May 24, 2007

Greatest Night of Television

Before I start talking about one of the greatest nights of television in recent history, let me make a few corrections and additions to my running diary of American Idol from Tuesday.

- The winning song WAS written by Christian recording artist Scott Krippayne. Weird. First, don't you think professional singers should have been eliminated from that contest? Second, isn't it ironic that Christian music is considered so lacking in quality by the music industry, yet it was good enough for the AI song finale? Third, does this actually highlight how cheesy the AI final is by the fact that the final song was a cheesy one written by a Contemporary Christian artist?

- Chris Daughtry has only sold 2.5 million albums. My bad.

- When I said JoJo and JoJo Junior Miss, that was referring to Katharine McPhee.

- I didn't actually watch the show live. i watched it on DVR and guessed on the times. HAHAHAHAHA. I'm a dork

Okay - last night, we had the results show of American Idol and the season finale of Lost. I wanted to give some comments on each - because I know both of you are dying to know what I thought.

- I alternately loved and hated the show.
- I loved the Gladys Knight number with the girls. Wow!
- I loved the opening duo with Blake and Jordin.
- I loved Blake's beatbox battle with Doug E Fresh.
- I loved any time someone named Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood was on stage
- I hated the stupid Golden Idol awards.
- I hated the performances by Tony Bennett, Green Day, Gwen Stefani, and Bette Midler.
- I hated Sanjaya's solo. Why him and not Lakisha?
- I hated any time someone named Taylor Hicks was on stage.
- Jordin deserved to win and will probably be a huge star.
- I thought Clive Davis was funny. He took shots at Kelly Clarkson and her refusal to use the assigned songwriters on this album (actually he took about ten shots at her). He took shots at Taylor and McPhee. But he at the same time had to praise Clarkson, Daughtry, and Carrie - while patting his own back. And how old is this guy? 95? 102?
- I think the American Idol tour will be very good this year.
- The Beattles tribute was good. It would have been awesome if it had ended with Sir Paul McCartney coming out at the end to sing.
- For all of you AI haters, just take a look at who participated in the night and who was in the audience to realize that this show is HUGE in the entertainment world.
- I thought it was awesome that Melinda and BeBe and CeCe got to sing together.
- Where was Fantasia?
- Where was Clay?
- Overall score: 9/10

- I said on this blog a few months back that Heroes had surpassed Lost. After watching the two finales, I must say i was very wrong. Tim Kring - creator of Heroes - go watch the Lost show and talk to your buddies over there for some lessons on how to close a season out. Heroes did such a great job all year and then had the weakest finale. Lost, which had stumbled a bit in the Fall, made it all pay off with a very strong Spring, and then a Finale that blew your mind.
- Death count: 14 or 15 (depends on if one guy will stay dead)
- I cannot believe that I have to wait NINE MONTHS to see another episode of Lost.
- Every single person brought their "A Game" last night. My heart was pounding five minutes into the show.
- I found myself this morning in the shower just standing there thinking about what the heck just happened on Lost. Now THAT'S a good show.
- SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't watched it, don't read the rest of this post.
- I will miss Charlie. But it was amazing how they made that happen.
- Hurley is awesome. Even after everyone minimized him the whole last few episodes, he comes through tonight.
- I think our survivors just opened a monstrous can of worms. I can't even begin to guess what they are going to deal with now.
- I had no clue at all that the Flashback with Jack was actually a Flashforward until it happened. And the questions that came up after that? Good night.
- I think that Jack's dad someone got resurrected on the island and is still alive, Kate married Sawyer, and Locke is the one who died. Or none of that. Who knows.

May 22, 2007

American Idol Finale 2007

Well here we are. It is the finale of the weirdest season of American Idol ever. It has been impossible to guess who would win. At one point, it was actually plausible that the freak Sanjaya could pull off an upset - and then right when his momentum was getting the fastest, he got voted out. And then the most consistent and professional contestant ever (Melinda) gets booted before the big night. We have watched every season except the first year. Year Two had the battle of the titans Ruben and Clay. Year Three had the Cult of No Personality that ended with Fantasia and Diana DeGarmo. Year Four featured the down home battle between the soon-forgotten Bo Bice (hey! he sang the theme song for Blades of Glory) and the huge star Carrie Underwood. Year Five had the best two singers booted in spots 3 & 4, and left us with karaoke hour with Michael McDonald and JoJo. Now, this year we have the most evenly matched year yet - maybe even more so than Clay and Ruben.

