Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I Once Was LOST, But Now Am Found...

(Warning: this posting contains plot spoilers for the LOST episode, “The 23rd Psalm.”)

As you can see by earlier posts, I’m a guy curious about how faith (particularly Christian faith) intersects with culture. Which of course makes me intrigued by the notion that most of the well done movies and television shows that deal directly with questions of faith/Christianity tend to be made by non-Christians – or at least folks that aren’t trumpeting their religious background while marketing said project.

I think there is a boatload of reasons (and a large boat at that -- is the correct term “ship?”) why this is so; one that has drawn my attention recently is that it seems that many Christian look to art/entertainment as a way to explain/expound on faith, as opposed to using it as a way to explore faith. And, as any child knows, going exploring is so much more interesting than sitting in class listening to a lecture.

Case in point, LOST. Highly popular show, highly fascinating, highly regarded by critics and audience alike. And one of the best places to watch faith being wrestled with – specifically the merits of faith versus reason. Why is it so fascinating? I think because they set out to ask questions.

This year the show is being shaped by co-creator Damon Lindelof and his colleague, Carlton Cuse (while J.J. Abrams is off doing MISSION IMPOSSIBLE). Entertainment Weekly 9 (Dec 30 double issue) has this to say: “Their collaboration is most clearly evident in season 2’s Jack-Locke reason-versus-faith theme, inspired by the spiritual worldviews of Lindelof (Jewish and empirical-minded) and Cuse (Catholic and willing to leap beyond logic). ‘The collision of our perspectives plays out on the show,’ says Cuse, who cites Narnia as one touchstone for the kind of fantastical otherworld LOST is trying to create. ‘Both of us are searching for the answer to the bigger questions of how you lead a meaningful life, and we’ve chosen to use the show to explore those questions.’”

See? Set out to explore questions, you come up with an interesting ride. Another thing I appreciate about the way LOST handles its safari into faith: the journey isn’t simply about faith versus reason; distinctions are made on what the faith or reason is based on. Boone’s faith was in Locke; look where that got him. Jack’s reason was in his own power – last week’s episode showed us how well that went.

Case in point, LOST “The 23rd Psalm,” which aired two weeks ago. The episode is a dramatically compelling look at a man’s journey from being truly lost to truly found – all through the power of Christ’s forgiveness. In a scene near the end, Eko is confronted by “the monster,” a dark cloud of flashing images. Everyone who faces the cloud (with the exception of Locke) runs in fear; Eko stands, calmly staring into the darkness. When asked why he didn’t run, he calmly explains that the cloud held no fear for him.

Fan sites claim the cloud contains pictures from of the past of the character facing the cloud – available to the television viewer with a quick eye and a Tivo. One site reports that the images shown to Eko were of his worst crimes, including the death of his brother, and a final image of Jesus on the cross. None too subtle message: because of the sacrifice of Christ, Eko’s past sins no longer hold power over him. Yowza.

Hey, in case you are thinking I’m reading too much into this, Eko recites the entire 23rd Psalm at the end of the show – “The Lord is my shepherd… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil…”

This just struck me: how come so many of us are afraid to go through the valley of questions and doubts? Is it because we doubt the Shepherd?

Thank you Mssr. Lindelof and Cuse for daring to walk through the valley.

Just my thoughts,


Random Silliness: COMPACT ARGUMENT

I’m realizing that blogging is a great responsibility. I mean, almost a dozen people could read this stuff I’m spewing! So I’ve decided that I need to be more socially responsible. Therefore, I am now instituting a semi-regular feature, THE MORE WE PRETEND TO KNOW.

First up, A Vocabulary Lesson for Children.

In full disclosure, I do not have any children of my own, but I frequently borrow the children of relatives and friends to help me feel all fatherly wise without actually having to change any diapers. One thing I’ve noticed in my pretend parenting is that these little buggers are curious, and tend to ask about things that are best left ignored.

For instance, your little Susie may be in the throes of learning to read (a skill I wouldn’t recommend – it just makes them ask more questions), and upon hopping out of the SUV in the Sears parking structure, sees the lettering barely visible on the pavement under the back end of your monster vehicle.

“What is “c-o-m-p-a-c-t,” daddy?”

Do you see the problem? Susie might mistakenly believe that “compact” refers to the size of the car that is supposed to be parked in this space. She is way too young to understand the logical and philosophical reasoning illustrating why this is a rule that only applies to that obnoxious station wagon driver that stole the spot right outside the door to Target last week (requiring you to have to explain to Susie why the words you used in that situation shouldn’t be repeated during show and tell at school) and is clearly not meant for daddys whose behemoth vehicle fits easily in such spaces without having to cross the lines on either side by more than a few inches or so.

