Wish I Was Here – Review

rs_634x939-140528062250-634.Wish-I-Was-Here-Poster-JR-52814Wish I Was Here is Zach Braff’s sophomore film and a vague follow-up to his first film Garden State. Braff’s main character Aidan is a 35 year old man who comes face to face with his existence in the light of his father’s impending death. The movie explores a myriad of topics, including family dynamics, marriage, raising children, faith and the dreaded question of what to do with one’s life. The movie has some stand out performances. Kate Hudson is brilliant as the matriarch of the family,gracefully loving her husband and his hard to please father. Joey King is perfect as the oldest daughter Grace, whose world is turned upside down throughout the film. While not perfect, it is surely well worth your summer dollars and constitutes another solid movie from Braff.

What You Leave Behind

Adian’s father Gabe is dying. Gabe has tried to raise two sons as well as he could, supporting and loving them, all while trying to pass on his values. It is interesting to see throughout the film the clash of generations. The movie perfectly portrays a first generation that was unable to pass on its values to their children. Gabe, who is Jewish, was unable to pass this faith and belief system on to his sons. He is also a firm believer in hard work and fulfilling your potential with the gifts that God has given you. Gabe’s sons are a disappointment to him in many ways as Aidan still pursues a nonexistent acting career and his younger son Noah squanders his genius “blogging”.

Where the film gets really interesting is in its comparison of Gabe’s parenting and Aidan’s. Generally Aidan is not shown to be the best parent. He swears constantly in front of his kids, pays very little attention to them in the beginning of the film and has no values of his own to pass on. Aidan’s values seem to be nothing more than pursing happiness. In the movie, there is a conversation between Aidan and a rabbi. Aidan asks if God is not worried about his happiness and dreams to which the rabbi replies, no. God desires Aidan to take care of his family, the rabbi tells him. Aidan is so wrapped up in himself he has forgotten that it is his responsibility to raise his children, to train them up and teach them about life. Yet he and his wife are ill equipped to do so because they are unsure as to what they even believe about life itself. There is a sadness in this inability to pass on anything substantial to children because of the innate selfishness of an umoored existence.

Manhood

wish-i-was-here-reelgoodIn Aidan’s pursuit of acting he has abdicated his role as provider for his family. In a “modern” world the sexes have been equalized and there are many who would see nothing wrong with the woman being the sole bread-winner in a family. Yet Aidan has abandoned more than the provision of material things, he has resigned leadership of his children and his family. He has thrust upon his wife the sole responsibility of providing for the family as he pursues his dreams, while taking away her ability to pursue the dreams she has. She even asks him at one point, “When did this relationship become solely about supporting your dreams?”. He has side-lined her in his selfishness. As she has sacrificed for him, believing in him and supporting him, he has reciprocated nothing, leaving her exhausted mentally and physically.

It is a sad picture of the state of manhood. Manhood has nothing to do with beers, hunting and video games. Manhood is about responsibility. Manhood is about putting others before yourself, especially those you have joined your life with or brought into the world. What is nice about the film is that Aidan does begin to grasp what it means to truly be a man, and he begins to live that out for his wife and children.

Faith

The movie is filled with conversations about God, but one of them stuck out more than the others. Aidan, who is struggling with losing his father and the turmoil it has caused with his brother, goes to see a rabbi. The rabbi tells him not to worry so much about labels for god, god can be whatever he wants. If Aidan feels like it’s the cosmos and it’s trying to tell him something, he needs to listen. Really this advice is not all that different than any episode of the Oprah show or a Starbucks coffee sleeve these days with Oprah’s “words of wisdom”.

The problem with this advice is very clear; if you make god in your image, if it is only a construct of what you think or desire, it’s useless in the end. A god of your own making has absolutely no authority or weight, even in your own life. In the end, such a god amounts only to what you want it to be, and that is meaningless to speak into your life when you have no idea who you are or what life is about. Only a god who transcends humanity and our ideas can possibly be worth listening to, otherwise it might as well be the great spaghetti monster in the sky.

