Monday, January 29, 2007

About the Academy Award Nominations.

About a week ago, nominations for the Academy Awards were announced. As a huge film buff and possibly future star and filmmaker, I would like to take a few minutes to comment on the nominations.

There wasn't any reason to nominate anyone else than Forest Whitaker because he's going to win Best Actor by a landslide. Christian Bale should have been nominated and would have been a contender, but the Hollywood establishment didn't even recognize him.

There also wasn't any reason to nominate anyone other than Helen Mirren because she's already locked in as the winner for Best Actress. I haven't seen THE QUEEN, but apparently there isn't a female performance out there that can compare to Mirren's portrayal of Elizabeth II.

Paul Greengrass should win the Best Director award for UNITED 93, but the award will probably go to Martin Scorsese because he has never won before and Marty's not getting any younger.

As for Best Picture the five films nominated were:

Out of all of those the only film that actually even deserves a nomination is THE DEPARTED. Hollywood likes to have a little quirky film as part of the race, so I can understand LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. As for the other three, I just don't get it. Until BABEL was nominated, I hadn't heard much positive about it. LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is an attempt to be politically correct since it's a WWII movie told from the side of the Japanese but TORA, TORA, TORA did it better over twenty years ago and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is probably the better of Eastwood's two films from the past year. Helen Mirren is remarkable in THE QUEEN so her performance rightly deserves a Best Actress Award, but that doesn't mean the movie deserves a Best Picture nomination.

There are at least two films that should have been nominated. The biggest glaring omission is UNITED 93. Until about the start of November UNITED 93 was on everyone's Best Picture list. I don't know what happened in two months to change people's minds so much, but UNITED 93 should have been nominated. It's the best picture of 2006 hands down. The other blatant omission is APOCALYPTO. If anyone but Mel Gibson had been responsible for APOCALYPTO, it would have been nominated for every award in town. However, because Mel's behind it, no one wants to recognize it for the masterful achievement that it is. I know that some will ask me, what would be the other film I would rather see in the fifth slot. To be honest, I'm not sure. I just saw CHILDREN OF MEN and loved it. That would probably be my choice. Although, I've heard a lot of good comments about BLOOD DIAMOND and DREAMGIRLS, so they would have been worthy contenders, too. Even CARS would have been better than some of the other films nominated (CARS might not be the Best Picture of the year, but it is the Best Animated Picture and will win that, but it is better than some of the other nominees).

I'll be making my own favorite film list of 2006 in the near future. Keep reading and stay tuned.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Jesus Was a Jew: A Lesson in Anti-Semitism

I was subbing in a classroom the other day where every student had a behavior disorder. I’ve subbed in the class before, so I was familiar with most of the students. However, there was one student who I had never seen before. Apparently he had been in jail for over six months for a variety of crimes. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the student was also extremely racist. In the afternoon all of us: the students, the teacher, the extra aid, and myself; gathered together for a little meeting. Someone in the class had written racist names in the backroom blackboard wall. During the course of the conversation, the student I had never seen before became highly agitated and started cursing and making comments. He also threatened another student in the class. Before he was removed from the room, he was yelling at the other student and his remarks were like, “You better tell that little fucker to shut up. See, he’s not talking to me now. What’s he doing now? Praying. Go ahead and pray to your Jewish God. Your fucking Jewish God. I don’t believe in God. Fucking Jewish bitch God. Think your God’s going to save you? There’s no God here. You’re God’s not going to save you. Fucking Jewish God. That no good Jew God.” The other student who he was yelling at wasn’t even speaking and the student isn’t Jewish. The teacher, the other aid, and myself were all a little bit stunned afterwards. In the less than five minutes the student had been ranting he had spewed forth more virulent racism than I have ever encountered before in my life. I’ve known people who are racist and I’ve actually been a victim of racism myself. But I’ve never seen a young person vomit such verbal hatred in such a short time.

Thinking about the incident later that day, I remembered something significant. Jesus was a Jew. Therefore, I guess that technically I follow a Jewish God. Having been raised in a Christian home, when I was a kid I never thought much about Jesus’ Jewishness. I guess I viewed Jesus like everyone else did, the son of a Christian God. Jesus is the foundation of my faith. He was a Christian in the purest sense of the name. It wasn’t until about twelve years ago when I was introduced to a book by Phillip Yancey entitled The Jesus I Never Knew that I thought about, considered, and accepted Jesus’ Jewishness. It’s something I’ve studied more sense then and I now accept it without any reservations.