Look around any mall parking lot, and you will see that you aren’t the only one with this problem. In fact, you can always distract Susie by playing the “see if you can find a compact car in a compact space” game, which is a very tricky sport.

But don’t worry – I am here to solve your problem. Explain to Susie that, while in some usages “compact” refers to smaller vehicles, the word has many meanings. Third on the list in my dictionary is “tightly packed or dense.”

Tell your little girl that this is a space designated for dense people. I’m sure that with one look at you, she will be perfectly satisfied with that answer.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hop on over to Jeff's blog

Letter of the Day on Jeff Overstreet's blog, Looking Closer Journal, is a must read.

A must. Go now.

What are you still doing here?


Sunday, January 22, 2006


(This show is rated AMM-NSFAR: Artistic and Moral Mess – Not Suitable For Anyone, Really)

There’s been some brou-ha-ha, moral and ethical, over television’s BOOK OF DANIEL (created by Jack Kenny). For those who haven’t seen it, it is the story of a drug addicted, liberal Episcopalian priest and his licentious extended family.

For those who have seen it, you already realize that the larger problems of the show are artistic, not moral. The directing is all over the place, the style changes within scenes, the actors each give performances in a manner that indicates they don’t know what show the rest of the cast is in, and tonally the show is tone deaf. It would seem that the creative team has been instructed to take something that doesn’t feel like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and force a DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES feel on it. Which makes it just plain desperate.

As to the morality issue, I’m not convinced that the show is trying to be amoral; in fact, they seem to be trying to stick some moral lessons within the stories. Yes, Daniel is addicted to pain killers, but Jesus (a character seen only by Daniel, ala HARVEY) encourages Daniel to cut back. And the other characters are having affairs, doing drugs, and in general acting hypocritically; but the show clearly is trying to imply that they are messed up folk, and thus not endorsing their behavior.

So the show seems to be trying to say something relevant in some moral areas – and fails miserably in doing so.

The problem isn’t where they do or don’t land on some of the big issues (marriage = good; racism = bad.) It’s that they have no moral high ground on which to base their big messages – since their high ground is built on quicksand.

For example, a storyline in the pilot deals with a couple in pre-marital counseling – a pro forma requirement to being married by the church. In the first session, we learn that the couple (living together, naturally) is having some problems in the bedroom – the woman needs to get high before having sex. Reverend Daniel, and the show, is cool with all of that – there is no judgment here, so premarital sex and casual drug use is tossed off as assumed behavior for every normal couple. (To reinforce this, Daniel makes a joke of pretending that the couple co-habitating might be offensive to the clergy – a joke because (or so the show assumes) no open-minded clergyman would think that way.)

So the problem isn’t the drugs or sex, or combination; the dramatic problem as diagnosed by Daniel (and he has a point) is the reason behind the drug use. Turns out that both man and woman are nervous about the upcoming commitment, and Daniel wisely convinces each of them to talk it over with their spouse-to-be. The big pay-off joke comes when the couple returns to counseling, now ecstatic with each other because they have decided to not get married! Daniel gulps at this, and Jesus gives him (and us) a knowing nod. You see the irony? The pastor talked them out of getting married!

So ultimately, and through humor, the message is pro-marriage.

Except that it isn’t. You see, when the show decided not to sweat the small stuff – premarital sex, drug use, communication – they forfeited the right to talk about the larger stuff. If the pastor isn’t concerned about the things that lead up to marriage, how can he claim to be concerned about the institution itself? It seems he doesn’t get that it is the small stuff that leads to the big stuff. Rosa Parks wasn’t a hero for taking on a global issue, she just demanded a seat on a bus. But she was a hero for realizing that the little things are indicative of the big things – there is no equality on the large scope if one isn’t allowed something as small as a seat on the bus.

The show is fraught with such inconsistencies. The family members treat each other with a level of hatred that would make Herod’s family look well adjusted, but cloyingly hug each other at scenes end to show that they really love each other. The daughter is caught dealing drugs, which is not an issue except for being caught; the real issue is that a daughter should tell her parents if she wants money. Grandpa is having an affair with Daniel’s boss (both parties are bishops in the church), which isn’t adultery (because Grandma has Alzheimer’s), but is naughty because they are keeping the affair a secret.

Daniel’s son is banging a fifteen-year-old girl; her parents are blasé about statutory rape (who are we to judge?), but highly offended that it is with an Asian male. You can feel the show creators glowing in how controversial and politically daring they are being; and you can feel the audiences across the nation yawning in boredom. How can I get outraged by the portrayal of conservative Christian parents who are racist, if they have already proven that they are not real, but only one-dimensional puppets in the hands of writers trying to be relevant?

Jesus himself doesn’t care about the small stuff. The daughter is dealing drugs – but that’s cool, she’s a good girl. The Jesus of THE BOOK OF DANIEL would never say, “Go and sin no more.” He would only say, “Go.”

