Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Putting on the Santa Suit

Recently, I shared with you about why I think it's OK for Christians to believe in Santa Claus (sort of). Today, I thought I'd have a little bit of fun and continue with some thoughts on another great Santa movie - The Santa Clause. In this modern classic, Tim Allen is Scott Calvin, a divorced dad who wakes up to find Santa Claus on the roof of his house. When Santa gets startled and falls off the roof, Scott unwittingly puts on the suit and becomes the new Santa, but this isn't all easy for him to believe or accept at first...

It's an interesting movie, because (like many parents) Scott really wants his kid, Charlie, to believe in Santa - and he even pretends to believe, himself, at first - but when Scott actually begins the process of transforming into Santa, he doesn't believe what's happening, and he even tries to fight against it.

I think there are many parents who act the same way when it comes to Christianity. They want their kids to believe, and they claim to believe, themselves, but when it comes to making lifestyle changes and personal sacrifices, or when they hear that their kids want to become pastors and missionaries, they begin to fight against it. Do you really believe in Jesus and the changed life he calls us to, or do you believe - as the adults in Charlie's life do - that "Santa is more of a feeling, more of a state of mind than an actual person"?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Real Santa Claus

Last year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I posted a four-part series looking at Biblical messages found in some of my favorite Christmas programs. I'll post links to those posts at the bottom of this page, for easy reference.

Young Natalie Wood pulls on Edmund Gwenn's beard
to find out if he might really be Santa Claus
Today, I'd like to talk about a couple more holiday classics. First, there's Miracle on 34th Street. Although there have been several versions, I don't think you can beat the 1947 original. Edmund Gwenn, stars as Kris Kringle, an elderly man who gets a job as a department store Santa and makes a big stir by insisting (and eventually proving) he's the real deal!

The other classic I want to mention today is... Ernest Saves Christmas! I realize it's not really on the same level as Miracle (which won multiple Oscars and was nominated for Best Picture), but it's a lot of fun, and I like to watch it every year! Here, Douglas Seale is an aging Santa Claus looking for someone to take his place. These two movies are very different from each other, I know, but Gwenn and Seale both make excellent Santa Clauses, in my opinion!

I think part of what I like about these two movies (and the reason I brought them both up today) is the fact that they both ask the question: What if Santa Claus was a real person?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Moore About Good vs. Evil

My first memory of James Bond was sometime in the early '90s, before Pierce Brosnan stepped into 007's iconic tuxedo. There was an all-day marathon of Bond films on TV, and I unwittingly stopped to watch as Roger Moore was involved in a ski chase at the beginning of The Spy Who Loved Me. At the scene's climax, Moore went sailing off a cliff. I held my breath as I watched him fall for what seemed like forever. When a parachute finally opened and the iconic 007 music started playing, I was hooked!

Roger Moore as James Bond
Roger Moore played James Bond, 007,
in 007 movies between 1973 and 1985
I probably watched 3 or 4 Bond films that day, and in the years that followed, I went on to collect the series on VHS and eventually DVD. I've also read most of Ian Fleming's original books, and find them fascinating. And you may recall that I wrote a post last year, "007 Lessons from 007's 007th Adventure", based on Sean Connery's 1971 appearance in Diamonds Are Forever.

The Connery films are my favorites, but I've found something to like in almost every movie in the series. Today, I'd like to zero in on a few things I noticed in a recent viewing of Roger Moore's 1979 entry, Moonraker.

Of course, James Bond has never made a great role model for Christian living, but as I illustrated before, Bond films still have a lot to say about the struggle between good and evil.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Looking for Closure...

If you read my post last year about lessons from James Bond, you know that I've always been a fan of spy stories. Well, recently I went back and started watching Burn Notice from the beginning, and I'm happy to say I've gotten Amber hooked on the show in the process!

Jeffrey Donovan is Michael Weston
in USA's Burn Notice
For those who don't know, Burn Notice was a show on the USA Network about a spy named Michael Weston who gets "burned", which is to say that he's black-listed - kicked out of the spy game. Forced to stay in Miami, FL, until his burn notice is lifted, Michael is trying to find out who burned him so he can clear his name and get his job back. In the meantime, he has to make money to survive, so Michael does what Michael does best, and he puts his spying skills to work (with the aid of friends and family) to help others escape all the dangerous situations they get themselves into. Though there's still a little bit of language and a lot of violence, Michael is not a womanizing alcoholic like James Bond. Instead, he comes off as a good-hearted guy who happens to have the knowledge and skills to know how to handle problems that come up. Part of the show's appeal is that while you're watching, Michael narrates the story, explaining the logic behind his moves from a spy's point-of-view.