However, thinking about yesterday’s events I realized that the way I felt in class yesterday is the way the Jewish people have been treated for thousands of years. Jews and Christians share common traditions and parts of faith, but they aren’t the same faiths. Nevertheless, there are similarities. As far as I know, I’ve never done or said anything anti-Semitic and I’ve tried to treat Jewish people the same way that I treat everyone else. I’ve read about and studied anti-Semitism, but yesterday I discovered what anti-Semitism feels like. It’s not a very good feeling, but I’m glad that I know.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Substitute Teaching in TEACHER MAN

"A failed everything. I looked for my place in the world. I became an itinerant substitute teacher, drifting from school to school. High schools called me for day-to-day work to replace sick teachers. Some schools needed me when teachers were called for long spells of jury duty. I was assigned classes in English or whatever a teacher was needed: biology, art, physics, history, mathematics. Substitute teachers like me floated somewhere on the fringes of reality. I was asked daily, And who are you today?" --Frank McCourt, TEACHER MAN, p. 178
That is a pretty accurate description of how I feel right now.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hope Remains.

I don't know how many people who read my writings here pay attention to the news, but there's a local story that's gaining a lot of national and even international media coverage that I felt I should mention here. On Friday, police and FBI found Ben Ownby, a 13 year old boy who had been abducted five days earlier, in an apartment in Kirkwood, MO (St. Louis suburb). Unbelievably, in the same apartment they also discovered Shawn Hornbeck, a boy who had been abducted almost five years ago when he was 11 years-old. Finding Ownby alive days after his disappearance was a blessing, but finding Hornbeck was a double blessing. The day after the discovery of the boys, the St. Louis Post Dispatch was headlined "A MIRACLE!" I can think of no other way to describe the rescue of the two boys. There are a lot of strange things about the case and as more facts are discovered, the case will become even more bizarre. I'm writing about this here because it's re-opened my eyes to a couple things.

One, I'm going to pay more attention to posters and milk cartons that have pictures of missing children on them. When I was a kid and until about half way through high school, I used to memorize those things when I would see them. Maybe it was because I watched too many episodes of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES or had seen the movie about Michael Walsh's kidnapped son one too many times. I grew up in a small town, a fairly safe town, a town that feels like something Normal Rockwell would have painted. I never had any reason to feel unsafe, but as a kid, I had a lingering dread that I would be kidnapped. When I got older that fear was replaced by the fear that could happen to my siblings. I don't remember when I stopped paying attention to missing kid flyers. I guess it was sometime in high school. This case has shown me that I need to pay attention to those things again.

The other thing I've been shown has to do with hope. Hope is a precious thing, so precious that it's one of those things that's really hard to define. Hope isn't optimism and it isn't trust, though it is tied to and similar to both of those. Hope is something unique. The world needs more hope. I wish I could say that I'm always a hopeful person, but I'm not. I've lost some hope in my life. I used to be a very hopeful person. I'm still the guy who tries to see the best in every situation. I'm a very forgiving person. I'm very easy going and amiable. However, I'm not as hopeful as I used to be. I've been battered and bruised on the journey of life. Idealist thoughts of naive youth have been replaced by the knowledge of realism. Life is hard and difficult. Sometimes very good things happen to bad people and that quite often very bad things happen to really good people. People are in pain and suffering the world over and things are just going to get worse. I see and hear people's dreams dying on the vine because of the harsh heat of life bearing down. I've lost some hope in my life, but a few days ago I gained some of it back. Two young men who had been kidnapped in friendly neighborhoods close to home were found. Like many, three days after Ben Ownby was abducted, I assumed that he was dead in a ditch somewhere. As for Shawn Hornbeck, I thought his body was lost in the Mighty Miss. The rescue of those two children proved me wrong. Yes, the world can be a terrible place and we shouldn't fool ourselves into believing that things are going to drastically improve any time soon (only Christ's return will do that). Pandora's box might be opened, but hope remains. Hope remains.
On Friday I did something eccentric. I rented a car and drove to Springfield, Missouri to audition for SURVIVOR. I've applied for every show except the first two seasons and have only missed one episode in 13 seasons. I don't know why I'm so drawn to that show, but I am. It's an amazing, though exceedingly challenging game. I just want an opportunity to play. So, I've sent in tape after tape after tape (sometimes more than one). Last Friday I had a chance to audition in person and I took it. It's kind of crazy, but I am kind of a wild and crazy guy. I probably won't make the cut, but that's okay because hope remains.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Something About Shadows

The past few days I have been feeling really down. The car I drive, which in reality is tied to my livelihood in this plane, has a small problem (just a tiny part that is going bad) that can be fixed, but getting it fixed will require the removal of the transmission and a buttload of money that I just don’t have. Over a year after spending years back in school so I could teach in public schools and over a decade of interviews and half of century of applications, I still haven’t gotten a teaching job and am barely scraping by substitute teaching. I’ve never had a girlfriend because, mainly, every woman I’ve ever seriously contemplated beginning a relationship with has rejected me in one form or another, including my most recent failed attempt a few days ago. To top it all off, I’m currently residing back in the hometown of my roots, a place I have a deep affection tampered with scorn for. By most wordly standards (I have overcome the education gap), I am a loser. Even by the standards of those within the Church, I ain’t doing too hot.

Normally, I don’t allow myself to think about such things very often, but the last few days I have been. Combined with the mundane rituals of daily life, it became too much for me last night. I hadn’t gone running yesterday (something I have been doing 3-4 nights a week), so I took a very long walk instead.