For the thinking Christian, THE BOOK OF DANIEL has already been done, and done right, years ago with NOTHING SACRED (created by David Manson). That was a show about a liberal priest (the protagonist), a conservative priest, a progressive nun and the moderate priest who shepherded them. The stories tackled the big issues – and the small issues – and got messy dirty with them. Bad choices, big and small, had real, grounded consequences. Even good choices cost, but were worth it.

And God wasn’t a character there to give a reassuring back rub to the wayward priest, but rather a tangible presence (albeit never physicalized) wrestling alongside His sheep.
In other words, real people with real faith facing a real world.

We never knew how good we had it. Well, maybe being stuck with THE BOOK OF DANIEL, we now know.

Your servant,


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Just a Note: A Character of Note on SCRUBS

(Note: SCRUBS contains vulgar humor, and is rated NFE, Not For Everyone)

On this week's episode of SCRUBS ("My New G-d"), Cheryl Hines played Dr. Cox's sister, Paige, coming to town for his son's baptism. Paige has one thing about her that Dr. Cox can't stand -- she is a non-apologetic, born again Christian.

She was played full out, calling for prayer for a dying patient, giving God credit for creating medicine. Her character was mocked, ridiculed and derided for her beliefs by Dr. Cox. In other words, she was treated like all of the other members of the show.

And she gave back as good as she got, mocking and ridiculing her brother -- as a good sibling would. And, in true SCRUBS fashion, all that mocking masked something deeper: respect, love, and a mutual understanding that only two siblings surviving a horrific childhood together could have.

Next time we want to see a full-on, devout, evangelical Christian portrayed on television as a real person and not a caricature, we should give creator Bill Lawrence and his people a call.

Your servant,


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hoodwinked Update #2

After the refs looked at the tape again, the decision has been reversed. HOODWINKED is now, officially, #2 for the weekend. The movie’s performance still smashed the industry’s predictions and is being viewed as a huge success. And there is always next weekend...

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Glory Road" narrowly took the No. 1 spot at the holiday box office from preliminary leader "Hoodwinked" when final data were issued Tuesday.
A mere $48,187 separated the two films: Disney's college hoops saga tallied $16.93 million during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, while the Weinstein Co.'s Little Red Riding Hood cartoon ended up with $16.88 million.

We saw it with friends Saturday night in a packed-out movie theatre. Gotta love the laughter when Japeth appears on screen. (If you don't know who he is, you must see the film!) An even bigger response (actual audience applause) was generated when the cops figure out how to slow down Twitchy's voice.

It's a delight!

Monday, January 16, 2006


A number of box-office predictors have scrambled egg on their faces today. On Friday, most places were predicting that the weekend movies would be dominated by a battle between GLORY ROAD and LAST HOLIDAY. Only a few considered HOODWINKED in the running, and even they thought the film would be wrestling for the number four slot at most.

And now it looks like HOODWINKED will finish number one, collecting over sixteen million dollars. has this to say, “Hoodwinked is a very rare commodity. It's a CG animated film, but unlike all others is independent, and this opening could rock the industry. How is that possible? … Suddenly, we have a film that isn't forced to earn $30 million in its first weekend to be any kind of success, and can be shopped to any of the studios, big or little. “

Critics have been very mixed on this flick, so I thought I would weigh in with my own mini-review:

It’s funny. Very funny.

I’ve seen the flick three times, and I am not yet tired of it. The humor is made for adults, but enjoyable for children. It never goes crass (ala SHREK) or cloying (ala way-too-many-animations to name). It’s sassy without cynicism. And the story works.

Not to say it is a perfect film: It does start out too slow. And one character is never as cleverly tied into the story as he should be (the Woodsman -- but, dang, he’s still a funny character!). So I would give it an A instead of an A+, which puts it better than SHREK II and just below MONSTERS INC.

Congratulations, Cory, Todd and Tony!

As ever your servant,


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Critique: KING KONG ROCKS! (Or, How I Learned to Stop Looking at Flaws and Love the Kong)

SPOILER ALERT: Some plot parts are given away below. Journey on at your own risk.

RATING: This film is rated CWBW, as in “Catherine Won’t Be Watching” due to scenes of violence and insectular ickiness.

What Peter Jackson got right:

1. Mr. Jackson got that this is a love story, and told it as such

2. Mr. Jackson gave time for the romance to develop in a real way. Unlike most Hollywood movies, this romance is not about sex (even the first two KONG movies made it about sex). Mr. Jackson lets us watch Kong fall for Ann, and vice versa. There was a reason that Kong doesn’t dispatch Ann Darrow like all the other sacrifices offered to him (and it ain’t cuz he’s all googoo eyed over her blond cuteness); there is a reason he comes to defend her; and there is a reason she accepts his defense (okay, that one is two-thirds practical – but she chooses Kong, and that’s kinda important).

