Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Guest Post!

I'm guest posting on a friend's blog this week.  Hop on over and see the bravest sweater in the world. 

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Monuments Men

I love it when films inspire me.  Not all do - some (most?) are pure entertainment that I enjoy for 2+ hours and then leave at the theater.  Some touch me and have me thinking about a certain issue or relationship for a day or two.  Still others are not worth the pixels it takes to create them.  Merriam-Webster's online dictionary's first definition of "inspire" is "to make (someone) want to do something : to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create."  Keeping to this definition, films that inspire are, I think, fairly rare.  The Monuments Men, which I had the privilege of screening Wednesday night, is one such film. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Come What May . . .

. . . tomorrow evening, come ice or snow or just plain coldness, I will be sitting in a nice, warm theater in the Alamo Drafthouse with some dear friends watching and singing along to Moulin Rouge.  I cannot wait.  Here is my account of my first Moulin Rouge singalong (and I still haven't really come down). 

Tonight, however, I will be with another friend at a screening of The Monuments Men.  I am also looking very forward to that.  It's got a wonderful cast - Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett and Bob Balaban to name a few.  The story is intriguing - seven artists, museum curators, art historians and the like team up to rescue art treasure from Nazi thieves.  Add to that the fact that the hunt is still going on - they haven't found all of the art that the Nazis stole.  Top it off with directing and writing credits going to Clooney and you've got the potential for a real winner.  I'll let you know! 


Friday, November 15, 2013

First Trailer for "Noah"

You know, I'm always skeptical when I hear that Hollywood is going to adapt a Bible story for the big screen.  I'm not sure why because Hollywood brought us The Ten Commandments, Jesus of Nazareth and (this one might not be on some "positive" lists) Jesus Christ Superstar.  I think I'm afraid that they are going to sensationalize it beyond reverence.  Or add elements for marketability.

Case in point - the horrible, HORRIBLE "Noah's Ark" TV movie.  I remember vividly finally turning it off and not going back when Lot rode up.  Lot - of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In ABRAHAM'S time years and years after the flood.  Yes, Lot rode up on his horse while Noah was building the ark.  Click.  (Reading the synopsis, I learned that Lot and a band of PIRATES also survive in a boat and attack the ark later on.  I'm SO glad I didn't keep watching.)

So I am a bit gun shy about Hollywood and the Bible.

However . . .

I just saw the trailer to Darren Aronofsky's upcoming film Noah - release date March 28, 2014.  I have to admit, it got my blood pumping.  I've studied the story of the flood in length in a Bible study in the past, and it's a scary one!  A disaster of (excuse me) Biblical proportions.  In the Bible it says, ". . . on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.  And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights."  Genesis 7:11-12  The springs of the great deep burst forth.  Watch the trailer.   

Oh, and another thing . . . snakes.  Why'd they have to show the snakes.  I know there were snakes on the ark.  I get it.  Can we just agree to TALK about the snakes and not show them making their way to the entrance?   *shiver*

So, now I'm excited about the movie!  Keep coming back here for more information, giveaways and sneak peeks. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Conjuring (and Why We Like the Dark)

Disclaimer - in the first part of this post, I make broad statements.  I know that not all of my readers are horror fans and I know that not all of my readers are Christian.  And many who are one, the other, both or neither may just not like scary stuff.  I'm making very large generalizations and I know that.  I'm also not trying to convince my friends/readers to partake of subjects that they truly are not interested in.  Read on . . . 

A few weeks ago I was part of a conversation between Christian writers where we talked about some of our favorite authors and books.  As we got to know each other, we relaxed a bit and admitted that we liked to read darker material - Stephen King and Ted Dekker in particular.  Even if we (I mean, THEY) didn't stick with reading "scary stories", they all at least tried a few here and there.  (I say THEY because I always stick with scary stories - unless they aren't well written.)

Go back and really read that first paragraph - we only admitted that we liked darker stuff after we got to know each other and relaxed.  It seems that in Christian circles, we can't freely talk about how we are drawn* to the dark side of literature/film/television.  I have Christian friends who apologize for watching The Walking Dead just before we have wonderful conversations about the latest episode.  Same with watching Breaking Bad.  Why do we automatically think that if we're Christian we have to instantly turn our back on things of a darker nature?  Yes, Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."  But isn't good triumphing over evil good and true?  Isn't watching bad choices reap bad consequences right?  

