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With the release and success of the movie, American Sniper, whether they have seen the movie or not, everyone in the country, including many around the world, have strong opinions about it.

url-1Some say the movie is propaganda. Some say Chris Kyle is a murderer and a racist. Some say this is the greatest war movie of the past twenty years.

Unfortunately, most of these people have completely missed the point of the movie.

First, all war movies have a level of propaganda in them; from Band of Brothers to Saving Private Ryan, Platoon to Top Gun, and Lions for Lambs to Lone Survivor. Each one was created to cause viewers to learn and feel and do something.

Not every war movie resonates with people on such a mass scale, though. That is why American Sniper is so fascinating and worth the time to evaluate why.

It’s important to revisit the structure and purpose of a good story in order to best evaluate why this has happened.

Jonah Sachs writes from Winning the Story Wars,

“Good stories are structured just like baseballs. On the surface, we find the story’s visible elements: the setting, the characters, and the actions those characters undertake. These are the elements of stories we’ve all been familiar with since childhood. We know the cover and think we know everything there is to know. But there is so much more.

Just beneath the surface, the story finds its structure in the moral of the story. Without some kind of moral we instinctively reject a story as poorly told.

And then there’s the story’s core, hidden one layer deeper at the center of it all.

The values at the core of the myth provide its meaning and, unless we are looking for them, these values often remain hidden from our conscious minds.

Ultimately in a good story, the hero grows up.

Good stories are about healing a broken world through a life’s journey. Perhaps that was the point of the creators.

How does this apply to American Sniper?

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Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

 

In the movie, we follow Chris Kyle, a boy growing up to become a man. If this were Greek mythology, the Texas cowboy would be on a journey like Odysseus, Achilles or Perseus.

What I expected going into the movie was a patriotic feeling after finishing the movie. Yes, I felt very proud of Kyle as well as those many others who have volunteered to sacrifice their lives for our nation. The movie doesn’t address the politics of the Iraq war in any major way and some people think this makes it pro-war.

Director Clint Eastwood responded to critics that the movie is all about pro-war propaganda,

“The biggest anti-war statement in any film can make is to show ‘the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did,'”

He went on.

“One of my favorite war movies that I’ve been involved with is ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,'” he continued. “And that was about family, about being taken away from life, being sent someplace. In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case no good deed went unpunished.”

Screenwriter Jason Hall shared,

“Chris was a man who believed in something and who therefore was useful to a government that needed him to go to war. It cost him his physical health, his mental health and almost cost him his family — but Chris probably would have paid the price over and over again if he’d been asked, which is both patriotic and totally tragic.”

The biggest surprise of the movie

It was a feeling deep inside that was difficult to describe at time. The movie kept tugging at me to be a better husband and father. You leave with a feeling of wanting to do the right thing and make more of your life at the core of who you are. You get the sense that our lives are progressing toward something meaningful.

Still of Bradley Cooper and Madeleine McGraw in American Sniper (2014)

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Chris Kyle transforms in the story from being a boy to a rough cowboy, then to become a soldier, husband, father, and one wanting to help others.

To re-analyze the story structure of the movie; The surface story follows cowboy life, the soldier feeling the duty going to war, and every other fact of his life. The moral of the story is that war is glory and hell and causes incredible stress to family because of the psychological toll. The core of the story is Kyle’s journey to become a man.

It is fruitless to read another article about the movie until you have processed the core of the story. Leave the surface and moral to the pundits because they missed the big picture of what moves people.

American Sniper reminded me that often the surface themes of a movie are not enough. That is why I recommend re-reading books and re-watching movies. We can often miss the core of a story that ultimately will move us. That is why American Sniper is resonating.

The core of American Sniper is one that we are meant for a grand journey of life. It is not perfect but it is a true journey in our hearts.

 

 

Four years ago when I first read the highly acclaimed book, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit), I thought, this was an important book that was going to fly because of how strong the story was in the life of Louis Zamperini. Working in the publishing industry, it has been so encouraging to see people from all types of backgrounds read this story and enthusiastically recommend it to others.

