Monday, April 16, 2012

Blue Like Jazz: A Second Look (6/10)

*WARNING: Spoilers ahead*
So, Blue Like Jazz finally became a movie. I went into the theater the other night with blithe curiosity. I remember when I first read the book a little over a year ago. I had some reservations at first, because the evangelical community didn’t know what to do with Donald Miller. When I finally read it, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed Miller’s wit and romp through the evangelical culture I knew too well. However, the movie falls short in comparison to the book that inspired it.

While Miller’s book is faithful and wrestles with real issues in the Christian life, the movie seemed weird to me. There were times I was confused at why the movie did something it did (DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years so maybe I missed out on some key screenwriting details).  

The whole movie give the impression of a caricature (maybe that was the point), with the scenes in Texas seemingly written by the New York Times’ religion correspondent and the scenes at Reed college looking like Focus on the Family’s worst nightmare. The whole mom/youth pastor pregnancy thing seemed like a weird addition.  The movie is rife with stereotypes (e.g. the social justice Christian, hypocritical pastor, etc.) and the characters mostly felt flat to me. I guess there just seemed to be unnecessary writing choices. Like Penny and Don’s campy climb up the Aqualike billboard. I just thought, “Why?”   

I don’t know, it just didn’t wow me. The film just felt kind of “meh.”

Here’s the thing though: The movie is conceived to be a more honest voice of evangelical Christianity (than, say, Fireproof). But in this attempt at frankness, Blue Like Jazz the movie ends up not really saying anything at all. I know that this isn’t necessarily a “Christian” movie, and I didn’t go in expecting to be presented the Gospel in a powerful, postmodern monologue about salvation. But I at least thought there might be some hints as to what Miller’s solution is for those burned by the church. The movie doesn't show cynics anything distinctive about following Jesus. Penny’s motivation for going to India could have just been replaced by secular philanthropy or a hipster-like altruism. There’s no hint at the inherent dignity that human beings possess by being made in the image of God, or Christ’s example, or working for the “common good” that Christianity teaches.

Unlike the memoir, where the confession booth scene is both humble and moving, the film ends with the impression that Christians need to apologize for their faith. In the book, the confession booth is an entryway into articulating what the Gospel is really about. The movie misses this point. People would do better to read the book.

21 Jump Street (8/10)

I will start off by saying that I am not a big fan of comedies. I think this stems from the fact that most of my life is pretty funny, and because of that I am more drawn to films that are of a darker nature. Or maybe I'm just pretentious. At this point I should also mention that I think Channing Tatum may be the worst actor of this generation (or any perhaps). This film did change my opinion a bit. Anyway, my wife wanted to see this movie on Saturday so I obliged.  Tatum and his co-star, Jonah Hill, were hilarious. Like freaking hilarious. Tatum and Hill star as cops tasked with going undercover as students in a local high school to infiltrate a growing drug ring. The film's primary source of humor lies in the inadequacy and immaturity of the film's stars as adults, let alone cops. I laughed regularly throughout the movie and sat among a sold out audience, over a month after the film's opening day. As Hollywood churns out more and more stale reboots and remakes of 80's and 90's TV shows and movies, 21 Jump Street stands out as a fresh take on an old favorite.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Blue Like Jazz (8.8/10)

I received a copy of Blue Like Jazz when I was 21 from a friend who lived in Portland. I read the book at a time in my life when my faith had become something formulaic-a set of dos and don'ts. I was sort of disenchanted and jaded in a lot of ways. Donald Miller's writing acted as a catalyst for me to pursue a real, living God. The book itself is among a small handful of books that have helped shape and form the foundation of my faith. I have now purchased, and given away, more copies of this book than I can count.  I typically give the book to people who are tired of the church, cynical about Jesus and/or religion, or have been hurt by someone (or multiple "someones") who represented Jesus in a crappy way. I say all of this about the book because I had pretty high expectations, and a certain level of apprehension, before I saw the film tonight. When I heard about the movie's production and its amazing Kickstarter story, I was nervous. Christian films have a track record of being...well...horrendous at best. To be fair, I don't believe that Miller and the film's director, Steve Taylor, would even classify the film as a "Christian" one to begin with. The final result was a well shot, well acted, story with honest dialogue about Christianity featuring seemingly authentic people. It was refreshing, as weird as it sounds, to hear people swear, drink beer, and operate in a human fashion in the film (attributes that are distinctly absent from most christiany films). This was not a sanitized adaptation of the novel by any stretch. I feel that the beginning scenes (in Texas) were the film's weakest points, as the characters seemed forced and almost too stereotypical. Although I know youth pastors like the one featured in the film (Kenny), he felt almost to self-unaware. Perhaps it just made me uncomfortable? Also, some of the computer generated sequences may feel out of place for viewers who haven't read the book (even to some who have). I think the film was at its strongest, when Don was experiencing "conflict" at Reed college and throughout his interactions with Penny. Marshall Allman did a great job playing Don. I was also satisfied with the film's "resolution." From a writing standpoint, much of the standout dialogue was taken directly from Miller's memoir. I appreciate the way he weaves words together. Through his writings, I have become someone who appreciates people's stories more. One critique many Christians will have of the film is that it does not present a clear "Gospel" message. In other words, the film does not clearly articulate people's need for Christ for redemption from sin. While I agree that the film does not do this; I would also argue that this is not Miller and Taylor's purpose for making the movie. One of Miller's quotes states: "Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something, before you can love it yourself." I think that is one of the film's main tenets. It is clear that the filmmakers love Jesus and appreciate art. It would be hard for a viewer to walk away from the film and miss that. I am sure that countless conversations about the film will revolve around Jesus, life, and truth, and in that sense I feel that they have achieved their goal. Was the film perfect? No. Will it win any awards? Maybe in Portland. However, like the book, the movie will resonate with people who have grown tired of those who attempt to live religious lives on their own volition. Outside of Jesus, religion is nothing but a set of rules and rituals that lead to frustration, disenchantment, and alienation. I think the film (and book) show it even when they don't say it. While I don't necessarily agree with all of Miller's viewpoints, I look forward to the day (in heaven presumably) when we can sit down, have a beer (edgy, I know), and talk about life and truth. I would love to hear other people's takes in the comments section.
Blue Like what??? Tell us! The suspense is killing me. Stupid elipsis.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (7/10)

I saw Salmon Fishing In The Yemen on Monday with Justin Worley at The Vine. It was rather romantic in a completely heterosexual sort of way, as we were the only 2 people in the theater. The movie itself wasn't that bad or that great. How is that for insight? Ewan McGregor is one of my favorite actors and he was delightfully Scottish as always . The film was written by the guy who wrote Slumdog Millionaire and I expected something along those lines. The plot did have the same sort of redemptive storyline, but lacked the creativity, heart, and innovative Danny Boyle-ness of Slumdog. That's not to say the movie was bad-it just wasn't Slumdog. The movie is ultimately about pursuing your own happiness regardless of your circumstances or current limitations. In this case, Ewan's character's limitations included a failing marriage and a ho-hum government job in the Fish/Game department. He ends up parlaying his fish knowledge into a project commissioned by the Yemeni government. The project: create a river in Yemen where people can fish for salmon. Dam! The movie was pleasant enough and the comfort of The Vine definitely augmented the viewing experience. It's a rental or a Netflix film unless you can find a way to get a theater to yourself.