Here's the next question - WHY are we drawn to them?  We know that they are dark.  We know that they are scary.  We know, and least in the "we = Christians", that they are not of God.  So why do we entertain them?

First, there's the old stand-by - we live in a fallen world.  It's our nature as fleshly human beings to wander away from God.  God gives us a choice whether or not to follow Him.  And we look at those other choices - even when have chosen to follow Him.  For me, though, it's not a "grass is always greener thing".  It's kind of a "wow, I'm glad I have the hope of Christ" thing.  I read books and see movies where characters make choices that I once would have (and sometimes did), but now that I know Christ and have His Word, I wouldn't make those choices.  For me, it's a "Whew!  Look what could have happened to me!"  (Yes, even in the fantasy/supernatural theme - "Whew!  I'm so glad that a scary man in my dreams can't REALLY kill me!  Uh, I'll just have one more cup of coffee.") 

Second, you have to admit that scares give you a thrill like a roller coaster!  No, you won't die, you're going to be perfectly safe.  You'll just FEEL like you're in danger.  A lot of the time that is true - you aren't in danger.  How many of us will be stalked by a serial killer or captured by a vampire or torn apart by a werewolf?  We read/watch things that maybe have a hint of truth or possibility (could I sell drugs to provide for my family?), but we know that it's all fantasy.  We know we'll walk out of the theater/close the book/turn off the TV alive and in one piece.  But the thrill is there.  It gets our blood pumping.** 

There's a third reason we like to enter into the scary realm.  We want to shine the light on the darkness and make sure that it really will go away.  Darkness cannot exist in the light - it can exist around a beam of light, but it cannot exist within that light.  We want to see the figurative of that statement. We want the light to win.  And we want to SEE that.  As Christians, we have the Bible that tells us that God wins in the end.  On a day to day basis, we may not see that as much as we want to.   We want to make sure that everything is going to be okay.  (And if it's not, we just leave the theater/close the book/turn off the TV and thank God that wasn't us!)  So we willingly enter the world and go along for the ride.  When we read a book or see a movie or watch a TV show, most of the time the good guys win - a few may not make it (#cough#thewalkingdead#cough#), but they die fighting for a purpose and their purpose prevails.***  It's satisfying.  We can sleep at night.  (Or maybe the next night.)

So now, we come to the latest scary movie out in theaters today:  The Conjuring.

I was sent to see The Conjuring by Grace Hill Media.  They are a PR and marketing firm established to reach "religious America".  They have sent me to several screenings of movies that are "family friendly" or movies that had a strong theme of God and morality.  So I was very surprised to see an e-mail from them offering a screening of The Conjuring.  Thrilled, yes!  But also surprised.

The Conjuring is a film about real-life couple Ed and Lorraine Warren.  They were/are (Ed passed away in 2006) paranormal investigators and demonologists.  This film chronicles their involvement with the Perron family - mom Carolyn, dad Roger and five daughters - and the spirits that inhabited the farmhouse they moved into in 1971.  It's a formulaic plot.  The Perrons are excited to move in, but the dog won't cross the threshold (don't get attached to the dog).  They start to feel things/smell things/see things.  It escalates.  They bring in help.  There's a final battle.  Yawn, right?  Wrong!!!

Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) has impeccable timing.  He gives you the first BOO scare within five minutes and then he never lets you totally relax.  You let your guard down, yes, but you don't ever relax.  Just when you think that you know when/where the next scare is coming, he fools you.  I cannot tell you the last time I was in a movie theater and the entire room screamed like they did during The Conjuring.  We (the audience) would scream and then laugh - not because the scare was followed by a stupid joke or because we were embarrassed that we screamed, but just because we were having so much fun!  At one point the friend that I took with me nudged me and said, "How did my knees get up here?"  She had curled herself up on her seat.  Three minutes later, my knees were up, too.