For the first 4 seasons, Michael tries and tries to prove himself until, at the beginning of Season 5, the CIA trusts him enough to let him be part of a team tracking down the covert organization responsible for getting him burned in the first place.

"At last," Michael thinks, "I'll get to find out why this all had to happen!"

But we don't always get all the answers we're looking for...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When Nobody's Looking...

I've never really been into much gory stuff, but every October, I love to watch classic horror movies. In fact, you may remember that last year, I wrote about two of my favorites - 1931's Frankenstein, and its 1935 sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. Today, I'd like to share about another classic, 1933's The Invisible Man.

On the surface, there are actually some strong similarities between this film and the old Frankenstein movie. For instance, both seem to be cautionary tales about the dangers of man putting too much trust in science rather than God. Like Dr. Frankenstein, The Invisible man comes to realize too late that - despite his best intentions in the beginning - "I meddled in things that man must leave alone." This realization, though, only comes after tragedy strikes. In the midst of things, the scientists are too wrapped up in their perverse desires to see what's wrong with what they're doing. In fact, you can even hear an eerie similarity in the maniacal laughs of both characters, though they're played by two different actors!

The idea of invisibility, though raises an interesting question: What would you do if you were sure no one would ever see you doing it? How would that change the way you live?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Passion for Peace

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
- Matthew 5:9

It's no secret, we live in a world filled with hatefulness, violence an war, and at times, it seems like there's nothing we can do to make a change. Our world is heading in a downward spiral, and the cycle seems to be never-ending. But what if I were to tell you that there IS something we can do to make a difference?

In Disney's 1995 film, Pocahontas, we get a glimpse into a world where opposing forces seem hell-bent on destroying each other, but somehow war is avoided. And who knows, but a closer look might actually give us some guidance for how to look at each other and handle hostilities in this new world we live in today!

The movie, of course, is based on the legend of the real life Native American girl, Pocahontas, who crossed paths with British settlers in the early 1600s. Disney has taken a little liberty with the tale, as usual, but that does nothing to take away from the story's impact or the truths that lie within.

In the movie (as in real life), Pocahontas' tribe is worried about the intentions of the strange new white men who are invading their territory. They fear that the white men will not be friendly, and it doesn't take long for their fears to be confirmed. At the same time, the white men - in the movie, led by an extremely greedy, spiteful and paranoid Governor John Ratcliffe - have a similar fear of the Indians. They are constantly mistrusting of the local "savages" - a fear that Gov. Ratcliffe harnesses in order to get the men to follow his orders.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Disney Shorts

Usually, when I'm putting together these posts, I take whole movies and really pick them apart, but I thought I'd do something a little different this time. Instead of dissecting a single film, I just want to share some brief devotional thoughts based on three popular Disney movies. You can read these all at once or spread them out, but since they're all short Disney-related segments, I've bundled them together in this neat little combo pack for you!


The first thing I want to share comes from the Disney classic, Cinderella. The movie's leading lady gives us a wonderful example of someone who is loving towards animals, kind towards those who mistreat her, and patient in the midst of persecution. All of these are excellent qualities to have - qualities the Bible would clearly support (see Proverbs 12:10; Romans 12:14; and Psalm 37:7). But have you ever wondered how that was possible - I mean, given all that Cinderella's step-mother and sisters put her through?

Cinderella wakes up to new hope every morning
The answer is actually given at the very beginning of the movie. The narrator tells us about the death of Cinderella's father, how she came to be in the custody of her step-mother, and how she was "abused, humiliated, and finally forced to become a servant in her own house," but the narrator goes on to say:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Looking for Trouble

August 16th marks another year since Elvis Presley passed away, and once again, thousands of fans gather at his Graceland estate in Memphis, TN, to pay their respects. If you're a fan like me, but you can't make it to the "Elvis Week" festivities this year, perhaps you'll mark the day by cranking some of his tunes or popping in one of his many movies.

Elvis made 31 scripted films in 13 years. Many of them have been dismissed by critics, which is unfortunate because Elvis always wanted to be taken seriously as an actor. Sadly, even as the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, Elvis just didn't get many opportunities to do serious work, and he grew to hate the kinds of roles he was often forced into. From time to time, though, Elvis made waves when he got the chance to really show what he could do!