I have since given the book as presents to numerous people. I seek out those who haven’t read it because Zamperini’s story is so inspiring. You don’t need to be a World War II enthusiast to appreciate it. It is a beautiful story of endurance and redemption.

A few years ago I read that the movie was quickly optioned to be adapted into a movie. It would be created by multiple Oscar winners; directed by Angelina Jolie and the screenplay would be adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen and a few others.

It was hard to not be excited about the possibility of how great this movie could be.

I waited in anticipation to see the movie and finally was able to this past week. The movie suffered what happens to so many great books.

unbrokenUnbroken the movie was good, but not great.

And I’m mad.

I’m mad because good movies don’t get shared by word of mouth. Great movies do and this just was not a great movie.

I also don’t want to hear the typical excuse from people, “the book is always better than the book.” That is an ignorant statement because movies and books are just different mediums of telling story.

I knew the film would not match the book and I was okay with it only because I read the full story of Zamperini’s life told so well by Hillenbrand. I was disappointed because so many people have gone to see the film, left disappointed, and probably did not know why. Sure they were impressed with his incredible life and enduring so much.

So, why did the movie fall flat?

According to authority on story told through film, Robert McKee, the first principle of adaptation is the following: The purer the novel, the purer the play, the worse the film.

All this means is that because Unbroken was a great book, it was much more difficult to transfer its greatness to film. But, it could be done.

Also, when a lesser talent (writer or director) attempt to adapt genius, the genius of the original writing will most likely be dragged down to the level of the adaptor.

Now, a lot of people will point out that Angelina Jolie is still a young director but I felt she did a fine job with the film for only her second time directing a feature film. There are many things in the movie that just felt awkward and disrupted the story. For example, why would you do a flashback in the middle of an intense air battle? The ending is also what fell flat because it is too abrupt. Finally, the core of an epic movie is the soundtrack and it just did not match the dramatic story being told. Finally, the key ingredient missing was the movie not being able to show the full transformation of Louie Zamperini. I don’t want to ruin the story for you but the final act of the book is what makes the first part of his dramatic story more meaningful; following Zamperini’s troubled youth, running in the 1936 Olympics, watching his life as a WWII bombardier, crashing in the Pacific and drifting for 47 days, and enduring over two years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

unbroken-cover_custom-s6-c10McKee also writes, “The unique power and splendor of the cinema is the dramatization of extra-personal conflict, huge and vivid images of human beings wrapped inside their society and environment, striving with life.” He goes on. “This is what film does best, better than play or novel.”

The movie could have been great like the book but also different.

The filmmakers failed to show the full transformation of Zamperini’s life, which is where we witness true greatness.

Despite everything, I am thankful for this movie because Louis Zamperini got to spend in-depth time with Angelina Jolie, arguably one of the most populate entertainment stars in the world. Zamperini had the opportunity to share who he truly was to her, a man who lived an extraordinary life and one saved only by grace in Jesus.

In summary, if you are dissatisfied with the movie, turn back to the book. Read it. Then re-read it.

After all, good story always wins. Go read Unbroken. Go read good stories. 

 

Here are a few great movie adaptations to consider after you read and see Unbroken

To Kill a Mockingbird: It is rare that a great book can become a great film as well but it was done. I can’t imagine Atticus Finch better than how well Gregory Peck played him.

Gone Girl: I read the book last year and was mesmerized by its plot twists and turns. I couldn’t imagine how Gone Girl could be turned into such a great thriller of a movie but David Fincher did an excellent job

Lone Survivor: I read the book by Marcus Luttrell right after it came out in 2007. Director Peter Berg fought hard to make sure the movie was told well and did an excellent job adapting this true story to film.

World War Z: I loved the book, which serves as a first hand account of a fictional zombie war. When Brad Pitt led this great book to film, it was very different and faster as a movie but it had to be different. This is a rare movie that did a fabulous job to preserve the spirit of the book but also recognized that it had to be different to work well on-screen.

