Spielberg Marathon: Munich

“There is no peace at the end of this no matter what you believe.”

“We are supposed to be righteous. That’s a beautiful thing. And we’re losing it. If I lose that, that’s everything. That’s my soul.”

“Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.”

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The last movie of Steven Spielberg’s unofficial trilogy that features thematic commentary on a post-9/11 world is, almost indisputably, his most controversial.  Even for a billionaire director, who solidified with the oddball outing of “The Terminal” that he could get any project financed and made, this film took guts to make.  If “The Terminal” was a lighter commentary on changes around the world and at airports and then “War of the Worlds” was a metaphoric mirror of a changed world featuring aliens terrorizing innocent people while destroying cities, “Munich” delves into specific episodes of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict which Spielberg uses as a historical backdrop for the terrible attack in New York City on September 11th, 2001.

“Munich” is based on the true events at the 1972 summer Olympics where the Palestine terror group, Black September, murders 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team.  The disturbing attack is shown at the beginning of the film both in dramatization and real life news footage that Spielberg uses.  A young Peter Jennings makes an appearance in that old news footage.  We eventually see news reporter, Jim McKay who was on air for 14 hours straight covering this massacre solemnly note, “They’re all gone.”

In chilling fashion, Israel’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) at the time (in a secret meeting) declares, “Forget peace for now” and “every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.”  A hit squad is formed off the books.  Enter Eric Bana as Avner who was a former bodyguard for Meir.  He is to resign his post officially as Mossad (the Israeli version of the CIA) and lead this assassination team.  His partners will include Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) as a bomb maker, Carl (Ciaran Hinds) as the destroyer of evidence after an action, Steve (a pre-007 Daniel Craig) as a trigger man, and Hans (Hanns Zischler) who is a master at forgery with documents.  Avner’s handler is the shadowy Ephraim (the great Geoffrey Rush).  The mission is to assassinate 11 Palestinian leaders throughout Europe as a retaliation for the Munich attack.

The hits would be carried out occasionally with bullets but often with bombs as that would be a more effective way of generating publicity for the killings.  The secret team kills Wael Zwaiter, a poet, in Rome. They detonate a bomb in Paris in the home of Mahmoud Hamshari and carry out more killings.

Eventually, the questions begin to prick at the men’s consciences.  Is there actually any evidence that these Palestinian leaders were involved in the planning and execution of the Munich attack?  Answers would not be forthcoming.

Spielberg has directed “Schindler’s List”, “Amistad”, “Saving Private Ryan” and other intense films however “Munich” is his darkest movie.  It is a descent into the soul destroying rage of retaliatory violence and the endless cycle of vengeful, tic-for-tac, attacks.  Spielberg is one of the most prominent Jewish people in the world and here he is with the courage and audacity to challenge the actions carried out as the foreign policy of Israel.  By also showing the relentless assault on innocent Israeli Olympic athletes, he blasts the Palestinian side as if firing a desperate cinematic flair into the air for an end to all this violence.

When the guilt and shame of the assassinations becomes overwhelming to Robert, he pleads to Avner that they are Jews and supposed to be righteous. “We are supposed to be righteous. That’s a beautiful thing. And we’re losing it. If I lose that, that’s everything. That’s my soul.”  Robert dies in an explosion after carrying out a string of killings with the team and one attempted bombing that almost blows up a young daughter of a Palestinian leader, a scene that Spielberg masterfully works into the vein of Hitchcockian suspense.

The disillusionment comes on strong in Avner.  Between killings, he would sometimes sneak back home to visit his wife, Daphna (Ayelet Zurer) and newborn child.  After his mission, he joins his family living in Brooklyn but is scarred by PTSD and paranoia.  In an appropriately disturbing scene, Avner makes love to Daphna in their bed as Spielberg flashes back and forth showing the explicit deaths of the Israeli Olympics team at the Munich Airport while showing Avner on top of his wife.  The thrusting becomes more violent showing a man who has been completely consumed by his bloodlust for revenge.  The actions that Avner participated in on behalf of his country had now come into the most sacred space between a husband and wife.  His sins had wrecked his conscience and, by extension, were now aggressively asserting themselves into the lives of the people he loves.

With a screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth based on a book by George Jonas, “Munich” is yet another Spielberg masterpiece.  A riveting and unsettling movie that is effectively made and whose horrifying themes still resonate strongly.  The final shot of “Munich” may be the most haunting shot in all of Spielberg’s filmography.  As Avner meets in New York City (Brooklyn) with Ephraim again asking him for proof that the Palestinian leaders they killed were involved in the Munich massacre, he is rebuffed and as he walks away from the meeting, we see the twin towers of the World Trade Center across the bay in the distance.

Lester Lauding Level:  5 (out of 5)

Ranking of Spielberg Movie (so far):

Schindler’s List (Review here)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Review here)

Jaws (Review here)

Saving Private Ryan (Review here)

Jurassic Park (Review here)

Munich

Minority Report (Review here)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Review here)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Review here)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Review here)

Catch Me If You Can (Review here)

Empire of the Sun (Review here)

Amistad (Review here)

The Color Purple (Review here)

Duel (Review here)

War of the Worlds (Review here)

The Terminal (Review here)

The Post (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Review here)

Hook (Review here)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Review here)

The Sugarland Express (Review here)

Always (Review here)

1941 (Review here)

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Spielberg Marathon: War of the Worlds

“Is it the terrorists?”