In my opinion, the women characters dominate the story.  Patrick Wilson and Ron Livingston do a great job as Ed and Roger, respectively, but when I think back on the movie, it's the women who stand out as characters and actors.  I loved Vera Farmiga as Lorraine.  Lorraine is weak from a previous supernatural encounter that drained her, and Farmiga does a wonderful job of showing the strength that is wrapped in the fatigue.  She also has a calming presence even when she is not on screen.  It's almost as if you know that there is victory because Lorraine is involved.  I'm so glad to see Lili Taylor again.  She always brings a believability to her roles - from Say Anything to Dogfight to Ransom.  She doesn't disappoint here.  She is a mom who is scared, and who is desperate, but who is committed to her family and her home.  She will protect her girls from anything and the pain on her face when she realizes who she has to protect them from is heartbreaking.

The movie is rated R (another reason I raised my eyebrows when Grace Hill contacted me), but the rating is for intense horror, not sexual situations, nudity or language.  I appreciated that.  And it certainly deserves the R.  It was scary.  Walter Hamada, one of the producers, is quoted at saying,
“When we sent it [to MPAA], they gave us the R-rating. When we asked them why, they basically said, ‘It’s just so scary. [There are] no specific scenes or tone you could take out to get it PG-13.’”

It is one of the most terrifying movies I've seen in a long time - maybe even second to The Exorcist.  Creepy-scary, boo-scary and soul-scary.  A trifecta!  

And as a side note, I really appreciated the limited use of CG effects.  Real stuff is always scarier.

***Spoiler at the bottom***

*Yes, I said we are "drawn" to darker themes.  Why do you think we actively shun them?  Because we're interested.  I don't have to actively shun chicken livers.  I'm not interested.  I don't partake.  I don't even think about partaking.  However, I am VERY interested in chocolate.  I have to turn my head when a gluten-heavy chocolate cake is presented in my presence.  I have to actively think about how I would be miserable should I partake.  I think it's the same with darker subjects - some of us are drawn to them.
**I've worked at haunted houses - The Haunted Hotel in Beaumont and then The Nightmare Factory in Austin - and they do a ton of business.  People like to be scared.  Even though we had signs everywhere that the actors couldn't touch the guests, people ran screaming from each scene like they were being chased.  They willingly bought into the fantasy.  I've thought about this a lot and I think it's almost the same reason that people go to a comedy club - they WANT someone to entice strong emotions and reactions out of them.  People WANT to scream just as much as they WANT to laugh.  And they'll dare you to make them do either.  (But that is another post entirely - my tenure in horror as well as my tenure in comedy and how they are alike.)

***There is a trend of having the bad guys win, or making the bad guys the good guys for the purpose of the film, but that - again - is another post.  I'm not going to split hairs here.)  


The spoiler is that God wins.  Okay, it might not be a spoiler.  Most of the time in these types of movies, the evil force is defeated or at least squelched for a while.  Sometimes there's the promise that it will come back.  However, in this film, God wins.  Period.  The evil spirit is sent away through Ed speaking scripture over it and the love of Carolyn and Lorraine for the daughters.  The family leaves intact and the case is closed.  Yes, there is talk of a sequel.  But it is not going to be Bathsheba (the evil spirit) coming back and getting revenge.  It will be another case from the files of the Warrens.  (I think that they are already thinking of changing the name of the movie to The Warren Files: The Conjuring so that they can start a Warren Files franchise.)  God wins and Bathsheba is no more.   

Of course, I would have gone to see the movie even if Grace Hill hadn't sent me, but when I read the press release it just made me that much more excited to see a fresh take in a horror movie.  A quote from the press release:   

THE CONJURING was intended by screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes as a movie where “God wins.” “That was a non-negotiable for us,” Carey said. “We’re never going to glorify evil.” Added Chad: “We want people to feel great after seeing it. To be scared and entertained, of course, but to walk out of the theater with a good feeling because good, God, is victorious.” 

Indeed, Lorraine says to Ed quite a few times, "God put us together for a reason.  This is it."  It's nice to have Christians portrayed in a good light as good people who stand in the Truth and that Truth is victorious. 

So, in calling on the first part of this post, as a Christian I feel very confident in recommending this movie to friends - even Christian friends - WITHOUT and apology.  I even gave away my second set of free passes in the lobby of our church on Sunday morning.  ;-)

Movie Mama Millie says - YES!

