Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hollywood’s Next 9/11 Venture

I can’t help but be excited, in spite of Oliver Stone’s reputation. The trailer for The World Trade Center makes it look like the movie just might be a simple “story of courage and survival”—without Stone’s usual conspiracy theory gimmicks. I hope so. It looks really good. And the use of music in the trailer (from Craig Armstrong’s original score) is powerful.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fear/Fun Factor

First, there are a few things you need to know about me:

  • I’m scared of heights.
  • My stomach doesn’t like long and sudden drops.
  • I don’t usually put the words “vertigo” and “fun” in the same sentence.
It might not surprise you, then, that I’m as enthusiastic about roller coasters as I am about having a two-ton boulder tied to my ankles and thrown over a cliff.

Well, last Saturday, some of us from work went to Dollywood. I had never been to Dollywood before and, to be completely honest, never had any inclination to go. (When you grow up going to Disneyland at least once a year, everything else kinda pales in comparison.) But I love hanging out with my coworkers and this seemed like a fun extracurricular activity.

After I agreed to go, I found out there are some roller coasters at Dollywood, which made me a little apprehensive. Everyone kept talking about how fun they were. I wasn’t so sure. I’ve only been to Six Flags once; I rode three rides then decided to go home. Granted, not all roller coasters are bad—I enjoy the tame ones at Disneyland—but I didn’t know what to expect at Dollywood.

After arriving at the park, we headed for the Thunderhead. I decided that if I didn’t go on the ride, I would forever wonder if I would’ve liked it had I ridden it. Besides, I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like I’m going to die.

Indeed, I didn’t die. In fact, I enjoyed the ride…and every other roller coaster we rode that day, including the Tennessee Tornado. My favorite ride was the Dizzy Disk. (For those who don’t know, this ride consists of passengers facing outward on a large disk that glides back and forth on a U-shaped track while simultaneously spinning in circles.) Except for the two instances when I momentarily lost sight of the track and thought I was going to die, it was extremely fun.

So, at the end of the day, I had ridden all the roller coasters in the park—and had a blast doing it. Evidently, fear was not a factor for me.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Over the Hedge far exceeded my expectations. Based on the trailers, I was anticipating a plot-less connection of juvenile skits with sub-par animation. I discovered something far different.

The plot may be simple but it is highly engaging. The humor is abundant and consistently clever. The animation is exceptional. In short, this is the closest any studio has come to duplicating the masterful storytelling of Pixar.

The highlight performance is Steve Carell as Hammy the squirrel. His character is outlandishly hilarious—especially in the climactic sequence. There are many other funny characters and situations, but Hammy steals every scene he’s in. I can’t remember the last movie in which I laughed as hard as I did in this one.

What’s more, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is amazingly delightful. The largely orchestral and vocal ensemble fits well with the thematic elements of wild animals and their natural habitat. I’ll be picking up the score CD as soon as I can.

Pixar is still the king of computer animation entertainment, but Dreamworks has done an outstanding job of creating a film that appeals to the entire family. I’ll definitely be taking my niece to see it sometime in the future.

Artistic Merit: 8
Personal Marks: 9

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Birthday Tribute

Three years ago, one of the most wonderful people I have ever known was born—a girl of beauty, charm, and abundant cute-ness. That girl is my niece, Chloe Rose. At 6 lbs. 4 oz. & 19” long, Chloe stole my heart. (For the record, she hasn’t given it back yet.)

Ever since seeing Father of the Bride II (one of my favorite movies—and yes, it makes me cry), I have wanted at least one daughter. In the providence of God, I am still enjoying the gift of singleness. Even so, God has granted me a foretaste of the pleasure of having a child.

I cannot adequately express the joy that Chloe has brought to my life. She is a tangible gift of grace if ever there was one. Heck, the doctors said my brother probably wouldn’t be able to have children because of all the chemotherapy he received before God healed him. That Chloe even exists is an expression of God’s grace.

If having a niece is this amazing, I’m thrilled about the prospect of (Lord willing) having a daughter. My brother’s ex-wife allows me an entire afternoon and evening with Chloe each and every week. She is under no obligation to do that, and yet for this period in time God has given me the privilege of being involved in the life of the most wonderful child in the world (a claim that, admittedly, might be disputed by a small handful of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles).

