Archive for the ‘HOLIDAY’ Category

MUSIC/MUSICAL: SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS – How Not to Treat a Woman

by Randall Allen Dunn

 

People who dream of marriage often have wonderful dreams, until they get married and have to deal with reality instead.

A lot of people enter their marriage with a personal agenda. It’s unspoken and perhaps unknown, even to themselves. But in their hearts and minds, they imagine what their married life will be like. How they’ll talk with their spouse, how they’ll share chores, how they’ll show affection for one another.

The problem is that these dreams begin and end in the mind of one person, and may have no relation to the dreams forming in the mind of their spouse.

In the musical, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, we meet fourteen of such people. Seven men and seven women with grand imaginations of their perfect married life that will one day come true. But they learn that to make a marriage work, they each have to make a genuine commitment to walk through life with the one they love, which means sacrificing a few things. Like their unrealistic dreams.

When mountain man Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) arrives in town and tells a local couple he’s seeking a wife to bring back with him that same day, they’re stunned. The wife is appalled and the husband scoffs at Adam’s chances.

But Adam is determined, as he demonstrates by wandering through town with his eyes peeled, singing “Bless your beautiful hide, whoever you are …” A pure demonstration of his naïve brutish innocence.

He meets a hard-working, beautiful woman named Milly (Jane Powell), and decides she’s the one for him. He explains his proposition to her and asks, “How ‘bout it?”

Milly is attracted to Adam and intrigued by his offer of marriage, but she insists he get down on one knee and ask her properly. Adam happily does so, insisting he must have her answer that day because he’s returning to his mountain home and can’t return to town for several months. Milly quickly decides she’s ready to leave her life of cooking and cleaning for a bunch of sloppy, ungrateful men. She wants a life of her own in a house of her own, with just one husband to care for.

So she agrees and leaves with Adam. Upon arriving, she discovers that Adam had wanted her not only for himself, but also to help cook and clean for his six brothers, who all share the same house with him.

They should have compared notes.

Milly is crushed, but determines to make the best of it, the way she has always done. But when Adam’s brothers come charging to the dinner table like a pack of wild animals, pushing and shoving one another on the way to grab whatever food they find, she refuses to serve them and walks out.

She also refuses to let Adam share the same room with her for their “honeymoon” night, feeling he tricked her into slaving for his family. So Adam decides to sleep on the tree limb outside their window. Although still angry, Milly doesn’t feel right letting him spend his first night of marriage sleeping in a tree, so she invites him back in.

The next morning, Milly tells the brothers to bathe and shave and surrender their filthy clothes for her to wash … if they want any breakfast. After she describes the sumptuous meal they would miss, the boys agree to do things her way.

From then on, the boys recognize that if they want to get wives of their own, they’ll have to behave like gentlemen. Milly teaches them how to court a woman by showing proper respect and manners, then teaches them how to dance for the upcoming barn-raising ceremony, where they’ll meet plenty of townswomen.

Adam doesn’t put much stock in Milly’s lessons on manners, but he’s been learning a few things from her himself, from all her reading. Unfortunately, a little knowledge becomes a dangerous thing. After his brothers’ failed attempts to court six townswomen, Adam suggests they do what Milly told him about, in the tale of “the Sobbin’ Women” (that is, Sabine women), when men raided a town and grabbed the women they wanted.

So Adam leads them back to town to grab the women they’ve fallen in love with and herd them back up the mountain, while the townspeople give chase. Adam and the boys cause an avalanche to cut them off, barring the path until the spring thaw.

When they return home, Milly is outraged. She brings the kidnapped girls inside to comfort them, while ordering the men to sleep in the barn, ashamed of them all. Stunned by her response, having thought he did the right thing, Adam leaves in a rage, deciding to spend the winter alone at the trapping cabin further up the mountain.

Not knowing that Milly is pregnant with their first child.

Throughout the winter, the girls get back at their would-be grooms by dumping icy water on their heads and hurling snowball-covered rocks at them.

But they also realize what they knew before: they actually love these mountain men, despite their appalling ignorance and brutish behavior.

Benjamin (Jeff Richards) visits Adam and puts him in his place for abandoning his wife and newborn child. Adam sulks, but considers that he might have made a mistake.

When he finally returns to Milly and sees his child, he tells her he’s been thinking about the baby. He realized that if anyone ever harmed his little girl – the way they kidnapped the townswomen – he would be enraged. He agrees they should never have taken them, and orders his brothers to take them back, now that the pass has opened up.

But the brothers don’t want to, and the women don’t want to leave them, either. So the women run off, forcing the men to chase them down, just as their worried families arrive to rescue them. Seeing the mountain men chasing them, they assume the women are being attacked. They’re ready to do away with the Pontipee brothers for good, when they hear a baby crying. When they ask whose child it is, each of the women claims it to be her own … resulting in a classic shotgun wedding.

Of course, a lot of this craziness – and violence – could have been avoided by talking things out. It would have helped for Adam to explain his home and family life to Milly, and for Milly to explain she hoped to have more time alone with her husband.

It would have helped for the brothers to express their true feelings in words, rather than a nighttime kidnapping. It also would have helped for the women to express their true feelings toward the men instead of letting the other townsmen chase them off.

It would have helped for Adam to stick it out at home when he got mad, rather than running off for the winter, holding onto his pride instead of reaching out for his wife.

It also might have helped for Milly to be more careful which stories she read Adam, or at least to include a footnote that said, “Don’t try this at home.”

At the same time, Adam and Milly save their marriage with the things they do right. It does help that Adam listens to his wife’s ideas, even if he doesn’t immediately see the wisdom in them. It does help that he respects her, even when he doesn’t agree.

It does help that Milly and the other townswomen recognize the good intentions and sincere hearts beating behind those brutish chests, to know the Pontipee brothers mean well, even if they can’t figure out how to express it.

Expecting the best of one another is the first step in showing respect.

A lot of marital problems can be solved by respect, sensitivity and honest communication – before and during your marriage.

