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Archive for July 2006

Tell Me a Story

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Bedtime stories usher children into dreams.  They put you to sleep, and they deliver you to a place where the world is a ball of the best clay, and you can shape it into anything you want.  That’s one of the rewards for writers: creating.  Many writers will tell you that the actual construction of the narrative, the measuring of the plot, the realism of the setting and the dialog—all of this is the rough hewn and learned skill needed to bring the dream to life.  It’s a real chore.  And the best stories never let you in on the work.  They just deliver you the dream. 

Lady in the Water did that to me when I saw it this morning.  No, M. Night Shyamalan isn’t going to score a lot of points with this.  Anyone going in expecting to see The Sixth Sense for the fourth time will leave the theater disappointed.  There’s no twist ending, no real chills, just a fine story that takes you (it took me, anyway) to another place. 

If there’s a theme to be found here, it is that of purpose.  Movies, like this one, allow us for a moment to consider the possibility of an unseen world where things really are special and that all of us really do have a purpose beyond sitting at a desk and entering data.  I like to think that most of the world isn’t run by men with big levers.  It’s run by the millions of mice running on a spinning wheel after a morsel of cheese that hangs just out of reach.  We run after a promise that never seems fulfilled.  We long to see an end, to see ourselves cross that finish line and know, if only for a moment, that something we did helped someone else, and that that somebody maybe did something for still another, and so on.  And so we dream.  And so we tell stories. 

Like Unbreakable, Lady fits well into its intended genre.  It’s a storybook tale, very light on the plausible, heavy on the fantastic.  And for this, many people will probably avoid seeing it, opting instead to see it on video where they will complain the next morning at the water cooler that they just didn’t get it.  That’s okay.  The rest of us will live on quite happily. 

Written by taj

July 22, 2006 at 6:57 pm

Posted in Movies

For to be a critic

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Back before I graduated college, I started writing up short film reviews.  The goal here was to post these onto Amazon.com and go about finding a print or web publication that accepted freelance reviews.  Before long, however, my copy of Writer’s Market was out of date, money was short, exams were due, and I spent most of my time translating biblical Hebrew texts.  

In that time, I wrote three or four reviews—two of which I posted at Amazon.com while the others sat quietly on my hard drive.  Upon graduation, I thought about returning to the task and went back over the pieces I had already written.  I found there that pungent odor that rises off the page when a writer has left old writing on the shelf for too long.  The writing wasn’t bad, per say, I just knew I could do better. 

I kept toying with the idea, and occasionally I would sit and try to write a review of a film I’d just seen.  Some of these ended up posted at my old blog, but most joined the others in that damp and neglected corner of my computer’s hard drive.   When I would sit down and begin to write, you see, all the inner self-talk that goes on beforehand would go deep quiet.  I wouldn’t hear it again until I started doing some other benign activity, like washing the dishes.  Suddenly the words would come, and I’d scramble back to the keyboard and get them down before they were lost.  

I like movies, I’d repeat to myself.  I like the film I’m writing about and I have something to say.  Why is this so hard?

For inspiration, I’d go and read more film reviews.  I had already read them in an attempt to copy the style; still do, actually.  The format isn’t that big of a mystery—it’s a topic paragraph, followed by a brief summary, a list of likes and dislikes, and brought to a close in a solid, terse conclusion.  Easy, right? 

I’ve spent some of my morning these days rereading Ken Gire’s Windows of the Soul.  I came across the following passage over last weekend that, I think, let a little light in to shine on my plight.  Gire writes:

C.S. Lewis explained the right way to look at a work of art when he said: “We sit down before a picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it.  The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender.  Look.  Listen.  Receive.”

For many of us, though, that is not what we do.  We look and listen, but instead of receiving, we react; instead of surrendering, we resist; instead of coming away changed, we come away critical.  And that is true whether we come away from a movie we see on Saturday night or a sermon we hear Sunday morning. 

The light blinked on when I read the word “critical.”  We don’t call film reviewers “critics” for nothing, you know.  The vast majority of their work exists to react, resist, and criticize.  The problem, I realized, was that my heart wants to surrender.  The reviews I read for inspiration and guidance only teach me to react.

