The Painful NBA Finals

I tried watching the NBA Finals last night.

I really did.

I can’t do it.

I’ll follow the highlights. I’ll read the articles. I’m impressed by LeBron James and the 5 straight finals appearances. I’ll be super impressed if he somehow wills this Cleveland team to a championship without Kyrie and Kevin.

But I can’t watch them play basketball.

Watching the Cavs and Warriors play makes me feel like basketball has been set back 100 years.

Maybe that’s the wrong metaphor because I can’t ever remember reading or hearing about basketball being played like this.

The traveling, the hacking, the holding, the moving screens, the isolation for 17 seconds then the mad one-on-one game for the last 7 seconds on the shot clock…the constant time-outs, replay stoppage, time-out, slopping inbounds plays and passes, the time-outs, and then the grabbing off the moving picks. The blindness of three referees on some calls, the arbitrary whistles of other calls, the complaining of players on every trip down the court…

I can’t take it.

It has been this way for a while. Gone are the days of getting up and down the floor, spacing out and running a real offense. Gone are the days of straight defense with good positioning and fundamentals. It used to be there was one team that pushed the limit – the Celtics of the ’80s, Pistons of the ’90s. Now – everybody plays like that and it’s painful to watch.

I think the last 2 minutes of the game last night took 30 minutes to play.

One of my best friends live in OKC now and he loves pro basketball. He has preached long and eloquently about the beautifulness of the NBA. I love my friend very much but he’s stupid wrong about this.

I know it’s not changing. These ratings have been ratings gold for ABC/ESPN. Advertisers love the game. TV loves the game. NBA has good guys as their faces now – Durant, Curry, James. So it is not changing.

But it’s painful to watch.

Guess this proves I am now that old codger who starts every conversation with ‘Back in my day…’

My Take On Hunger Games/Divergent/Maze Runner Trilogies

This is from my notes Sunday at our roundtable discussion for our film festival.

Each of these films are dystopian trilogies and share some commonalities.

All have an oppressive structure to fight against. Hunger Games it is the government, Divergent is the culture’s faction system, Maze Runner starts off with “The Maze” being the oppressive force but later we understand it’s a medical team.

Each has an unlikely heroine/hero that is facing an impossible task. Familial relationships are core to each story but in very different ways. Hunger Games is the actual family while Divergent focuses on the faction and Maze Runner on those in the Glades.

Adults are seen as aloof at best, the evil that is causing the problem at worst. Of course, this is probably more because these books are written for the young adult crowd.

There is a loss of innocence, an end of world problem that stands before our protagonists and each trilogy has a solution to the problem that involves self sacrifice at some level. In fact, all of them insist that the solution will only come about through sacrifice.

However, each is unique in it’s own right as well.

The Hunger Games
Gives us Katniss Everdeen as the primary heroine. A theme that runs through the entire trilogy is how compromised Katniss is by her love for Prim, her sister. She’ll do anything to save Prim – even use love as a commodity with Peeta. It’s not that she wants to hurt Peeta or Gail but she wants to save Prim at any cost. She will ‘play the game’ to save Prim, no matter who it hurts along the way including Peeta and Gail – her best friend back home who she also “loves.”

Colors and textures are huge in the film. Anything bright is to be distrusted, anything rustic/dirty is okay. President Snow, his white hair, clothes, and roses all scream at us – it is all a lie, don’t trust this! Purple seems to show us a blinded, ambiguous character at first. Effie Trinket and Plutarch, the game master.

Most of the film is about the gray. Is okay to kill if you are going to be killed? Is it okay to lie in order to survive? How far will you go to play the game with the Capital? Does Katniss really love Peetah or is this just part of the ruse?

Katniss never escapes the gray in the entire story. She is always compromised in some way. She doesn’t want to be the Mockingjay but will do it to save Peeta. She doesn’t want to the attachment to Gail unless it’s to help her mom and sister. She is more concerned about Prim than the atrocities of the government and leading the revolution.

You can see shadows of the Roman culture and its infatuation with the violence of the Colosseum. It’s the logical conclusion of secular humanism that the Hunger Games gives us a vivid picture of. In fact, Katniss has is eeriely similar to the goddess Artemis – woman hunter with bow and arrow who loves the outdoors.