Aidan says that he and his brother wanted to be heroes when they were little. They would play for hours in the back yard, saving the universe. He asks a poignant question at the beginning and ending of the film, “What if we aimed a little high? What if we were not the saviors, but the everyday people needing to be saved?”. This is such a profound question with the resounding answer of, yes. Yes, we are the everyday people needing to be saved.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 ESV)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

Courage

Films often try to have it both ways, telling us to live for our dreams while at the same time telling us to be responsible. Wish I Was Here definitely wants to have it both ways. Gabe constantly gets on to Aidan for not providing better for his family. Aidan’s response, which is also backed up by his wife, is that he is living for his dreams–dreams that come at the expense of everyone around him. This film, more than most, portrays the immense courage it takes to live out the day in, day out responsibilities of a father or a mother. Real courage is demonstrated through facing one’s obligations head on with grace and love. There is nothing braver or more loving than laying down one’s wants, desires or life for the betterment of another. Aidan learns this the hard way as he loses his father, but through that experience he learns not to take for granted his own family.

The movie is at its best when, in the end, it shows the characters finding their passions leading them in directions they had not considered before. Aidan, who has single-mindedly pursued acting, has his kindness to a fellow actor pay off when he is invited to become an acting teacher. This effectively reinforces the message that life is not about selfishly following our dreams, but living for the betterment of those around us.

Conclusion 

Wish I Was Here is a good movie that has a lot to say. The messages do get muddled in characters that as a friend put it, are one minute the worst life has to offer yet are transformed by the end. There is a lot here and many of the answers are not satisfying completely, but the questions themselves are worth wrestling with.

The Fault in Our Stars – Review

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Julius Caesar

fault-our-stars-movie-posterThe Fault in Ours Stars continues a tradition that has been seen from John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles all the way to Diablo Cody’s Juno; teens who sound more like middle age people while trying to deal with the rigors of high school. From the mind of popular teen author John Green come Augustus and Hazel who are not only trying sail the waters of adolescence but do so with cancer. The Fault in Our Stars strives to be anything but typical while at the same time using many familiar cliches. Girl meets boy, they fall in love and are separated, except this time one of them dies. The thing that sets this movie apart are the performances of Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. They truly do sell the romance and the plight that these characters find themselves in. Where the film falters is in not allowing for more genuine expression. Augustus and Hazel sound more like philosophy majors much of the time and the authenticness of their views falls flat because of it. While the movie is good, there is something that is missing to make it truly a classic.

The Death of Hope

“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”  - Hazel

This movies’ philosophy on life is bleak. Hazel and Augustus have rejected that there is truly any meaning to life and are left to deal with their pain and misery all on their own. There is absolutely no hope for them to hold to; their worldview has ruled any such thing impossible.

There is an interesting scene in the movie where Hazel and Augustus are in Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. In the background there is an audio version of Anne’s diary playing. It creates a fascinating dichotomy between these teens. Our films protagonists are cancer patients in the prime of life, arguably a horrible situation. Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl sent to a concentration camp where she would die at the age of fifteen. What is astounding is the difference in her view of the world as compared to Hazel and Augustus’.

“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” – Anne Frank

What Hazel and Augustus are facing is horrendous, yet nothing compared to the nature of Anne Frank’s suffering. One has hope that see’s her through the worst that life has to offer and the others have nothing concrete to hold on to. They find each other but as the film so deftly points out, even that is fleeting. And if there is not meaning, no higher purpose and oblivion is all that awaits, connection between humans can never be enough. The Fault in Our Stars is one of the bleakest and most depressing movies that has ever been made for teens and in the end, the fault lies not in the stars but in the philosophy of oblivion. Thank God there is hope,

Mystery and Victory I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:50-55 ESV)

Owl Post 7-8-14

Owl Post 2-17-12

Click Title for Full Article

Exclusive: Read J.K. Rowling’s new post for the latest Harry Potter ‘gossip’

550w_movies_harry_potter_epilogue_4Can’t get enough of Harry Potter? Then this is for you. Since March, best-selling author J. K. Rowling has been writing original stories about the imaginary 2014 Quidditch World Cup Finals for Pottermore, the online home for the world of Harry Potter. 

