Thursday, June 28, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

that guy...

We all want to be "that guy." Each summer at the movies, we encounter a number of "that guy's" and in Live Free or Die Hard, we re-encounter the guy that started it all: Bruce Willis as John McClane.

McClane is the cop that goes above and beyond to save the day. Whereas the normal guys in blue just rush to the scene of a crime, John McClane is "that guy" who runs headlong into the action, saving the day from within. His is an inspirational story for heroes everywhere. To go into the heart of darkness without waiting for backup is admirable, risky, and courageous.

With three movies of that behind us, we enter Live Free or Die Hard. It seems like the characters in the movie have actually seen the previous Die Hard films, because it is Matt Farrell (Justin Long) who comments to McClane, "I'm not 'that guy' like you..." Matt is just a wide-eyed, out-for-the-common-man, computer hacker - he saves the day like a techno-Robin Hood of stealing from the rich and powerful for the sake of the rest of us. But he's far from admirable or courageous - he does his work behind a computer screen and doesn't exactly give back to the poor or anything.

We might see ourselves like Matt, too. Perhaps in our world, if we met John McClane, we might say that we're just a normal, cautious (even scared) person. We're not the kind of guys or girls who would save the day from within the heat of battle; we pray that trained professionals will get that job done.

But Matt and McClane move this fun movie ahead because both teach each other (and us) a valuable lesson.

Matt teaches McClane that others can help, too; he teaches him that brawn and muscle also need a bit of brain and smarts (especially in our 21st century world with computers and technology). On the other hand, McClane teaches Matt to step it up a notch - that being careful and cautious and not taking risks can lead to nothingness, too. He teaches him that sometimes we have to emerge from anonymity and become a leader.

And through this combination, both guys become "that guy".

We, too, can be "that guy" - perhaps not with nuclear weapons or giant computer viruses at stake - but we can step up behind the wall of anonymity and risklessness. If if we're more like Bruce Willis, we can take a step back and learn to work with others, especially those who have the gifts we don't have.

God calls us all to become extraordinary - or "that guy." Jesus was "that guy" who took risks and saved the day, but the disciples eventually became "that guy" too after the Resurrection. As Scripture says, they hid behind closed doors and tried to save the world that way; but it was when they came from behind the wall on Pentecost that they truly became "that guy."

We, too, are called to be extraordinary... like Jesus, like the disciples, like John McClane, and like Matt the computer hacker too.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Evan Almighty

"The Lord said to Noah, 'Make yourself an ark..." Gen. 6:14

This movie would seem like a no-brainer when it comes to finding God in Evan Almighty.

And yes, the movie has a core theme of helping to make the world a better place instead of focusing only on one's own self. There's also several sub-themes including fighting against corruption, standing for the environment, following your beliefs, and paying attention to your family.

However, the movie's plot and story actually cancel out these valuable moral messages.

In this movie, Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell) reprises his role from Bruce Almighty (2003); this time, though, Evan has been elected to Congress and takes his family to live in Washington DC. His campaign, won on the premise of making the world a better place, comes back to haunt him as God (Morgan Freeman) comes to cash in on that promise.

At this point in the movie, it's great. We sit in our church pews each Sunday and talk about the poor, the hungry, the dying people overseas and in our inner cities. We jump onto the newest charity or social cause (the environment, Habitat for Humanity, the tsunami, 9-11, etc.) but often times forget about it once the "fad" wears off. This movie, it seems, wants to remind us that God expects us to be truthful, consistant, and committed to the causes we profess.

But that's when the movie cancels out its fantastic message.

Soon, the film turns into a comedy riot watching Evan grow a long beard, don Biblical attire, and literally building a giant ark, probably an exact replica of the one featured in Genesis 6-8. In all this excitement, the audience forgets about the core message.

In a way, this movie contradicts itself. It seems the only way to change the world is to start talking, looking, dressing, and acting like someone from centuries-ago Palestine. In fact, as Evan becomes more Noah-like, he starts talking like he just memorized his Bible. Normal people with everyday lives, it seems, don't bring about change - only special saints are allowed to do that.

This movie is a radical departure from Bruce Almighty, which had an opposite premise: only when Bruce acts like a real human does he truly act "divine." Bruce is an accessible saint, one that we can all imagine ourselves in. Evan is aloof from our experiences (unless, of course, we have a spare ark in our backyard or talk with a Morgan Freeman-lookalike on a regular basis).

Imagine how it would have been if Evan was an ordinary guy who learned to save the environment or at least fulfill his campaign promises? These are the stories to inspire. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington felt more divine than this movie, and that one didn't need millions of dollars spent on training baboons and elephants.

So after seeing this movie, I went back to the first few scenes where I was hopeful for something great.

The message I took from this that we are called not just to say we're going to save the world, but to actually do something about it. Words mean nothing until we "cash them in" with God through our good works.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

How fantastic are you?

As opposed to many of the other superhero movies this or any summer, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer once again gives us at least four unique heroes with comic-book powers and equally comic-book personalities.

When we watch this film, we may find ourselves connecting with one or another of the characters. We start to see the movie's plot, situations, and challenges from the perspective of that character. We invest in that character, hoping their journey will be a worthwhile one by the time the credits roll.

So which of the main characters of Fantastic Four are you most like? How fantastic are you?

Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd)
Richards' ability is to stretch his body into all sorts of shapes and sizes, but what sets him apart is his superior intellegence. His mathematical and scientific skills led the Four to track and find the mysterious Silver Surfer, and escape in a brand new airplane. But what weakens Richards is his overconfidence in his smarts and forgetfulness of the relationships around him (including his fiancee Sue Storm). Are we like Reed Richards? Are we so consumed with our work that we forget to stop and smell the roses? Are we so obsessed with ourselves and forget the life-giving relationships all around us? Do we feel so 'stretched' that we cannot give enough time and attention to our loved ones? If so, maybe we're Mr. Fantastic, too.