Want to know how you should treat your spouse?

Ask them.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Find more reviews of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” at amazon.com!

 

F A S T   R E A D !

Clockwork – a suspense short story

by Randall Allen Dunn

A disturbing shadow falls over a forgotten town, unnoticed by everyone except for an old shopkeeper …

Nothing ever changes in the vanishing town of Aaronton, Illinois. After all the years of running his little shop, Sam Wells can measure every detail of the morning routine like clockwork.

So he notices when something is out of place. Something that smells of danger. But can Sam and his aging friends realize what’s happening before it’s too late to stop it?

Friday, February 1st, 2013

MOVIE: SANTA CLAUSE 2 – The Gift of Giving

by Randall Allen Dunn

 

I was really angry a few years ago whenI heard about a Christian couple that wondered if it’s right to give gifts at Christmas. After all, they reasoned, people get so greedy about gifts at Christmastime, and the only place in the Bible that mentioned gift-giving was when malicious people gave gifts to one another to celebrate the murder of two righteous men.

I was outraged. I still am. As a Christian, I absolutely want to follow God’s commands and the Bible’s instructions. But some Christians seem intent on having a relationship with the Bible, rather than with Jesus Christ. If it’s not written down as an explicit biblical instruction, such people don’t know what to do. And they come to ludicrous conclusions, such as the idea that giving a gift is somehow evil rather than loving.

In “The Santa Clause 2”, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), is enjoying his role as the new Santa Claus. Thanks to a magical contract called “the Santa Clause”, he became Santa after the previous Santa fell off of his roof and Scott put on his Santa suit. What no one ever told him is that in order to remain as Santa, he needs to get married by this Christmas. Bernard the elf (David Krumholtz) explains, “It’s the ‘Mrs. Clause’.”

The ‘de-Santafication’ process has already started taking effect. Soon Scott loses his white beard and most of his Claus-ian weight. Meanwhile, he needs to return home to deal with his son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd), who keeps spray-painting protests against school principal Carol Newman (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her efforts to stamp out any Christmas celebrations. Scott orders Charlie to stop the vandalism, but he agrees that something is wrong when school kids have no decorations of any kind to celebrate the happiest time of the year.

Carol feels kids should not be distracted by a lot of Christmas propaganda instead of focusing on their studies. But her real reasons for avoiding Christmas cheer are a little more personal. She later confides in Scott that she used to love Christmas, since it was the only time of the year her parents weren’t fighting. But now as an adult, it all seems to be nothing but stress and a display of human selfishness.

Scott changes her mind about that when he accompanies her to her faculty Christmas party, which turns out to be a dull, sour function that no one really wants to attend. Taking to the stage, Scott announces to everyone that it seems they’ve all forgotten what Christmas is really about. Using his Santa magic, he pulls out a large bag of presents from backstage, each addressed to one of the annoyed party guests. Opening their gifts, each person finds something surprising. Not a practical gift for an adult, such as a blender, a socket set, or even a sweater. But toys and games! The same ones they loved as children. Everyone is overjoyed at the gifts they received, and amazed that some “secret Santa” somehow discovered which game they secretly cherished. It showed them that someone, somewhere, cared enough about them to give them exactly what they wanted. And for a few moments of the year, they could lose themselves in the simple childlike joy of playing with a game or toy that meant something special to them.

Even Carol, upon receiving a Baby Doll from Scott, is deeply touched. So much so that she drops all of her defenses against love, against friendship, and even against Christmas. Soon, she’s even ready to start believing in Christmas magic again, as she reconnects with the wonder she felt as a child. With the knowledge that someone somewhere knew her inside and out, and had a special gift waiting just for her.

Do people get greedy at Christmas? Of course. Does gift-giving become materialistic for a lot of people, myself included? Absolutely. In fact, my family writes out Christmas lists each year to share with one another, so we can actually know what everyone wants for Christmas. It makes shopping a lot easier when you don’t have to make random guesses. To some people, that’s pure greed at work.

But as I see it, the money I spend on others is the same money I would have spent on myself. At some point, I would plan to buy whatever items I put on my Christmas list. However, I take great pleasure in seeking out the gifts that I think others will use and appreciate. I could easily ignore Christmas tradition and the imagined “evil” of giving gifts to others, and simply buy what I want for myself. But somehow I don’t think that would be more “biblical” or more godly, or in any way demonstrate love and kindness.

Gift-giving, by the very definition of the word, is a blessing. I realize not everyone shares this Christmas tradition. Many people celebrate Christmas without any gifts at all. For them, it is simply a time of worship and reflection, to spend time with family and be thankful for all they have. But even if you don’t give gifts at Christmas, even if you hate how Christmas has become commercialized, does that mean the act of giving a gift is somehow wrong?

It’s not. And Christmas doesn’t have to be materialistic if you don’t want it to be. Even if others view it as a time to fill their pockets with gift cards and their stockings with stuffers, you can enjoy one of the greatest aspects of this Christmas tradition: the effort that goes into finding just the right gift for someone you love.

Will they appreciate it? Will they be greedy or ungrateful? Perhaps. But that part has nothing to do with you.

Your part is to enjoy the giving, at a time that makes it the easiest and most enjoyable to do so.

Merry Christmas!

 

Find more reviews of “Santa Clause 2” at amazon.com!

You can also click here for my FAST READ e-book, “Santa’s Chair”.

Seven-year old Henry Burrows is anxious to know whether Santa Claus is real. In the face of his father’s lay-off and his mother’s fears that Christmas might not come this year, it grows harder to believe. It would take a miracle for his family to celebrate Christmas now. The kind of miracle that only the real Santa could provide. If the old man in the Sears & Roebuck store can somehow grant Henry’s wish …

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

MOVIE: COURAGEOUS – Father Figures

 

by Randall Allen Dunn

 

The role of fathers is far more significant than many are willing to admit. Women’s liberation emphasized the importance of women’s roles in family and society to such an extent that people ultimately forgot the value of men’s impact, including the impact of fathers on their families. But the relationship we have with our fathers often influences the way we see God as a father, and the way we see ourselves in life.