Rowling shared her latest Pottermore.com story exclusively with TODAY.com. Written in the voice of the fictional Daily Prophet’s gossip correspondent Rita Skeeter, this post centers around the reunion of Harry Potter and his friends at the Quidditch World Cup Finals. Click here for the new Harry Potter Story 

For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love Story

taylor-swift-red-largeWhere will the music industry be in 20 years, 30 years, 50 years?

Before I tell you my thoughts on the matter, you should know that you’re reading the opinion of an enthusiastic optimist: one of the few living souls in the music industry who still believes that the music industry is not dying…it’s just coming alive

Gbj6CRxJustice’ is served with another helping of Superman

Who’s better, Superman or Batman? Zack Snyder doesn’t have to choose a favorite since he’s getting to put both on the big screen at the same time.

The director of last year’s Man of Steel doubles down on A-list superheroes in his follow-up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (in theaters May 6, 2016), teaming a returning Henry Cavill as the big guy in the cape and “S” on his chest with Ben Affleck as the latest cinematic incarnation of the Dark Knight.

Europe Is Starting to Take American Soccer Seriously (Seriously!)

article-2594795-1CC15A9B00000578-590_634x457Did American soccer just win the football world’s respect?

The World Cup is over for the U.S.A. after a heartbreaking loss to Belgium. But that defeat made for what some regard as perhaps the best match of a tournament that has thrilled from the start. More importantly, the U.S. has been called a “world-class team” by the likes of Barry Glendenning, the ever-critical football writer from The Guardian. Glendenning is perhaps not the Supreme Leader of Football (that title belongs to Sepp Blatter), but he is near the epicenter of international football, and he does not compliment teams lightly.

The real story behind the war over YA novels

91o13sPo7VLFew categories of literature right now seem to receive the level of hatred reserved for young adult fiction, which is the subject of nearly endless editorials on its supposed inanity, excessive sexuality, darkness, and girlyness. It doesn’t escape notice that there’s a strong whiff of sexism underlying the wave of YA hate—the genre is heavily dominated by women, and female authors can recount their experiences with sexism first hand.

Coming Out as a Christian

social-mediaI’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live transparently—especially when it comes to my digital life. For as long as I’ve been on social media (I first joined Facebook in 2005), I’ve oscillated between expressing myself honestly and expressing contrived personas that I broadcast on Twitter, Instagram, and everywhere else.

Take, for instance, my well-documented love of Rolling Rock. Anyone who follows me on any website knows I’ve posted endlessly about the famously watery beer for the past three years. My Instagram feed was once a veritable shrine to Rolling Rock. My friends gave me four cases of it for my birthday last year. Heck, my Twitter fan club (yes, it’s still weird to me, too) uses a picture of Rolling Rock as its header image! I know how to advertise my love for a product.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Review

xmen-daysAfter the disappointing Last Stand, the X-Men franchise was at a crossroads; how to revitalize a once promising film series and breathe new life into something that, up till that point had been fantastic comic book cinema. Matthew Vaughn was chosen to helm First Class and the finished product was everything the name implied. As the next film began the percolate and Matthew Vaughn exited the project, fans were worried that the the series would once again flounder. Bryan Singer, director of X1 and X2, was tapped to return and with him brought us a film that rivals First Class for one of the top spots in comic book movie rankings. Days of Future Past is a film that utilizes the best of the original cast and the newest film to create a mind-bending tale of time travel as well as resetting the X-Men film universe for the future. The Quicksilver scene is alone worth the price of admission. If you have not seen Days of Future Past, do! This film is sure to entertain as well as leave you thinking as you walk out of the theater for weeks to follow.

