Friday, August 29, 2008

Hero Without a Gun

Cath and I stumbled on this incredible documentary (thanks, Shon!): THE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR.
Desmond Doss is a man of contradictions -- he enlisted in WW II, insisted on serving on the battlefield, yet refused to carry a gun.
He vowed to never take a human life, yet saw more action than most others, being a key player in the harshest battle of the war.

Quite possibly the only soldier in American history who was threatened with a court martial and went on to earn the Medal of Honor.
Certainly the only conscientious objector to ever win that award.
Decorated war hero and pacifist -- a living example of the difficult, seemingly impossible third way of Christ.
My small group watched this documentary, sat stunned for a while over the power of the story, and then started debating.
How could a tale this powerful have gone so long without becoming a major motion picture?
The most logical conclusion we could come to: it is too fantastical to be believed as a work of fiction.
I hope you get a chance to see it. Let me know when you do!
Just my thoughts,

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Intimate Portrait of a Candidate

A politician and a spiritual writer walk into a bar...

Well, not a bar, but into a deeply intimate correspondence.

Donald Miller, the guy that gave the opening prayer at the DNC -- as well as writing a book or two, like BLUE LIKE JAZZ, opens up and lets us see how he went from a speech attender to close personal friend of Barack Obama.

Check it out.

My favorite moment is the Hannah Montana reference. I mean, if you can't ask a bud, who can you ask?

Thanks as always to Jeff -- who apparently thinks his purpose in life is to keep me constantly amused -- for the link.

Just my thougths,


Friday, August 22, 2008

When Someone Calls You And Asks You To Pray...

"...a man who’s more thoughtful in his answers and less bullyish, not as simple of a thinker, even as reality is not simple..."


Just my thoughts,


Worth a Revisit

My book club just met in the cozy, dark bar of the Smokehouse (haunt of Hollywood types from Hope to Clooney) to discuss BRIDESHEAD REVISITED.

I haven’t seen the movie, and as I liked the novel, I’m not likely to see the movie.

Heard a personal review of the movie from Barbara’s blog (scroll down to “Brideshead Eviscerated”); she didn’t like it. Accused it of being anti-Catholic, and thus a bad adaptation – as the novel, in her opinion, is pro-Catholic.

As I was reading, with Barbara’s critique in my head, I started to wonder if maybe she was wrong about the book.

I mean, here are all these Christian characters, and they are so messed up! Maybe Evelyn Waugh wasn’t as fond of the church as Barbara felt.

And of course, upon finishing, I realized that it is the very fact that these Christians are so messed up that makes this such a strong Catholic novel.

Because it is a novel about, in Waugh’s own words: “…the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.”

The movie, according to the testimony of the creators, is a tragedy about how the Church causes so much unhappiness in the lives and loves of the characters.

Ironic, because (and this is a spoiler for you) – in the book, point by point, it isn't the Church that causes the unhappiness.

Julia's painful marriage is outside of the Church (changed to being with a Catholic in the film).

And it isn’t the Church at all that causes Charles and Julia to separate in the final "tragic" moments. The filmmakers have to go out of their way to twist Waugh's writing in order to make it anti-Church.

You see, Julia has already left the Church years before her breakup; rather it is Julia’s love for G-d that causes the woman and the book's protagonist to separate.

Julia knows she has to choose between lovers, and the Almighty is really her only choice. Not because of rules, or disapproving looks, or guilt.

But because of love – that harder love that sticks even when we don’t want it.

As Julia herself says: “I’ve always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself out from his mercy.”

The entire novel, in fact, is about grace chasing down those that need it most.

The brilliance of the writing is how this sneaks up on the reader – a novel about prodigals at the last moment is revealed to have been all along a novel about a Father running towards his child.

Shouldn’t be a surprise really. Waugh told us this was coming – the unexpected – in a little throw-away about a quarter of the way through the book.

“But of course,” she said, “it’s very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalogue of unexpected things. It’s not expected that an ox and an ass should worship at the crib. Animals are always doing the oddest things in the lives of the saints. It’s all part of the poetry, the Alice-in-Wonderland side, of religion.”