What topples the Empire in book 1 is the “unconditional, sacrificial love” between Peetah and Katniss. Of course, it’s only Peetah that feels this way, Katniss is playing the game, playing the odds that the ‘system’ won’t stand for both victors to die in the arena. She wins the gamble in book 1. This value system doesn’t hold in the remaining story.

Quoting Plutarch -moves and countermoves becomes the name of the game. More war, different leader – same system. Both sides use deception and flattery to use Katniss. But deception is fine as long as end goal is noble.

There is a false reality of free will in Divergent. Same choice the Heavenly Father faces – do you allow free will and the beautiful mess that it creates or just the illusion of free will? If only the illusion, you must remove anything that is truly free. Hence, Divergents threaten the system. In life, God takes the risk.

Again – another heroine fighting in community, not alone. Focus here is more on society roles, than government. Self-sacrifice of ‘heroine’ is key to freedom — like Hunger Games.

Tris has a problem – she wants somebody else to tell her who she is and how she fits. She doesn’t want to do the work on her own.

Of the three – this one was had the least appeal for me. The romance was minimal which was nice but the payoff and twist doesn’t seem to push the story as well as the other two.

The Maze Runner
Doesn’t matter who you were before the maze.

So much biblical imagery in this story. Thomas – one of the creators of the maze – enters the maze as one of ‘them’, not as a creator. He comes to help heal, solve it. He offers them a new perspective – it’s not a prison, it’s a test. Only way to get out of maze is to follow Thomas, have a relationship with him and trust him enough to follow him through the maze. This comes at a great sacrifice to Thomas as well as the Gladers.

Family is redefined. Not by blood but by purpose and calling. They are the called out ones – church as it were.

The problem with world isn’t a system but a ‘sickness’ inside people. This sickness makes people the walking dead. Must cure the people, not the systems. The cure is a new creation, a new Eden, a new relationship. Forgiveness is the huge step to access this cure as is leaving the old behind.

SO MANY BIBLICAL ALLUSIONS!! Can’t be an accident. Maze Runner makes for a great allegory of the Gospel at work.

Trust, betrayal is a huge theme in the books, the idea of family is reframed and redefined. Shadows of what a new life in Christ is about – trading families.
love the picture of both needed – male and female hero

GE Wrapup
I think all three have some value and will allow you to talk about some incredible topics from a spiritual perspective.

The violence in Hunger Games is intense. Kids killing kids. As harsh as that is – there are places where this happens today. So it isn’t completely fiction. In urban areas, overseas in religious settings in particular. This is reality for some children in our world. They face the same moral dilemmas – kill or be killed. Grow up fast in places like that. Will you let your culture change you? Will you let them dictate what you do? Peeta said – no. Katniss…wasn’t as confident in that answer.

Divergent and Hunger Games gives us a glimpse of what the natural end of secular humanism looks like. If you solely lived by the values of secular humanism/darwinism – Hunger Games and Divergent is what you get. That is a picture we need to see. Our beliefs have deep, far-reaching consequences.

Both Divergent and Hunger Games preach that we can heal ourselves. That ultimately man’s best hope is himself and his ability to create a better system. All that is needed is more education, more war, more tolerance, or different leadership. It’s fools gold. It’s circular reasoning. It has never worked out that way in history. But it makes for a good ending for a book or movie.

There is huge desire/fear in the characters that the world they are in is not all there is. The future world/unknown world is met with equal parts hope and trepidation. And their quest is seen as a key component in how to deal with this fear. On the positive side, culture is seen in every series as something to fight against, to question. Ironically enough, this doesn’t happen in the real world. We seem to embrace it way to fast – values, morals.

There are whispers of the Gospel in each of these stories. Each of the authors were created in the image of God, their source of creativity is God and that DNA comes out in the stories – whether they intended this or not. There is more to this world than meets the eye. Something is amiss and needs fixing/redeeming/saving/healing. There is a bigger story going on. Is the core issue our culture or is it us?

I think Maze Runner is the better picture. There is a sickness. Some body has to find the cure. We don’t know what the cure is but we are going to establish these games, these mazes to see what does – pleasure, education, alternative society – what ever.