The Invisble Girl/Sue Storm (Jessica Alba)
Sue Storm has the gift of turning invisble and creating a protective forcefield around her and others. In this movie, she yearns to give it all up just to enjoy her soon-to-be married life. She seems quite focused on preparing for the future in spite of the present. Regardless of what's going on right now, her attention is on what lies ahead. Are we like Sue Storm? Are we waiting for the perfect "tomorrow," frustrated with "today"? Do we just want to turn invisible and escape our life right now? If so, maybe we're just like the Invisible Girl.

The Human Torch/Johnny Storm (Chris Evans)
Flaming up and flying away in a firestorm are the powers of Johnny Storm. Just like his illuminating gifts, Storm is a fiesty pistol, enjoying life just a little bit TOO much. He moves from girlfriend to girlfriend, never feeling good enough to settle down. Are we like Johnny Storm? Are we all talk but no one really knows us deep inside? Do we draw attention to ourselves, so that no one notices the real issues lying within our soul? Are we lonely even in a crowd of people? If so, maybe we're torching up like Johnny Storm.

The Thing/Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis)
Grimm's unwelcome reaction to nuclear exposure in the first movie made him into a super-powerhouse rock man. Unlike the other three, Grimm's ability never turns off - in fact, it's almost akin to a deformity. While he's physically strong, Grimm is a soft guy at heart. He bemoans his fate as the rock-laden "freak" amongst his picture-perfect colleagues. But in this sequel, through the love of his girlfriend Alicia, he's the one who has it all together. His was the character I most identified with myself; even though I feel imperfect and awkward at times, sometimes feeling less important than others around me, it is through the love of my wife and my friends and family that makes me feel like a superhero. Are you like The Thing too? Do you have feelings of inadequecy? Do you feel like an outsider? But do you feel the power of the love of your friends and family lift you up beyond your own abilities? Maybe, like me, you're not unlike the rock-hard Ben Grimm.

The Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne)
In this film, the Silver Surfer is the quiet outsider who comes to earth to destroy it, but finds that our human love and compassion make this planet truly worth saving. The Surfer undergoes a conversion experience like Paul of Tarsus, whose original mission was to destroy the Christians but then became the new savior of this new movement. Are you like the Silver Surfer? Have you had a conversion experience that has changed your mind about your world? Do you find yourself light years away from where you once were, before you "saw the light"? Are you called to save the world? Then just maybe you're another Silver Surfer, too.

Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington)
One of the most underappreciated heroes of Rise of the Silver Surfer is someone unexpected, someone without a single superpower. Alicia Masters is the blind girlfriend of Ben Grimm, who loves The Thing despite the fact that her man is made of rock. She doesn't let her disability stop her from loving. She doesn't let the world tell her what to do with her life. Are you like Alicia? Are you someone who sees beauty in all things, regardless of their appearance? Are you someone who isn't going to let anyone impose their expectations on you? Are you living your life to the fullest, giving your love freely to all God's creation? Perhaps, then, you're just like Ms. Alicia Masters, the real life superhero of Fantastic Four.

What unites all these fantastic people is that they all struggle, but they go above and beyond their shortcomings, their problems, and their limitations. What makes these characters really fantastic isn't their superpowers, it's who they are inside.

Just like you and me: what makes us fantastic isn't what we can do, what our job is, or what strengths or skills we've been blessed with. What makes us fantastic is who we are deep down inside, and the person God is calling us to be - so that we, too, can save the world.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen

Rooting for the bad guys?

When I watched Ocean's Thirteen, I cheered the movie's "heroes," Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), as well as the other nine.

Then I caught myself... was I was rooting for thieves and criminals, and rooting against their target, Willy Bank (gleefully played by Al Pacino)? How could I, a professed Christian, cheer on the pickpocket and marvel at the downfall of a victimized man?

Why? Because even though Willy Bank is the "victim" of the film's heist, the larger crime really lies with him.

In this movie, Bank nearly killed his longtime partner Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) by cutting him out of a major business deal; he went against the Vegas "code," which is sort of like the "Golden Rule" except that it goes something like this: "Do unto others (who shook Frank Sinantra's hand) what you would have them do to you (who also shook Sinatra's hand)."

Reuben is left for dead and Bank breaks this time-honored "code."

To put things back in place, Danny Ocean offers Willy Bank a chance to redeem himself for such a senseless act; when Willy refuses, Ocean gathers his team together to even the stakes.

Their "crime," then is to put right what once went wrong. Their "crime" was to do what was fair, . Their "crime" was to stand up for a friend, even if it meant throwing away their own money.

No matter how big the film's theft was, the bigger villian we watcjed on screen was the one walking in plain sight. Willy Bank looked perfect with his awards and diamonds, but deep down, his heart was filled with greed, selfishness, and injustice.

To root against him, it seems, was the right thing to do.

Like the Latin American freedom fighters who believed in a "liberation theology," that God stands with the disadvantaged and marginalized against the corrupt and powerful, Danny Ocean and Co. are pouring their hearts and minds into their own image of justice.

Who do we stand with? What do we stand for?

By not standing up, the corrupt and powerful will always win. If we are people of inaction, then those that break the "code" will find no reason to stop.

If thirteen guys would lay down their fortunes just to help out their mentor, how much more should we lay down our good fortunes for the sake of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the outcast, the unloved, the sick or the dying?

We root for Danny Ocean because he is a man of action. Will people one day root for us? If we become people of action and justice, then yes, I think they will.