Why You Should Come To “JOY” – The Chapel’s Christmas Celebration

Christmas is now less than two weeks away. And I for one cannot believe how quickly it has come! For many of us, the season is one of the busiest times of the year. For me the time has flown in part due to preparation for our Chapel’s Christmas Program, a night of celebration called JOY… More on that in a minute!

This busyness tends to go with the season. We often hear complaints about missing the “true meaning” of Christmas (read: Jesus) because the holiday has been hijacked by a lot of secular traditions–spending time with family, throwing parties, giving gifts, eating tons of food, etc. Not untrue. Christmas has a lot more associated with it as a holiday than just a celebration of the birth of Jesus. There are many reasons for that, but there is one that many may not consider…

History Lesson

In the western world, our current secular take on Christmas owes much of its rise to prominence to one man: Charles Dickens, author of the beloved classic A Christmas Carol. Here is what I mean: Dickens, who was a known critic of religion, wished to reimagine and redefine the spirit of Christmas around positive secular (or not uniquely Christian) themes like family, giving to the needy (Dickens was also a huge social activist regarding the state of poverty and the plight of impoverished children working in factories), festive merrymaking, and appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. His goal was to make Christmas accessible to all as well as raise a level of nostalgia for a traditional old English Christmas, which was being threatened by the industrial revolution. It worked too. His values, now imortalized through countless adaptations (the work is in the public domain), play a huge role in society’s understanding of the “true” meaning of Christmas.

A Christmas Carol

And we all know the story of his novella. If you have never read it, you have seen it in one version or another, from the definitive 1951 film version, Disney’s cartoon with Mickey and Ducktales’ Scrooge McDuck, the Muppet one, or the most recent CG interpretation featuring a motion-captured Jimmy Carrey as its protagonist. Each depicts the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a joyless, horrible man with no love for his fellow man, no desire to share any of his immense wealth or spend time with his family. If ever there was a man who did not know how to appreciate life and its simple pleasures, it is the character of Scrooge. We all know what happens. He is visited by three ghosts who magically show him his past present and future, with each journey slowly softening his heart until Scrooge sees the error of ways and emerges a changed man.

And let's not forget the Bill Murray's classic "Scrooged." A favorite.
And let’s not forget the Bill Murray’s classic “Scrooged.” A personal favorite.

The Truth

I *love* this story. I will pretty much watch any version. Liam has probably watched the Mickey version half a dozen times already this year. When things settle down tomorrow after rehearsals, I am planning on watching a new version on Amazon Prime with Patric Stewart as Scrooge. Can’t wait!

Here is why I love it: Scrooge completely transforms. Though Dickens was not a Christian, he portrays well a crucial part of the Christian’s journey–transformation at a heart level, which brings about repentance. But it is not just repentance as in a change in behavior. It is motivated by newfound joy that he has realized the truth and can now live in that reality! Dickens’ surprisingly Judeo-Christian values are instilled into his character basically by a supernatural experience that uniquely changes his heart. So, while Dickens clearly wrote a secular Christmas story, glimpses of God’s truth still appear.

Joy of Every Longing Heart

This past Sunday, we shared with our congregation one of the songs from our upcoming Christmas event called “Joy of Every Longing Heart.” I want to reiterate what I said then. Those of us who have trusted Christ have seen the truth; the truth that our hearts are all empty and are longing to be filled with something. Hope… peace… joy! We know this world is broken. It doesn’t work the way it should, and our own lives reveal it to be true. But we have found the answer. We have found hope, peace, and joy in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ! And by his grace, we have been transformed to live in a new reality.

Here is the sticking point though: We forget. We miss it. We lose the joy. We are like the man James warns us about who sees his face in the mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24). We’ve heard the truth, but our attitudes and actions don’t reflect it. I am there too. My life doesn’t look the way it should. I wanna be like Scrooge at the end of the story. Compassionate. Giving. Joyful. Sometimes I am more like how he is at the beginning. Often I am like Scrooge in the middle. Torn between the truth and the way I want to live my life.

Music helps me. I think it helps a lot of us. God’s word helps me. I know it can help all of us who struggle to find the joy. Make no mistake though, whether you feel joyful or not, there is much to celebrate when it comes to Christmas. The stories are true. They really did happen. Jesus came for us! He rescued us! He made us whole. So the Chapel Worship Staff, our teams, and the choir have created a way for us to respond.

So lets be joyful.

