Category Archives: Film

The Receptionist has left the building

Fair warning: There are naughty words in this video not approved by your mother.

Travis Betz (guy in the video) and I are two guys from the same high school both living in California and chasing slightly different dreams. I’m working at Youth Specialties, equipping and encouraging youth workers, Travis is making twisted little independent films.

Travis was one year behind me but we were involved in a lot of the same stuff in school so we crossed paths a bit. If I remember correctly we were both in show choir and some musicals together. [Jazz hands!] I’ll let you make assumptions about a high school that produced both a guy who makes independent horror flicks and a guy who spends most of his time thinking about church stuff. There are some strange correlations.

Yesterday was Travis’ last day at his day job where he worked as a receptionist. For the last five years he’s combined the relative boredom of answering phones with his passion for making movies, putting together some amazingly fun stuff in a YouTube series called, The Receptionist.

So here’s to you Travis. Chase those dreams, baby.

The Four Greatest Basketball Movies of All Time

Everything I’m doing from Thursday to Sunday is measured by the following questions: “What  time does ___ start and who is playing now?” I love March Madness!

And all of those basketball dreams lead me to this list:

The Four Greatest Basketball Movies of All Time

  1. Hoosiers – Clearly, the best basketball movie ever made. I’m only slightly biased because I grew up in Indiana and my high school team won the 1994 State Championships.
  2. Hoop Dreams – (1994) The documentary which simultaneously helps you fall in love with high school basketball and the craft of documentary film making at the same time.
  3. White Men Can’t Jump – (1992) Wesley Snipes & Woody Harrelson in a basketball movie? Yes, please! I quote this movie all the time. Any time I receive unexpected money I proudly declare, “We goin’ Sizzler!
  4. Coach Carter (2005) If this inspirational story doesn’t make you cry than you probably don’t like sports. I’m pretty sure Bobby Knight called Coach Carter to tell him to tone it down a little.

Honorable mention: Basketball Diaries, The Super, Space Jam.

Agree? Disagree? What is your favorite basketball movie of all time?

The Parking Lot Movie

I’m into obscure documentaries. Actually, anything biographical or anthropological intruiges me. So when NetFlix popped up with the suggestion of The Parking Lot Movie I was sold in about 8 seconds. Well, actually I pay $9.99 a month, so I guess I was already sold.

What happens when you put a bunch of philosophy, anthropology, and religion students in charge of a job marked primarily by hours of introspective inducing boredom interrupted with terse moments of anger from people in fancy cars?

That’s the 25 year question embarked upon by the owner of the Corner Parking Lot near the University of Virginia. To say that the job is cerebral is an understatement. Yet the owner of the lot is fascinated by the impact of tiny interactions with the general public. Instead of hiring people who would consider it “just a job” he has hired a cast of characters who try to find a deeper meaning in the mundane. Some of the attendants turn the experience into something fun and memorable. Others try to get patrons to think with witty philosophical quips. All of them get angry when people driving $50,000 cars try to talk them out of paying $2 for parking. And all of them teeter-totter between rage and zen-like peace with their lot in life.

All of which makes this documentary completely fascinating and fun.

The film raises interesting questions about entitlement, happiness, and the relationship between the stuff that we have and the people we are.

What does that have to do with people in ministry? Just about everything.

Fair warning: The film has plenty of foul language. Not intended as a recommendation for children or adults afraid of the f-word.

Bonus: Here’s a music video from the filmmaker. This was buried in the credits unfairly.

Catfish

Tonight I was fortunate to see a screening of the movie Catfish with the San Diego tweetup group. (Another stellar meet-up, the organizers continue to fantastic.)

The story is about a three New York friends who randomly get to know a family in the upper peninsula of Michigan via Facebook. Their relationship grows over several months to the point where the two filmmaking buddies convince the main character that he has to meet his Michigan friends.

At the end, the audience is left with more questions than answers. Which is part of the experience of the movie itself, clearly intended. Namely, it is either a narrative documentary or a screenplay reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project. As we milled about in the narthex of the theater no one could really figure it out. My theory is that part of it really is a narrative documentary but when they went to cut it they realized that they needed more of a plot, so they went back an added some screenplay to it. But that’s just my theory. It could be straight documentary and it could be straight screenplay. If it’s 100% screenplay than the writers went largely unnamed and they wrote something brilliant.

Overall, while certainly entertaining, Catfish is not nearly as titillating as Blair Witch Project. Which means it is probably destined for a limited release in theaters nationwide and a quick entry into DVD-land. I could be wrong– but I just don’t see something there that is going to force a major box office smash.

As a social media person, I thought the concept was actually pretty fun. It plays with all of the stereotypes and fears people have about living a digital life. Just for good measure it adds a subplot of what big city people think about rural town folk and visa versa.