Here are some of my favorite things about Chloe:

  • The way she breaks into a disarming grin when I enter a room.
  • Chloe loves snuggling and being held.
  • Chloe loves being read to.
  • Chloe loves movies.
  • Chloe patiently watches the end credits to movies with me (I’ve trained her well).
  • Chloe exhibits a unique sense of humility when receiving gifts and presents.
  • Chloe’s inability to pronounce the letter “R” (which she’ll need to grow out of eventually; it won’t be cute forever). Examples: “Car” becomes the two-syllable “Cah-EE” and “Hamburger” becomes “HAM-buh-guh.”
  • Lately, Chloe has been asking me to dance with her when she hears music playing.
  • Sporadically, and without provocation, she will place her hands on my cheeks, stroke my face and say, “I love you very much, Uncle Cap.”

Kids do some amazingly funny things. Below are just a few examples of Chloe’s social antics:

Before leaving the apartment, my brother once asked Chloe, “Can I have a hug?” She said, “Um…maybe not.”

Chloe saw me use my Chap Stick and asked to have it. I gave it to her to use, which she thought meant it belonged to her. I informed her it still belonged to me and stuck it back in my pocket when she was done. She then asked, “Can I have some money?” I said no, she couldn’t have any money—she didn’t need any money. After a pause, her response was, “I can’t have anything?”

During one of our afternoons together, Chloe and I watched The Chronicles of Narnia. Later, Chloe was emphatically explaining to her grandmother (my mom) about the movie: how the wolves were grumpy and bad and how the white witch was bad. She enunciated her words by waving her arms and hopping around. She was really getting into it. Her grandmother said, “You’re like Grandma—you talk with your whole body.” Shaking her arms and jumping up and down, Chloe passionately stated, “No, I don’t!”

Chloe was playing with a few shakers on the dining room table: a small salt shaker and a large seasoned salt shaker. She was pretending the small shaker was a baby and the large shaker its mother. She held one in each hand and carried out the following conversation:
“Mamma, Mamma, hold me.”
“I can’t, I don’t have any arms.”

So, here’s to the world’s greatest niece—or, as I like to think of her, the daughter I haven’t had yet.

Just so everyone knows: I (Cap) wrote this post. Chloe did not hack into my blog and write a tribute to herself. Chloe doesn’t know my password. In fact, Chloe doesn’t know I have a blog. Actually, I’m pretty sure Chloe doesn’t even know what the Internet is.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Da Vinci Code “Other-cott”

Barbara Nicolosi is a Christian screenwriter in Hollywood with a solid head on her shoulders. Her proposal to the Christian community for this weekend? Other-cott The Da Vinci Code. Yes, that’s “other-cott”—not “boycott.” Boycotting the movie only gives it free publicity. Simply not going to see the movie makes no difference. Going to see the movie is, in essence, financially supporting a blatant attack on Christ and His Church. What does have the potential to make a difference is for Christians to go see an alternate movie this Friday (or, at the very least, sometime this weekend). The one family-oriented film being released is Over the Hedge.

Believers went in droves to financially support The Passion of the Christ and it became one of the ten highest grossing films of all time. If these same believers go see Over the Hedge on Friday, The Da Vinci Code’s opening weekend will be a huge financial disappointment. Check out the link above, or go directly to the official other-cott website for answers to questions like “But how can I respond to the movie if I don’t see it?” and “Isn’t this a great evangelism moment for the Church?”

I’m organizing a Da Vinci Code other-cott for those of us in Knoxville. I’ll be sending out a mass e-mail later today giving the details. If you don’t receive the e-mail and want to participate, let me know.

For those interested, here are some links to specific issues related to the movie…

It’s just fiction. People won’t really take it seriously...right? Wrong.

Dan Brown believes what he wrote is historically accurate; to him, it is not “just fiction” (although I do not agree with this author’s organization of boycotts)

The release of The Da Vinci Code is not a great opportunity for a “dialogue” with people; they aren’t on a “search for truth.”