“With infinite complacency, men went to and from about the globe, confident of our empire over this world.  Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us.”

“They’ve been planning this for a million years. They defeated the greatest power in the world in a couple days. Walked right over us. And these were only the first. They’ll keep coming. This is not a war. This is an extermination.”

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HG Wells’ classic tale of alien invasion and war has a towering place in popular culture.  Wells initially conceived and wrote the story from 1895 through 1897 where it was published in a magazine in the United Kingdom.  Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the science fiction story appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine and eventually was published in hardcover in 1898.  I was doing some research to find out if there was another story which detailed a conflict between human beings on earth and an extraterrestrial race prior to the 1890s but was unable to come up with much of anything.  This may be one of the earliest works to follow this theme.

In 1938, prior to directing his masterpiece “Citizen Kane”, Orson Welles narrated a radio broadcast which presented the events of “War of the Worlds” like a news bulletin.  Apparently, there were people who heard this program and thought that aliens were really invading and attacking earth.  Newspapers reported people panicking in the streets however some historians comment that the print media vastly overreacted with how many people gave into the terror as newspapers were trying to discredit radio at the time.

Eventually, “War of the Worlds” would crossover into another art medium- film in 1953- when director Byron Haskin brought the human and alien war to the big screen.  I remember seeing this version while growing up in the 1980s but only vaguely remember certain aspects.

Steven Spielberg would show “War of the Worlds” to theaters again in 2005 and this would be his second remake after “Always” (one of his not-so-good movies).  Reteaming with the larger than life movie star, Tom Cruise (whom he previously directed in “Minority Report”), Spielberg would continue his trilogy of commentary on a post-9/11 world and his approach to “War of the Worlds” would provide ample space for this endeavor.

A chilling narration, by Morgan Freeman, opens the film about outside forces watching, lurking and waiting patiently to attack the human race out of envy for our planet.  Cruise portrays Ray Ferrier, a divorced longshoreman who works at a dock in Brooklyn, New York.  His pregnant ex-wife, Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) drops their children (Rachel Ferrier portrayed by the excellent Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin who plays Robbie, the couple’s son).  As the kids hang out with dad while mom visits her parents up in Boston, a strange lightning storm strikes but as the characters notice, the bolts of lightning are hitting the same places repeatedly.

When Ray drives to one of the places where the lightning is striking, giant alien tripods come up out of the ground and begin wrecking havoc upon the city and seemingly vaporizing people running for their lives.  Ray will escape back to his home to gather his children and flee as highways crumble in the rearview mirror.

With an unexpected enemy destroying urban scenery, innocent people running on the streets for their lives with many perishing, plus an enemy outside of our understanding- the metaphorical parallels to 9/11 are plain to see.  The tone is obviously strikingly different from the thematic commentary that Spielberg  developed with “The Terminal” starring the other Tom.

The Spielbergian take on the classic Wells story features disturbing and striking imagery with good special effects.  Ferries in the water while massive alien vessels rise up to terrorize the passengers, military vehicles on fire while cascading down a hillside toward more people struggling to survive, an airplane crashing into a residential area engulfing the scenery in flames and the alien tripods violently grabbing people and warehousing them in cages on the extra terrestrial vehicle itself.   A red mist sprays from the tripods and the audience does not need much of an imagination to see what is happening.

With the appropriate imagery for a science fiction horror film, it is too bad that the screenplay by Josh Friedman and David Koepp does not build an effective enough story around the scale of what Spielberg and special effects wizards dreamt up.  On top of that, there are massive leaps of logic for anyone watching the film that rationally thinks about some of the setups.  So giant alien tripods were buried underground for a long time beneath major cities around the world?  No geologists or modern equipment would have detected these anomalies beneath the surface?  Furthermore, no construction worker or utility person would have discovered these vessels while doing everyday, normal city maintenance?

Besides the apocalyptic imagery, there is an extremely effective scene when Ray and his daughter Rachel are running from the aliens and see Tim Robbins (playing Harlan) waving at them to come into the storm basement of his humble home.  Robbins is really good in this movie and the sequences that Spielberg and writing team put on screen during this part of the film are tense, unpredictable and disturbing.  In the dire circumstances the characters find themselves in, moral quagmires emerge with no easy answers.

The end of the film leaves the audience hanging with a substantial anti-climatic feeling.  Even with some of the previous plot holes and occasions of sloppy filmmaking (visible film crews, cameras operating when electronics are supposed to be down and other errors), I feel like if Spielberg could have landed this work appropriately, all would be forgiven.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.  There is a uniqueness to the ending when we find out what happens to the aliens which very much distinguishes this picture from, say, “Independence Day”.  However, there is no getting around the abrupt cut to ending credits with Freeman again as narrator explaining what happens with a voiceover.  A rip off especially with everything that had been built up before.