Example.  I’ve read a number of negative reviews about Superman Returns.  The funny thing is that I agree with much of their criticism.  Some of these reviews seethe with annoyance.  Me?  I’ve seen it twice.  I went in the first time reacting, and the second time surrendering.  I walked away enjoying it more the second time.  An example of fine filmmaking it isn’t—it’s a good story, and it doesn’t set out to be anything else.  It doesn’t have the feel of a movie that’s trying to be special, just good, and I shouldn’t ask any more of it than that.  Once I do, I’m weighing it against my own set of convictions and preconceptions instead of taking it on its own terms.  And I find that I my enjoyment, as well as my discernment, is more functional when I surrender. 

Yes, there’s a place for conviction and reaction.  I believe it helps temper our souls after we’ve surrendered.  I do not wish to raise one above the other, only to raise awareness of the one that is overshadowed.  Put another way, want to allow the Holy Spirit enough room to move me before I shut something out.  Therefore, when I sit and try to write my next review, it may not come any easier, but I’ll have a better understanding of what I need to write.   

Written by taj

July 12, 2006 at 8:00 am

Posted in Movies, Writing

Movie Small Group Project – part 2

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In fleshing out this idea, I’ve started a list of candidates for possible inclusion in the class.  It’s still a little tentative.  I’d like to have a list of twelve, but for now, these are my top choices…

The Terminal

Spider-Man 2

Cast Away

12 Angry Men (1957)

Dead Poets Society

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 

…and I expect to catch a little heat for the last one there, but I’ll be ready.  Of these, Spider-Man 2 and 12 Angry Men are the most solid—the former serving as a parabolic representation of Psalm 37:4-6, and the latter as an example of evangelism through influence. 

I do not wish to use any obvious choices—The Lord of the Rings, for example, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or even Chariots of Fire.  Volumes of material have been written on these and other similar titles, and while they are great examples of solid Christian storytelling, most people already know to look there.  I want to highlight examples that some may have missed. 

I am also open to suggestions, by the way.  I’d prefer newer films, but considering 12 Angry Men being on the list, I’m open to older ones as well.  I’ve already got one superhero movie, so I’m reluctant to add another.  I’d like the list to be as variegated as possible, and I’m also looking for some preliminary feedback.  So, if you have any suggestions, feel free to speak your mind. 

Written by taj

July 11, 2006 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Evangelism, Movies

So I got this idea…

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Some of you know of the underlining dissatisfaction I’ve had with church lately.  I started wondering the other day if, after six years of college and a degree in Bible and Theology, that the reason for my discontent lay in a desire to serve rather than just take up a pew.  I’m not sure where the idea came from, but the idea of my starting a small group ministry at my local church hopped in my head, and has since rented out a room. 

The idea’s still a little rough, but so far, the goal I have in mind is to lead a group in how to discern certain scriptural and theological themes by giving examples from a select group of films, and hopefully present a way to share their faith with others just by talking about the movies. 

For example, in the movie Cast Away, Chuck Noland is a man who lives and dies by the clock—“we cannot allow ourselves the sin of turning our backs on time,” he says at one point.  Later, his plane crashes, marooning him on a lonely island somewhere in the Pacific.  He washes up on shore to find his beeper ruined and his watch flooded beyond repair.  He struggles to survive.  He learns to manipulate fire, and four years later, builds a raft and tries to leave.  When he’s picked up, he tries to reclaim his life.  He tells his friend that, on the island, he had “power over nothing.”  He says, “I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive, I had to keep breathing, even though there was no reason to hope.” 

The tide, he says, eventually delivered him a sail.  Now returned to his life, he finds the woman he loves and learns she has moved on.  He had lost her on the island, and has now lost her again in his return.  “I know what I have to do now,” he says.  “Gotta keep breathing.  Because tomorrow the sun will rise.  Who knows what the tide could bring.”  And we’re left with a beautiful moment—Chuck standing at a lone intersection in Nowhere, TX, at the crossroads to choose his path.  It is a moment indicative of losing ourselves to sorrow, despair, tragedy.  And we learn that we have to keep breathing.  Eventually, God delivers us a sail. 

I know, it still reads pretty shallow, but I see—I feel—potential for more here.  I feel that, if I am to serve, then I ought to at least be myself.  And I like the movies.   I think that, if we know where to look and how, we can see the hand of God reaching through a window in some of the most secular of stories.  God is the God of men and also of elves, Tolkien once wrote.  Part of evangelism, I believe, isn’t so much about closing the deal as it is teaching people how to hear His voice.  Plant the seed.  This is my little journey in learning how to do that. 

Written by taj

July 5, 2006 at 11:52 pm

Posted in Evangelism, Movies