Instead of toning down the controversial elements in the book, director Ron Howard went in the opposite direction: he made it more controversial.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Mother's Day Tribute

Mom with Chloe (my niece)

On this Mother’s Day, I wanted to take the opportunity to brag on my mom. There are a lot of things I could say about her, but for now I’ll narrow it down to just three.

She is a woman of genuine love. She is far from perfect, but her love for me has been constant. You could even say my mother is my best friend. She is sweet and gentle. She constantly edifies others and rarely resorts to teasing. I, on the other hand, am prideful and sarcastic. Mom hates sarcasm with a passion. You do the math. And yet my mother’s love for me has been constant throughout my entire life. Why she loves me so much, I have no stinking clue. Our family has been through a lot together, but that doesn’t totally explain it; I’m not all that lovable. It all points back to God: Mom’s genuine love shows that Christ’s redemptive work is resulting in much fruit.

She is a woman of perseverance. My mother has dealt with a myriad of physical ailments her entire life. Whether or not she is healed in this life or the one to come, God’s strength has been perfected on numerous occasions through her physical weaknesses. A million examples could be shared—yes, a million (I counted them)—but I am reminded of two afflictions that have tested her physically, as well as emotionally and spiritually.

1. My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was three. My father died of cancer when I was ten. For almost a decade, my mother faced the slow death of her husband. As the years progressed—as my dad lost his sight in one eye, lost his hearing in one ear, and eventually became blind—Mom’s responsibilities to our family continually grew. Researching medicinal and natural health options, organizing recurring trips to a medical facility in Mexico, caring for my father’s daily needs—Mom did it all. By God’s grace, we lived in a Christian/missionary community where literally dozens and dozens of families served us during my father’s illness. We couldn’t have survived without them. But as my father’s wife, Mom received a special amount of grace to care for us all and grow in faith at the same time.

2. A couple years after my father’s death, my brother became strangely ill. When his condition suddenly worsened, he was rushed to the hospital, where we discovered he had leukemia. Over the next few days, it was questionable if he was even going to live. In the years that followed, Mom once again had to deal with cancer—this time attacking her youngest son. Again, God’s grace abundantly met us in our weakness. And through God’s grace, Mom’s perseverance and faith held our family together.

She is a woman of character. Perseverance produces character (Romans 5:3-4). I don’t know a woman more selfless than my mom. Her greatest joy has been being a wife and mother. These desires to pursue Biblical femininity are a testament to the grace of God at work in her life. She has literally invested her entire existence in serving her family. My mother’s life revolves around others, not herself.

God’s love to me is often revealed through my mother’s love. One thing is certain: I don’t deserve a mom as awesome as mine is. Her presence in my life is a substantial testimony to God’s sovereign grace.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

So Dark the Con of Dan

One of the tag lines for the “Da Vinci Code” movie is “So Dark the Con of Man” (hinting at the supposed con of the Catholic church in keeping under wraps the “truth” that Jesus was a mere man who married Mary Magdalene and whose religious movement was really all about the “sacred feminine”). In fact, you can type in and your browser will automatically redirect you to the website for the movie.

Well, a thought just hit me: since the author’s name of “The Da Vinci Code” is Dan Brown, wouldn’t it be funny if someone created a spoof website based on the phrase “so dark the con of Dan”? On a whim, I typed that phrase as a URL into my web browser…and lo and behold, it already exists! Pretty funny, if you ask me. Check it out: So Dark the Con of Dan

And yes, those italicized words do spell out a secret message (both there and here).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Lunch: the Best Part of the Workday

Don’t get me wrong—I Love 89 my job. (Haha, ain’t I witty?) But lunch is quickly becoming the best part of the day. Some examples…

Last Wednesday, a few of us from work went to lunch at the Copper Cellar on Cumberland. They have an awesome Wednesday special: hamburger and fries for $3.99. I’d eaten there once before for lunch and it was great. Last Wednesday, it was out of this world. In fact, it may very well have been the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten.

Every bite was a succulent sensation of taste-bud-delighting magnificence. The texture and flavor of all the different hamburger elements were exquisite: the tenderness of the burger, the crunchy freshness of the lettuce, onions, and pickles, and the softness of the bun all combined to provide a lunch-eating experience like no other! It’s as if my order was rerouted to Heaven and God Himself made my hamburger. (You think I’m joking?)