Here’s to the fun and whip-smart book about animals doing the oddest things.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Journalist Covering Fake Journalist

I wanted to write today about Star Wars, or Brideshead Revisited, or Harry Potter. But alas, Im' on deadline for a paying gig, so those topics will have to wait.

In the meantime, here's a NYTimes piece on my favorite serious journalist. (Thanks to Susan Kelly for the head's up.)



Monday, August 18, 2008

Shakespeare and Soderbergh

When I was leaving New York oh so many years ago, I wanted to treat myself to something special, something truly New Yorkian.

My gift was taking a day out of my busy packing and wrapping up schedule to stand in line for tickets to THE TEMPEST in Central Park, starring Patrick Stewart. A better departing gift I can not imagine.

(Although the water-proof boots from the Franco’s count right up there, as I was moving to Seattle.)

Shakespeare in the Park is a long-standing tradition, marked by standing in long lines. I understand the system has been cleaned up, but in my day the “free” tickets required three lines and a full day’s commitment.

Which translated to picnicking, Frisbee, a strolling puppeteer offering five-minute versions of the play you are to see, and a wide variety of buskers.

All culminating in an outdoor performance, always memorable (Denzel Washington portrayed the best Richard III I’ve ever seen) if not always agreeable (my head still hurts when I think of the drum-pounding, migraine-inducing TITUS ANDRONICUS).

And always pure populist New York.

Which is why I’m still chuckling over this brilliant Onion Satire, announcing the next season of “Soderbergh in the Park.”

From the article, as the artistic director justifies staging one of Soderbergh’s lesser works, OCEAN’S TWELVE:

"The mission of Soderbergh in the Park has always been to bring Soderbergh to the masses," Fletcher said. "And that includes even his more inaccessible material. Those who are skeptical will be pleased to find that many of the traditional Soderberghian themes are present in Ocean's Twelve: anger, betrayal, despair, the travails of cool wealthy people who plan crime capers, and brotherhood."


Just my thoughts,


Friday, August 15, 2008

For the Better, or For the Good?

(Warning: Slight spoiler alerts ahead.)

There’s a list of things in my life that I only have come across because I love my wife.

That list has two parts – first, the “yes, I love my wife, see I did this” part.

That list includes things like eating broccoli on occasion, sitting through yet another amateur production of a Tennessee Williams play, and scooping up kitty poop.

The second part – the “wow, my wife is cool ‘cuz I never would have found this if it weren’t for her!”

That list includes SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, whatever-is-in-the-cupboard nachos, and the movie ENCHANTED.

And now add to the list the musical WICKED.

I wasn’t too excited to see WICKED, what I assumed to be a simplistic musical exploiting the popularity of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Sure it would be cute, and probably somewhat humorous, akin to a skit put on by the youth group at a church.

But as a sacrifice for an anniversary present? Hey, there are worse things to suffer, so spending a day getting tickets and sitting through the show was an easy call.

And wow.

I mean, Wow.

Complex story-telling, intricate themes, sweet reversals. Marvelous music, very fine performances, interesting characters.

From the beginning, as the Ozians sing what should be a straight-forward “nobody mourns the wicked,” the audience is treated to a sophisticated subtext. Side-long glances and masked looks of concern show that this celebration has an undercurrent of unease – what if I’m found out to be wicked? ("For all have sinned...")

And as to stage craft, let me just say that when a certain little someone decides to actually defy gravity, my wife grabbed my arm and gasped in delight.

The conceit of the show puts all we know about Oz on its ear – good is maybe not so good, bad (in a spin on Mae West) may be even better. One would think that fans of the movie would be upset by the changes – but not so, as the rabid nine-year old Dorothy fans behind us made clear.

They loved it – maybe even more than casual fans of the Emerald City, because they knew it was written for them.

You see, everything isn’t just altered – all changes and character choices are justified, point by point, with hints from the story.

Think about it: Frank Baum’s Wizard is a humbug, a phony, right?

So run with the idea that a fake is running the government, spinning himself and his actions into something grander than it really is – and you have an idea of what is going on in WICKED.

