A Review of Homeless for the Holidays

I was given the movie Homeless For the Holidays to review and my post is due this week. I am not required to give a positive review but rather an honest one and so here is the basic plot with my thoughts:

Jack Baker is a self-made executive who lives an upper-middle-class life–until he loses his job, and finds himself working at a burger restaurant to make ends meet. To make things worse, ends are not being met, and, if something doesn’t change soon, his family could lose everything by Christmas. (taken from this Wikipedia entry)

This is a very family friendly movie. I think many will easily relate to the “rat-race” and the tensions that are created in a marriage and a family from over-working at the expense of the family. It has a great lesson, stacked with morals and values and offers valuable takeaways to all viewers.

That said, I do not think this this movie is targeted for people like me and my demographic. In all honesty, I had a hard time watching it for a number of reasons. One, I did not appreciate the protagonist (Jack Baker). I didn’t really care for his acting, the writing was very cliched, and after a while I just kept being annoyed. Second I had a hard time with the dynamics with the Baker’s marriage. Almost as if it were stolen from a sitcom, the husband was a stubborn, weak loser which forced the wife to be more like a football coach trying to get her husband psyched up for the big game of “job-hunting” in this case. I didn’t really see them pursuing the solution together.

Though I don’t think I have really ever watched one, it seemed like the type of family-friendly movie that would go on the Hallmark channel and if the husband cheated on his wife and abused her, then the Lifetime channel. You will have to pardon my bias towards these movies, I simply don’t watch them.

STILL, for those looking for a family friendly movie and hate everything coming out of Hollywood, you may be in luck here. There is no cursing, no violence or inappropriate situations. And there is a great lesson to be learned here – that life is not all about great careers, a nice home and good-living but about much more.

For those interested, I encourage you to click on the movie’s homepage and watch the preview.

Into the Wild From My Warm Suburban Living Room

The other night I finally watched Into the Wild (Stop reading if you don’t want to know how this movie ends. Just about every possible spoiler is mentioned here). I remember this story when it was a popular news feature in the 90’s. I remember the first impressions the story gave you was that the young man was crazy. I remember the discussion of a bag of rice, the Magic Bus, and the Alaskan cold. And I’m pretty sure Rolling Stone magazine did an article on this years before there was ever a movie.  (And of course RS loved the movie.)

In short it’s about Christopher McCandless who upon graduating from Emory University, disengages from society and lives in the Alaskan wild where he eventually dies of either poison or starvation. The movie is adapted from Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book (with the same title).

What makes the story compelling is that Chris was an extremely interesting and intelligent young man. He isn’t crazy but rather he has no care for money (in fact, he donates his $24,000 life savings to Oxfam) recites literature (especially Thoreau, Tolstoy and Emerson) and has no regard for virtually anything society values. Think Neo divorcing himself from the matrix but in real life and without Morpheus or sunglasses. He even changes his name  – to Alex.

Emile Hirsh does a fantastic job in offering the movie watcher a glimpse of what this may have looked like. It’s fun watching a character who is not bogged down by schedules, bills, but rather in love with the nature and care free abandon. Yep, nothing like unwinding from a busy week of work, deadlines, various pressures by watching a movie about a guy who seemingly chooses to not have stress. The irony is that I am watching a movie about it on my LCD.  I imagine for most of the audience, there is an infatuation by the freedom of Alex’s life.

On my drive to school, I was really thinking about this story. For me, the carefree spirit is the only thing that I really valued about “Alex”. I’d like to visit Alaska but only if it were with my family/friends. It looked cool to scream from on top of the abandoned bus but I would have felt ridiculous after I realized there was no camera recording my primal yell for crowded theaters and netflix subscribers. I have never had any serious desire of unplugging from life – especially these days. While there are several things that frustrate me about suburban life and grind, I usually just need a change of scenery, a workout, a conversation over a thai lunch and some time in quiet meditation to feel renewed. That’s my unplugging from “the matrix”.

I enjoy my loving marriage, I live for the sporadic affection of a 19 month old son and the random smiles and spit-ups of a 9 week old. Wonderful family, a lot of good friends, and most days I find fulfillment from my vocation/ministry. Emile Hirsch should make a movie about me.

Yep, sitting in my church office reading emails while listening to Eddie Vedder’s accompanying soundtrack, sipping my Rwandan coffee. I can already feel the envy of the cubicle people. In fact sometimes the office is so warm, I have to crack the window. This is what Chris finds reprehensible – wasting one’s life in an office.

I may comfort myself by the reassurance that I am not selling insurance. The insurance salesman comforts himself by the reassurance he is not selling cars. While the car salesman comforts himself by the reassurance that he is not selling religion.

So why I am here? For me, divorcing myself from the ways of the world is modeled by Jesus and not the wilderness wanderer. I know this sounds preachy but this is one of my favorite parts of the Christian faith – because of Jesus, the ways of the world does not need to control us. One may have to pay taxes but the government doesn’t control your soul (only a third of your salary). One may have to abide my other laws and principles but above them all stands the hope and love found in Christ.

Watching Into the Wild, I felt sorry for Alex that he found his community exclusively in nature with the soundtrack of dead white writers. I couldn’t help but think that he didn’t need his dad’s NASA job, he could have been a literature professor and taken his sons hiking and camping on weekends. He could have brought them into a different sanctuary on a Sunday morning had worshipped the God of creation. Now, I know this is not close to the point of the movie (nor would one have been made) and that Alex’s character may have been further driven to suffocation by my Sunday morning experience. That said, I’d prefer my life not end in an abandoned school bus on a desolate mountain in Alaska. From his diary, it seemed that he was not ready to die like that either. By the time the credits rolled up, your heart is broken and the infatuation you have of leaving it all behind quickly evaporates.