When Elvis left for the Army in 1958, he wasn't sure if he'd still have a music career when he got home or not. He was afraid Rock 'n' Roll was just a passing fad, and nobody would remember him a couple years down the road. After completing work on King Creole, however, Elvis felt sure he could come back to a serious acting career. It's sad that Elvis' movie career didn't end up the way he hoped, but this film is still often held up as one of the best examples of Elvis' acting ability, and it boasts one of his strongest dramatic plotlines.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and co-starring Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones (who would go on to star in The Addams Family), this flick features Elvis in the role of Danny Fisher, an underprivileged, inner city youth in a story that's one part teen angst (a la James Dean) and one part film noir.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Don't Wreck-It - Let God Fix-It!

Disney's 2012 animated film, Wreck-It Ralph, tells the story of a video game bad guy who regrets the fact that everyone hates him for being a bad guy, and he wishes he could somehow become good enough to earn the respect of the other characters in his game. In order to do this, he decides to leave his own game to win a medal in another game, but in so doing, he causes havoc across multiple games. Along the way, he meets, Vanellope, a "glitch" in a racing game who is bullied by the other characters in her game and is just as desperate as Ralph to change her situation, but the two seem to bungle everything they do.

On the surface, it seems like the message is that you should be happy with who you are. After all, near the beginning, Ralph joins a villain support group, where the motto is:

"I'm bad and that's good.
I will never be good, and that's not bad.
There's no one I'd rather be than me."

But if you dig a little deeper, the movie has a lot more to say than just, "be content with the way things are." It has a lot to say about the way we treat each other, about dealing with our own flaws, and even about moving on toward perfection...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Lone (But Not Alone) Ranger

I don't know why, but Hollywood has really been on a kick for the last decade or more, trying to turn every TV show you can remember from childhood into a big screen blockbuster. Some have been better than others, but I've really grown to dread these remakes. Maybe the rest of the country has grown to dread them, too, or maybe cowboy pictures just aren't "cool" anymore. I'm not sure how to explain the fact that after only one weekend, Disney's The Lone Ranger is already being called a flop, but I personally thought it was pretty good. It might not be as family-friendly as the TV show from the 1950s, but it's entertaining enough I thought it would fare better!

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer in The Lone Ranger
I'm not even a big fan of Johnny Depp, but I have to say he's hilarious as Tonto, and I think Armie Hammer puts a good spin on the role of the title character. Despite some language, a visit to a brothel, and some occasionally brutal violence, there's still a lot about this movie that is faithful to the original, and not every change is bad.

As I watched the new movie and thought back on the classic TV series, I came up with five points of encouragement I think Christians can take away from this story.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!!!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Super Symbol of Hope

The legendary comic book character known as Superman has been captivating readers and audiences for 75 years. Over the years, the character has appeared in countless comic books, cartoons, radio programs, TV shows and movies, as he fights his never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. But what that means and what that looks like has evolved many times over the years, as various artists, writers, actors and others have put their spin on the world's ultimate superhero.

Of course, the basics of Superman's appearance haven't changed too much since the beginning. Show a picture of anyone in a "super suit", and kids and grown-ups alike will recognize him instantly. But that doesn't mean the suit hasn't been modified a few hundred times over the years! Designers have played with various shades of blue and red, and the new movie, Man of Steel, is the first depiction I'm aware of where the Big Blue Boy Scout doesn't wear his red underwear on the outside of his outfit!

Perhaps the one piece of Supes' costume that has gone through the most changes is the "S" shield/logo he wears on his chest. The colors, shapes and sizes of the logo have been reworked and revisited, and are often the subject of scrutiny and criticism from fans whenever a new version is revealed. Besides the appearance of the emblem, the significance has also evolved with time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

More Than Play-Acting

In 1986, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short teamed up as a band of heroes who rode from town to town, saving Mexican villages from bad guys right and left. Well... They weren't really heroes... They just played heroes in the movies!

Yes, as Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms and Ned Nederlander (respectively), Martin, Chase and Short were the ¡Three Amigos! - stars of the silver screen - but they were destined to become real life heroes (in the movie) after a Mexican woman saw one of their films and apparently mistook it for a documentary!

It's a wild, crazy adventure comedy, but it makes several points I think are important for the modern Church.

As the story begins, revenue for their last few films have been low. After the studio fires the trio, the Amigos are elated to receive a somewhat confusing telegram inviting them to make a personal appearance in Mexico. They really have no idea what they're getting into when they decide to make the trip to face off against the village's enemy, a man known as "El Guapo". They think it's just a show... but nobody else knows that they're only actors!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Suffering Together

There are a lot of hurting people in this world, and everybody needs love. As if recent things like the bombing in Boston, the explosion in Texas and earthquakes all around the world didn't make that clear enough, I was reminded of it again recently as I was watching the 2012 movie, The Lucky One.

