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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best and Worst Films of 2012

I love films. I love films not just for the entertainment value, but for the fact that films have a capability to transform us individually and collectively. I can still remember where I was and how I was changed from watching The Mission, Do the Right Thing, The Shawshank Redemption, and Hotel Rwanda, among others. Films can lift us above the mire and routine of our daily lives and show what opportunities await us in the here and now to change the world. Even more, when we watch a film in honesty and vulnerability, films can mirror to us who we are and where we need to change and grow ourselves. So, in many ways for me, films have been means of grace; ways in which God has infused a greater degree of holiness into my life.

So, I wanted to share with you the best and worst films of 2012. I am listing these in the order in which they were released, not necessarily in the order in which I am ranking them.

These are films that somehow touched me, spoke to me, did something more than just entertained me or occupied my time with sensory overload. These are the films I would want to see again because there is something of value in them, even if that value is only to me. Films are like that. They can speak to one person and to no one else. So, you may disagree with my list and I would love to know if you agree or disagree so be sure and let me know below!

Best Films of 2012
Rock of Ages (June 15) - Yep, I know I will get some razzing for this, but I loved it. It was a flop, the critics hated it, but I am a sucker for 80s music. I thought Tom Cruise actually pulled off being a narcissistic rock icon, and there was a cameo by Kevin Cronin, the lead singer of REO Speedwagon. Hey, what more do I have to say? My only critique is that they chose the wrong song from REO for the film. They put in I Can't Fight this Feeling, which certainly is an 80s staple. But any REO fan will tell you for this film, Rock N Roll Star is the ticket. Amateurs.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (June 22) - Not a good film for a pick-me-up, but  yes, the world does end.  Sorry to spoil it for you. But the journey two people engage in together as their world is literally crashing down around them and their character development was powerful to watch. They really deepened themselves, one another and they learned to love and be vulnerable. Their personal growth, which culminates with the ending scene, was inspiring.

The Dark Knight Rises (July 20) - Finally a summer movie that lives up to its hype. I think the approach to Batman was refreshing throughout the trilogy - a dark personal struggle for Batman, weighing his personal passions and struggles with his duty and responsibility. All of those who serve can resonate on some level with this. The best one of the trilogy was of course the second with Heath Ledger playing the Joker. This was not better than that, but did not do damage to the series and more than lived up to the billing, even when our lack of gun laws allowed someone to shoot up a movie theater in Aurora, CO.

Hope Springs (August 8) - I wavered on this one a bit for, of all things, what I felt were lackluster performances by Streep, Jones, and even Carell, whose character seemed listless. Still, I felt like the story was a good one, it had a nice ending, and since I saw it with my wife, it makes the list. At the very least, I felt challenged to avoid the marriage we see at the beginning of the film.

The Campaign (August 10) - OK, it was horrible, but it was timely and I needed to laugh at politics so it make the best list. At any other time, it is one of the worst, but man, it was funny. Will Farrell is just plain funny, perhaps the funniest guy alive today. An d I laughed out loud during the film and in my car on the way home.

End of Watch (September 21) - Powerful, gripping, and incredibly intense. There was a greater depth to the characters than I imagined there would be. I liked Colors in 1988 and this was what Colors, in many respects, aspired to be. Great film, but not for the faint of heart.

Argo (October 12) - This film, along with The Town, marks Ben Affleck as one of the better Director/Actors we have around today. This film was excellent from beginning to end. I had wished for a more critical look at the historic failure of U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East, but I got the feeling Affleck, given his liberal political leanings wanted to especially avoid that so as not to repel half his audience. But this film excels on every level and I would gladly see it again.

Flight (November 2) - Denzel Washington is the best actor alive today. This film was incredibly powerful and showed the slow, excruciating, unraveling downhill trajectory of addiction and how it does not stop until you are dead or honest with yourself about who you are. I cannot recommend this film enough and I urge churches to view this film and talk about  - really talk about addiction. Incredible.

Lincoln (November 9) - This was a great film, but not the greatest of the year. Still, I could heartily resonate with and was deeply inspired by the strategies, planning, and the ultimate success of the passage of the 13th amendment. This was a process film and so was very wordy, but still, it wasn't unnecessary verbiage so it works in the end. Anyone who cares about social change and has regularly experienced the long, hard, cruel upward battle towards implementing that social change into real legislation knows the sting of crushing defeat all too often. Seeing the real-life victory of something that changed our nation forever was welcome indeed and made this film a must-see.