And then there were the fries! No one makes ‘em like Copper Cellar. The special seasoning they use is unsurpassed in culinary grandeur. I finished my meal and then helped Angela finish her fries. And then I ate the rest of Jennifer’s fries. French fries to my heart’s joyous content!

Food is a gift, and Wednesday’s lunch was like…Christmas for my taste buds. I decided to never eat lunch again in honor of that meal. This decision didn’t last very long, though—I was hungry for lunch the following day.

Then, in lieu of a CCK singles downtown lunch meeting on Friday, I took four ladies from work to Moe’s. Although we didn’t know it until we got there, Moe’s was having a special: one free “Cinco de Moe’s” T-shirt for every patron. Now that’s what I’m talking about! With my free T, my Joey (what I usually order), and fun conversation (the highlight being a discussion on the last episode of “The Office”), life was good. (Although I wouldn’t advise mixing Sprite and Lemonade. Yuck. Bad choice.)

You know, God could have made eating as dull as filling up your car at the gas station. Instead, He made the replenishment of our bodies an opportunity for great delight.

Speaking of great delight…tomorrow is Wednesday. I hear the Copper Cellar calling my name. Well, okay, it’s been calling my name ever since last Wednesday, but I finally get to answer the call tomorrow.

In Time of Need

In the last few weeks, I have spent practically zero time studying Scripture. That is definitely the sign of a problem—namely, pride. I’ve had it in my head that “self sufficient” is my middle name. Well, my middle name is closer to “pitifully weak and sinful.”

As situations in life continue to go in different directions than I planned, I’ve struggled with frustration and even depression. Coming face to face with my sin for the umpteenth time has made me aware, once again, how desperate I am for a Savior.

How timely, then, for Brent Detwiler to visit our church on Sunday and preach on the centrality of the Scriptures…

  • Scripture has its origin in God Himself
  • Scripture is reliable
  • Scripture is authoritative
  • Scripture is clear
  • Scripture is sufficient
  • Scripture is a priority

Over the last couple days, I’ve been poring over Scripture again. I also picked back up Trusting God, which I’ve been neglecting lately. God is being faithful to wash me with the water of the Word (Ephesians 5:26), encourage my faith and joy in Him, and motivate me to pursue holiness for the glory of His name.

Friday, May 05, 2006

UNITED 93 (2006) – Film Review (Part 2)

I remember visiting the Filmtracks ScoreBoard (a message board for film score enthusiasts) as the attack on our country took place on September 11th. Going back to the messages we posted during that time, I am reminded of the shock, fear, and anger that engulfed not only those of us in the United States, but those around the world as well. Even in the midst of the confusion and unanswered questions, we seemed to understand something better then than we do now: we are at war. Everyone was saying it—liberal, conservative, religious, atheist, whatever.

At one point in the film, Ben Sliney, head of the FAA’s National Air Traffic Control Center (who plays himself in the movie), says, “We’re at war with someone.” This war is something many in the United States are choosing to ignore—and it is one reason why I am thankful for United 93.

The common phrase used today is, “We are at war with terror,” but that sidesteps the real issue. Andrew C. McCarthy comments on the events of 9/11 (in a speech in 2004), and explains why the term “war on terror” is nothing more than empty rhetoric:

Terrorism is not an enemy. It is a method. It is the most sinister, brutal, inhumane method of our age. But it is nonetheless just that: a method. You cannot, and you do not, make war on a method. War is made on an identified — and identifiable — enemy.

In the here and now, that enemy is militant Islam — a very particular practice and interpretation of a very particular set of religious, political and social principles.

A little later, McCarthy explains that as the terrorists began training on U.S. soil in the late 80’s they

…saw themselves as a committed jihad army in the making.

They were fully convinced that their religion compelled them to brutality. And unlike us, they had no queasiness: They were absolutely clear about who their enemy was. They did not talk in jingos about the “War on Freedom,” or the “War on Liberty.” They talked about the War on America, the War on Israel, and the War on West. They were plainspoken about whom they sought to defeat and why.