WICKED nestles itself quite neatly into Oz Lore (we’re talking the Hollywood lore, here, people), allowing for both to exist simultaneously.

It’s all there, with a delicious explanation: the pointed hat, the shoes, the broom, the bucket of water. Even the heartlessness of the Tin Man, the freakiness of the monkeys, and why that Lion is so cowardly.

And for the book lovers, on every page is a throw-away meant for you. The non-readers won’t even know they are there. (At one point a character says “time is running out. Tic-toc!”)

I do wonder what Frank Baum would think of the piece. He wasn’t a fan of big themes, or romance – felt both were too over the heads of children. And I think he may have seen too much of himself in this new Wizard to be comfortable.

But yet again, he may well have seen this re-imagining as personally redemptive.

In one part of the story line, Elphaba makes a stand for the disenfranchised, trying to protect the extermination of the talking animal minority.

Baum wrote an editorial once about the obvious abuses that the US was making against the American Indians during his day. He thought that we had gone so far, in fact, that the only way to be safe from retaliation would be the complete extermination of the Native American race.

It’s a claim he only made once, I think. And I would like to believe a scenario he regretted even contemplating. I would like to think that he would admire Elphaba for her courage and righteousness, and wish to see himself in her shoes (or pointed hat, as the case may be).

I don’t think it is a mistake that WICKED, while sending Oz askew, sets Baum’s world aright.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Flash Dance with Flair

Mandalorians, as you all know, are a war like clan, existing in the Star Wars universe. (I know this because wookiepedia told me so.)

But did you know they are artists at heart, as shown by this video?

Thanks, Jeff, for a much needed laugh.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, August 11, 2008

Hmmm, Cotton Candy...

Today's quote is from Mark Brewer's book, WHAT'S YOUR SPIRITUAL QUOTIENT:

"Unfortunately in the Body of Christ, we've created an entire religious industry of spiritual cotton candy. Yet Jesus called us to be the "salt" of the world, not the "sugar" of it."

Friday, August 08, 2008

"You Got Chocolate In My Peanut Butter..."

Wowza. I started the week with so much to talk about, but the days got away from me --- filled with even more things to talk about!

We did indeed get into WICKED, a show that I have much to say about. But first-

History has given us a lot of great pairings.

Romeo and Juliet.

Lewis and Clark.

Laurel and Hardy.

Katee and Joshua.

And now, Chicken and Waffles.

You heard me right.


AND waffles.

Between the time of the WICKED lottery and the show itself, Catherine and I went to eat at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.

I’ve known about this place since I did Act One in 2000, but never could quite get myself to believe that the combination of poultry and ridged pancakes was worth the bother. (There is typically a line out the door.)

But for an anniversary adventure – why not?

Never will I doubt again – the waffles are amazing!

Can’t be described, won’t even try. You have to experience it to understand.

When you go, you can try wrapping a bite of chicken in the waffle, but really the best experience is just to alternate bites.

So maybe the name should be changed to: Roscoe’s Chicken THEN Waffle. Then Chicken. Then Waffle. Then Chicken…

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

To Date, Perchance to Dream

Sunday marked twelve years of marriage for Catherine and me. (Yes, thank you, I am a lucky sog.)

In celebration, we spent the day Saturday seeing theatre, starting with HAMLET. A very romantic choice, the story of a guy who publicly berates his girl, kills her father, and drives her to an early grave.

Okay, so Valentine's material this isn't, but still a goodly anniversary present. What better way to make one's marriage look good?

"Hey, honey, remember how I never stabbed your brother with a poisoned sword? That's how much I still love you!"

After Hamlet, we wandered down Hollywood Blvd, heading for the Pantages Theatre in hopes of scoring some cheap seats in the WICKED lottery.

We had time to kill before the lottery, so we ambled, taking time to read names on the stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Did you know that the Apollo astronauts have a square dedicated to them? For television, naturally.

After killing time with a chocolate croissant (mine) and a berry smoothie (hers), we joined the lottery line.

Here’s how it works: everyone in line puts their name into a large drum. Then thirteen names are drawn, each name being allowed to buy up to two $25 front row tickets.