At the beginning, we meet Sgt. Logan Thibault (Zac Efron), a U.S. Marine serving his third tour of duty in Iraq. There, in the desert sand, he discovers a photograph of an American woman. As he stops to look at it, there's an explosion nearby! It would have killed him if he hadn't stopped when he did! Fast forward several months, and we see that Sgt. Thibault still has his lucky photograph. Although he has no idea who the girl in the picture is, he and others believe her to be his guardian angel, because he has stayed safe despite several dangerous encounters!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Jackie Robinson Day

The new movie '42' is a home run!
Yesterday, we went to see the new movie, 42, which tells the true story of how Jackie Robinson got his start in Major League Baseball in the 1940s. I highly recommend the film, whether you're a baseball fan or not, but as with most movies today, I would caution parents about taking small children to see it because of the film's use of profanity - especially racial slurs. That said, I'm glad filmmakers didn't "pitch around" the issues of the day.

I'm also glad they didn't "pitch around" the role that Christian faith played in the story.

Besides Jackie Robinson, himself (played by Chadwick Boseman), the second most important character in the story is Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the executive for the Brooklyn Dodgers who chose Robinson specifically for the purpose of breaking baseball's unwritten color barrier. The mutual faith of these two men is alluded to early in the film by a humorous observation from Mr. Rickey:

"Robinson's a Methodist, I'm a Methodist, God's a Methodist... We can't go wrong!"

It's a line that elicited laughter from the rest of the theater, but - while I really don't think God cares very much about denominations - as a Methodist myself, I couldn't help but cheer just a little!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Would You Believe...?

Maxwell Smart, Agent 86,
"drops in" today!
At the height of the 60s spy craze, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry asked the question, "What would happen if James Bond and Inspector Clouseau somehow had a child?" Their answer... Maxwell Smart, Agent 86. For five years on network television, Don Adams played the bungling secret agent who helped America's CONTROL agency thwart the evil intentions of KAOS, whose Bond-like villains tried their best each week to Get Smart.

Get Smart really was a smart, fun show, which appealed to people on multiple levels. Some, no doubt, appreciated the satire of American politics. Others watched for the physical comedy, as Agent 86 fell in and out of trouble every week. And still others probably tuned in just to hear their favorite catch phrases (like "Sorry about that, Chief," and "Missed it by that much!") in Adams' unique voice! The series was cancelled in 1970, but not before winning 7 Emmy awards - 3 of which went to Adams for "Best Continued Performance in a Comedy".

Well, over the next few hours, I'd like to explain how there are no less than 764 life-altering lessons we can learn from watching this TV show. Would you believe it? 764!

No? Would you believe... if I include all the sequels and spin-offs of the show, I can list for you 209 important insights?

Still no? Eh... How about 3?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone 
who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
- 1 Peter 3:15b (NIV)

Recently, Amber and I went to see Oz: The Great and Powerful, Disney's new prequel to the Judy Garland classic, The Wizard of Oz. Ordinarily, when I hear "Disney" or "Oz", I tend to imagine things that are bright, cheerful and family-friendly; but for some reason, when these two came together (as before), they created something often dark, scary and I would say not really appropriate for smaller children. It only earned a PG rating, but I'm surprised!

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in 1939 anymore!

That being said, I thought the Wizard's origin story was interesting, and the movie took time to emphasize several good lessons, which is (of course) why it's being featured here!


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Everybody Loves... the Meaning of Life

Why are we here? That's the question Ray's daughter Allie asks in the Season 6 episode of Everybody Loves Raymond titled "Talk to Your Daughter". It's a question people have pondered since the beginning of time, and depending on whom you ask, there are probably a million different answers people can give. In this episode, each of the adults offer their insight, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to look at their various answers, and then give another possibility at the end.

The beginning of the episode doesn't even hint that it will deal with anything so deep. It opens with Ray trying to prove to his friends that he can call his wife Debra mean names and get away with it as long has he says it in a nice tone. When Deb catches him calling her "Smelly Tramp", however, she is not amused. That night, she calls Ray immature and accuses him of shirking responsibility. To prove her wrong, Ray offers to step up and have "the sex talk" with his daughter, who's been asking questions lately. But for all his studying, Ray is thrown for a loop when he approaches Allie and learns that her real question isn't so much where babies come from, but WHY they come at all!
Ray: "OK, here's what happens. When a man and a woman love each other very much, they get married, and then sometimes, they decide to make a baby.
Allie: "Why are there babies?"
Ray: "Right, OK, I'm gonna get to that. What a man and a woman do is-"
Allie: "No, I mean, I know that the man and the woman have to do something, but... Why are we born? Why does God put us here?"
Ray: "...because...that's...WHAT?"
Allie: "If we all go to Heaven when we die, then why does God want us here first?"