“War of the Worlds” has aspects to like but ,given the stature of Wells’ classic in pop culture, to have a director of the caliber of Spielberg not completely deliver is disappointing.  No way around that.

Lester Lauding Level:  3 (out of 5)

Ranking of Spielberg Movie (so far):

Schindler’s List (Review here)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Review here)

Jaws (Review here)

Saving Private Ryan (Review here)

Jurassic Park (Review here)

Minority Report (Review here)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Review here)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Review here)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Review here)

Catch Me If You Can (Review here)

Empire of the Sun (Review here)

Amistad (Review here)

The Color Purple (Review here)

Duel (Review here)

War of the Worlds

The Terminal (Review here)

The Post (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Review here)

Hook (Review here)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Review here)

The Sugarland Express (Review here)

Always (Review here)

1941 (Review here)

 

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Racism: A Collective and Corporate Sin

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  – Galatians 3:28, ESV

With the horrific death of George Floyd, the modern day lynching of 25 year old Ahmaud Arbery, and an African-American citizen being criticized for bird-watching in Central Park, I thought about whether I should write or say anything to my very limited audience.  I am a white male and have never been subject to racial discrimination in my life and so from my narrow perspective, I’m not sure I have much to offer on this critically important topic that other voices who have had very different experiences than me can speak about.  However, I did think about some things to say that veer into American’s beliefs about individualism and how this can blind us to substantial societal sins.

Before I go into that though, I thought I would list some of the voices that I have been striving to listen to on the topic of race in the past couple of years.  These people and their perspectives run from academics to regular people and even have diverse insights.  The mediums are books, podcasts, and films.  Please comment on artists and thinkers that have helped you to think about this gravely important matter either on social media beneath this post or you can comment on the blog itself.

-Dr. Eric Mason, “Woke Church:  An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice”.  Dr. Mason is a pastor and is affiliated with the Gospel Coalition.  After the tragic killing of George Floyd, he has been recording a series of raw livestream statements, one of which can be found here.

-Dr. James Cone, sadly passed away in 2018, however he had been a long term professor at Union Theological Seminary and had written in the late 1960s on Black Liberation Theology.  I have not read all of this work but Dr. Cone was a strong prophetic voice within the church and I need to finish this book.  Recommended:  The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

-The Liturgists Podcast on “Black and White: Race in America” which features hip hop artist Propaganda and singer William Matthews being interviewed by Science Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor.

-Ta-Neshi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me” which was the National Book Award Winner in 2015.  A raw and powerful letter to his son.

-Tori Williams Douglass website, “White Homework”.

-The movie, “Fruitvale Station” about Oscar Grant III’s real life fatal encounter with police in 2009 at an Oakland Subway Station.  The fictional portrayal was done by (at the time) newcoming actor Michael B. Jordan and was directed by Ryan Coogler.

On my personal to-read list is an embarrassing ton of books that I haven’t cracked open yet including “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin.

In America and therefore in the Evangelical church in America, we have been undeniably influenced by individualism that has its ideological roots in the Enlightenment.  Seems like that is why when the subject of racism comes up, many white Evangelicals (including myself at a point in my life) immediately categorize racism as an individual’s sin issue.  We think of a person who chooses to hate somebody on the irrational and shallow basis of the color of their skin.  Visions of a bigot yelling dehumanizing names and statements comes to mind or perhaps a business owner choosing to not serve or hire a person on the basis of their race.  Virtually anybody would tell us that the above is wrong and is sinful.  We love Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote that says, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” which we can fit into an individualist paradigm and a part of it certainly does.

With MLK Jr though, as many people have pointed out, the way that his life and legacy is taught in our schools (I was K-12 in public school myself) is sanitized.  Often largely ignored is MLK Jr’s criticisms of the systems that perpetuate racism and assault the character of other citizen’s of our nation and mar their transcendent status as being loved by God and being His children.

300 plus years of slavery.  A reconstruction which saw the rise of the KKK and other nefarious groups.  Jim Crow laws being implemented.  The 1921 Tulsa race massacre saw a white mob descend on “Black Wall Street” where they burned roughly 1,200 homes and killed an estimated 300 African-American citizens.  The dates of May 31st and June 1st are the 99th anniversary of this massacre.  There are many, many more terrible events but when we look at the small sampling above, we realize that these are not acts carried out by individuals but by groups that are often intertwined with politics (governors, mayors, police chiefs, presidents, Senators, House Representatives, etc).  If politics is the process by which we organize our shared space together, the politics have collectively and intentionally inflicted a state-sponsored terrorism upon a community of not only citizens but image bearers of God.

The Bible teaches that the sins of the fathers visit the children down multiple generations (Numbers 14:18).  In fact, Israel as a nation was God’s chosen people in the Old Covenant and there are plentiful examples of sin issues being collective and corporate rather than individual.  Israel as a collective committed sins against others, against other nations and against God for which repentance was crucially needed.