Jordin and Blake have huge followings, very versatile approaches, good family sympathy votes, and great talent. They are young, pop-friendly, and going to sell huge numbers. So, let's kick off with some cheesy computer graphics and the overblown, overhyped finale. This....Is....American Idol.

8:00 - It's Rod Serling. Oh, he's too pretty. Hey, there goes the cheesy graphics. These never get old. Well, I guess they already were old.

8:02 - Random crowd shots. Any celebrities? Man, that place is huge. Ryan looks especially clean faced today.

8:03 - The Judges. Randy Jackson looks like Michael's fat black brother. Paula doesn't look too beat up. She's high on painkillers, drugs, and booze. In other words, it's a Tuesday. Ryan just called either Paula or her dog a b****. Good stuff.

8:06 - Time wasting retrospective of the Seattle auditions. Man, I forgot just how weird Blake was. And, could his dad match him any less? His dad looks like a refinery worker. Blake looks like a freak. I'm always surprised Blake is even in this thing - he should hate this commercialized bull. Jordin, on the other hand, was created for this moment.

8:08 - Is anyone else dreading the Songwriting contest? I am.

8:09 - Man, I can't wait for Ratatouille to open.

8:12 - The coin toss. Ridiculous. Let's get singing, people. You have wasted enough time. GET ON WITH IT! "This is My Now"? Good night.

8:13 - Blake starts with "You Give Love a Bad Name." I will go on record - as a huge Bon Jovi fan - that I LOVED this version. I thought it was brilliant, and it showed his singing skills so much. I just wish Blake would get rid of that stupid streak job. He looks like a skunk pelt. Sounds just like the first time. Good choice.

8:15 - The first set of useless comments. Why bother? No one is going to listen to the judges tonight. Randy criticizes the singing. What? Paula rambles - the drugs are really kicking. Simon once again is brilliant - Blake IS the best performer. Which is why he will win.

8:16 - Obligatory finalists shot. Ryan is witty tonight - he really is what makes the show work. Snark . . . it's what for dinner.

8:17 - Jordin singing Xtina's "Fighter"? This could be ugly. She's not the best rocker (Jordin) and she's not a skank (Jordin).

8:18 - Hey, I just realized that Jordin is Xtina's husband's name. I also realized Jordin is off key and shrieking. I also realized Paula is doped up worse than Paula usually is.

8:19 - More useless commentary. Randy just called her stellar. What? Paula called her stellar. What? Simon acknowledges the younger choice - - and called her shrieky. Hey - that's what I said. But, Jordin has the ability to make all but the most perceptive people drink her Kool-Aid. Which is why she will win.

8:21- Ryan says Blake is going to sing Maroon 5. I hope that he does the one that they screwed up last week live on television. This show with Kelsey Grammar and Patricia Heaton looks funny. I love both of them.

8:24 - Blake talks about the birth of his beatboxing skills. Awww. Shameless plug by Ryan. Awww.

8:26 - "She Will Be Loved" for the Blakester. Risky choice - remember he's not the "strongest singer in the competition." This is the video where Adam Levine seduced Kelly Preston. I wonder if she got confused by the sight of a man who had not had enough plastic surgery to technically be considered a mannequin. So far, Blake did a passable job for a lousy singer.

8:28 - Anyone find it funny that Simon made the "not the best singer" crack this week? There is only one other singer.

8:29 - Randy loved the vocal. Ricky Schroeder sighting. Paula rambling and babbling. Simon bashes Blake and his song choice. He is the only person who actually knows what he is talking about. But the crowd doesn't even care about the judges' comments and they love Blake. Which is why he will win.

8:31 - Marlee Matlin sighting. Heather makes a good point. "She's at the American Idol finale and she's deaf?" I have trained Heather well.

8:35 - Jordin couldn't ask for more. Well, except maybe winning. She's singing "A Broken Wing" by Martina McBride. I thought this was one of her weaker outings this season - plus she was so overshadowed that week. When she sings low, it is like she disappears. Her lower register sucks. But here she is off key and shrieking again. Man, that is what Lakisha got bashed for every week - yelling. STOP SCREAMING AT ME! I HEAR YOU!