The Silver Linings Playbook (November 21) - I love films that have a certain cringe factor - you can feel the awkwardness and discomfort happening in the scene and you cringe as the characters experience the scene with you. This film has lots of cringe factors - as they fully exhibit their peculiarities/foibles/mental illness behaviors - whatever you want to call it. But the characters are also lovable and you cannot help but root for them and root for them I did. This has Oscar winning performances and for once, Robert DeNiro is in a film and cannot overpower the others in it. Incredible film because of the actors more than anything.

Worst Films of 2012
Red Tails (January 20) - This was one of the biggest disappointments of 2012 for sure. I had high hopes for this film because of the subject, but a bad script, poor acting, and utter predictability made this a terrible disappointment.

Safehouse (February10) - It is very hard to put anything with Denzel Washington into the worst films category and to be honest, this wasn't dreadful. He made it watchable. But it was fairly typical and thus, entirely forgettable. I honestly forgot I saw this until I looked at the list several times; not a good sign for a film.

Total Recall (August 3) - Not bad entertainment value, but a mindless, narrativeless, and somewhat valueless couple of hours. This is what I hate about summer movies. It is like the movie studios assume we suspend all of our taste and morality, and want to be degraded by having entertainment appeal to our basest appetites and values. Of course, I never saw the first Total Recall (never been an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan), but I doubt that would have helped me with this one. I couldn't follow this very well, but I honestly did not try very hard - not much to follow. Will Colin Farrell ever make a decent film?

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (August 15) - You know those movies that pull of the right strings and make you cry and make you laugh and seem to be perfectly put together - as in too perfectly put together? Yep, this is one of those. I liked it at the time, but it felt like it had been screen-tested (though I do not know if it really was). It all felt like the actors tried too hard - they were too sad, they were too happy, they were too disillusioned, etc. Even the story tried too hard and it felt like a made-up story. It didn't feel natural. Not a horrible film at all, not a great one, just somewhere in between.

Trouble with the Curve (September 21) - No, this is not for Clint Eastwood's ridiculous chair routine at the Republican National Convention. I think that was better than this movie. The story was not entirely a bad one - it was a good story, at least in its conception. But I just never bought the relationship between Eastwood and Amy Adams. I feel like Adams carried Eastwood who is an excellent Director, but whose roles now seem to vary between pissed and grumpy. If I want to spend two hours watching someone always pissed and grumpy, i will just tape myself. I love baseball, but this should have been better.

Wreck-It Ralph (November 2) - I slept through half of this - enough said. I love some animated films, but this was one of those films where you see every funny scene in the previews so there is not much left. D-U-M-B.

Films I Wish I'd Seen
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Brave, The Sessions, Life of Pi, Wanderlust

Films I am Glad I Didn't See
Every horror film made this year and every year, Magic Mike, Red Dawn, This Means War, The Hobbit

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Today IS the Day

Like so many of you, in my church on Sunday we spent much of our worship praying for comfort and peace for the families who were devastated by the gun shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. We prayed and we cried as we read the names of the victims, but we also did something more; we decided we had had enough.

Now, my church, like so many of yours, is not of one mind when it comes to access to guns - we have disagreements. Yet, after this tragedy, we know that wherever we stand on access to guns, all of us believe that there are simple things that Congress can and must do to prevent gun violence and more senseless tragedies.

My church asked me to put together a letter and I am pasting it below here. We, as a church, are going to sign it and send it to the President asking that meaningful action be taken. My pastor has pledged to keep the letter in the church foyer each week, asking people to sign it each week, and then send it each week. We will send it to the President now and later to Congress until action is taken that will help prevent such tragedies from occurring. This kind of persistent action is what it will take for Congress to know that we want leadership and meaningful action.

My prayer is that more churches will take part in this effort. As we celebrate the gift of life in Jesus the Christ, I hope we will honor the lives of those so tragically and unnecessarily taken by demanding that steps be taken - steps that everyone can agree on regardless of where you stand on gun rights - immediately.