The Hobbit vs. Lord of the Rings: No doubt that LOTR and Hobbit are classic pieces of literature from J.R.R. Tolkien. LOTR the movies are treasures of bringing the books to life on film but The Hobbit falls very flat in its adaptation.

American Sniper: The book is highly acclaimed and I can only imagine how well Clint Eastwood will do with the movie, which releases in January, 2015.

If you are looking at some other great book to movie adaptations, here is a good list.

Scotland is on the verge of independence. We will soon see on September 18th when the people of Scotland vote to determine their long-term fate and risk 300 years of union with the United Kingdom.

It is inspiring to see the democratic process at work and it brings about the reasons why people should get involved in politics to have a choice in the ways things are in government.

Early in my life I was highly involved in politics and in some ways like any good idealist. I have mellowed out a bit, partly because of how polarizing it has become.

But, I still hold onto hope and possibilities of how politics can change people for good.

I believe in due process and I believe in good, reasonable dialogue about key issues that affect any citizen of any country.

There are many great films about politics but there are a few special ones that are designed to inspire us. The theme of my favorite political movies is seeing how someone can stand firmly for what they believe in and act upon those convictions.

Here are the best inspirational political films:

1. All the President’s Men

All_the_president's_menI am sure every journalist is inspired by this movie. With power in Washington, corruption is inevitable and it is our responsibility as citizens (and journalists) to uncover the truth of what really is happening. Sometimes, this takes time and great risks of our careers and perhaps our lives but in due time, the truth does come out. I love seeing how Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Berstein work together as a team to expose one of the greatest cover ups in our modern American history.

Deep Throat: Follow the money.

Bob Woodward: What do you mean? Where?

Deep Throat: Oh, I can’t tell you that.

Bob Woodward: But you could tell me that.

Deep Throat: No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. I’ll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that’s all. Just…follow the money.

2. Dave

MOV_65120890_bYes, I love Dave for many reasons and sure, because we share the same name but, Dave represents the everyman who could be thrust into politics. I don’t want to give away the movie but it is a fun treat to watch and be inspired by.

The most hopeful message from Dave happens as he glimpses the possibilities of political process.

“If you’ve ever seen the look on somebody’s face the day they finally get a job, I’ve had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And it’s not about the paycheck, it’s about respect, it’s about looking in the mirror and knowing that you’ve done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don’t really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try.”

3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Smith_goesIn America and many other Democratic countries, there is the ability for anyone to be thrust into the spotlight. But, greatness happens when those in those positions stick to their values and serve with courage, like Jefferson Smith.

“Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see.”

Watch the famous filibuster scene where Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith delivers his hope for America. “Love thy neighbor” is his message.

4. Lincoln

Lincoln_2012_Teaser_PosterLincoln in the movie is full of wisdom as we have read about him. Academy Award winner who portrayed Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis said he felt he had never felt such profound love for a man he had never met like Lincoln. We see why in the ways Lincoln explain the thought process in how to end slavery in the United States. This movie is a masterpiece of political theatre.

“All we’ve done is show the world that democracy isn’t chaos. That there is a great, invisible strength in a people’s union. Say we’ve shown that a people can endure awful sacrifice and yet cohere. Mightn’t that save at least the idea of democracy to aspire to? Eventually to become worthy of?”

5. Amazing Grace

amazing_gracePolitics requires patience. William Wilberforce understood this and was committed as a Member of Parliament in 18th and 19th Century United KIngdom over a 30+ year period to end the slave trade and ultimately get rid of slavery. He saw that his dream could come true and this is his story. Long before the United States was able to deal with slavery and all its evil, the United Kingdom was thankfully able to see its end.

“Perhaps we should begin this journey with a first step.”

Here are some other great political films I recommend watching and you don’t have to be a political junky to appreciate them. I haven’t seen every political movie ever made so there may be some I’ve missed and I’d love to hear from you on ones you love.Some are inspirational, some are merely amusing.