A system is defined as “a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.”  Individuals can certainly harbor racist perspectives and those individuals can form groups and those groups can vote to elect people in history who create laws and processes that add up to systems we are in today.  The past does not happen in a vacuum but the ideas and deeds get carried forward and transmitted ahead to future generations.

I have to say that I’m not fully enlightened on this issue and cannot pretend to be.  There is much more for me to learn and listen to others in marginalized communities who have had vastly different experiences than me.

Grieving tonight and this week for the African-American community for the grief and pain that is being legitimately felt including by friends of mine.  The emotional trauma is real.  The fear of going out is real.  The paralyzing anxiety of their children being hurt is real.  We have to stop this.  All of us.  Together.

Also, I don’t have many solutions other than just listening.  No white saviors.  Just listening and support where I can.

The verse I started this post with, Galatians 3:28, was written by the Apostle Paul in the 50s AD.  He articulates a philosophy (we as Christians believe in divine inspiration of the text) that was way ahead of the cultural and historical situation that the famed missionary found himself in.  All are one in Christ Jesus.  All are loved by Jesus.  All can receive divine grace from Jesus.

Black lives matter.

 

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Spielberg Marathon: The Terminal

“No more Krakhozia! New government, revolution! So all the flights in your country has been suspended indefinitely and the new government has sealed all the borders which means your passport and visa are no longer valid so currently you are a citizen of nowhere, even if we could get you new papers we couldn’t process them until the United States recognizes your country’s new diplomatic reclassification, you don’t qualify for asylum, refugee status temporary protective status humanitarian parole non-immigration work travel visa, you at this time are simply ‘unacceptable’.”

“Ever feel like you’re living in an airport?”

“You say you are waiting for something.  And I say to you, ‘Yes, yes.  We all wait.”

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Even though “Catch Me If You Can” technically came out after the horrible events of 9/11, Steven Spielberg’s commentary on the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and its morbid impact upon a nation would come with 2004’s “The Terminal”. With that movie, “War of the Worlds”, and “Munich”, many critics would recognize a trilogy of extremely different films that have thematic statements dealing with the hard reality of a new world after the worst terrorist attack on US soil.

“The Terminal” doesn’t have much to do with war except to explain why central character, Viktor Navorski, ends up stranded at JFK Aiport in New York City.  News reports tell us that the fictional country of Krakozhia got entangled in a bloody civil war while Viktor was on an airplane to New York City.  Due to the collapse of his government, Viktor becomes a man without a country as his papers are no longer valid.

The unusual circumstances put him at odds with Frank Dixon (a very good Stanley Tucci), a customs official who will try to use various political and bureaucratic means to get Mr. Navorski out of his airport.  The entanglements between the two men become a battle of the wits as Viktor’s charm and sense of humor wins him populist points with others who work at the airport, people who are passing through, and a flight attendant (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) who becomes involved with Viktor in a mismatched chemistry of a romance.

This is the thing about “The Terminal”.  There are all sorts of different threads contained in this movie that get all mixed together.  Airport security is heightened and custom officials (at least some of them) are hardcore about the technicality of the rules in a post-9/11 America.  There is the bizarre romance, cat-and-mouse machinations between Viktor and Dixon, commentary on how America sees immigrants as well as a man pursuing his own version of the American dream- while trapped in an airport.  There are attempts at comedy and drama.  Sweet moments exist for sure and other threads don’t work as well (such as the romance between flight attendant, Amelia Warren, and Viktor).  The film dances around with a diverse lot of ideas and doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

“The Terminal” is not a bad movie and certainly is not in the bottom tier of Spielberg movies.  It is a strange picture though and that is why we have to give Spielberg a few points  for veering way off his usual repertoire.  The oddest film in his catalog to date is this one.  Past the halfway point, the movie does get better and more interesting specifically when we learn why Viktor has come to America (the reason is kept from the audience for awhile).

Of course playing Viktor is Tom Hanks for his third team-up with Spielberg.  Hanks is always likable, when he wants to be in virtually anything, however in “The Terminal” his character and accent (fictional as it is) seem weird.  Another item, in a list of things slightly off about this film.

With a screenplay by “Catch Me If You Can” writer Jeff Nathanson and Sacha Gervasi, this is a film that one can imagine not getting off the ground with studio backing if not for the huge names of Spielberg and Hanks being involved.  You have to admire them for actually trying something different even if all the pieces don’t necessarily add up together in a cohesive whole.

***Think the story of “The Terminal” is bizarre, read about the man who inspired Spielberg and the screenplay writers here.

Lester Lauding Level:  3 (out of 5)

Ranking of Spielberg Movie (so far):

Schindler’s List (Review here)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Review here)

Jaws (Review here)

Saving Private Ryan (Review here)

Jurassic Park (Review here)

Minority Report (Review here)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Review here)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Review here)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Review here)

Catch Me If You Can (Review here)

Empire of the Sun (Review here)

Amistad (Review here)

The Color Purple (Review here)

Duel (Review here)

The Terminal

The Post (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Review here)

Hook (Review here)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Review here)

The Sugarland Express (Review here)

Always (Review here)

1941 (Review here)

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Spielberg Marathon: Catch Me If You Can

“Stop chasing me.”