In exploring this, the film, “Courageous”, starts with heart-pounding action, when a young man hijacks a man’s jeep at a gas station. To the thief’s surprise, the man chases after him, hanging desperately onto the side door as they race down a country highway. After the boy crashes the vehicle into a tree and the man tumbles away, witnesses jump out of their cars to help. One woman tells the car’s owner not to worry about his jeep as he crawls toward it. He assures her he’s not concerned about his car, struggling to open the back door to reveal his infant son crying in the back seat.

The deputies of Albany, Georgiameet the man, Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel), and learn he is scheduled to join their force the next day. His dangerous act later leads them to wonder whether they would have risked their own lives to save their kids that way.

As the deputies focus on stopping the flow of local drug traffic, their sheriff reports statistics that fatherless children are the most likely to get involved in gangs and crime. He therefore urges those who are fathers to spend time focusing on loving their families.

At home that night, Deputy Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick) rejects the persistent requests of his teenage son, Dylan (Rusty Martin), to join him in a father-son 5K race. Adam sees no need to exhaust himself just so they can spend time together. Later, he takes his daughter, Emily (Lauren Etchells), onto his lap to spend time with her. When the son walks back into the room and sees this, he knows instantly that she is the favorite child. Still, Adam chooses not to look foolish by dancing with Emily in public even when she begs him.

Meanwhile, Nathan works hard to protect his family, especially his teenage daughter, Jade (Taylor Hutcherson), who sees his no-dating policy as far too strict and old-fashioned. Having never known his biological father, Nathan is determined to be a good father to his own kids.

Adam soon meets Javier Martinez (Robert Amaya), a struggling Hispanic immigrant who can’t catch a break. He prays to God for help, but is once again disappointed when a promised job doesn’t work out.

Miraculously, he is hired on the spot by Adam to help him with some handiwork in his back yard, when Adam mistakes him for the “Javier” that a fellow deputy had promised to send to him that day. When Adam realizes a week later that the wrong man is working at his house, he decides that Javier’s work ethic and skill are so outstanding that he’s glad it happened. Javier makes fast friends with Adam and the rest of the deputies.

Later on, when a car accident claims Emily’s life, Adam is at a loss. He asks his wife, Victoria (Renee Jewell), how he can go on without his daughter, and she reminds him that he still has a child.

But when Adam tries to encourage Dylan in their shared grief, he encounters a cold stone wall. Dylan wants nothing to do with him, since Adam wanted nothing to do with Dylan before the accident. Dylan refuses to form a phony father-son bond or become a “replacement” child.

Adam soon realizes how far he has fallen short of being the father he should have been, and could still be. He sets a new standard for himself as a father, based on the requirements he finds listed in the Bible for fathers. Soon Javier, Nathan, and others decide to join him in his public commitment to uphold biblical standards for fatherhood, to love and lead their families, putting the needs of their wives and children above their own.

Their passion for this commitment provokes a rookie deputy, David Thomson (Ben Davies), to confess that he is also a father, but had abandoned his girlfriend after she refused to have an abortion. Encouraged by Nathan, he writes to his estranged girlfriend and ultimately receives her permission to become involved in his daughter’s life again, to be as much of a father to her as he can be.

Adam starts restoring his broken relationship with Dylan, by taking him out to buy two new pairs of running shoes so they can start training for the father-son race. Meanwhile, Nathan takes Jade out for a special dinner, and gives her a purity ring that she is to wear until her wedding day, promising her heart to her father to save herself for the right man. This time, Jade doesn’t find it intrusive or old-fashioned, but understands how special she is to her father, and that any man she marries should honor her the same way.

Javier starts a new job and is finally making enough money to keep his family stable. But when his new employer offers him a promotion and also asks him to falsify some warehouse records, Javier and his wife, Carmen (Angelita Nelson), fear that if he refuses, his integrity will cost him the only real income they can count on. Committed to staying honest, Javier tells his employer he cannot play along. He is then informed that the request was a test, which several other employees before him had failed. Javier’s personal integrity ends up earning him a promotion.

Like it or not, children look to their fathers to set an example in life. To show us how to live responsibly with strength, conviction and compassion. Those who fail to set such an example are simply setting an example of apathy for their kids, that such standards don’t really matter.

At the same time, upholding personal standards while refusing to show our children how much we treasure them destroys the connection we were meant to have. Not only to lead by example or instruction, but by a strong loving bond that no outside influences can break.

Commit now to being the kind of father you were meant to be. The kind of father you still can be.

The kind of father you really want to be.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

Find more reviews of “Courageous” at amazon.com!

Friday, June 1st, 2012

MOVIE: CAPTAIN AMERICA – Good Men

 

by Randall Allen Dunn

 

“The Strategic Scientific Reserve is an Allied effort made up of the best minds in the free world. Our goal is to create the best army in history. But every army starts with one man. At the end of this week, we will choose that man. He will be the first n a new breed of super-soldier …”

- Colonel Chester Phillips, from the film, Captain America

 

The world needs good men. It’s what our military forces have often said they’re looking for.

However, the definition of “good” differs from one person to another. I have always assumed that this military slogan did not necessarily mean a sense of moral “goodness”, of choosing right over wrong. It seemed to simply mean “physically skilled”, “combat ready”, or “good with a gun”.

But most of us have seen enough bullying to know that fighting ability alone doesn’t provide the kind of “good men” that the world needs. Not on our streets, not in our schools. Not even in combat.

In the film, “Captain America”, we find a different kind of goodness. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a 90-pound asthmatic, is determined to volunteer for military service. He’s a self-sacrificing individual who wants to fight for his country, but he can’t qualify to enlist. Even after five attempts in five different cities, claiming a different background each time.

Until Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) invites him to join the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a unit that seeks to endow one man with super-strength, to fight the Second World War on a whole new level. But Dr. Erskine is looking for specific qualities in his test subject. “So, you want to go overseas, kill some Nazis?” he asks Steve.