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I write to you joining you and the rest of the country in grieving for yet another gun shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Tragically, 27 people were shot and killed, with 20 of those being children. I know we as a nation mourn this senseless loss of life and we pray for comfort and healing for the families who have been devastated by this unnecessary violence.

I deeply appreciate the statement you made immediately following this tragedy when you said, "As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it's an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

I hope as you begin your second term that preventing senseless gun violence will be a high priority for you and for Congress. Your leadership is crucial in addressing this issue. As a follower of Jesus the prince of peace, I want to live in a society that gives less easy access to weapons, especially weapons such as assault weapons that can cause widespread death and destruction. What's more, those who might be inclined to violent actions should not have access to guns at all. Therefore, I ask you to focus on two things:
  1. Make gun ownership a more responsible process with universal background checks no matter where the gun is purchased.
  2. Reinstate a vigorous ban on assault weapons.

In addition, we must make services which determine and treat mental illness more accessible to all those who need it. Mental illness must no longer be hidden, but should be something openly discussed so that those who suffer can receive the help they need.

We as a nation have been through this kind of tragedy too often. It is time for this senseless gun violence to be addressed and for sensible solutions such as those listed above to be implemented. I strongly urge you to resist individuals, groups or forces that want to sweep this conversation under the rug and do nothing to prevent this kind of tragedy again. To honor the life of those who were killed in Newtown we must take meaningful action, we must protect peoples' lives, and we must stop gun violence.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sacred Space on Black Friday

This post was written by my friend, Stephanie Kimec, a US-2 missionary with GBGM and a Justice Discipler in the California-Pacific Conference leading United Methodist congregations in the journey to become Immigrant Welcoming Congregations

As I reflect on my experience of risking arrest and being arrested at the Paramount Wal-Mart on Black Friday I find myself thinking of sacred space. What a sacred space to be in, to be surrounded by workers, activists, clergy, supporters and media as I, with 8 others, sat in the street to speak up against the ways Wal-Mart treats its employees. When I was asked the week before if I would be willing to risk arrest with a few others, including Wal-Mart workers, I responded with, "let me pray about it."

And I did. I thought about when I first became aware of what kind of a corporation Wal-Mart is. When I was in college a documentary on Wal-Mart came out, and I went to a screening on campus with a few progressive friends. My older sister worked for a little while at Wal-Mart, and the whole time I watched the documentary I thought about her, about the discrimination she faced and the poor wages she was given along with little opportunity for advancement. It was then I decided I would try to limit my purchases at Wal-Mart as much as I could.

Then this past summer there was an action in Chinatown, near my house, to try to stop a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market from opening. It was so powerful to march in the streets of Chinatown and see the shop owners standing outside to support us. A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market would destroy the local shops in Chinatown. Only later did I realize that this Neighborhood Market would actually be the closest grocery store to my house.

I am slightly sad to say the biggest hang up on being arrested would how would this affect my ordination process. Just last month I had a paper notarized saying I have no misdemeanors or felonies. After consulting some trusted mentors I decided it was worth the risk. I have been wrestling a lot this past year with my privilege and the power that comes with that privilege. I ultimately decided that this was a good way to use my privilege to help shed light to a company who has committed many grievances against its employees, the people who make Wal-Mart run. I was willing to take part in this Civil Disobedience because it was not me as a white woman saying I know what’s best for you poor Wal-Mart employees, but a way to say yes, I will stand with you as a few of you also risk arrest, as you have decided this is what you want to do to tell Wal-Mart this must stop. What a sacred space to be invited to join with workers as they risk much more than a misdemeanor, but risk losing their jobs and livelihood.

What a sacred space to be in a holding cell with two Wal-Mart employees, as they shared their experiences. Both have looked for other jobs, but no one will hire them. Both of them had to spend Thanksgiving Day at Wal-Mart, as Wal-Mart has decided to stay open Thanksgiving Day now. One woman is a cashier, and she shared how she had to turn angry customers away who tried to buy special sale items before they could be sold. Because Wal-Mart never closed on Thanksgiving Day and night, certain items went on special sales at special times. She was clearly exhausted, she does not create the rules at Wal-Mart, but yet sometimes she must enforce them. She did not get the opportunity to spend the day with friends or family, or even eat good turkey. She got to spend Thanksgiving Day at Wal-Mart.