“Sometimes, it’s easier living the lie.”

“An honest man has nothing to fear, so I’m trying my best not to be afraid.”

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In 2002, Steven Spielberg took a break from his short run of science fiction movies and went back to the historical drama.  Reteaming with Tom Hanks, he tells the story of con man and complicated fraud Frank Abagnale, Jr (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, his first time in a Spielberg film).  This historical drama would be different than his 1990s run of serious dramas focused on human rights.

“Catch Me if You Can” is playful and funny with an undertone of dramatic flair.  Of course, one of the central themes is the question of why Abagnale, Jr is running, what he is trying to prove and that gets to his deep character motivations which are what makes this film even more interesting.  Frank Abagnale, Sr is played by the legend himself, Christopher Walken and he is married to a French women, Paula (Nathalie Baye).  Abagnale, Jr is. having a happy childhood until Paula cheats on Abagnale, Sr and leaves.  Spielberg has a shot of DiCaprio running down the street frantically as if trying to outrun the pain of his family breaking up.

That part of Abagnale Jr’s life is used to explain the rest of his behavior.  Millions of dollars of fraudulent checks would be cashed.  He would lie about his bogus accomplishments to dazzle and date many women.  A master impersonator, he would fly airplanes without attending flight school and become a doctor without attending medical school and then become a lawyer which leads to a late question in the film from his FBI pursuer, Carl Hanratty (played by Tom Hanks) about how he passed the bar exam.  Hanratty logically assumes that he cheated.  Abagnale, Jr simply says that he studied for a few weeks and passed.

That this is based on a true story (a book written by the real Abagnale, Jr) is remarkable.  One can imagine a producer or screenwriter pitching something like this in a Hollywood meeting and being laughed at.  Script writer Jeff Nathanson was not laughed out of rooms especially when the name Spielberg is attached to the project.

In one sense, I thought if “Catch Me If You Can” represents the promise of America.  That any person can constantly reinvent themselves and try on different life paths.  Maybe that is what Spielberg and Nathanson are exploring (among other themes) however for a person to accomplish what Abagnale, Jr did at just the age of 19, there certainly has to be genetic indicators of a high intelligence that is simply based on inherited traits and not any kind of work ethic.

So a man who successfully made the FBI’s Most Wanted List at such a young age (19- the youngest ever) was basically a lonely and depressed teenager who was devastated at the breakdown of his family.  DiCaprio is usually always good and he plays expertly off of acting powerhouse Hanks (Boston accent and all).  That the two men would become good friends (in real life apparently) and work together at the FBI at the end of this ordeal further adds to this rather incredible story.  Who would be better to spot bad checks than a mastermind who spent his late teenage years crafting them?

Spielberg has also returned to the aspect of family trauma again.  He has famously stated that the movie “E.T” was about his parent’s divorce.  Knowing that bit of information from his bio and his emotional response to his mom and dad’s break up explains why Spielberg would be so attached to the material of Abagnale Jr’s story and see the divorce as the catalyst for Abagnale Jr’s motivations.

The opening credit sequence is a tad annoying and goes on way too long but this is a fine film.  Not quite in the upper Spielberg canon but a compelling and engaging ride for 2 hours and 21 minutes.

Lester Lauding Level:  4 (out of 5)

Ranking of Spielberg Movie (so far):

Schindler’s List (Review here)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Review here)

Jaws (Review here)

Saving Private Ryan (Review here)

Jurassic Park (Review here)

Minority Report (Review here)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Review here)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Review here)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Review here)

Catch Me If You Can

Empire of the Sun (Review here)

Amistad (Review here)

The Color Purple (Review here)

Duel (Review here)

The Post (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Review here)

Hook (Review here)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Review here)

The Sugarland Express (Review here)

Always (Review here)

1941 (Review here)

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Goodbye to Our Edmonds House

A sense that I have is that I have lived far fewer places than many other people.  For the first 18 years of my life, I came of age from childhood to adulthood in the same brown and white, split-level entry house in Kent, Washington and that being a home that I still have an immense emotional connection too for obvious reasons.

Getting married in 2012 to the extraordinary Meesha, we purchased a green split-level house in Edmonds.  Neither of us being wealthy, this worked out according to good fortune as the real estate market had just barely started to recover from the depths of the Great Recession.  This green house with an overwhelming backyard, that we have always wondered what it looked like in its heyday at the hands of a master gardener perhaps, was the home that we both moved into after our honeymoon in Kauai.  The wood structure existing in this specific place was the home we first brought Naomi Rose to after she was born on June 14, 2014 at Swedish Edmonds after a prolonged labor by Meesha.  Eventually, when Reuben Loren was born on September 30, 2016, we would bring him into this personal sacred space and capture one of the sweetest movies I have ever seen when a two-year old Naomi first met her younger brother in our upstairs living room and on our greenish brown couch we had purchased from friends at church.

Turning 40 this year, anyone can add up these numbers to see that I have lived for 26 years of my existence, in just two separate spaces and within the confines of that respective square footage, the consequential and glorious milestones of existence would be lived out.