I would love to hear what your take on why we love horror as well as your thoughts on the movie - if you go see it.  Just be warned - it's scary!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Giveaway - Tickets to The Conjuring

Good afternoon friends and fellow horror movie fans.  Last night I was able to attend a sneak peek of the movie The Conjuring.  It's a horror movie "based on real events".  ("Based on."  I can probably tell you which ones were real and which weren't.)  It was a lot of fun and one of the scariest movies I've seen in a long time - maybe the second scariest next to The Exorcist, although I'll have to think about that for a while. 

All in all, I really do recommend it. 

And you have a chance to see it for free.

The first two people who comment on the blog and tell me what the scariest movie they've ever seen will get two passes each to get in to see The Conjuring during its run (July 19-August 15).  No questions, no drawings, just the first two who comment about their scariest film.

Then come back and tell me how you liked The Conjuring.

I'll have my review up next week - closer to the opening night.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Man of Steel - This Is Not Your Mama's Superman

Whenever there is a reboot, there are the inevitable comparisons to the previous incarnation - Dark Knight vs. Batman, Quinto vs. Nimoy, and how many Incredible Hulks have there been?  So it's understandable that people of a certain age *cough* forties *cough* will bring their kids to see Man of Steel with a little bit of apprehension that Zack Snyder's take on our beloved Superman will not live up to the Richard Donner vision that captured our hearts as kids.

I saw Superman: The Movie when I was ten years old.  I was not (at that time) a huge comic book fan, but my brother and I had watched reruns of George Reeves' TV Superman.  We loved it - even though it was sorely dated.  The heart was there.  Superman was GOOD.  He just was.  He defended truth, justice and the American way.  My heart swells with pride just thinking about it!  And Richard Donner's 1978 version brought all of that idealism into the modern era.  Well, modern at the time.  Donner and his cast captured the flavor, the tone, the essence of what Superman was and what he needed to be in 1978.     

Zack Snyder's Superman has brought the franchise into the 21st Century with just as much style and finesse as Donner did in the 70s.


Top to bottom, Man of Steel hits.  I loved the time spent on Krypton before it falls.  The backstory of fertility/reproduction, the politics, the strange flying creatures - all fantastic additions to the mythology.  I loved the way they told the story of Clark growing up through a tapestry of flashbacks (why had I never considered how difficult it would have been for him as a child to learn to handle things like x-ray vision and super hearing?) and present-day encounters (loved the way he handled the nasty truck driver) very nicely bringing us to his first interaction with Lois Lane.

The story is just complicated enough to keep you on your toes.  Things about which I had questions early on (why were Jor-El and Lara on their own when Kal was born?) were answered when they needed to be (because it was the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries).  There were ah-ha moments that were satisfactory and fun and maybe even a little poignant.  I enjoyed the twists and revelations (the majority of which I won't reveal here.)  

What struck me was the theme of sacrifice and salvation that ran through the film.  I don't know if Snyder or if David S. Goyer (screenwriter) are Christian, but they sure drew a lot of parallels between Clark/Kal and Christ.  There is a "heavenly father" (Jor-El) who sends him to Earth and guides him while there.  There is an earthly family (Jonathan and Martha - hmmm . . . Joseph and Mary) who raise him and who know he is different.  There is a "son" who must offer himself up as a sacrifice to save humanity.  Jesus was 33 when he offered himself up for sacrifice.  Clark/Kal says a couple of times that he's 33.  It's all there.  And it's pretty cool.  I might be reading too much in, but when Clark/Kal goes to the church to ask the priest if he should surrender to Zod, and there's a stained glass window of Jesus right behind him, I think someone's hinting at something.

The themes of family and loyalty run all through the film as well.  Is Clark/Kal going to be loyal to his adopted planet?  Or is Clark/Kal going to embrace his Kryptonian origin and help repopulate his people?  There are compelling reasons for both scenarios.  Yes, of course we know what he's going to choose.  He's Superman!  He's going to fight for truth, justice and the American way!  Zod be damned! 

Amy Adams is a perfect Lois Lane for 2013.  She's smart and capable and doesn't have that glass ceiling to deal with that Noel Neill's or Margot Kidder's Lois did.  She doesn't need to prove herself in the boys' club.  She's a reporter and she (and Perry White) know that she's a good one.

