Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cloverfield: A Monster To Believe In

Let me say from the beginning that I was not a fan of "The Blair Witch Project." I thought it was not very scary or worth my time for that matter. Cloverfield will inevitably be compared to that film because they are both from the new genre of "found footage" films. I have to say that I was expecting a fun monster movie, but got much more. Cloverfield may in fact be the sign of new life in this new genre because it did what Blair Witch could not. Let me let you in on a little secret, Cloverfield is not about the monster. Cloverfield is about the people who try to survive. I was surprised that I found myself caring about the people who were on the screen. They were real people trying to understand and deal with what was happening. What made this so powerful was the 20 or so minutes of the goodbye party for the main character, which was taping over a day at Coney Island with the girl he finally got together with. You get some of this throughout the movie as well. Why this works is that the same story would have worked if it was a natural disaster rather than a monster. The main character wants to correct a mistake that he made with the woman that he loves, and puts himself and his friends in danger to find her. As much as I rail against the "Hollywood Ending," I wanted these people to get that ending because I cared about them. That is what makes the movie work so well. Another thing that makes it work so well is that the viewer is left with so many questions about the monster. But the movie does not answer them because we see the story through those experiencing what is happening. They don't get any answers, so neither do we. We're left wanting more. We're left sad for what happened to those people whom we came to care about. So what about the monster? What is it? Where did it come from? I'm sure that there are so many theories that will drive conversation for years to come, or until we get a sequel. I liked that we did not get a full view of the creature until near the end. I liked how much like the creatures in the work of H. P. Lovecraft, this monster defies easy description. And it was genuinely scary at times. I jumped, which his hard for a movie to get me to do. And I'll admit that the little things that crawl off the monster made my skin crawl, and led to one of the most creepy moments in the film.
This movie gives me some hope for movies in the future. You can have big monsters or events. You could have a well known comic figure. But if the audience does not care about who is on the screen, the movie will fail. Cloverfied is not a failure. I can't wait to take a walk through it again.

Cloverfield gets 10/10

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Framework for Prayer

Back in the Fall I started reading this book with two other pastors from our church and two teachers that teach at WCA. When I was in seminary I was fortuante enough to get to read quite a bit of Carson, but it was much more academic than this book. While Carson here speaks of a spiritual reformation, I would call it a spiritual revolution because of its impact in my prayer life. I don't want to broadcast the intimate details of my prayer life here because I believe that it would not be appropriate. However, one thing that I will mention because of this book is that this has not simply given me a "breath of fresh air" to my prayer life, but has rather given me a new framework from which to pray. I wish that I could say that I have perfectly put it into practice, but if that were true then I could also scale walls like a spider.
Carson shows from the prayers of Paul how the apostle structured his prayers and how he prayed. It's challenging to see how we typically pray vs how he did. It especially reveals our priorities and what we find important. I am challenged in each chapter that I read. My hope is that as I read and try to apply what I'm learning, that my prayers will change, not because of any formula that I'm following, but because my heart, by the Spirit, is aligning itself more with the priorities of the Spirit. May this bless you as well.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Pirate's Life Not For Me (But this book is)

This book has been on my list to read for quite some time. It was published in 2002 so it came out before pirates became popular again. After reading the Prologue, (YES! YOU SHOULD ALWAYS READ THE PROLOGUE!) I was hooked. Zacks writes in such a way that you know that he has done his homework, but does not bore you in the presentation of the work that he has done. I think that what grabs me the most about this book is how unappealing the life of a pirate is to me, but how appealing it was to men in the 17th century. The idea of taking your life in your own hands just to go to the bathroom does not sound fun to me. Nor am I in any hurry to have my teeth fall out and my bones go soft because of scurvy. How about taking a week of backbreaking labor just to fill up barrels of drinking water that will go sour in just a week or two? Sounds like fun! Sign me up!
One thing that has been bothering me about the Pirates of the Caribbean films, while I thoroughly enjoyed all three, is that pirates became freedom fighters. They became the underdogs against the big "corporate machine" of the East India Trading Company. I think that if we think about real pirates being like Jack Sparrow, we miss the boat, I mean ship. Pirates were murderous thieves. As Zacks points out in his book, they wanted money and sex, and would do whatever it took to get it. But that does not make for a good movie. It makes me wonder what our next "hero" will be. Pirates were not heroes, and it's tragic that many folks will begin to view them as such because of fun movies and great performances.
But aside from that, Zacks' book tells a great tale about Captain Kidd, and dead men apparently do tell tales. Grab this book and read it. I can't wait to read his next one about Jefferson and the pirates at Tripoli.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I Am Legend- A Missed Opportunity

I am a big fan of the original novel by Matheson. The story of the last man on earth facing a world of vampires was well written and had a great ending. It had been in development for quite awhile after having two previous attempts at bringing this story to film.
What makes the book great is how Neville goes through his day to day routine and how that slowly breaks down. It helps that each night people who he knew call out to him trying to get him outside. I won't spoil the end of the book here, but it it the ending that makes the book in my opinion.
I'm assuming that if you are reading this that you have seen the movie or are familiar enough with it that I don't need to explain everything, and not worry about giving spoiler warnings.
As far as the Will Smith version goes, I have to call it a missed opportunity because so many things were missing that it spoiled a great opportunity. Here is what I mean:
-A virus instead of vampires- Not a huge problem, but the infected were never really explained well. Are they savage creatures or some type of new society? Pick one. Savage creatures don't keep dogs. Straight up vampires would have worked much better and needed less explanation.
-Survivors- What made the film work for the first 3/4 was Smith by himself. Being the last man on Earth is what drives the whole story. Is he going crazy? Are his chances for survival slowly dwindling?
-The ending- Do I have a problem with his death? No. I have a problem with the lady's monologue at the end wrapping everything up in a nice box. The book does not end in a nice box and that is what makes it powerful. This movie could have left us pondering what the book does. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be human with other humans? At the end of the book I was going "Wow." Many great conversations could be started from a book like that. At the end of the movie, I missed my $7. The movie was ok for the first 3/4. But the end was its end.
I would give it 6/10