When I turned 18 and left the home that moved me through my formative years, there wasn’t a ton of reflection because I was excited to move on to college.  The pull of this new adventure overwhelmed any sense of what I was leaving behind.  Now though, a few eves from leaving the home Meesha and I built for the past 8 years and brought our children home to, there certainly is a glaring melancholy.  Tears.  Wild reflection.  All bittersweet as we yearn for more adventures in a difference space and county.

The memories travel back through my mind like a crudely edited film with no narrative structure.  Out on the deck with a young Naomi and teaching her the general directions to which she shouted, “God made the East.  God made the South.  God made the North.”  Moments that our late Greyhound-Husky Mix dog Nala spent bonding with Reuben.  Naomi dressed up in her lady bug costume and dancing with Reuben on our back deck. Both kids exploring the part of our big lot which we called “the back 40” which was overgrown and them enjoying climbing on a giant rhododendron bush in that place while shaking the branches hard so the flower petals fell to the stone walkways below like rain.  The Christmas where Naomi got really into “The Nutcracker” and spent months twirling around our upstairs living room.

In this corner of the world and within this small space with the time graciously allotted to us, the milestones and common daily occurrences all happened.  Potty training.  Meals together.  Learning to ride bikes and scooters.  Joys.  Sorrows.  The reading of many books including Michelle taking Naomi through the works of Roald Dahl (“James and the Giant Peach”, “Matilda) and beginning to introduce Naomi to the works of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series.  Pictures of Naomi capturing worms, potato bugs and especially snails as her curiosity led her in explorations of the outdoors.  Also, Reuben’s sweet nature mixed with his developing testosterone in imagining every stick as a sword and often charging toward me with a playful growl.  Prior to last year’s Christmas, the only thing that Reuben would say he wanted was a “Zurg” action figure from the Toy Story Series to fuel his obsession with “bad guys”.  We all watched nearly all the Pixar canon together for family movie nights within this house.

Within this space, I have also shared the holistic nature of life with my hard-working and dedicated partner, Meesha.  As many did, we binge-watched the entire series of “Breaking Bad” here and saw many great movies.  At night, we had deeper conversations around our backyard fire pit and dreamed and planned for the future.  It was in our old kitchen, before our remodel, that Michelle told me she had a miscarriage between the births of Naomi and Reuben.  The mountaintops experienced along with the deep valleys.  Job gains and a job loss.

Soon, this will be another families home to build a life and, what we all pray, are lasting memories as along as the hippocampus still functions.

In the west, we worship our material possessions and that is a grievous stain against our society and leads to spiritual death.  However, the unfolding narrative of all our lives transpire in the physical spaces that we call home.

With that in mind, this is not just a goodbye to the wood framing, dry wall, tile and hardwood floors of our Edmonds house but to a small space in the universe that we gratefully got the chance to call ours.  We brought two kids home and said farewell to two beloved dogs (Nala and Boo Boo).  One old dog remains, the Chief, the shepherding in his border collie blood determined to see his family through to the next physical space.

Thank you Jesus for all of it as all of these accounts will always be the stories of our lives in this place.

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Best Movies of 2019

My tardy best of the year for 2019 has finally been completed.  Crossing the apex of seeing the crop of movies which I believe may be contenders for my favorites of the year, I feel confident in the following films which entertained me, made me think or had an impact on me long after I had seen them.  Fellow Christian believers will find many of these films to be about their faith in different ways or contain vitally important elements related to our faith in Jesus.  To be clear, that isn’t the only reason why I loved some of the movies on this list but I also cannot be a person that I’m not when I engage with art.

Feel free to announce your favorite films from last year in comments below.

Scroll below for the great Meesha’s favorites from 2019 as well.

Runners-Up:  Marriage Story, Avengers: End Game, JoJo Rabbit, Booksmart, The Dead Don’t Die, 1917

 10) A BeautifulDay in the Neighborhood– Seems like a truth ordained before the foundation of the world that Tom Hanks would play the cinematic part of Fred Rogers.  In director Marielle Heller’s film, the late children’s television star is relegated to a supporting role.  The story centers around Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys, a co-star in one of the great TV shows “The Americans”), a cynical journalist with Esquire magazine who is assigned to write a puff piece on Rogers.  His relationship with his father strained, Vogel has closed off emotionally to parts of his psyche to mask deep hurt.  His father, Jerry, portrayed by Chris Cooper, does not have long to live.  Rogers guides Vogel, non-judgmentally, to a place of not only being willing to forgive his father but even larger than that, to prepare him for his father’s passing.  A scene that deeply moved me was Rogers kneeling before his bed to pray with his Bible open.  Rather than using sophisticated theological words, he says people’s names out loud.  Simplicity and sincerity.  At one point, Vogel asks Rogers how he deals with the burdens of people’s pain and how that affects him.  Mister Rogers dodges the question however by the end, the audience will have the answer as Hanks’ shows the legend in a private moment.  It is there the Sainthood of Mister Rogers is appropriately humanized and becomes the perfect ending.  Trailer right here.