Hope to see you there
Hope to see you there

[END]

Pacific Rim: A Short Review

Image

I really liked it.

Here is what a buddy said: “Will it have good robot fights? Yes. Will it have a good story? Probably not.”

He is not entirely wrong. You need to know what you are gonna get with a film like Pacific Rim. Given that the source material is about giant human piloted robots fighting giant monsters called Kaiju from another dimension (that enter our world through a rift at the bottom of the pacific ocean–hence the title), you kinda need to go in remembering that it ain’t trying to be shakespeare.

That said, it is directed by GDT of Pan’s Labyrinth fame, and this dude can create cool monsters and, as it turns out, great robots. Where the film shines is the outstanding scenes where monsters and robots just duke it out. The film moves through its thin plot with a straight face, but you just know that the filmmakers were giggling as they made their characters who wear these complicated suits and interact with all these interactive 3D displays reach down and press a button that simply says “SWORD.” Genius. What’s more, the script has lines the character say lines like “Activate elbow rocket!” with complete earnestness. It is like the script was written by a 10-year old, and I mean that in the best possible way! Your inner 10-year-old boy will just be grinning ear to ear during these scenes.

This film has some half-baked ideas that get lost in the shuffle, some bad dialogue and wooden acting for sure. Still, it managed to deliver a really fun experience at the movies. I usually don’t tell people to spring for the 3D, but I really enjoyed it in this film. It worked well with all the action, which is why you see a movie like this.

I will also say that financially, this film hasn’t done great in the US, but it is doing very well overseas, particularly in Asain markets (no surprise there–they invented this subgenre). Still, I think Americans are in for a treat if they can make it to the theater. I highly recommend folks see this one. It is worth it to see it on the big screen for the sheer spectacle of it all.

Here is the “elbow rocket” scene I mentioned.

 

If you don’t think that’s:

a. hilarious
b. awesome
c. really well done CG
d. all of the above

Then you probably won’t like this movie. If you answered a, b, c, or you are like me and answered d, you need to see this film before it leaves theaters!

[END]

Batman vs. Superman – Thoughts

I know, right. 7 months. Awesome. I like to make you wait for it. Family, work, and school has mostly kept the blog on the back burner. THIS FAMILY:

My awesome family has mostly kept the blog on the back burner.
My awesome family

Well, if you were wondering what could motivate a nerd to dust off the ol’ WordPress and get typing, you have your answer: ComicCon 2013. This past weekend at the annual geek-fest, comic book fans everywhere were given news of a film in development that they have been dreaming of since comic book movies came into being: a film that includes both the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel in the same story. Well played, DC. Well played.

Word came on Saturday from Man of Steel director himself, Zack Snyder, that he and the film’s writer would be re-teaming for a sequel that would feature the both the Bat and the Boyscout. If you have any doubt that fans of superheroes have been looking forward to this pairing, just take a look at the footage from Saturday’s panel. Obviously, fans in the room went berserk. The quote read by Man of Steel actor Henry Lennox is from the lauded Frank Miller story “The Dark Knight Returns” featuring older versions of both Superman and Batman. Snyder says that they are not adapting the work per se, but it is serving as an inspiration. In that story, Batman smokes Superman for most of the fight, btw.

Batman-Mix-Superman-Logo

So, after a freakishly successful Dark Knight Trilogy, and the sizable hit in last month’s  Man of Steel, Warner Bros. and DC are doubling down for 2015 in hopes to capture some of Marvel’s Avenger’s team-up magic (read: $$$). One small problem is that the Batman that everyone loves and remembers from Nolan’s universe is very unlikely to be the Batman in the next Superman film. Christian Bale has already said many times that he would not do another Batman film without Nolan involved, and Nolan has said that he is not going to do more. The ending of Bruce Wayne’s Batman is pretty final in that trilogy anyway. This means a reboot of the character, plain and simple. They are not going to have another character in the role as Batman (i.e. Joseph Gordon Levit’s character). That’s worse than rebooting.

That’s fine with me. I know some people will cry, “But it is too soon! Nolan’s franchise just ended!” That’s so 2012. And Sony has proved with The Amazing Spiderman that you can reboot a character in short order as long as you make the reboot different enough of a take on the character and tell a good story. I am content to let Nolan’s trilogy exist in its own little pocket universe of the more “realistic” Batman. The Batman of a “shared” universe of all the DC Superheroes needs to be characterized a little differently anyway. And if the Superman (or I guess the Clark Kent) of Man of Steel had existed in the Nolan Batman universe, he would have had to be a real jerk to not intervene in the events of The Dark Knight Rises, you know, with a whole city being under siege by terrorists with a nuke that he could easily pick up and chuck into space at superspeed before Bane even knew what happened…

"Look! I already told you, I was busy trying to figure out my destiny, and I didn't have this cool suit yet!
“Look! I already told you, I was busy trying to figure out my destiny, and I didn’t have this cool suit yet!”