Finally, the guy who created the world has to enter the world to save the world. Heard that concept before? And that’s the Gospel – we need someone who isn’t sick – doesn’t have a sin problem – to cure us all. Comes at great sacrifice – both to the one giving the cure and the ones receiving the cure.

Movie Review: Tomorrowland

You can read the full review on my other site – The Reviews.

Here’s the short version: It’s a fun, entertaining film that the whole family can watch and enjoy. If you can make it through the first 45 minutes to an hour.

It’s got a real slow start that even after the movie, I’m not sure is completely necessary. It’s a classic, feel good, moral in the end Disney tale that is complete eye-candy in some places. It’s not going to change the world or start a new cultural phenomenon. It doesn’t come close to answering the deep existential questions it asks but then again, that was probably never the point of the movie in the first place.

The trio of Britt Robertson (Casey Newton), Raffey Cassidy (Athena), and George Clooney (Frank Walker) are perfect once they get on-screen together. But like I said earlier – it takes way too long to get to that point.

It’s a classic tale of an old, jaded cynic being redeemed and recharged by a young, bright-eyed optimist. It’s got a hopeful message and there is enough humor and action to keep most folks entertained, despite the laborious way they get to it. There isn’t enough action to justify full-price admission to the big-screen but there are plenty of moments that make a family trip to the matinée, most definitely it would be a good film for night in with the family.

To read the full review complete – click here.

Movie Review: DamNation

Damnation opens with one mind-boggling stat. The are currently 75,000 dams in the United States over three feet high. That’s one dam per day since Thomas Jefferson was in office. The film is a story of the history of dams and then moves to ask the question have some of them outlived their usefulness?

Here’s what I was expecting from the film – a far left cry from the wilderness that we should remove all dams and return the United States to her ‘natural state’. That dams represented all that was evil in the world and man’s encroachment upon nature. That the energy and flood control that dams provide were overstated and these long-haired hippies just wanted to bring industrial America to her knees.

Here’s what I got…pretty much none of that.

Directors Ben Knight (who also narrates the film) and Travis Rummel give an incredibly fair film about the issue and do so with some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve seen.

Ben states in the opening of the films that dams played a pivotal role in the resurrection of the American economy but like all technology, it was pushed to far. As DamNation rolls through how national parks were flooded and many early dams failed under poor designs, it is also records how American policy often contradicted its practice of damming every river in sight.

As Congress passed endangered species acts and conservation laws to protect national parks, the Army Corp of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation were still building dams at an incredible pace. In 1995, things finally came to head and a major movement to remove obsolete dams began in earnest. President Clinton appointed Dan Beard as his man to lead the Bureau of Reclamation. Beard proved to be instrumental in removing dams that were blocking salmon from spawning upstream.

DamNation insists that are many more dams that are obsolete and they have the stats to back it up. An obsolete dam is one that consumes more energy than it produces or could be easily replaced by wind farms. As our modes of transporting goods has improved with highways, railways, and air cargo, the need for a dam and lock system on many of our rivers is now completely unnecessary.

What’s really at stake in all of this? Knight and Rummel present a nuanced, articulate case that it’s more than just a bunch of hippies longing for a return to the natural order of things. It’s about the survival of Native American cultures who for centuries centered their cultures around the spawning sockeye. It’s about allowing these fish to spawn and create enough fish to feed the world. It’s about making sure that our ancestors will be able to enjoy these rivers. It’s about making sure nature’s way of replacing sediment on our coasts is allowed to run its course instead of blocking it all behind dams.

The film acknowledges the counter argument to all of this. The dams provide flood control to America’s watersheds, they minimize the effect of drought seasons, and they create waterways for recreation and commerce. DamNation is quick to note – it’s not that all dams are bad or need to be removed but to continue to fight for the lives of every dam in the country is short-sighted at best, suicidal to the species at worst.

There is a larger cost involved in maintaining all these dams – destroying cultures, natural parks, fish populations, coastlines, and beautiful venues for generations to come.

The film captivated me. It dares to ask what role do we as humans have in nature? Our history shows us to be destructive but isn’t it possible to one day be a redemptive force? Could this plan of destroying obsolete dams work to bringing back the salmon population in the Pacific Northwest?