3. Mr. Jackson let it be about things, without getting a hammer out to make it about things. This is a STORY, not a fable with an Aesopian moral. But the story has, in my opinion (and there is nothing in this article that isn’t my opinion), depth.

One example: When director Carl Denham first uses the death of a crewman to justify his art (“We’ll make this movie for him. He would have wanted that.” -paraphrased) I rolled my eyes. The second time, it became pathetic – and a warning to us artists (Peter Jackson included). You see, Denham believed – in the moment – that his personal goal/drive was indeed for the glory of the dead; and in that, Denham allowed himself to be deceived. “The play must go on!” is a rallying cry beloved by us artist types. It validates us and our work – the performance is more important than anything! Is it?

I remember being in the green room after a show. An actress literally miscarried during a performance. While awaiting the ambulance, she insisted that she would be back the next night. That was insane, and my Artistic Director told her so. Her husband was also in the show, and he also said that he’d be back for the next night if we insisted. After all, he wasn’t physically ill…

And the Artistic Director dropped the bombshell: the show isn’t the most important thing. He told the husband to be with his wife – because that was the more important thing. Sad to say, I don’t know many other artistic directors that would have thought life was more important than the works we create to comment on life.

Have I ever, as a good Christian boy, claimed that my work had to go on despite the cost to others, in the name of G-d? (Okay, let’s not make that a “have I ever” and make it a “how often.”) Hey, Carl: those dead guys would not want your film about a monkey to go on. That’s your own ego talking. And, hey, Sean: G-d thinks there are more important things out there than your ego. Not many, I’m sure; but some.

4. The performances by Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow) and Andy Serkis & animators (King Kong) are outstanding. I never stopped to think that Naomi was acting to a green screen, or that Kong was nothing more than pixels from a computer. I just watched Ann and Kong, mesmerized. After the movie is when it started to sink in how much the two actors had to overcome to give their performances. Wow.

5. It is, first and foremost, a ride. A wild, glorious, unpredictable, adrenaline filled, edge of the seat, I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that ride. And what a ride!

What Peter Jackson got wrong:

1. Despite what many critics are saying, the film as a whole is not too long. The three plus hours fly by. That said, the individual sequences are too long. A friend (can’t remember who – if you read this, and it was you, take credit!) suggested to me that, while no sequence should have been eliminated, virtually every sequence could have been shaved by ten percent. Yep, I agree.

2. Some characters are overblown; some wasted. I mean, come on! What’s the deal with the kid reading HEART OF DARKNESS (Jimmy)? I get the Conrad reference, but this kid had a bigger back story than any other person on the ship – including the leads – and that background never paid off. Hayes (Evan Parke) is equally wasted, with a finale that made all his scenes up to that point make you wonder why he was singled out for lines in the first place.

3. Most of the time, the action twists are “wow!” worthy; but sometimes they go just a bit too far. Jimmy is able to shoot a machine gun at a guy covered in bugs, and hit only the bugs, clearly by accident. Funny! He does it again; and then again. Yawn. Now I am out of the movie, my suspension of disbelief having been snapped.

4. Okay, I give in. I wanted to love Jack Black; even after the movie, I defended his performance. And I still say that he did a marvelous job. But, throughout the movie, I was thinking “Jack Black is doing a really good job.” Which means I was aware that I was watching an actor perform, as opposed to being lost in the actor’s performance. Oh, well.

As ever your servant,

-Sean Gaffney

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hoodwinked: The True Story of Red Riding Hood

Our friend, Cory Edwards, has made an hilarious animated feature film that will be coming to a theatre near you NEXT WEEK! Please go and see it. We're copying his press release below to give you more info. Sean & I saw a special screening here in LA and laughed a lot!

The countdown to the nationwide release of "Hoodwinked" has begun!

Only 10 more days until the film opens in theaters everywhere on January 13.

It may sound cliched, but this is a film for EVERYONE. Both kids and adults will laugh at the humor, and it has lots of music and non-stop action. We guarantee that you’ll never look at the story of Red Riding Hood the same way again.

The first weekend is where it counts in this business, so get out there opening day!

You can also catch the half-hour BEHIND THE SCENES SPECIAL, airing Thursday, January 12 at 2:30 pm EST on ABC FAMILY. You’ll see interviews with the entire cast, as well as CORY, TODD and TONY!

And don’t forget to pick up a copy of the HOODWINKED ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK, now available in stores and online everywhere. It is a fantastic product we are really proud of with addictive songs and a beautiful booklet to go with it.

Thanks for all your support. See you at the movies!