Hope

One of the hallmarks of the X-Men series has be Professor Xavier’s ability to hope when all seems lost. In this film, we learn why. In the future,  Sentinels have all but eradicated mutants as well as all people who would help them. There is one play the mutants have; send Wolverine back into his past self to stop Mystique from killing a weapons specialist who’s life work will turn into the Sentinels. Wolverine will also need to revive Xavier, who after the events of First Class has lost his abilities (the drug he takes to allow him to walk impairs his mental powers) and his school because of the Vietnam draft. Xavier has lost all hope in the world as well as himself and has descended into wallowing in self-pity and self-loathing. Through his interaction with Wolverine, who allows him to communicate with Xavier in the future, he is able to regain his focus and his hope. It is a powerful scene with the reminder that one cannot live long without hope. Peter reminds believers of this in his first letter when he says,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Belief

There is little in this world that is more harmful to a person than a loss of belief in themselves or the idea that no one else believes in them. Mystique is on the brink. She believes that she is forever set and cannot go back to who she use to be. Estranged from Xavier and betrayed by Magneto, she sees no options for herself. Xavier makes a statement midway through the film in reference to her, “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way doesn’t mean they are lost forever “. What a beautiful, gospel-filled message that no matter what someone has done, they are not beyond salvation. There is nothing more powerful than the cross of Christ and it is only when we loose sight of that, that we write people off. Xavier realizes at the end of the film that he has been trying to control Mystique instead of believing in her. His ultimate act of giving her the choice in the end brings to light the admonition that people cannot be force into something. Cohesion or control are never effective in winning the hearts and minds of people. It is only through love, belief and authentic relationship that people can change.

Conclusion

The X-Men series is at the top of it’s game. With Apocalypse as the storyline for the next film and a focus on the First Class iteration of characters, the series looks to be poised for greatness once again.

Serpents in the Garden – Review

Serpents in the GardenThis review was originally posted on Trek.fm

Jeff Mariotte’s newest Star Trek book, “Serpents in the Garden,” is a follow-up to the classic episode “A Private Little War.” When Admiral Kirk finds out that the Klingons may once again be interfering in the affairs of Neural, he embarks on a secret mission to expose the Klingons while trying to minimize damage with the native population due to the Prime Directive. With no starship backup, Kirk may just have created his first no-win scenario.

CHOICE OF FUTURES

Kirk has made many split-second decisions in his career. His first five-year mission was replete with facing the unknown while doing his best to make the smartest choices he could with the information and experience he had. Throughout this book, Kirk reminisces about the actions he took all those years ago on Neural and whether they were really the best solution to the problem. What he concludes from his newest adventure is that he did make the best choice he could at the time. His mistake was in not following up with the situation to ensure that the Klingons had not returned and that Starfleet had adequately monitored the situation.

This story is a good reminder that our choices have long lasting consequences. Like Kirk, we do the best we can at the time, using our experience and knowledge to forge our path in this world. Remembering to follow up on our decisions is an important lesson. Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation were not the best at showing us this kind of thing. Mariotte does a great job letting us see Kirk deal with his past decisions; the galaxy is a big place, but this story goes a long way to show that follow-up is just as important as initial contact.

CONCLUSION

One of the best things about this book is its time frame. It is set in the interim between the end of the five-year mission and The Motion Picture. The insight into Kirk and his rediscovery of his love of starship command is definitely a highlight. The story is well told, yet not overwhelming in grandeur. It is a solid entry in the Novelverse and well worth the read. I rate it six out of ten Mugato attacks.

Owl Post 5-19-14

Owl Post 2-17-12

 

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage, New Birth, and the Gospel

ring-tattoos-13Today is the day of my wedding.  And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike.  My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

When Gifts Lose Their Luster

giftThere are times I grow weary of good things. Things I love. Things I would not want to live without. Things that have the ability to make my heart beat a little bit faster and keep my mind racing when I ought to be asleep. They are good things, but somehow, through time or familiarity or neglect or something else, they begin to feel not so good. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it seems to be yet another cost of being a sinful person in a sinful world. Even the best things feel like bad things at times.