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Steve answers. “I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”

Dr. Erskine likes Steve’s attitude, and signs him up. But Steve struggles to meet the physical demands of the military training, operating at half the strength and speed of his fellow soldiers. Toward the end of the week, Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) is aghast that Dr. Erskine is even considering Steve for the super-soldier project. He prefers another man, who has passed every physical test and proven his abilities as a soldier. Dr. Erskine insists that the Colonel’s chosen soldier is a bully.

“You don’t win wars with niceness, Doctor,” the Colonel tells him, drawing the pin from a grenade and tossing it among the men during their daily calisthenics. “You win wars with guts.”

He alerts the men to the grenade, and they all flee for cover. All but Steve, who throws his thin body onto the grenade to take the blast, ordering the others to stay back. The entire unit is stunned, along with Steve, as they slowly realize it was a dummy grenade … and Steve was ready to die for them all.

After he is selected for the experiment, Steve asks Dr. Erskine why he was chosen. Dr. Erskine reveals that Steve is actually not the first one to receive the serum. A Nazi scientist, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), had taken it by force and injected himself with it, obsessed with possessing superior power. Unfortunately, while the serum made him stronger, it had side effects that made him deformed, giving his face the image of a red skull.

“The serum was not ready,” Dr. Erskine explains. “But more important, the man. The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man, who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength. … And knows compassion.”

“Thanks. I think,” Steve says with a smile.

“Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing,” Dr. Erskine says. “That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier … but … a good man.”

The serum successfully transforms Steve into a physically superior fighting machine, who ultimately becomes the super-heroic Captain America. But he keeps his promise to Dr. Erskine, maintaining his personal values of compassion and self-sacrifice – the kind of qualities that any wise commanding officer can be proud of.

Wars are started by bullies like Schmidt – men who view themselves as superior, deserving more than what they have received in life, determined to use any available means to get it, with little or no regard for those who get in their way.

Wars are won by good men like Steve Rogers, who fight to protect others from such bullies.

Happy Memorial Day!

 

Find more reviews of “Captain America” at amazon.com!

 

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

MOVIE: HITCH – Why Not You?

by Randall Allen Dunn

Often when we look in the mirror, we aren’t very impressed. The most successful businessman and the most beautiful model can still find something wrong with themselves. Glaring flaws which seem to disqualify them from ever reaching their goals. So when faced with a new challenge that stretches us beyond our comfort zone, we get a little tense. We can’t picture ourselves achieving something we’ve never done before. After all, how could someone with our obvious limitations ever pull it off?

The film, “Hitch”, is all about finding the confidence needed to tackle the biggest and most fearsome of dreams: seeking out true love. Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) has made a career of helping fearful romantics find true love. Romantics like Albert Brennaman (Kevin James), a shy, clumsy, overweight accountant who is hopelessly infatuated with Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta), a beautiful celebrity who employs his company’s services. Of course, Allegra knows nothing of Albert’s affections, since she knows nothing about Albert, since he’s never tried to approach her or get her attention.

In steps Hitch – the “date doctor”. He coaches Albert on how to present himself with confidence, to focus in on Allegra and her personal concerns, and to find ways to make her notice him. When Allegra suggests to her account advisors that she wants to invest her money in a friend’s business, Albert’s supervisor shuts her down. Albert seizes the opportunity, telling Allegra she should invest her money the way she wants, no matter what any of them think. When things start to get tense with his boss, Albert abruptly quits!

Okay, so he got a little carried away.

Still, it got Allegra to seek him out, to discuss her investment ideas with him personally. Soon, Albert is spending more and more time with Allegra, and she is finding him more and more enjoyable to be with.

But wait. Isn’t this woman rich, famous and gorgeous? And isn’t Albert a fat, unattractive nerd?

Only in Albert’s mind. We’ve all seen couples that seem mismatched, making us wonder what on earth they see in one another. Or at least, what a wonderful, beautiful woman like her sees in that guy.

But what attracts others to us is not just our physical appearance or the first impression we make. People are typically more interested in how kind we are to others, how dedicated we are to a task, and how thoughtful or creative or funny we are. Someone who looks good on the outside will only attract people for so long. If there’s little substance or love beneath that gorgeous exterior, that initial attraction starts to fade … fast. So why focus on all the negative things that make us dislike ourselves, when others typically see the positive qualities that make us interesting and fun to be with?

When people are starting a new enterprise, they are often encouraged, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” In other words, pretend you already are the type of successful person you want to become, despite the nagging doubts inside you. Most people will simply believe that you are what you claim to be, as long as you deliver on your promises. Then, as you continue building new habits to improve your skills, you will gradually become the expert you were only “pretending” to be.

This doesn’t mean living a lie. On the contrary, it’s a psychological trick to help us overcome the lie that we lack the skills needed to achieve our goals. If you really want to be a graphic designer, but you haven’t sold any of your designs, don’t focus on what you have not achieved, but what you have – or can – achieve for your prospective clients. If you want to ask out that special someone, don’t focus on your flaws and all the reasons you think they’ll say “no”. Relax, recognize the admirable qualities you possess, and take a risk. And don’t imagine that your life depends on whether they say, “yes”. If you open your eyes a little wider, you might discover there are plenty of people who would love for you to ask them the same question.

Once Allegra learns that Hitch provided Albert with coaching for all of their dates, she breaks off the relationship, refusing to answer Albert’s calls. Hitch meets with Allegra to plead Albert’s case, and she unloads on him. She seethes at Hitch for telling Albert to dance like a fool, spill mustard on his shirt, and throw away his inhaler before kissing her, all so that Allegra wouldn’t feel awkward about her own personal flaws.

Hitch is stunned, and annoyed. He assures Allegra that he would never tell Albert to present himself in such an embarrassing way.

And they both realize that Allegra didn’t fall in love with a “fake” Albert, but with the man he really was, warts and all.