What’s worse is that we as a society and smaller, we in the Church failed to offer Alex something better. Indeed many of our lives resemble his parents’ home, consumed by success and money, hurting and being hurt by each other, anger, neglect, dirty secrets; it is not inconceivable that one would rather live in a tent, wake up to the sun rise and read Jack London instead.

At the same time, watching Into the Wild reminded me not to waste my life in my office or in my car or on my couch or in my shopping mall. My “wild”, the place(s) where I find true life roaming is in the communion of the triune God and because of that, also in the space of family, friends, and others. The movie, though wonderfully shot and with a great soundtrack is a welcomed exercise in taking inventory of the trajectory of life.

Gran Torino May Be the Best Christian Movie You Will See All Year

Like many, I also hate spoilers, and I cannot wait to post something about this movie.  In the meantime, I encourage you to go see it.  Eastwood is great, the supporting cast is terrific, and there’s a lot of wisdom contained in these 2 hours. I loved this movie because it was genuine, honest, represented the characters well, and celebrated themes and values I cherish.    For those it matters to, it’s rated R for violence, offensive language (not just profanity), and Eastwood gets naked in it. 


Hotel Rwanda – Movie-Discussion Night

Hotel Rwanda Last night our youth group watched Hotel Rwanda for our movie and discussion night. I was thrilled that we had about 15 students spend their Friday night doing this. (Intentionally no sign up to discourage the, “It depends who’s going” attitude.) If you have seen this movie, you know that’s pretty intense.

One of the major themes we have been discussing as a student ministry has been that we need to cultivate a heart for others. We need to see people as God sees them. We need to focus more outside of ourselves and outside our inner circles. Hotel Rwanda does a great job in illustrating some of this.

I was really pleased and I hope we continue on this path. Our next movie discussion night will probably be different (and probably a little more light-hearted)

Rocky – the Modern Day Saint of Perseverance

Another interview with Sly. (linked to title)

“You created the Rocky character more than 30 years ago. Where’d he come from? Was he just a product of your imagination?

Sylvester Stallone: He was a product of my frustration. Since I had had so many doors shut in my face early in my career, I started to wonder, Am I alone? Or is it just really tough to pursue one’s dreams? So I thought, Let me write a story about a man who’s going nowhere, a man who has made some very bad decisions in his life, a man that no one has any faith in.

Where were you spiritually when the original Rocky was made?

Stallone: I’ve always been a Christian. I’ve always been fascinated with the ongoing battle in one’s soul—the constant forces of temptation, and the crusade inside to override it. And the mistakes people make and then trying to elevate yourself to redeem yourself. It’s back and forth, back and forth redemption. So when I write a character, that’s a story point. You know the man wants to be a boxer; that’s the simple part. But inside, the internal storm, that has always fascinated me. But what do we call upon to help us get through these trials and tribulations of everyday life? That’s what I try to do with Rocky.”

Another Studio on the Bandwagon

“A couple months ago, the 20th Century Fox empire announced that it would target the Christian market with the new FoxFaith brand, bringing movies to theaters and home video just for that audience.

Now the The Weinstein Co. is following suit, launching its own faith-based distribution label, according to Variety. The development includes a first-look deal—which means Weinsten gets first dibs—with Impact Productions, a Christian production company … (article linked to title)”

Me: Christian movies. Can’t say I’m crazy about the sound of this. In short I am more interested in seeing movies being made by Christians as opposed to making movies for Christians. There is a difference.

I would hate to the same mistakes we saw with the Contemporary Christian Music Movement in the movies. At the same time, I know many who have been blessed and inspired by the fruits of the CCM industry and I can’t accuse it of being a failure. It just doesn’t work for me.

So, launch your Christian music studios, film the movies, start up CET (Christian Entertainment Tonight) on whatever station you want, but it’s a poor way to respond to the culture war.

An Interview with Sylvester Stallone about his faith

Is Rocky a Christian? I admit I rolled my eyes and said something negative when I saw a Bible study about Rocky and his faith. But maybe I’ll see the movie first. This interview is interesting though and I’m glad I read it (interview linked to title).

Flag of Our Fathers

I am still (unsure of word here) after seeing Flag of Our Fathers. But that’s how you should feel after watching a movie about war. It brings a sense of perspective.

Similar to the violence in Saving Private Ryan, (which is not gratitious but in both movies a great attempt at accuarcy), FOUF, left me almost overwhelmed.

The movie is about the famous picture of the soldiers who lifted the American Flag on Iwa Jima, that has the story goes, was a moment of inspiration for our nation. In the previews I saw, there was debate on the validity of the picture. You even hear a reporter ask, “Was it staged?” Having never conisderd the accuaracy of this picture prior to seeing this movie, this is where the beauty and the struggle of the movie takes place.

The soliders in the picture are regarded as heroes. They are brought back to the States and are begin touring and fundraising for the war effort. The main protagonist, Doc, (played by the actor known as Reese Witherspoon’s husband may get his name back, Ryan Phillippe) is the one that audience cheers on for his bravery and heart which depicts his conflict and his goodness.

This is another one of those movies that is difficult to call it “Good” because of its violence and pain. But it is.

The Departed

Enjoyed watching The Departed.
Great acting, directing, and story line.
Violence, profanity, and gratuity are very prevalent. The Christianity Today has more to say on that.

NY Times Review of The Departed
CT Review of The Departed

A pic of Cate Blanchet playing a Dylan on Set

Only because it’s a Bob Dylan movie will a woman playing him probably still be cool.