 9) Richard Jewell– Conservatives are used to complaining about Hollywood being a den of liberal cultural power and a litany of articles and books have been conceived on that topic.  Films portraying right-leaning themes or values are often schlocky stories relegated to subcultural ghettos.  However, the right has Clint Eastwood and in a film that criminally fell under the radar toward the end of 2019, Eastwood brings themes that not only resonate with the political right to the big screen but themes that should speak to all of us as Americans.  “Richard Jewell” is about the security guard who discovered a bomb during the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.  Heroically, he radioed the bomb in and moved a crowd of people enjoying a concert away from the device as well as running through a media tower warning everyone to get the hell out.  The humble security guard was briefly hailed as an angel before the FBI started suspecting him of being a “false hero” who planted the bomb to gain attention for himself.  The suspicion of Jewell as a suspect was leaked to the press and the media smeared and slandered Jewell, destroying his life and that of his mother, Bobi (whom he lived with).  The swelling torrent of a powerful government agency and the press relentlessly attacking not only an innocent man, but a hero, rightfully wells up righteous indignation and sadness toward this entire situation.  Eastwood’s style of no-BS filmmaking serves this story well as he ramps up suspenseful tension toward the beginning when the bomb is discovered and then takes viewers through the wild circus that befalls Jewell and his mom.  Powerhouse and nearly flawless performances are turned in from Kathy Bates (Oscar nominated) as Bobi and relative unknown Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell.  Whether you are conservative, liberal, libertarian or socialist, this bullshit should make you sick to your stomach.  Trailer right here.

***A final note:  Michelle and I watched this movie a day after country singer Kenny Rogers sadly passed away.  I should mention that Kenny Rogers is shown performing “The Gambler” in this film at the Olympic Games.  RIP.

 8) Us– The followup to Jordan Peele’s horror tour de force, “Get Out”, is another solidly crafted suspense epic whose culturally relevant themes run deep.  I wrote in a review of “Us” back in June of 2019:  “‘Us’ is about our delusions.  The horror of this film are the stories we tell ourselves that distract from the madness within.  The id. The sin nature.  Dark animalistic impulses.  The brilliance of Peele’s second cinematic effort in the director’s chair is that he does not just relegate this to individual delusion but also to a broader collective one.”  When a middle class family runs across their more evil doppelgängers all hell breaks loose and Peele borrows from HG Wells and other pop culture influences on a crazy ride of a movie.  Also, and I don’t think this is an over exaggeration at all, Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the greatest horror movie performances of all time.  Trailer right here.

 7) Knives Out– Thinking about whether a good deal of Star Wars fans (of which I am one) will ever forgive Rian Johnson for “The Last Jedi” (a movie I was lukewarm on and that many others hated)?  If they actually click to stream “Knives Out” or rent it from Red Box one night, they just might.  Critics often use the hyped cliche of “the very reason we go to the movies” in referring to a film that has massive entertainment power and I will use that term here to describe “Knives Out” which is loads of fun.  Since the movie is squarely in the whodunit genre, I will refrain from saying much other then that you should totally see this movie.  An all star cast of Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Christopher Plummer and Toni Collette help bring a tightly written script (by Johnson) home.  “Knives Out” serves as a homage to the whodunit genre (in one scene, my late grandpa Loren’s favorite TV show is on,  “Murder She Wrote”) and also is enough of a remix to be its own thing.  Like “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” the final shot of this film is absolute perfection.  I really hope a revival of the whodunit genre is in order.  Trailer right here.

6) Parasite– The first movie in history to win the Oscar Best Picture award while being a foreign language film, “Parasite” is certainly a solid candidate for a long overdue recognition of cinema outside the United States.  Not only that but South Korean director Bong Joon Ho has now established himself as a masterful filmmaker.  Immediately after watching “Parasite”, I thought about the towering legend Stanley Kubrick who was known for his often haunting and disturbing singular images that get seared into one’s mind after watching.  Ho has those kind of striking images in this movie with the impeccable way this movie was put together.  Ho, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jin Won Han, has fashioned a story that is somewhat of a dark comedy mixed with a Shakespearean tragedy that is a fierce Marxist critique of capitalism.  There is not another movie like this one in terms of originality and uniqueness.  Trailer right here.

 5) Waves– The thematic metaphor in “Waves” is obvious.  Life gives us joys, sorrows, transcendent moments, despairing valleys and everything in-between.  Like riding the unpredictable waves of the expansive ocean.  The focus is on a Florida family and at first, a handsome, successful teenager named Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr) who has a girlfriend named Alexis (Alexa Demie), a sweet sister named Emily (Taylor Russell) and a hard nosed father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) who pushes his son aggressively in life and sports.  Like most teenagers, Tyler thinks he is invincible and eventually, unthinkable tragedy comes to visit.  The film then picks up with a different character protagonist to veer off in a different direction.  The dad Ronald will give his daughter advice about handling the various waves of life with a heavy nod toward grace and forgiveness. These lessons made all the more powerful by the presence of Ronald in church likely praying for the circumstances his children face.  Writer/director Trey Edward Shults (all of 31 years old) balances all of these cross current plot elements and themes like a pro and at a young age has fashioned a generational masterpiece.  If only more people would see this movie to make sure the film gets its due in the cinematic pantheon.  Trailer right here.