8:38 - Where's Philippi? Randy again. He's really ticking me off. He keeps his streak alive of mentioning she is only seventeen. He said that every week. Paula is a doofus. Simon finally pays a compliment. She is so sweet and smiley. Which is why she will win.

8:41 - Apparently I have been corrected. Jordin was NOT screaming. Scott Krippayne? He wrote the song? Is that the same Christian artist? That couldn't be. I don't know how this whole contest thing is going to go. I mean, there's no way this will be as good as "Do I Make You Proud?".

8:43 - Schmaltz.

8:44 - Heather just pointed out that there is no fifty person choir this year. "There's always a fifty person choir. Or Meat Loaf." She should write this.

8:45 - This song is stupid. And Blake is doing a horrible job. His voice is all over the place. BUT, them judges have to be nice. They don't want to hurt album sales when this sucker gets released on Thursday.

8:47 - Randy wants to destroy him, but is waaaay too nice. Paula even was holding back. Simon can't be mean, even though he wants to be. "It's not a bad song." That song was totally written for someone like Jordin. She'll tear it up. Blake was screwed. He never should have had to sing that dumb piece of garbage. Ridiculous. That is just poor planning to hurt one of your contestants by having an uneven playing field. You know they thought that Melinda was going to make it to the Final. That is why he will lose.

8:50 - Shameless Shilling and the Seventeen Year Old.

8:51 - As they would saying in judged Olympics sports - there is a crack here and Jordin needs to step up and take the title.

8:53 - Let me correct something I wrote earlier. The song doesn't suck. It sucked when Blake was singing it. It doesn't sound bad at all when Jordin sings it. In fact, it is pretty good. Her performance here reminds me of Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" from Season One.

8:54 - Back to the sports analogy - great routine, and then she falls on the landing. She cries and her voice cracks. She knew she had won and couldn't finish. Amateur. What is she? Seventeen or something? That is why she will lose.

8:55 - Simon is going to call it right here. He is awesome. She won it on that last song. It was pretty even. Of course, it was like making Blake ride a three legged horse. That is the closest I have ever seen to a fix on Idol. I am sure it wasn't fixed - it was preparing for Melinda vs. Jordin.

8:57 - Recap. This will only serve to show how much overmatched Blake was tonight. Man. That Maroon 5 song was a bad choice. And he mangled that last song. Jordin actually did great tonight (for a seventeen year old). Her crying at the end actually got her about 100,000 extra votes. BUT with this season, who the heck knows. Sanjaya could win.

8:59 - The judges all doom Jordin with their predictions. Except Paula. She's just a twit. Postmodernism. Simon hates that. There are winners and losers. And, dang it, Paula is a loser.

9:00 - What? Daughtry is going to perform? Sweet. YAY! I love them. Seriously. Proof that America doesn't know anything. He has sold three million albums. Michael McDonald Jr, JoJo Junior Miss, and Elliot Yamin combined haven't sold half of that. Take THAT! If only Chris would get rid of that stupid eyeliner. How are you supposed to be a tough rocker and wear that much eye product? Ladies of the night down in West Palm Beach would think that was excessive. Good song though. Good band. Good night.

May 18, 2007

A surprisingly satisfying film

I posted this on the Rotten Tomatoes site, but I have had quite a few people ask me about this, so I'm posting it here too.

This movie has inspired a wider gamut of reactions than any comic book movie I can remember. I have had people whose movie opinions I respect say they hated it and it was the worst thing they have seen. I have had others say it was their favorite Spiderman film. The reviews in the media have been all over the place. So I had no idea what to think when I went. Now that I've seen it and had some time to think about it, here is my assessment.

Spiderman is often considered the most human of all the superheroes. He is not an alien like Superman or a mutant like the X-Men. He is not a billionaire like Iron Man or Batman. He's just a college student who gets bit and develops powers. This is important to remember when you try to look at this film. In the comic books, the reason Spiderman was so successful as a hero WAS this humanity. People could relate to his struggles. How many superheroes do you actually see washing their outfits? Or failing in class because they are tired? In fact, the franchise got in trouble - and nearly died - when Marvel got too caught up in the crazy story lines like sending Spiderman into the Symbiote world, having two Peter Parkers, all of that stuff. Restoring his human-ness saved the comic. Even the latest story lines in Marvel had Peter Parker revealing to the world that he was Spiderman during the forced superhero registration - something he didn't have to do but wanted to do - a very HUMAN thing to do.