Winning the right to buy – sounds like a scam, no? Well, yes and no. The seats at full price are closer to $200 each.

I love my wife, but $400 for two hours of entertainment is a bit on the high side, especially for a couple that considers splurging to mean renting a DVD on a day other than “$1 Wednesday.”

There were about two hundred people in line. I was feeling good about this.

So good in fact, I told Cath to have the money ready for when they chose my name.

How cool would it have been to have our names called right after saying that? We will never know; we weren’t the first called.

Or the second. Or the third.

So how do you spend the rest of your anniversary day out after disappointing your wife by not getting WICKED tickets?

Or the fourth.

Maybe I plop down the $200, let her see it while I wait at the coffee shop next door…

Or fifth.

Okay, I watch Act One, tell her about it, then she watches Act Two…

Or sixth. Or seventh.

Was there anything on TIVO that we haven’t watched yet?

Or eighth.

Peace settles in. After twelve years, I know that our having a good time isn’t dependent on winning a lottery.

We will play the night by ear, and we will have a great time no matter what. Settled.

And then the guy announces…


Next up: I think I will try defying gravity.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, August 01, 2008

Dark Justice

David Goulet says:
“My only beef with DK is that it could be interpreted as an endorsement of redemptive violence.
“I can see where some folks have compared the Bush administration's vision of America to Batman. Someone has to do the dirty work, so America shoulders this cross and takes out the bad guys -- alone. The references to terrorism/insurgency are not subtle in the film.
“In DK we never are presented with the Christ option, which is transformation of evil (our enemy). Batman doesn't transform bad guys, he brings them to justice. He's still an Old Testament character, despite his noble desire not to exactly repay an eye for eye.
“Now I realize igniting inner repentance isn't the usual m.o. for comic book characters. But if we're going to discuss the Christian parallels in DK, which there are, we must also discuss the elements that are missing.
“Funny, I liked Iron Man more than DK. Maybe because it had a little more hope in it.”


Well said. As I stated in the review, I’m not sure I agree with the “third way” decided upon in THE DARK KNIGHT.

First let me address IRON MAN vs. DK: interesting to note that they both kinda deal with the darkness in a similar fashion – fighting violence with violence all the while hoping for a better way.

IM is more of the moderate’s vision – blatantly saying “warmongering is bad” while at the same time affirming that sometimes butt need kicking. DK goes much darker with its villain, and thus ends in a much darker place.

But redemption? Hmmm…

So what does the Christ-like action movie look like?

Don’t know. But here’s a start:

The prophet Micah tells us (6:8): “He has shown you, O Man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Simple. Yet not easy.

And movies like DK and IM got a third of it right -- do justice.

And it is good that we have movies that at least get that right. I applaud any movie that understands that the answer is more complicated than merely “do justice” – both DK and IM get that.

But walking in the Way is not an “or” philosophy; it is an “and” philosophy.

So where are the movies that “do justice” AND “love mercy?”

Not many, but there are a few.


There is a striking scene where Sean Penn’s character – a murderer/rapist -- claims a conversion to Christ, then asks “So, when do I get out of here?”

Sarandon’s Sister Helen is shocked by that question – shocked that he has so little understanding of Jesus’ faith. One that has mercy AND justice. It wouldn’t occur to her that he would not pay for his crimes.

On the action side, I offer you THE X-MEN.

Magneto must pay for his crimes; he must be brought to justice.

But Xavier will never give up on Magneto, will continue to visit him in prison (hmmm, visiting one in prison, where have I heard that spoken of before?).

Archenemies? Sure. But that won’t stop Xavier from loving Magneto.

Note: A key factor that allows both Sister Helen and Professor X to behave in such a counter-cultural way is their humility. Hmmm…

Doing justice AND loving mercy AND walking humbly – very, very tricky stuff.

Figure out how to do all of that at once, and you’ve got yourself a third way.

Just my thoughts,


PS In his defense, Batman never gives up on Harvey Dent – in the movie and throughout the comics (through and including THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS).

And I still am a huge fan of DK.

Maybe next week I'll get all political and talk about how DK does NOT reflect the Bush administration...