People are scrambling to explain away the violent nature of the term “jihad”:

“Sure, jihad means using force,” they say, “but only in defense — only when Muslims are under attack.” Of course, who is to say what is defensive? Who is to say when Muslims are under attack? For the militants, Islam is under attack whenever anyone has the temerity to say: “Islam — especially their brand of Islam — is not for me.” For the militants who will be satisfied with nothing less than the destruction of Israel, Islam is under attack simply because Israelis are living and breathing and going about their lives.

Simply stated, for Abdel Rahman, bin Laden, and those who follow them, jihad means killing the enemies of the militants — which is pretty much anyone who is not a militant. When your forces are outnumbered, and your resources are scarce, it means practicing terrorism.

Even though—or maybe because of the very fact that—the filmmakers of United 93 had no political agenda, the enemy we came face to face with on 9/11 is strikingly clear in the film. The terrorists cannot be explained away as crazy lunatics. They were committed and calculating. They sincerely believed their mission was from God. They were convinced of the rightness of their cause.

There is one sequence in particular that shows the underlying struggle in the September 11th attacks: the Judeo/Christian worldview vs. the Islamic worldview. As we near the film’s climax, the passengers begin formulating a plan to take back the plane. The terrorists can tell something’s going on but they aren’t sure what to do about it. In a series of quick shots, we see passengers tearfully reciting the Lord’s prayer, intercut with the terrorists murmuring to Allah. Both groups are praying, but with two entirely different motivations. The sequence happens fast and could easily be missed, but the clash between the two worldviews is unmistakably potent.

Todd Beamer was one of the passengers who died on United Airlines Flight 93. His father, David Beamer, recently had this to say:

Often we attend movies to escape reality and fantasize a bit. In this case and at this time, it is appropriate to get a dose of reality about this war and the real enemy we face. It is not too soon for this story to be told, seen and heard. But it is too soon for us to become complacent. It is too soon for us to think of this war in only national terms. We need to be mindful that this enemy, who made those holes in our landscape and caused the deaths of some 3,000 of our fellow free people, has a vision to personally kill or convert each and every one of us. This film reminds us that this war is personal....

There are those who would hope to escape the pain of war. Can’t we just live and let live and pretend every thing is OK? Let’s discuss, negotiate, reason together. The film accurately shows an enemy who will stop at nothing in a quest for control. This enemy does not seek our resources, our land or our materials, but rather to alter our very way of life.

The solution to radical Islamic terrorism is not found in an attempt to convert it to moderate Islam (as Andrew C. McCarthy believes). The source of all terrorism—religiously motivated or otherwise—is human depravity. The source of sins is sin. The source of sin is the human heart. The only antidote is death to sin. The only solution is a new heart. And the power for that kind of change comes from only one source: the gospel of Jesus Christ. As God’s plan of salvation unfolds and human hearts are changed, the terror caused by sin will be overcome by the grace of God.

At the same time, I believe the United States has the responsibility to respond to these terrorists in retributive fashion. God calls government leaders to reward good and punish evil. If we are to effectively deal with the issues of 9/11, we must first recognize the underlying causes of 9/11. Cloaking our struggle as being “at war with terror” will not lead to victory. May our nation’s leaders see through the fog and have the courage to pursue the proper course. May we be burdened to pray for our leaders so that they will know what that proper course is. Because none of us knows. Only God does.

If United 93 had attempted to offer some solution to the war we encountered on 9/11, it would have been far from perfect. I am thankful Paul Greengrass had no other intentions than to be faithful to what we know about United Airlines Flight 93. By sticking to the facts and keeping speculation down to a bare minimum, the film tells us many things in a much more powerful way than a piece of propaganda ever could. May United 93 give us a more clear understanding of the events of September 11, 2001, and may it inspire us to respond appropriately—as sinners saved by grace and as a sovereign nation.

Artistic Merit: 9
Personal Marks: 10

Thursday, May 04, 2006

UNITED 93 (2006) – Film Review (Part 1)

If I had to pick one category in which United 93 is most deserving of an Oscar, I would say it is Best Director. Regardless of its future favor (or lack thereof) with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, United 93 will stand the test of time because of one factor: writer/director Paul Greengrass approached this project with no political agenda. He desired to tell the story in a way that was faithful to the facts and that honored the memory of the heroic passengers onboard Flight 93. This film could have been the springboard for manipulative proselytizing. Instead, it thrives on its greatest asset: sincere objectivity.