Now, in the movies, look at the themes of each one. The first movie was the introduction. But it also was an examiniation of power and responsibility. Peter had to come to grips with his new powers, and think about what he was going to do with them. At first he wanted to use them for money. But he finally saw that money (another form of power) does not guarantee a good life when he figured out that Osborn was the Goblin. So, Peter realized that his responsibility that came with his power came with sacrifice. Basically, he was growing up. He couldn't have childish dreams and plans. He was a man with responsibility - greater responsibility than most.

The second movie was a look at what it means to be a hero. Peter understands what it means to be a man, to grow up. But now, he needed to learn what it meant to be more than that. The critical point was his discussion with Aunt Mae where she explained that a hero sacrifices himself for others - is willing to give up everything for those around him. So Peter made the decision to give up MJ, his own desires, everything for the people of New York. Some of that was restored to him at the end, but he was willing to do what it took to truly be heroic - pictured by the incredible elevated train scene which still gives me chills.

So, the third movie comes out. Director Sam Raimi has never been trapped by the traditional formulas, and he does it again. One of the things I kept thinking was, "Where are the actions scenes?" The were a few battle scenes, but the majority of the movie was more dramatic than action. This is where I think most people got frustrated. They came to see the crazed action of the second film. Instead they got introspection and drama. Now, I didn't get turned off to this. In fact, I think it was more of a true Spiderman movie BECAUSE of it. Plus there were two main themes that ran through this one, that partner brilliantly with the other two films. First, there was the main discussion of what it means to be HUMAN. This is different than the first film's about being a grown up. This was a look at the other side of Spiderman - the human element. We see emotions run amok - lust, envy, anger, rage, grief, love, pain, loss, greed, ambition, loneliness, regret, forgiveness, hate.

Every character had to wrestle with these things. And when Peter wore the black suit, it amplified them to the point where he could no longer ignore them or control them. He had to come to grips with the suppressed feelings he had. Living the life of a vigilante hero is walking a fine line. Your aggression is a good thing, but it can quickly become bad. Every character had to go through the battle of being human. The results are mixed with each person. Some come through it well, some don't. Even though only two characters wore the black suit, it was as if each person had to wear it metaphorically. They all went through things to bring out their true nature inside. It was interesting how Raimi actually used costume changes on most characters to further highlight these struggles. (The first movie used the masks, the second the heart, the third the suits.)

The second theme was the issue of fathers and father figures - which is a common human theme. Peter had his Uncle Ben, and avenging him. MJ had flashbacks to her abusive father. Harry Osborn lived with the dark legacy of his father. Edward Brock Jr (Venom) obviously had some kind of father issues - where was his. In addition, he looked up to Jamison as a quasi-father figure and was left again. Flint Marko (Sandman) had to deal with the issue of BEING a father and what he was willing to do to help his daughter. Gwen Stacy had her father there the whole movie (Captain Stacy), and seemed to be the most well adjusted person around. Father issues are a classic human battle - which further enhanced the main theme of humanity. Peter had decided in the second film to be a hero, but would he decide to be human? Could he handle being emotionally connected AND the city's savior? Could he understand that to MJ and others, you could not separate the actions of the hero and the human? In trying to be a good father, Flint lost his humanity. And in allowing himself to be consumed by his emotions, Eddie Brock lost his as well. Harry had to make a decision regarding where he would stand - human or not. Everyone had to understand that being human means having emotions, but being in control of them. It means coming to grips with your past, but being willing to move on from it. It means recognizing that there are laws that need to be followed, even if the end result is painful. And if you bend those laws - even for a good reason - it compromises you and those around you. (Something that was brilliantly examined in most characters.)

Doesn't sound like a superhero movie, does it? That is I think the best and worst thing about it. There has been this renaissance of comic book movies - the Spiderman films, Batman Begins, Superman Returns. They are deep and meaty films, that just happen to be based on comic books. But they also have the fight scenes and special effects. It is like going to a restaurant and ordering a steak or chicken dish that comes with cheese and bacon on the meat and potato. The meat is good, and the toppings are good. That's a comic book movie for you. The best ones use good meat (story, plot, charcter development) and good toppings (effects, fights, weapons). Lousy ones use inferior meat - kind of like Golden Corral trying to cover up their lousy steaks by wrapping them in bacon.