They present a compelling argument and they present it very well. The cinematography is gorgeous. We get period photos showing the landscape impact that dams have had. We get interviews and candid conversations from both sides of the issue. The filmmakers stay mostly in the Pacific Northwest and even get themselves in a little trouble doing the research for the film.

One of the more provocative segments of the film is the story of Glen Canyon. In 1956, approval was given to dam the canyon to create Lake Powell. A group of archeologists and river runners set off into the canyon before the work was started to document more than 250 culturally significant sites to Native American history as well as the over 125 side canyons that the new lake would destroy. Katie Lee, a folk singer/Hollywood starlet/activist was one of those runners. Katie tells her story with photos and videos that they took on that journey. She was in her 30’s, posed nude in the canyon to illustrate that mankind was once again destroying Eden and as she talks about it today at age 95 it is hard to imagine that she has lost any of her spunk, fire, or grit.

Katie’s words of ‘destroying Eden’ struck a chord with me. I’m ashamed when I think about how little attention Christ-followers give the environment. I realize I am speaking in generalities and that’s always a dangerous proposition but it can’t be denied that environmental issues tend to get a back seat to other issues of morality.

While I do believe that a human life is more valuable than a fish’s, I’d be just as quick to point out that this doesn’t mean that the fish has no value. God created this fragile planet and put humanity responsible for care of it. If we take care of her, she’ll take care of us. God put this relationship as core to our existence just as he put the man/woman relationship as core. We are stewards of His creation and that charge I believe consistently is undervalued by many of us.

In DamNation, we get a beautiful film that elevates an issue that humanity could play a redemptive role in instead of destroyer.

And I don’t think that makes me a long-haired hippie. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

You can read more of my reviews at The Reviews.

Movie Review: The Sixth Sense

Showing up on Netflix this month is this 1999 classic from M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan exploded on the scene with this film and followed it up with two solid offerings in Unbreakable and Signs. Things got dicey after that with The Village and Lady in the Water. Shyamalan never really captured the magic like he did with The Sixth Sense.

Just a little more history lesson before I get to the movie…

Bruce Willis delivered, at the time, what was thought to be his best acting performance ever and worthy of a Best Actor nomination. He didn’t get nominated. What made the snub even more obvious was how every one else connected to the movie DID get nominated – Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, and Barry Mendel for Best Picture; Haley Joel Osment for Best Supporting Actor; Toni Collette for Best Supporting Actress; Shyamalan for Best Director and Best Screenplay. None of them won but it is just an honor to be nominated. This, by the way, is the background of the joking between Matt Damon and Bruce Willis in the movie Ocean’s 12.

As for The Sixth Sense, it is a slow-moving story of how child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is trying to help 9-year old boy Cole Sear who is having vivid hallucinations of dead people. Dr. Crowe had tried to help a young man with a similar problem early in his life and ended up being shot by the man. Crowe’s attempt to help Sear is both for the boy’s benefit as well as a cathartic process for himself as he feels like he failed to help the earlier child. Dr. Crowe suggests a different method with dealing with the hallucinations – helping the dead find closure in this life so they can move on to the next. This ends up being the key for young Cole Sear, played brilliantly by Haley Joel Osment. The film plods along with Cole helping the dead people that he sees. He solves a murder, helps another deliver a message to a loved one. Osment delivers an incredibly nuanced performance for a 9-year old.

Have I mentioned the film plods along a bit? Another word could be that it is very intentional. Some have argued that the ending only partially redeems the slow, methodical pace of the film. I don’t see it this way at all. Remember, every single item in the frame is put there on purpose by the director. At least – they should be there on purpose and with Shyamalan this is particularly true. Hitchcock would do the same thing – fill the frame with details, tell a story at a slow, methodical pace, then in the final act of the film all those details explode to life revealing their purpose. The gamble lies in whether the story that’s being told is deep enough to pull off the twist.

Hitchcock mastered this kind of film making. The Sixth Sense belongs in that club as well.

The interactions of Dr. Crowe with both his clients and his wife are crucial to the arch of the film. Willis captures the dilemma that all mental health professionals face – feeling their client’s pain, being just as frustrated with slow or even lack of progress. Willis captures this perfectly and the slow pace only adds to the intensity of both the feelings of despair of Sear as well as Dr. Crowe.