Not everything is factual. Much of the dialogue was improvised, and we obviously don’t know many details about those last horrible minutes before the plane crashed into the ground. But through a painstaking process, the filmmakers pieced together what we do know and filled in the blanks as best they could. Greengrass contacted all the families of those who died on Flight 93. All of them contributed to the making of the film. All of them passionately supported the telling of this story. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes about the timeliness and integrity of this project.

For me, the most harrowing part of the film was the first thirty minutes. We’re introduced to the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 as they carry about normal—even mundane—tasks and conversations…but we know what’s coming, and that fills us with apprehension.

The approach the film takes in telling the story is nothing short of masterful. The usual Hollywood trappings are absent. There are no flashy visual or gratuitous sound effects to hype up the action. All the shots are handheld, documentary style, making the proceedings that much more realistic. John Powell’s musical score is scarce and only rises to any form of prominence during the climax. No big-name actors arrest our attention away from the story.

Another element of the film that gives it a you-are-there feel is that we don’t really get to know any of the passengers. There are no flashbacks giving us insight into their lives. In fact, at the end of the movie we still don’t know most of their names. It’s as if we are fellow passengers on the plane, without the normal cinematic barriers that separate audience and actors. These elements, coupled with my close proximity to the events of 9/11 (both chronologically and geographically), made me feel right in the middle of the conflict.

This movie is not entertaining. That is not its purpose. It serves as a memorial—and (whether it was designed to or not) also as a wakeup call. On that account, the experience takes quite an emotional toll. I can honestly say I have never been so drained from a movie. Both the heroism and horror in the final sequence will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I went to see the film by myself—a wise decision in retrospect. While alone, feelings of dread, fear, grief, horror, and rage were my close companions throughout the duration of the screening. At times, my body uncontrollably shook from the stress of it all. Knowing that much of what I was watching was factual (and, in some cases, word-for-word accurate) added to the realism. I’ve cried in movies before in reaction to the dramatic weight of the story. This movie, however, wasn’t a fictional narrative; in 2001, I watched as news reports told of the events that I was now witnessing in the film. This was real. I didn’t just cry watching United 93—I grieved.

Even The Passion of the Christ was easier to watch. Amidst the violence of that film, we knew from Scripture that Christ’s sacrifice was redemptive; He defeated sin and death—and He was raised from the dead on the third day. Here, we’re still not sure what God’s purposes were in allowing the events of September 11th. Indeed, the passengers on Flight 93 prevented the destruction of another national landmark, but everyone who died in that crash remains dead. The conclusion of United 93 is bittersweet…but mostly bitter.

The bitter aftertaste forces the viewer to ask questions that have been largely ignored: what do we do now? Has our response to 9/11 been effective? Have we responded at all? We may not have “forgotten” 9/11 in the sense that we don’t remember it happened, but have we refused to properly acknowledge the events of that day? Are we ignoring the enemy those passengers faced on that terrible morning?

United 93 involves the first individuals who had a clear view of the post-9/11 world. Greengrass explains in a recent Times article:

“At 28 minutes past 9,” says Greengrass of Sept. 11, “none of us were wondering What are we going to do? We were watching telly, wondering What the [----] is going on? The people on United 93 weren’t doing that. They were looking at four guys. They knew exactly what was going on.”

The perspective from which the United 93 passengers viewed the situation helps us with our own, limited perspective. And if their perspective affects ours, how should we as individuals and we as a nation respond?

Stay tuned for the 2nd half of the review of the movie…

(In the meantime, if you want to read a more intelligent take on United 93 than my own, head over to The Cranky Insomniac. Probably the best review of United 93 I’ve read thus far. If you like what you read there, check out more of his thoughts on the film here. And if you want to read even more about the movie, check out his third United 93 blog entry here.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Guess What’s On My Plate?

My license plate, that is. Yep, personalized license plates are cool. Picked up mine yesterday. So, does this mean I’m cool? If so, cool! If not, not cool!