Well, Spiderman 3 spent so much time on the meat, that it didn't have room for much of the toppings. Yeah, there were some good scenes and great special effects. But most people wanted to see more. That is why so many have come out feeling ripped off. I can understand that. That's why I only gave the movie an 8. I would have liked to have seen more of that too. But I enjoyed the meal as a whole. Most of the time I get chicken smothered with cheese and bacon. But there are times where I just want a good, high quality steak. That's what I ate last night.

May 17, 2007

Still Alive

I am still alive. I know that my posts have been infrequent on all my sites. It gets hard to find time to keep up with everything. When I get into a writing mode at work, it also seems I have a hard time writing for pleasure. Whatever the reason, I have certainly failed on my duty to the blog universe.

Those of you who enjoy my movie reviews should be happy. By the end of the night I should have posted three new over on the Rotten Tomatoes blog. You can find that over to the right of the page. The summer movie season is in full swing, and I am trying to stay current. So far, the only "big" movie to come out was Spiderman 3. I finally got to see it tonight. I plan on getting to Shrek the Third this weekend too. So, check the movie review page often.

Check back here next week. I want to do another American Idol finale running diary. We'll see how that goes. Well, have a good weekend. Ciao.

May 10, 2007

Where Did It Go?

Sometimes I just wonder where it went. I remember a time when I was so passionate about praying. It was when I lived in Tampa and worked at the church there. I was even the staff member in charge of the prayer ministry. I would meet with lay leaders in that ministry every week and pray. I would meet and pray with my student leadership every week. It was a major part of my life. I remember seeing unbelievable things happen during that time - things that I don't tell people about because it is hard for some people to actually accept they happened. Things that still freak me out now. I was so moved by the verses about Elijah and how he was just a normal dude who prayed and it didn't rain for 3 years. (I guess all the smoke this morning made me think about all of this.)

But that is gone. It went away a long time ago. And no matter how often I think about praying, or try to get back in the swing of things, I can't get myself to get back to that place I was then. I pray with my kids before they go to sleep. We pray before meals. I try to remember to pray with the kids in the car on the way to school. And every so often I toss up some prayers during the day. But there is not that intense seeking of God's face.

It doesn't make sense either. Now, with working at a non-profit without a steady source of income, trying to find bookings and ministry partners, the stakes are higher than ever. I know that. But I still can't get myself to do what I need to do. Sure I pray like crazy every single month when our money runs out. And I pray like crazy when the stress of month after month of not having enough weighs so hard on my wife she breaks down in tears. And I know God provides - we have never missed a bill or a meal. But those things we need keep getting put off until you can't ignore them. And then a month like this one comes along - the perfect storm of financial ruin. Salary is less than half of what we need . . . tax return has to fill in blanks and barely will . . . everyone gets sick and we get hit with hundreds of dollars in medical bills . . . five weddings over five weeks (two of which I am in, which adds more expenses) . . . summer comes and kids need clothes again.

So I pray about that - I cry about that. But it feels empty. And there is no miraculous solution. Yes, the tax return came three and half weeks early, which will cover most stuff. But we look at June with nothing coming down the revenue pike, and we know that it was a temporary fix. So I'll pray about that, but....

I remember charging the throne back in Tampa. I would pray ridiculous stuff and then stand there with mouth agape as it happened. In a lot of ways, it was the worst time of my life. I was watching the first church I ever worked for start a series of mistakes that ultimately would force me to leave. I was single and lonely and confused. My dad had died a few months earlier. But my prayer life was insane. I remember going to two different summer youth camps that year - and watching God just show up in unbelievable ways at both. One of my students was there as a counselor - and would not participate in the worship services. He was going through a lot and was getting very hardened. One night, the Spirit was so strong in the service and this guy stood there with his arms crossed, glaring at the stage. I started to pray that God would make him sing. I prayed for about ten minutes. I looked up and could tell the guy was uneasy. He started coughing and choking, like something was trying to force itself out of his mouth. Then he burst into tears and started singing, all that hardness melting away.

I just stood there staring. And now it seems so far away. I pray for provision, but it trickles in. I pray for guidance and wisdom, but feel like I only have a match lighting my path. I pray for opportunities for Defender, but get just enough to give us hope - not enough to keep things going regularly. What am I doing wrong? What happened? Can I ever get that back? Will I ever be able to do what it takes to get back there? I don't know. I have to get there - everything depends on it.