Don’t disqualify yourself from life’s opportunities. Give people a chance to accept you for who you are.

Maybe you’ve been faking yourself out all these years.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Find more reviews of “Hitch” at amazon.com!

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

MOVIE: GREEN LANTERN – Becoming Fearless

by Randall Allen Dunn

New Year’s Day is a time of resolutions, when we determine to actually make changes that we’ve wanted to make for a long time. The problem is that, if we really wanted to do it all along, starting a new year won’t help us to finally get it done. It’s up to us to do it, to make whatever plans are necessary to achieve it, and to move aside any barriers that prevent us from completing it.

What stops us from achieving our goals is fear. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, even the fear of real loss if we don’t succeed.

In the film, “Green Lantern”, pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) sees his life flash before his eyes when he cn’t recover after stalling his own plane. He finally ejects, escaping the fate of his own father, a pilot who died in an aircraft explosion. Examination of the plane wreckage shows nothing wrong with the equipment, but Hal refuses to acknowledge that he panicked. Let alone own up to his own irresponsible behavior that led to the crash in the first place.

Later on, things get worse when a glowing green energy bubble surrounds him and transports him to a pier, where he discovers a disable alien spaceship. Inside it, he finds a wounded alien, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), who tells Hal he has been “chosen” by “the ring”, which Hal must now insert into a green lantern and “say the oath”. But Abin Sur passes before he can clarify any of this.

But “the oath” comes to Hal in his apartment, as the lantern’s energy communicates to him. He is soon transported again, this time into deep space, to a place called Oa, where an army of aliens from different planets all wear green uniforms that resemble Hal’s new lantern. They explain that they are the Green Lantern Corps, protecting the entire universe under the leadership of the Guardians. Charged by their individual lanterns, their rings create energy, forming whatever shapes their minds can imagine. The Guardians have determined that an individual’s will is the greatest force in the universe, and this force fuels the rings. However, will power can be weakened by another great power: fear. So a Green Lantern must be fearless.

Hal quickly determines that he’s not qualified for the job.

During training, he fails miserably. Later in a battle on Earth, he fails to stop telekinetic villain Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) from killing own father, Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins). Despite all of his efforts, Hal continues to disappoint others … and himself.

His ex-girlfriend, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), knows how unreliable Hal can be. But she also sees that he has something in him that no one else has, reminding Hal that the ring chose him for a reason. Hal insists that the ring made a mistake. “The one thing that a Green Lantern is supposed to be is fearless,” he tells her. “‘Fearless’ is the job description. That isn’t me.”

She encourages him that the cure for his fear is simple: courage. “The ring didn’t see that you were fearless. It saw that you had the ability to overcome fear.”

When Parallax, an alien mass that feeds on fear, threatens to consume all living things, the Guardians decide to sacrifice Earth while take time they prepare a defense. A defense which involves forging a ring powered by fear, rather than will, to fight fear with more fear.

Hal returns to Oa and advises against the dangerous plan, and insists on protecting his planet. “I know you’re afraid,” he tells them.

“You dare accuse the Guardians of feeling fear?” they demand.

Hal tells them he knows they’re afraid, because he’s experienced it himself, his entire life. But he tells them they can’t give in to fear, because once they cross over that line, fear will overpower them. Instead, they must continue to fight it with their will.

Unable to gain their help, Hal prepares to defend Earth himself. Sinestro (Mark Strong), a Green Lantern who has made his doubts about Hal clear, tells him he will die in his attempt. But Hal insists that he will die trying.

As he battles Parallax, the monster recognizes Hal’s strong will and attempts to break it. He warns Hal that he will fail, that his planet will be destroyed, and that everyone he loves will suffer, all because he was afraid.

But as the beast tries to frighten him, Hal recites his oath:

“In brightest day, in blackest night

No evil shall escape my sight.

Let those who worship evil’s might

Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!”

He finds new strength and power to fight back, his ring’s green energy forcing the monster back into deep space, where he soon finds a way to destroy it.

Having disposed of the monster and saved the galaxy, Hal takes up his mantle as the new Green Lantern, with the confidence that he will succeed in each of his new challenges.

Whatever we intend to accomplish in life, we will face obstacles. They usually seem insurmountable, until we honestly search for a way to push through them. Until we choose to not give up.

We’re all afraid we’ll fail, or look foolish, or suffer harm. Courage is the choice to act in spite of fear, not because we feel no fear. Don’t give up on your goals, and don’t give in to fear. You can accomplish much more than you might think, if you trust that it’s possible.

Happy New Year!

Find more reviews of “Green Lantern” at amazon.com!

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

MOVIE: THE POLAR EXPRESS – Making Belief

by Randall Allen Dunn

The problem with a fantasy story like “The Polar Express” is that you’re required to believe. We live in a skeptical world that doesn’t believe easily in things it can’t see or touch or prove in a court of law.

In other words, many people don’t believe in things that they can’t somehow control. Which is completely backwards. Believing in something means recognizing that some things exist that are outside of our experience and understanding, and trusting that we can find solutions that we don’t have yet. This is the essence of hope, which provides a strength far beyond that of many “realists”. Children are very good at making belief – finding ways to hope. But somewhere along the way, they “grow up”. That is, they stop hoping in the chance for change, and start planning for a life of disappointments.

“The Polar Express” is visually stunning for its detailed animation, to the reflection in the pupils of its main character, a young boy who is on the verge of abandoning his childhood beliefs in Santa Claus. He knows that some store employees and some fathers disguise themselves as Santa. He’s also looked up the North Pole in his encyclopedia and discovered it is incapable of sustaining life. By all appearances, the whole Santa Claus routine is just an enormous trick played on children.

Which is why an enormous steam engine appears on the street in front of his house shortly after midnight. Rushing out in his pajamas, he gapes at the train while its steam cloud slowly rises.

The train’s conductor (Tom Hanks) asks the boy, “Well? You comin’?”

“Where?” the boy asks.

“Why, to the North Pole, of course! This is the Polar Express!”