No, best to bring in a new Batman, which is what it looks like they are gonna do. Unless they totally get it wrong, this movie stands to make a billion dollars, easy. Even if it is just pretty good (some would argue “okay” is more appropriate) like Man of Steel, it will do good business just by nature of the fact that it features probably THE TWO most well known Superheroes, period. As much as I hate to admit as a die-hard Marvel fan, Batman & Supes are part of the fabric of our culture much more than Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, et al. They have been around longer, and they are just cultural touchtones. Plus, the two have a legendary bromance that could make for some quality storytelling.

That brings me to my main purpose of this little post: what story are they gonna use to bring these two together? There are so many good ones in the comic book world, some of which have been turned into awesome animated movies. But obviously, most of them are out by nature of the fact that this is still in fact a sequel to Man of Steel. If Batman already exists in this new universe, Supes hasn’t met him yet because Man of Steel acts as an origin story. So, the two will be meeting for the first time. My guess is IF Batman pre-existed the events of Man of Steel (a possibility), he is pretty terrified of the power Superman has and will want to find a way to neutralize him–particularly since the collateral damage done by Superman and Zod’s fight in Man of Steel is so TERRIBLE! This will be a way to distinguish the new Bruce Wayne of the shared universe as “the world’s greatest detective.” I imagine he will quickly discover Supe’s identity as Clark as well as Kryptonite, which was not discovered as of yet in the first film.

More interesting will be if they adjust’s Batman’s origin to include Superman as the (or at least one) driving force that leads Wayne to don the cape and cowl for the first time. A huge subplot in the comic books is Batman’s distrust of aliens and other super-powered beings. As the only non-powered member of the Justice League, Batman feels a special responsibility to protect humanity, potentially even from good guys if it comes down to it. This is the plot of Justice League: Doom, an amazing story where a group of supervillains steal and decrypt Batman’s files on each member of the Justice League, which includes how Batman would neutralize them should they ever become a “threat.” That would work well down the line as a Justice League Movie… maybe Justice League 2. But Batman vs. Superman could start us down that road. One of the fabulous things about the Justice League cartoon of the late 90s (I have watched several with Liam on Saturday morning–gotta raise that kid right) was learning early on that Batman always kept a small piece of Kryptonite on his utility belt in a led-lined pouch should the need to subdue Superman arise. That’s pretty awesome.

Batman-vs-Superman-Comic-Book-Auction1
Sometimes they can’t talk it out.

I do hope for a few things:

  • A better, more subtle title than “Batman vs. Superman” vice-versa. “World’s Finest” is a great title. Just use both emblems. The Dark Knight and Man of Steel have proven that you don’t need to have Batman or Superman in the title. The emblem is enough for marketing.
  • A great Batman casting. I like Richard Armitage (currently playing Thorin in the hobit films).
  • A story that adequately addresses the ridiculous collateral dammage and loss of life in Man of Steel and Superman’s role in it.
  • Batman having to find ways to fight Superman and hold his own (read: not die) without just using Kryptonite.
  • A villain that would actually take both men working together to beat, leading them to set aside their differences because of a common goal. This would help them cultivate mutual respect (glad I don’t have to write that script).

One thing I do know, Warner Bros. knew all along–their marketing goes all the way back to I Am Legend in 2007, but its was a few years early.

Hopefully they were not right about the cancer cure that turns the world into zombies.
Hopefully they were not right about the cancer cure that turns the world into zombies.

Guess we’ll see in 2015, during the same summer as Avengers: Age of Ultron. Don’t even get me started on that one 😉

[END]

STAR WARS & Disney: Thoughts

If you haven’t heard, Disney purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion. Today at work I got a bunch of texts and facebook posts related to the topic. Apparently, everyone wanted to be the one to break the news to me. I can understand, and, frankly, being known by so many friends for my love of STAR WARS, I even expect it to a degree. In a way, it’s like wanting to be the first to tell the guy that always talks about his favorite band that has been broken up for years is getting back together. It’s great news. Thanks to all who wanted to inform. I am thrilled as are many other more devoted fans, I am sure. And, as already stated on twitter by movie blogger Steve Weintrab, @colliderfrosty, “Thank you George Lucas for creating STAR WARS. But a bigger thank you for letting it go.”