It was a very long walk. I had a lot to think about. I had a lot to talk about with God. About halfway through the walk I took I noticed something. As I was walking I noticed that there were three shadows following me. I stopped and kind of laughed because I realized that all three shadows were my own shadows. Usually when I see a shadow of myself, there is one. On occasion there are two, but this is the first time I ever recall seeing three shadows. I’m sure it has happened before, but it’s the first time I ever noticed it; three shadows of myself at three different angles and locations on the ground, mimicking my every move. As I looked at the shadows I was reminded of the unseen war that we are all engaged in. It’s so easy to forget that. It’s so easy just to get busy with living and life that you forget about everything else. I don’t think God ever intended for us to worry about that unseen battle constantly. He wants us to live an abundant life and it’s very difficult to do that when you are consumed about every evil force behind every action, word, and thought. Yet, we are supposed to know it goes on and though we shouldn’t be consumed by it, we should be aware. After all, this is just a shadowlands that we live in right now. I forget about that sometimes and I was glad to be reminded.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Film Review

Below is a movie review I wrote for a local paper two weeks ago.
Set against the backdrop of a lush and lively jungle landscape, Apocalypto is a film about the death of an empire, the fall of a civilization, the salvation of a family, and one man’s struggle against fear. The film opens with a group of hunters from a small village chasing a tapir. One of the leaders of the hunt is the protagonist of the film, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood). The next morning Jaguar Paw’s village is attacked and invaded by the warriors from the city of stone. Jaguar Paw hides his pregnant wife and young son in a hole in the ground, but is himself taken captive. The captives are brought to the city of stone and along the way a diseased-stricken girl prophesizes the destruction of the Mayan empire because of their sins: slavery, human sacrifice, the raping of the Earth, etc. In the city, the women captives are sold as slaves and the men are dragged to a pyramid to be sacrificed. Through a strange turn of events, Jaguar Paw’s life is spared and he is able to escape. Chased by a group of savage warriors, he rushes through the jungle in an attempt to rescue his family before the rains fall and drown them.

Apocalypto is one of the best films I have seen this year. It is a violent film. There are also some minor historical inaccuracies and the film is subtitled because the characters speak in a Mayan dialect. Nevertheless, these minor flaws take nothing away from the power of the film.

The cinematography is brilliant. The people, animals, and vegetation seem almost three-dimensional. The scenery in the film is more vivid than any nature documentary that I have ever seen.

The acting is quite remarkable, especially considering the film’s location and the challenge of speaking in an almost dead language. The central characters are rich and deep. Watching the movie, a person becomes entangled in the lives of Jaguar Paw and his friends and family. Much of that is because of the acting, but some of it is because of the writing and directing, too.

The storytelling uses everything from the Biblical Book of Revelation and the story of the Tower of Babel to epic Greek poems such as The Illiad to popular movie heroes such as John Rambo in First Blood as allusions and references to firmly cement the film in our own cultural heritage.

The story is not only engaging, but it is a powerful parable, too. We might not, yet, live in a culture and society that is as violent as the Mayans, but we are guilty of many of the same sins. We enslave people by not paying them decent wages for the jobs they perform and by paying powerful executives money they don’t deserve, we sacrifice our children upon an alter called choice, and we rape the Earth in almost the same ways as the urban Mayans do in Apocalypto. Like the city-dwelling Mayans in the film, we often choose to not only ignore what we do but the consequences of those actions as well. This chosen ignorance means little because the results of those actions remain, reminding us of our sin and folly.

Apocalypto is a violent movie. For example, men have their throats slit, people are beheaded, priests rip out peoples’ hearts, heads literally roll down stairs, and a man has his face chewed off by a jaguar. It’s all very bloody and slightly gory, yet it’s not anywhere near as violent or gory as movies such as Hostel or Saw III. Also, unlike those films, violence in Apocalypto isn’t useless; it serves a purpose.

Containing magnificent acting, brilliant direction, and amazing cinematography, as well as a plot that serves as a powerful parable for our time, Apocalypto is one of the best movies of 2006.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Some Thoughts From Bono

Here are some quotes from Bono from a book I recently read.

"Never trust a performer, performers are the best liars. They lie for a living. You're an actor, in a certain sense. But a writer is not a liar." p. 42

Great quote, but for me it causes a dilemma because I'm both an actor and writer. I guess I must be a better writer because I'm not a very good liar unless I'm acting.

"A rock star is someone with a hole in his heart almost the size of his ego." p. 128

If only more rock stars and entertainers were open about this. Many are so close to the Truth, yet not close enough. There's a reason pride is the deadliest of sins.
"So I can live without happiness. If that's the price of fame, good riddance! Joy on the other hand, is not up for sale. And my joy comes from a completely different place." p. 346

The difference between happiness and joy. Learn the difference and live it and your life will improve drastically.
Whatever you think of U2 and Bono, you've got to give the guy credit: he tries to use his celebrity in a positive way to help the poor and make the world a better place. By the way, he's a Christian, too.