Both women shared that they work with people who remember what it was like to work at Wal-Mart just 15-20 years ago, when it was a place that valued its employees. All they want is for Wal-Mart to return back to a place where employees matter, earn fair wages, have opportunities to care for and support their families, can receive health benefits, can work full time and are again valued. What a sacred space to be invited into, a space where workers can share experiences as they continue a movement to bring about real change to Wal-Mart. I was only in jail for a few hours, and it was nothing like what my brothers and sisters who work at Wal-Mart in any way, shape or form go through every day.

I’ve become more aware of what warehouse workers experience who are contracted out to work for Wal-Mart. They work in horrible conditions, receiving little with regards to wages and threatened if they try to speak out. My wrists still hurting from the handcuffs are worth it if very soon Wal-Mart decides to listen to its employees and finally begin treating them as human beings, people with rights. I pray that Wal-Mart repents, and as the Hebrew word for repent implies, turns back from its ways and is a place that cares about and for its employees, shares its vast wealth with the very people who have allowed it to become so wealthy, and becomes a place that fosters love instead of greed.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Salute to Bob Costas and the Ravings of the Lunatic Fringe

During the halftime show of the Sunday Night Football Game on NBC, Bob Costas gave a much-needed commentary about the need for greater regulations to stop gun violence in light of the Jevon Belcher shooting of his girlfriend and himself on Saturday. Gun violence is pervasive in US society and I applaud Mr. Costas for speaking out. Here is the video:

Mr. Costas simply recognized the fact that there are too many guns and too much gun violence. Common sense regulations like waiting periods, closing the gun show loophole so that massive amounts of guns are not available to buyers at gun shows, and reinstating the assault weapons ban do not constitute a repeal of the 2nd Amendment. They are simply reasonable and necessary responses to the national scourge of gun violence that has not gone away and will not as long as people of faith say nothing. We have to tell our elected leaders to stop giving so much of their attention to the NRA and other fanatical groups and make laws that protect public safety and make sense.

Of course, Mr. Costas is feeling the heat from the NRA and their thoughtless minions who parrot overly-simplistic sound bites that are incorrect and utterly void of compassion. I am sure I will soon be hearing from these same people as I have before whenever I have spoken out in favor of more responsible gun ownership and against unchecked gun violence. But I am tired of letting the NRA and their minions control the debate on this. Enough is enough. That is why I am including the actual words of Mr. Costas in this post. I only hope you will share this with others.

And that is why I am including the words of some of the groups and the people below who are going after Mr. Costas so that they can be heard as well. It is time for the crazies to be heard so that we choose: common sense, or the maniacal ravings of the lunatic and often-racist fringe.

These are the actual posts of people that I have read. I have not changed anything and I apologize in advance for the racism and crudeness of their words. I think they should be heard so we know what we are fighting against.

Written on Wikipedia:
[Bob Costas] is one of the very small percentage of men that was born with a vagina. His creditability in the sports world has slipped since he was recently seen at a Chicago night club sipping an appletini and having unprotected sex with with several random men. Many attribute his recent homosexual actions to the large amounts of gay porn on the internet. After all, if there wasn't gay porn to look at, how would he know how to have gay sex?

Fuck bob Costas, he's just a moron, let me guess. spoons make people fat too and cars also murder people every day.

Bob Costas is wrong...this tragic incident was caused by a depraved urban black culture that has been brainwashing blacks to accept violence and guns as normal. Gun control is not the answer. There is no hope for young black males. Even successful ones are prone to violence because violence is an expectation. I know he suffered from some type of mental illness, but even mental illness by itself doesn't make one prone to violence. Liberals like Costas don't want to address the real problem.

Go to hell Costas, you and the idiot you are quoting are both morons. The gun cause this guys to commit murder, of course that makes perfect sense. Screw you.

Keep this Jerk and his left-wing, un American politics out of my living room.

Fuck you, Bob Costas and fuck Jovan Belcher too. I need a gun because there are bad people out there.  I and my family need protection from the predators. When seconds count, the police are only minutes away. There are many countries where the people have no right to keep and bear arms, I suggest that Bob Costas and Jovan Belcher pick one and go live there.
The like and dislike choices tell a lot here.

Hey Bob Costas you piece of shit stop using your spotlight to push your views in taking away Americans god giving right to protect ourselves and families from enemies foreign and domestic