Advice to High School Graduates: ‘You Are Not Special’

graduation-hats1On a spring day in 2012, Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough, Jr., stepped onto the school’s football field, then covered in a sea of seniors dressed in identical caps and gowns. Clad in a blazer and striped tie, McCullough made his way to the podium, donned his reading glasses, and began his commencement speech. Nothing about the event seemed out of the ordinary. McCullough, after all, was participating in a ritual that happens hundreds of thousands of times across the United States each year. He had given graduation speeches before.

But compared to the countless other remarks given by comedians, journalists, and politicians that year, McCullough’s speech stood out for its blunt, four-word message: “You are not special.”

Kirsten Powers: Liberals’ Dark Ages

darkagesWelcome to the Dark Ages, Part II. We have slipped into an age of un-enlightenment where you fall in line behind the mob or face the consequences.

How ironic that the persecutors this time around are the so-called intellectuals. They claim to be liberal while behaving as anything but. The touchstone of liberalism is tolerance of differing ideas. Yet this mob exists to enforce conformity of thought and to delegitimize any dissent from its sanctioned worldview. Intolerance is its calling card.

Waving His Wand at ‘Beowulf’

packshotThere’s more to J. R. R. Tolkien than wizards and hobbits. The author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” was also an Oxford University professor specializing in languages like Old Norse and Old English.

“Beowulf” was an early love, and a kind of Rosetta Stone to his creative work. His study of the poem, which he called “this greatest of the surviving works of ancient English poetic art,” informed his thinking about myth and language.

Owl Post 4-18-14

Owl Post

Click Title for Full Article

If All Religions Are True, Then God Is Cruel:

world-religionsThe short film Most made its way onto the big screen more than 10 years ago. A brilliantly moving piece of cinema, the film tells the story of a single father who lives with his son in the Czech Republic. The pair share simple yet content lives together. The father works as a bridge engineer—he is responsible for raising and lowering a massive draw-bridge that allows ships and trains to pass at scheduled times. One day, the boy happened to be at the bridge with his father. As he’s playing outside, he notices a train rapidly approaching the station.

Why How I Met Your Mother’s Marshall and Lily Were TV’s Best Sitcom Couple:

tumblr_l7vaf65RMu1qdsisgo1_500For many casual fans of How I Met Your Mother, the treacly plot of Ted seeking out “the Mother” grew unbearably manipulative, right up through the twists and turns of last night’s final episode. And yet, our nostalgic flame will burn on for many aspects of HIMYM, among them the awesomeness of Lily and Marshall. The married college sweethearts, played by comedy heavyweights Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan, provided a model for happy but rarely boring coupledom, even as the show’s other characters fumbled romantically. For every obnoxious rom-com gesture that Ted attempted, Lily and Marshall were there to point out that the real thing is as messy as it is sweet.

Hollywood tries to win Christians’ faith:

1Randall Wallace didn’t expect a rock-star reception when he went on the road to promote his faith-based drama “Heaven Is for Real” ahead of its Easter-weekend release.

Yet at the First Assembly of God Church in Phoenix, 9,000 congregants greeted the filmmaker with a standing ovation. A few days later, 11,000 boisterous students packed a convocation in the sports arena at Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., where Wallace, best known for writing the 1995 battle biopic “Braveheart” and directing the equestrian drama “Secretariat,” spoke about “Heaven Is for Real.”

Literary City, Bookstore Desert:

storewindownight_0When Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson bookstore in Lower Manhattan, set out to open a second location, she went to a neighborhood with a sterling literary reputation, the home turf of writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Nora Ephron: the Upper West Side.

She was stopped by the skyscraper-high rents.

The Underrated, Universal Appeal of Science Fiction:

science-fictionWhen I’m introduced to someone as a writer, a now familiar pattern of events often follows.

“Oh, really! How interesting!” the someone—let’s call her Jane—says, sounding quite enthusiastic. “What do you write?”

“Science fiction,” I say.

Jane instantly glazes over. “I’m afraid I never read science fiction.”