Naturally, the boy is confused. The conductor lists off concerns about the boy’s waning belief in Santa Claus: he has written no list, not sat on Santa’s lap at the store, and made his sister put out Santa’s milk and cookies. “Sounds to me like this is your crucial year,” the conductor says, leaning down to the boy’s face. “If I were you, I would think about climbing on board.”

The boy declines, nervous, and the train departs. At the last moment, the boy leaps onto the train and steps inside. There, he find several other children in pajamas, all intrigued at the prospect of visiting the North Pole. He meets another boy, a know-it-all who’s even more skeptical about Santa Claus – and everything else, for that matter – than he is. He also meets a friendly young girl who seems ready to believe and eager to help others.

Soon, they stop at the house of a poor boy on the other side of town, who declines the conductor’s invitation. But then he starts to run after the train at the last moment, just as the first boy had. But he’s too far away to catch up.

The first boy pulls the emergency brake, stopping the train so the other boy can climb aboard. When he does, he retreats to the caboose, separating himself from the other children. When everyone is served hot chocolate, the girl sets a spare tray aside to take to the boy in back.

But she forgets her train ticket on the seat. Knowing how vital it is to keep hold of their tickets, the first boy grabs it to take it back to her. But he loses it in the wind when he steps out the rear door.

But through the miraculous magic of the Polar Express, the ticket returns to the train a few minutes later for the boy to retrieve. Fearing the conductor intends to throw the girl off the train, the boy tries to find them. Pursuing them to the top of the train, he runs into a mysterious ghostly hobo, who encourages him not to be taken in by the whole idea of Santa Claus. “Seeing is believing. Am I right?” the hobo says.

When the boy finally does reach the North Pole, he and the girl have met Billy, the poor boy secluding himself in the back of the train. Billy tells them, “Christmas just doesn’t work out for me. Never has.” And so he doesn’t plan to leave the train to meet Santa. The boy urges the conductor that Billy needs to leave the train, but the conductor tells him, “No one is required to see Santa.” Even when presented with the very thing they long for, each child must choose whether to accept it.

The boy and the girl try to reason with Billy in the caboose, which accidentally gets disconnected from the rest of the train and rolls down a hill. When it finally stops, the children are hopelessly lost in the vast city of Santa’s North Pole workshop. They eventually make their way back, in time to see the arrival of Santa Claus.

But the boy can’t see Santa over the crowd of cheering children. He can’t even hear the bells of Santa’s sleigh that the other kids seem to hear. Until one of the bells falls from a reindeer’s neck and rolls to his feet. The boy picks it up and shakes it, but still hears nothing.

Until he determines to believe, to the point of saying aloud, “I believe.” When he shakes it once more, it rings loud and clear. And he realizes that only believers can hear the sound.

At that moment, Santa Claus appears next to him. Soon, the boy is chosen to receive the first present of Christmas, so he asks for a bell from Santa’s sleigh. Handing it to him, Santa says, “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas, as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”

When they board the train to return home, the boy discovers the sleigh bell has fallen through a hole in his robe pocket. The train starts off before the children can look for it, and the bell is lost forever.

But the boy is encouraged when Billy returns home and finds that, this year, he has received a present from Santa. The next morning – Christmas day – the boy finds a special present under his tree. Wrapped in a box is a shining sleigh bell, which the parents cannot hear ringing. But the boy can. The film ends with the boy, narrating as an adult:

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell.

But as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found, one Christmas, that she could no longer hear its sweet sound.

Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.

Life is full of discouragement and disappointment. Christmases that “just don’t work out”. People that let us down, making us wonder why we trusted them. Losses of jobs, homes, health and loved ones that make us despair, ready to lay down in retreat rather than face one more day.

Learning to believe in possibilities outside of our own experience – learning to hope – is what keeps us going through disappointment and hard times. Knowing that we can endure one bad experience after another, because there is still a chance for something new to develop. The ones who give up on life are the ones who never learn how to hope. How to believe.

This Christmas, make a decision to hope. To expect things to change and to improve. To look for new solutions that you haven’t considered before. To talk to people that you haven’t talked to before, or those you haven’t talked to in a while. Imagine new possibilities, and believe when all the dust of Christmas settles and the decorations are taken down and the holiday light leaves everyone’s eyes, you’ll still be standing, in January and throughout the new year, and throughout the years to come.

Standing in hope.

Find more reviews of “The Polar Express” at amazon.com!

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

MOVIE: WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING – Dating the Whole Family

by Randall Allen Dunn

It always puzzles me when someone plan to get a divorce and start over with someone new, and thinks it will be an easy solution to their relational problems. As if marriage is like a high school relationship, and if you feel things aren’t working out anymore, you just “dump” your spouse and start dating someone else.

It doesn’t really work that way. When you commit to someone, you’re not just pulling that person into your personal life. They’re also pulling you into theirs. There’s no way to avoid it. You not only take time getting to know that person, but you must also get to know all of their family and friends. You can’t choose your own relatives, nor can you choose those of your future spouse, or the impact they’ll have on your lives together.

My favorite romantic comedy is “While You Were Sleeping”. Having lost her father the previous year, Lucy Moderatz (Sandra Bullock) is saddled with working on Christmas day. She mournfully acknowledges that she’s the only train fare collector that is “without family”.

Lucy is also infatuated with Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher), a man she’s never even spoken to. In fact, she doesn’t even know his name. But she sees him every day when he boards the elevated railway.

On Christmas day, Lucy sees Peter get mugged and left for dead on the train tracks. She pulls him to safety and takes him to a hospital. As he slips into a coma, Lucy confesses aloud that she was hoping to marry him, not realizing that a nearby nurse has overheard her. When Peter’s family arrives, the nurse tells them that Lucy is Peter’s fiancée.

Hilarious chaos ensues.