 4) Ad Astra- I’m a shoo-in for a good space movie having grown up with the original Star Trek series at 6pm and Star Trek: The Next Generation at 7pm every Saturday night.  To be clear, “Ad Astra” is not much like a Star Trek series.  The James Gray film is certainly science fiction but has some elements that we could see happening in the not-so-distant future (such as an Applebees on the moon).  Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride who is an astronaut after his father, H. Clifford McBride (the perennial cinema badass Tommy Lee Jones).  The elder McBride had disappeared years ago on a manned mission to Neptune and is presumed dead.  Suddenly, NASA detects energy pulses coming from the eighth planet of our solar system which kills thousands of people and threatens the Earth.  The suits at NASA want to dispatch the son in his own mission to Neptune as the power surge seems to be coming from an anti-matter machine and thereby is being done by a person (IE Roy’s father).  No one knows why.  So Roy travels through space in search of his dad in hopes of finding out why his dad is performing these dangerous actions and as many commentators have already picked up on, this becomes a metaphorical search for God.  One of my favorite film critic reviews from last year was from Alissa Wilkinson at Vox reviewing this film and musing about the theological implications of the wrath of the father and the intercession of the son.  Certainly there are more interpretations of this movie which is a part of the fun.  Trailer right here.

 3) A Hidden Life– Writer/director/cinematic mystic Terrence Malick started the 2010s decade with what the Gospel Coalition called the best Christian movie of all time in “The Tree of Life”.  I won’t argue with that point.  Malick now closes the decade with an exceptional film about an ordinary Austrian farmer named Franz Jagerstatter who refuses to join the Nazi cause on the basis of his Catholic faith.  An ordinary resister to a tyrannical regime.  “A Hidden Life” has Malick returning to somewhat more of a conventional narrative structure versus a stream-of-consciousness presentation.  The movie features his typical stunning cinematography with scenes that occasionally seem improvised.  His obsession with philosopher Martin Heidegger (with a tragic irony, Heidegger was a member of the Nazi party) and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is on full display here.  For patient viewers who want to absorb Malick’s genius akin to taking a trip to an art museum, they will find a third act that is stunningly powerful.  There may not be another filmmaker who can walk the fine lines of a transcendent hope available in the world while bearing witness to a horrific, murderous tragedy like Malick.  This is a film that testifies to a consciousness and conviction that go well beyond this world.  Trailer right here.

 2) The Last Black Man in San Francisco– For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in the same house with my parents in Kent, WA.  Very occasionally, I happen to drive by our families old home and get a haunted kind of sense.  The house looks about the same, even the yard and my old basketball hoop attached just above the driveway.  In that space, my family lived for all those years and experienced all of the wonder, joy, sorrow and everything in-between that comes with life. I deeply connected with “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” for that reason.  Jimmie (played by Jimmie Falls) dreams of reclaiming the Victorian style house that his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco with his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors).  Another family lives there now and Jimmie happens to find himself around the home often.  The screenplay by Joe Talbot and Rob Richert thematically dives into gentrification issues and the movie unfurls like an odyssey featuring squatters, street preachers, playwrights, homeless people and skate boarders.   It is a heartfelt movie that is occasionally offbeat and genuinely sincere.  This was the feature debut of director Joe Talbot and in his inaugural effort, he has created a timeless film.  Trailer right here.

 1) Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood– Being a fan of Quentin Tarantino since I saw “Pulp Fiction” in the 1990s, I can certainly be upfront about my bias.  There are very few directors whose work (at least most of it) shows an exuberance of great joy just to be making movies.  Tarantino has always been the master of remixing different genres and sometimes (like in the Kill Bill series) mashing them together.  With “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” he has made the ultimate homage to cinema.  A writer and director who was already supremely talented has transcended all of his other work.  In my mind, this is Tarantino’s very best film as he teams with Leonardo DiCaprio (who portrays a fading western film star Rick Dalton) and Brad Pitt (Dalton’s wingman and stuntman) to recreate the crosscurrents of Hollywood in 1969 which changed the film industry forever.  On the one hand, Tarantino is celebrating those classic westerns that once dominated Hollywood and the heroic World War II movies and on the other hand, he is celebrating the new promising talent which was taking the industry in glorious new directions.  At the center of the latter promise is Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) who lives next door to Dalton who her boyfriend, director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha).  Of course, we know that tragedy looms in 1969 for Sharon Tate and others at the hands of Charles Manson’s hippie death cult.  With that fact, Tarantino has surprises in store as he embraces his usual penchant for gleeful historic revisionism and this time, makes a very sharp point that weaves brilliantly into his overall theme.  What could have been.  Indeed.   Trailer right here.

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Meesha’s Favorite Movies (in no particular order):

Troop Zero

Little Women

JoJo Rabbit

 

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