I can not – will not – spoil the ending. It is perhaps the most incredible, mind-blowing ending to any film. (Save of course, Darth Vader telling Luke he was his father.) The intensity of the film is heightened by Shyamalan’s refusal to use the traditional ‘jump music’ in the film. The scary scenes ambush you as a viewer – with no set up or build up.

The Sixth Sense really is one of those rare films that you must wait until the credits roll to form an opinion on it.

If you haven’t seen it – it’s definitely worth the watch.

Then you’ll watch it again.

You can read more of my thoughts about film and books on The Reviews.

Worshipping In The Dark

Sunday during the second service, right as our worship team was cranking up for the third song – something went “pop” and then everything went dark.

Like pitch dark.

Like couldn’t see my hand in front of my face kind of dark.

Somebody said in a fairly loud voice – “Now THAT’S WORSHIP!!!”

What we first thought was just a blown fuse ended up being an entire grid (or two) down. The entire city of Auburn – just to the south of us – was without power as well. We had a couple of exit lamps and those little emergency lights running.

I stood up, got a thumbs up from our incredible children’s workers telling me – all the kids were fine and there was no panic going on at all. So I taught. In the dark. By the light of my iPad.

After second service, I figured folks would know we didn’t have power and hardly anybody would show up. Boy was I wrong. We had a packed house and as I turned to Rick (our worship pastor), he was grinning.

“I got this” he said. “We’re gonna grab our acoustics guitar, a cajon, djembe – our keyboard player tracked down one of those kid pianos that has the single note keys on it. She’s going to play that. We’ll gather everybody close and just worship in the dark.”

And off third service went – in complete darkness. We sang, prayed. I taught. Had no idea on facial expressions or anything. There was no video, ProPresenter – nothing.

This morning my inbox had some of these gems:

“I was in tears yesterday at the simplicity of worship. Thank you for pushing us beyond our comfort zone.”

“This reminds me of Rich Mullins in concert!”

“What an honor to be at a church where worship is worship, not the show.”

“I’m not sure what exactly happened in service today – but it was good.”

At Creative Team meeting today, we were talking about the whys. As in – why did we get such a huge response given we had no power for 2 of our 3 services? Why didn’t it just crater and fall apart? What was it that people connected so deeply with it?

I don’t think there is a single answer to any of those but here’s my list.

I think it forced us to get quiet. With no eye-candy or video or any kind of noise, the room was really silent in some spaces. And it felt good. It created an atmosphere of anticipation and silence.

I think it revealed the real heart of our worship team. That it’s not about the lights, toys, microphones, or videos. When all of that was taken away, they just jumped in and found other ways to worship and invite the rest of us to join them. And that’s huge – to have a worship team that worships – not performs.

I think it showed the heart of our church. We love the Lord but don’t take ourselves too seriously. So when the power went out, nobody hit the panic button nor did anyone make a big deal about it ‘ruining’ the morning. In fact, just the opposite happened. We loved it. Just another memory of worship with each other.

I think it also showed us the heart of our God – who does this sort of thing everyday in the remotest of places around the globe. Where mud floors and thatch roofs are considered a luxury, he is pleased to ‘show up’ in these places. (I know that’s not theologically accurate…I’m trying to make a point here.)

He loves to meet us in our silent, dark places to prove once again that he is here.

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

The much-anticipated, long-awaited sequel to The Avengers will not disappoint Marvel fans. It has all the one-liners and star-power you can imagine. It even introduces a few new faces into the Marvel canon that should play well with the rest of the crew.

The villain this time around is none Ultron, voiced by James Spader. Ultron is the result of Stark’s love of technology and pursuit of an even deeper AI. And it goes wrong – horribly wrong. The fact that every single person on the planet (and in the theater) can see this coming shouldn’t diminish the rest of the story.

Age of Ultron borderlines on being a bulky, bloated, stuffed to the gills, Michael Bay/Transformers look-alike film. The battle scenes are intense and full. We get slo-mo and 360 degree looks at the Hulk pulling apart robots. And they just keep going. On and on. How many different ways can Hawkeye shoot an exploding arrow?

So what keeps it from falling into this pit?

Read the rest of the review here on my other siteThe Reviews.