Lucy plans to straighten things out. But then Peter’s godfather, Saul (Jack Warden), informs the nurse that Peter’s grandmother, Elsie (Glynis Johns), is in poor health, and is barely managing the news of Peter’s coma. Especially when Peter’s godfather He tells Lucy that meeting her might have saved Elsie, and even saved the entire family from further emotional pain over Peter’s condition. Lucy can’t bear to tell them the truth.

Lucy makes it through the afternoon of pretending to have met Peter and fallen in love with him, using her own crush as an inspiration for her fantasy. Later that night, she visits the hospital to sit at Peter’s bedside. She begins talking to him, as a way of airing her thoughts and of secretly asking forgiveness for causing Peter’s family so much confusion.

“It´s just that … when I was a kid, I always imagined what I would be like or where I would be or what I would have when I got older,” she tells him. “You know, I´d have a house and family and things like that. Not that I´m complaining or anything. It´s just… I never met anybody that I could laugh with, you know?”

Lucy starts to realize the toll that her loneliness has taken on her.

“Do you believe in love at first sight?” she asks. “Nah, I bet you don’t. You’re probably too sensible for that. Or have you ever seen somebody, and you knew that, if only that person really knew you, they would, of course, dump the perfect model that they were with, and realize that you were the one that they wanted to grow old with.”

As her fantasies give way to reality, Lucy is forced to face her own deep heartache. Not necessarily for a boyfriend, but simply for someone to spend time with. “Have you ever fallen in love with someone you haven’t even talked to?” she asks. “Have you ever been so alone you spend the night confusing a man in a coma?”

Lucy falls asleep, awakening just in time to encounter Peter’s family arriving at the hospital. Before she can escape, they invite her to join them for Christmas, since they couldn’t celebrate the day before. She declines, but Peter’s parents, Ox (Peter Boyle) and Midge (Micole Mercurio) insist on providing her with their address.

Later, Lucy decides to accept their invitation. Her only other option is to spend another Christmas sharing a meal with her cat. She is surprised when she receives a Christmas present from the family, who had counted on seeing her at dinner. As the Calaghans exchanges gifts, Lucy giggles to herself at all of their quirks, while enjoying their warmth and hospitality. What started as an infatuation over a man’s looks became a heartfelt need for something greater: an entire family of quirky relatives who will always welcome her in.

In the ongoing comedy of errors, Lucy meets Peter’s brother, Jack (Bill Pullman), and begins to fall in love with him, only to realize that she can’t date Jack while pretending to be his brother’s fiancée. When Peter awakens from his coma and doesn’t recognize Lucy, the family decides that he has amnesia. Saul then convinces Peter to spend time with Lucy and notice how wonderful she is – as the rest of the family has – and propose to her a second time so that he can remember it.

This is a lot for Lucy to deal with. Fortunately, whether she marries Peter or Jack, she’s only got one family of in-laws to manage.

She finally admits the truth that she’s fallen in love with Jack, and was never actually engaged to Peter. She apologizes for deceiving everyone. “The truth was that I fell in love with you,” she explains.

Ox is even more confused, since Lucy is looking at him. “You fell in love with me?” he asks.
”No,” Lucy says, laughing. “… Yes. All of you. I went from being all alone to being a fiancée, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, and a friend. … And I haven’t had that in a really long time.”

Lucy and Jack ultimately get together. And thankfully, the whole family is on board to support them.

If you’re looking for that special someone, remember that person has an entire life apart from yours, filled with strange relatives and obnoxious friends. If you plan to commit to someone for the long haul, be prepared to make room for all those other relationships. When you’re willing to endure the occasional tension, awkwardness and stress of interacting with future in-laws, you’ll be positioned to receive the rewards of joining a quirky – but loving – family.

Find more reviews of “While You Were Sleeping” at amazon.com!

Monday, January 31st, 2011

MOVIE: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: THE ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS – Finding Hope in Dark Places

by Randall Allen Dunn

Joy is a choice.

Angels announced a message of comfort and joy for all people at the birth of Christ. But many people – even Christians – are still waiting to receive something special to make them happy.

In “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas”, we’re given a sort of mid-quel, a story that takes place in the middle of the original “Beauty and the Beast” film.

The beautiful Belle (Paige O’Hara) has agreed to stay with the Beast (Robby Benson), an isolated loner with a nasty temper. When the Beast threw Belle’s father in his castle dungeon for trespassing, Belle volunteered to take his place instead, and the Beast agreed. What Belle never knew – and cannot be told – is that the Beast is really a prince, cursed with disfigurement by an enchantress, along with all of his castle servants, who have been transformed into various utensils that can still move about to do the Beast’s bidding. The curse can only be broken if the Beast learns to love someone, and she in turn loves him. He is secretly counting on Belle to help free him. When Belle begins to genuinely fall in love with him just before Christmas, the Beast receives new hope.

Unfortunately, the Beast loathes Christmas. After all, it was on Christmas day that he was cursed to become a beast, after selfishly complaining about the presents he received. So his utensil-servants all understand why the Beast has forbidden anyone to celebrate Christmas in his castle.

But Belle refuses to play along. She insists that Christmas must be celebrated. Not just for tradition’s sake, but because this holiday brings joy to the heart. In fact, she makes it clear that the Beast, more than anyone, needs Christmas.

The Beast disagrees, and his animated pipe-organ, Forte (Tim Curry), eggs him on. When they were all human, Forte merely served as a composer. Now a pipe organ, Forte provides music to soothe the Beast’s troubled spirit, a vital servant in the castle. And he has no intention of letting his master abandon his co-dependent gloom. So he uses his own servant, Fife (Paul Reubens), a piccolo, to spy on Belle and disrupt her plans to bring Christmas back.

When Belle searches for a Christmas tree to brighten up the castle, she ventures beyond the courtyard gates to chop one down. Forte informs the Beast that Belle has defied his orders about Christmas, and is now escaping the castle. Convinced that she has broken her promise to stay with him, the Beast pursues her and confines her to his dungeon. Belle tries to explain that she had only wanted to make him happy, but he won’t hear it. He sulks in his private chambers with Forte, feeling betrayed.