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Tribute to Mister Rogers

Today marks 10 years since "Mister" Fred Rogers passed away. With that in mind, I posted a tribute to him on my other blog, and I just wanted to share that with you.

----------------------------------------From my "I See Blessings" blog----------------------------------------

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor...
Would you be mine?"
For years as a kid, I remember turning on the local PBS affiliate, and there were a few shows I always liked to watch: Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street... and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. My favorite at the time was probably Sesame Street, but I loved all three. Eventually, of course, I grew up and began to feel like I grew out of those shows, and I haven't watched any of them in ages. But looking back, I think I have more happy memories of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood than any of the others.

I remember a few of the educational segments, I remember the trolley ride into the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe", and some of the fun characters there. I remember the sweaters, feeding the fish, and fun songs like "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and "It's Such a Good Feeling". But most of all, I remember how Mr. Rogers seemed to genuinely care about the children watching his show. He spoke in a way that would be easily understood - in a calm, clear tone. He talked about things that were important to us as kids - about hopes and fears of all kinds. And his messages were always reassuring and uplifting.

"You are special."          
          "You are loved." 
"I like you, and I hope you like you, too!"

Sadly, Mr. Rogers left us 10 years ago today. I have a small book called, "The World according to Mister Rogers", which is a collection of quotes published the year he passed away. I'd like to share just a few of my favorite quotes with you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

By Fairest Blood...

Last year, two new movies based on the classic "Snow White" fairytale were released in theaters. The first, Mirror Mirror, came out at about the time I started this blog, and it became the first movie I talked about here. The second, Snow White and the Huntsman, came out a few months later, and while Amber and I saw it at the theater, I didn't write about it here at the time. As we recently watched this second iteration again, though, I was reminded of so much rich symbolism I wanted to share with you.

Snow White and the Huntsman
In Mirror Mirror, Snow White stood as an example for us because of her exemplary behavior, but Snow White and the Huntsman actually takes it one step further, going to great lengths to set her up this time as a type for Christ. In other words, like Superman and a few others I've talked about from time to time, Snow White in this film shows us something about the nature of our Savior. There are also several lessons for us from the examples of Snow White's father, the evil Queen and her brother, the dwarfs and the huntsman.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Almighty Answers

Wouldn't it be great if every time you prayed for something, God just went ZAP! and you got what you asked for? Why do you think he doesn't do that?

Back in 1990, Garth Brooks had a #1 hit with his song, "Unanswered Prayers", where he pointed out that sometimes it's better NOT to get what you ask for because you often don't really know what's best for your life. One great line from the chorus says, "Just because he doesn't answer, doesn't mean he don't care"... but do we really believe that? I mean, do we believe there are prayers that God just refuses to answer?

The people who made 2003's Bruce Almighty seem to believe it. In the movie, Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) feels like God has turned his back on him, and he decides that God must be either non-existent or evil, because if God has infinite power at his fingertips, he could clear up all our problems in five minutes. In order to teach him a lesson (or several), God (Morgan Freeman) gives Bruce a unique gift: he allows Bruce to temporarily have all of God's powers!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Are You Obsolete?

Whenever you hear, "Twilight's on!" at our house, you have to pay attention who's speaking. If it's my wife, undoubtedly she's talking about the recent series of popular vampire movies. But if it's me, more than likely I'm referring to something else: I'm always excited whenever I can see an episode of the classic series, "The Twilight Zone" on TV. Thankfully, Syfy has gotten in the habit of running a marathon every year around the first of January, so after the ball drops at Times Square, I like to get up the next day and watch as many episodes as I can stand!

Wordsworth on trial © Image Entertainment
Romney Wordsworth stands trial for the crime of being obsolete.
There are so many great episodes, but I especially enjoy the ones that feature Burgess Meredith (maybe in part because I'm such a big fan of Rocky and Batman!).

In particular, I think my episode favorite is 1961's "The Obsolete Man". Here, Meredith plays Mr. Wordsworth, an appropriately named librarian living sometime in the future, who is sentenced to death when he is deemed "obsolete" by a society that believes it has evolved beyond the need for books or religion.

So examine with me, if you will, this glimpse into other dimension - a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind... Next stop, The Twilight Zone!