I think many of us that grew up watching STAR WARS have been fed up with George Lucas’ frequent tinkering with his classic films and subpar writing and directing for the prequel trilogy that came out over the last decade. And I have said in many past nerdy conversations things to the effect of: “I wish George Lucas would just let other people develop STAR WARS stories that are good.” After all, no one can deny that the universe he created is so much bigger and vaster now thanks in no small part to the books, games, and comics that are all licensed to tell stories in the STAR WARS universe that are frequently better than anything Lucas has come up with in the last 15 years. It is long overdue for some fresh writing and directing talent, and Disney is the perfect place to develop some new STAR WARS films.

A Marriage of Epic Proportions

Disney is a great company that has made some really smart investments into other studios like Marvel and Pixar. The acquisition of Lucasfilm just makes their stable properties that much more appealing to moviegoers. In honesty, considering the value of STAR WARS thus far $4 billion is a steal. Do Star Wars films right, and it can easily gross $1 billion worldwide, not to mention the money (in the billions) to be made from toys and merchandise. It’s really a no-brainer for Disney. I just don’t think anyone saw Lucas letting go of it. Kudos, GL. Fans have less cause to stay mad at you for the prequels.

The big news is that Disney is already putting together plans for an Episode 7, based on a treatment by Lucas (he also has two more for–you guessed it–a trilogy). Kathleen Kennedy, the new president of Lucasfilm has already met with screenwriters. That’s a big deal. Actual screenwriters. A huge problem with the prequels wasn’t the overall story ideas, but how those stories were told–one-dimensional characters, wooden dialogue, and just campy direction with childish humor. That was because it was all Lucas. Using Lucas’ ideas as the jumping off point but letting fresh writers and directors take realize the story is the right move. And a property as legendary and formative for filmmakers as STAR WARS will attract the kind of A-list talent needed to get the franchise back on track. Articles are floating around names like David Fincher,J.J. Abrams, and even people like Guilermo Del Toro for the director’s chair. Abrams would be a good choice, but I don’t think on principle the guy behind Star Trek should also direct STAR WARS. I am inclined toward names from the Marvel & Pixar camp that have already proven themselves with Disney properties. Guys like Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: GP) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers) no doubt would be outstanding choices, though Whedon is probably out as Avengers 2 is set to release the same year as Episode 7. Time will tell. But speculation has already begun.

As fun as it is to speculate about the behind the camera talent, I am even more interested in to know what kind of story we are dealing with. Does this follow an all new story created by Lucas which has no ties to the Expanded Universe Thrawn Trilogy (the de-facto 7,8, and 9 to many a STAR WARS nerd)? Likely. If it is a new story, does it use the same characters as the original trilogy? I hope so. I already have given my thoughts on who I would cast if we were making the original STAR WARS films with actors today. Some of those could still work for an Episode 7. Others might wish to see a story that takes place some 35 – 40 odd years after the original film. This would allow it to contain new characters as well as have the original actors reprise their iconic rolls. This could work, though I am less inclined to think this will happen. This is already being billed as a new trilogy, so they are going to want to tell a story that relies on young actors to tell over the next 7 to 10 years. Harrison Ford is 70, and the first new film is still three years away, just to put that in prospective.

Ford
Where did you dig up that old fossil?

All things told, I am elated that my son Liam will grow up seeing new STAR WARS films in theaters at a young age. In 2015, he will only be 3, which is probably too young to really enjoy it. But fore the next ones he’ll likely be 6 and 9, which is just about perfect. It makes the films that much more special for me getting to share them with my son. I grew up watching the originals with my dad and brother on TV and VHS, but the prequel films didn’t come out until I was in high school and college. I can’t wait to experience STAR WARS through the eyes of my child. It makes me giddy, to be honest.

STAR WARS has meant more to nerds than probably any other film property, and it is awesome to see new vitality injected into a franchise that seemed like it was on life support. Here’s hoping some new storytellers can recapture the magic that can only be found a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

By the way, if they do end up using the Thrawn Trilogy, I nominate Michael Fassbender for the Chiss Grand Admiral. I know. #NERDALERT

THRAWN
“Only nerds know who I am”
“I’m good at playing bad guys.”