This is not the way anyone wanted to spend Christmas. The Beast abandoning all hope for his future. The innocent Belle locked away in a dark dungeon.

I’m reminded of the apostle Paul in the Bible, when he was imprisoned for simply preaching about Christ. For the crime of trying to bring good news about salvation, Paul was chained to a dungeon wall and treated like the lowest of criminals. From there, Paul dictated a letter to other churches, saying, “Rejoice!”

I can picture the scribe pausing in confusion, as would any of the church members who later received this letter. Rejoice? Rejoice, while sitting in a filthy dungeon, when all hope has been stripped away? Anticipating this reaction, Paul repeats his command. “Again I say, ‘Rejoice!’”

Paul’s joy didn’t come from his circumstances. He had experienced comfort and ease, as well as the terrible need he now felt. Those things would come and go, but his lasting joy came from the new life he had found in his relationship with Jesus Christ. A joy that could never be stripped away. Joy and hope can be found even in the darkest of places, if you’re willing to receive it.

While feeling sorry for himself, the Beast discovers a present that Belle had given him. Despite his rule against giving out Christmas presents, he’s touched and curious. Opening it, he finds a book full of stories that Belle had selected for him. He reads through them, touched deeper by a story which speaks of hope. He repeats the word aloud to himself: “Hope.”

And the Beast realizes that he and his castle do need Christmas. That he can have a future, if he chooses it. A future of peace and joy, and something new and surprising, just waiting around the corner. His future might even include Belle, if she’ll have him.

He releases Belle from the dungeon, humbly asking for her forgiveness. She grants it easily, and Beast releases the rest of his servants to celebrate Christmas. To usher back a spirit of joy that has long been missing from the castle.

Christmas is not really about presents. It’s about joy. Without the joy and peace that Christ brings, Christmas is just an act of going through the holiday motions. But the message of joy was for everyone. Whether they’re rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, free or imprisoned. Everyone was included in the message of comfort and joy over the birth of Christ, and that’s why we celebrate Christmas.

The message was even announced to those who would never believe it. Everyone is invited to experience the joy of Christ’s birth. That’s why we give gifts. That’s why we draw close to our loved ones. That’s why we bake fattening foods, decorate our homes, sit by a warm fire, and enjoy the beauty of a gentle snowfall. Those are all just different ways we experience the joy of this season, which comes to us once a year.

Don’t wait for the perfect Christmas gift, the most appropriate table setting, or the ideal weather. Just enjoy the season while it’s still here. While people are still ready and willing to embrace a time of joy.

Christmas, and the joy it brings, are a choice. Choose to celebrate.

Find more reviews of “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas” at amazon.com!

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

MOVIE: THE BLIND SIDE – Life on the Other Side

by Randall Allen Dunn

 

Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) lives a very comfortable life. She has money, a loving husband and children, an enjoyable career – everything that we all strive for. Who would have imagined – least of all Leigh Anne herself – that she wasn’t fulfilled? What more could she possibly want?

Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) hasn’t had it so good. At seventeen years old, he’s spent his life moving from one foster home to another. He’s nearly old enough for college, but can barely make it through a class. About the only thing he has going for him is his size, which leads all of his friends to call him “Big Mike” – a nickname he secretly hates. In his heart, Michael wants lots of things. But they’re all so far beyond his grasp that he’s given up trying to pursue them.

The night before Thanksgiving, Leigh Anne spots Michael walking alongside the road in the rain. Recognizing him as a friend of her son, she approaches Michael and learns that he has no place to sleep for the night. She invites him to their house and settles Michael onto their living room couch. Then she joins her husband upstairs, wondering whether she has put her family at risk by housing a total stranger.

Thankfully, Michael does nothing to harm them or their belongings. In fact, he has folded the blankets Leigh Anne gave him and started a long walk back to town. Leigh Anne stops him and invites him in for Thanksgiving dinner with her family.

When Michael takes his dinner at the table, Leigh Anne decides that it would be better for the whole family to eat together instead of eating in front of the TV. And suddenly, Leigh Anne starts to realize that Michael has something she and her family need.

The more time she spends with Michael, helping him find new clothes and improve his grades, the more Michael becomes a part of the Tuohys. So much so that when they announce their wishes to make him an official member of their family, Michael tells them he thought he already was.

When Leigh Anne meets some girlfriends for lunch, she confesses that she’s never even crossed over to the other side of town. That she has no idea how someone like Michael has grown up. And the separation between their worlds bothers her.

What she’s been missing was the chance to connect with someone who lived a completely different life. Not out of pity for what seems like less-fortunate circumstances, but out of a need to connect with people. People who see life differently. Who prize the things that she takes for granted in her seemingly perfect home life.

Leigh Anne’s girlfriends can’t really relate to the joy she is discovering, but they try to show support, telling her how much they admire the way she’s changing Michael’s life.

“No,” Leigh Anne says, smiling almost to herself. “He’s changing mine.”

When an NCAA investigator suggests to Michael that the Tuohys are only interested in grooming him for a football scholarship, to secure benefits for themselves by sending him to the University of Mississippi, their alma mater, Michael confronts Leigh Anne to ask if this is true. Confused and hurt, Michael doesn’t wait for an answer. He returns to his old neighborhood, where his buddies welcome him back.

But Michael has changed, and he can’t stomach his former friends’ insinuations about the Tuohys. He breaks ties with them, even as Leigh Anne scours the streets searching for Michael. She finally finds him, and assures him that she wants him to make his own choices about college. And that his choice has no impact on how they view him or whether they accept him.

Michael has already concluded that he needs the Tuohys as much as they need him. He later tells the NCAA investigator the reason he wants to attend the University of Mississippi: “Because that’s where my family goes to school. That’s where they’ve always gone.”

Different backgrounds don’t determine whether people can belong to one another, as friends or even as a family. What matters is their commitment to one another, to become part of another person’s world.

Who can you build a bridge with this week?

 

 

Find more reviews of “The Blind Side” at amazon.com!

 

 

 

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010