You will laugh at the main character because he does stuff that we all do. And you will cringe with him as he shares far too intimate details about his personal conversations via text with his would-be girlfriend, Meg.

If you like quirky independent movies, this is it.

Date night with the kids

Kristen hosted a girls night for the ladies of our community group. So Paul, Megan, and I disappeared and went to see Toy Story 3.

One thing I haven’t adjusted to about Southern California living is how expensive the movies are. I still grimace at paying $11.50 for an adult and $8.50 for a child when in Michigan it was a whole lot less. And a lot of the major theaters don’t even have matinees! Seriously, what is up with that?

To express my inner-cheapskate, we went to Rite-Aid in our neighborhood and bought movie snacks to eat on the way to Fashion Valley Mall. By the time we got to the movies we were hopped up on sugar and ready for the flick.

As for the movie– it was great. I don’t know how they managed to keep both the Toy Story (and Shrek) franchises going so strong. The plots and the quality of animation just keeps getting better.

I don’t think the movie was the point of the night any more than loading everyone up on sugar. It was just nice to get a few hours to relax and laugh with my kids.

I relish that.

In other news. A new round of college guys are moving in across the street. With school at SDSU about to kick off another year, people watching is back!

3 Documentaries Worth Watching

I love documentaries. I think it’s the non-fiction narrative that gets me. But given the choice between a feature film and a documentary, I’ll take a documentary every time.

Now that we have NetFlix streaming through our Wii, (and Hulu has lots of great ones completely for free) I’m getting the opportunity to catch-up on some great documentaries I’ve wanted to see but missed.

Lord Save Us From Your FollowersLord, Save us From Your Followers I don’t know who Dan Merchant is, but I really appreciate his outlook on the church. The film is dripping with the “inside the Nashville Christian scene” smell… But if you can look past that and the Michael Moore copying, the message of the movie is really interesting.

Essentially, Merchant points out that over the last few years Christians have made themselves outcasts in the greater society. Merchant points out some areas where we look especially nutty and reminds us, “Um,  this isn’t the Christianity of the Bible. Where’s the love?” I was especially touched by the scene where Dan sets up a confessional at Gay Pride weekend in Portland. How’s that for cultural engagement?

If you can get past the cheese and the stupid outfit he wore the whole time– its a decent film. I’m looking for more from Merchant and assuming that future films will be better. I’d suggest dropping the book deals as it just makes the film seem like a commercial for the book.

Man on WireMan on Wire I wasn’t alive when this event actually happened, but I was completely captivated by the documentary about the  stunt. On August 7th, 1974, Philippe Petit spent 45 minutes dazzling onlookers below as he walked a 3/4″ wire he had rigged between the north & south towers of the World Trade Center. Later, when questioned about the stunt by the media he told them, “When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.

Besides winning the 2008 Academy Award for Best Documentary there were a few things I appreciated about the film. First, while the centerpiece of the movie was the Twin Towers there was never a mention of the September 11th attack which brought them down. Second, the movie was beautiful. The filmmaker uses light and darkness in a way that makes the entire movie enchanting. Third, this movie is about chasing ones dreams– even if they are absolutely insane and may get you killed. Fourth, the film shows the power of artistically and magically breaking cultural mores. The delight on the arresting officers face tells the whole story.

Jesus CampJesus Camp This movie has been out since 2007, so plenty of people have seen it. As I was watching it, I fell for the sucker pins. The producers of the film wanted to show how crazy Evangelicals can be and how churches are manipulating children to be political activists for the religious right. I was appalled and a bit angry that any parent would allow Becky Fischer to talk to their children like that. (And the one kid with the mullet, man he rocked that mullet HARD!)

Of course, the movie went to find extremes. It labeled the main characters as Evangelicals– yet they were far from middle-of-the-road evangelicals. These are our Evangelical cousins who are just a little bit short of handling snakes. Where homeschooling is normative and cultural engagement is seen as grabbing the devil by the tail.

Stepping back, I think the film has a lot to teach those of us who work with children and teenagers in the church. Anyone who teaches teens knows that it is really easy to manipulate a response and what we saw was some pretty nasty manipulation. (I mean, really? Talking to 9 year olds about abortion and giving them tiny fetus’ to hold onto. Really?)

Anyone who teaches knows that we can scare kids to get them to do whatever we want. But if we want to change a students life we know that they have to encourage them to make rational decisions which they can own for themselves. We know that when we allow students to encounter truth, giving them space to think about it, and respecting their personhood– they will make lifelong decisions. The film reminded me of the phrase, “Fear is a short term motivator.

All three are great documentaries for creating discussion. They’d be really cool to watch with your leadership team or adult small group.