Speaking of Perry White - brilliant to cast Laurence Fishburne.  And extra points for letting him keep in his earring.  Love me some Laurence.

I also love me some Diane Lane.  She's wonderful in everything.  She's gorgeous, poised, tough and sweet.  I'd buy a ticket to watch her walk across the street.   

Now let's get to Henry Cavill.  Yep.  Yep, yep.  I approve.  He's got the classic Superman look - square jaw, dark hair, blue eyes, even the dimple in the chin.  But that's only the tip of the iceberg for Clark/Kal.  Cavill does a great job of showing us his alienation and his search for answers without becoming mopey or maudlin.  His internal struggle is apparent, but we can see him working toward something - being active in his pursuit of self.  It's not lost on me that the first time we really see him smile is when he flies for the first time.  He has found himself!  Also, true to the Superman of old, he is GOOD.  He is always GOOD.  His goodness is what makes his final choice in his fight with Zod - the choice to kill - so painful.  Cavill reaction to Zod's death was heartbreaking. Cavill captured the inner conflict and the pain associated with his actions incredibly well.

I did have a few of problems with the film, but they were pretty minor.

At times, the dialogue could get kinda corny.  I noticed it mostly when Jonathan (Kevin Costner) was talking with Clark.  Jonathan seemed to be pretty full o'cheese.  But you know, I'm willing to overlook that.  I think that this incarnation of the Superman myth is not 100% comfortable yet so I'm willing to give it a little slack.  The corniness did not impede my enjoyment, but it did bring me out of the story briefly.

The other problem that I had concerned the final battle between Clark/Kal and Zod.  I don't really have a problem with the fact that Zod chose Metropolis as the destination of his huge Ship of Destruction (my name, not the real name).  The gravity pulses were really cool and done very well.  What made me extremely uncomfortable was all of the destruction of Metropolis' skyscrapers by not only the Ship of Destruction, but by Superman and Zod's fistfight.  Granted, the effects were WAY COOL!  And it was really fun to watch them chase each other through the skyline, but . . . watching planes fly into buildings?  Watching skyscrapers collapse after Zod and Superman destroy the load bearing beams?  I had flashbacks to news reports of 9/11.  I was especially uncomfortable (actually, I was tense almost to the point of pain) when one of Perry and Lois' colleagues, Jenny, was trapped under concrete and steel beams.  She is reaching out to Perry White through rebar - both of them covered in a fine layer of dust - and she's crying for him not to leave her.  I could not help but think of the hundreds of people trapped like that on 9/11.  I know, I know it sounds a little off and maybe melodramatic, but I had a hard time watching that part.  I think that people out there who suffer from PTSD brought on by the events of 9/11 should know that this film might be a trigger for them.  I'm not sure if there should be a warning posted or what.  I just know that I was nowhere near NYC when the Towers came down, and I had a hard time with that section of the film.

In relation to the final battle - one more pet peeve.  To be 100% true to the character of Superman - a hero who will do anything (even take a life) to protect innocent people from harm - I think that placing the final fist fight battle between Zod and Clark/Kal in Metropolis and leaving it in Metropolis was a mistake.  I believe that after the first bought of destruction of property and the subsequent loss of life and injuries (not shown, but c'mon - dozens of buildings fall, do they believe that the audience thinks that all the people got out of them?), Clark/Kal would have led Zod out of the city and away from people.  I think he would have either flown with Zod chasing him or grabbed Zod and flown with him to a more sparsely populated area.  Yes, I know that would have robbed us of the wonderfully cool fight sequence through and around buildings (complete with Zod lobbing a "Lexcorp" truck at Superman - hmmm), but it would have been more true to Superman's character.  And it wouldn't have left me trying to tally the damage to the city monetarily.  Holy cow!  What's it going to take to rebuild Metropolis?!?!?!  And how are the people of Earth NOT going to at least try to place some (most?) of the blame on Superman?  I think that in this case - in this sequence - the ability to do way-cool effects won over being true to the characters and the story.  Yes, it worked to an extent - it was an awesome sequence - but still . . .

Overall, I highly recommend this movie.  It's fun.  It's relevant.  It's Superman for 2013.  Welcome to the 21st Century, Supes.  We love you.