What are your favorite political films and why? 

In a future post, I will list some of the best political tv shows. Stay tuned.

It is that time of year when many of us send our children back to school. It brings back great memories to me about my education. I reminds me of what I love about the learning process and the teachers who made it all worthwhile.

I was a decent student but I always needed someone to push me to become better in my studies as well as in life. I would not have made it through my education without the help of my mother who is a teacher by trade or by a handful of great teachers who inspired me along the way. Unfortunately, teachers are often some of the most hard-working, unappreciated and underpaid people in our society, so I tip my hat to them. They should be treated well because they have the power to motivate students to find greatness. This is my attempt to honor them.

Movies can be a helpful way to learn and be inspired, especially for a teacher. Here are some of my favorite inspirational movies about teaching in no particular order.

1. Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

Seeing the potential in every student, no matter how distant he or she may be, is a key message of the film. In the movie, Mr. Keating played by Robin Williams does this uniquely with his students to help them understand that they are passionate, young men ready to “seize the day.”

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2. Renaissance Man (1994)

This is a movie that flew under the radar in the 1990s. It follows Danny DeVito, who is simply trying to find a job. He lands one helping out soldiers at a military base who need basic life skills, especially in the English language. He is teaching adults who should have learned many simple English reading and writing skills earlier in life and revealed in the process why it is important. My grandmother tutored English to adults and young students until the day she died at 93. This movie reminds me that there are always people who need a good teacher, no matter how young, old, rich or poor.

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3. Finding Forrester (2000)

A teacher can be a mentor in life as well. In this case, famous recluse author William Forrester spends time with a young student from a rough part of town teaching him not just about writing but about how to handle himself in life despite incredible odds. Often times, the student is also teaching the teacher like in Finding Forrester.

“You write your first draft with your heart. You re-write with your head.”

finding-forrester-movie-poster

4. Stand and Deliver (1988)

Every student is worth the investment to find their potential. Jamie, the teacher, does the unthinkable by teaching calculus to an inner-city Los Angeles school. Based on a true story, Jamie brought humor and fun into the classroom to teach a very complicated subject.

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5. School of Rock (2003)

This movie is a reminder that music education is essential to a broader renaissance education. When you bring Jack Black in to teach, it is even better. School of Rock also serves as a reminder that in order to be a great teacher, you must absolutely love the subject you teach.

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Other great movies about teaching worth watching:

Lean on Me, Good Will Hunting. Pay it Forward, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Yoda-Luke), Precious, Mr. Holland’s Opus, The Karate Kid, Summer School, Dangerous Minds, and Half Nelson

 

What is your favorite movie about teaching?

 

The other day I was driving in my car and The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want was playing. It is an iconic song from the Stones but it is also the memorable opening song played during the funeral procession in the movie, The Big Chill.

I remember my parents in the 1980s sharing how much that movie meant to them and how it captured their generation and its joys and struggles. My parents were born in 1944 and 1945 so they would associate themselves with the Baby Boomer Generation but as the joke in the movie Field of Dreams went, they had two fifties and movies straight into the seventies. In other words, they didn’t fully associate themselves with the hippie movement yet they experienced the complexities of the Vietnam era. Like my parents, I have always felt like I was in a lost generation being born in 1978 and am often thrown in either the younger part of Generation X or older in Generation Y.

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Harper Lee said it best in the book and movie To Kill A Mockingbird,

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Lee’s wisdom applies to how we feel about people of different generations. In my observations, it seems like the newest generation seems to be labeled as the most “selfish” when if we study history, each younger generation was judged in a similar way. For example, in life I have witnessed many people blame the Baby Boomer generation for their perceived lack of morals but as they are getting older, it has given us time to let history tell their story better. By giving them time, we are learning that they are a generation with great strengths and complexities and we can better understand their impact on the way we live today.

I believe we will be better people if we take time to learn about each other, which will minimize incomplete judgments. The past century has been defined by many things but one of them is the way movies can tell each generation’s story. I have compiled a helpful list of movies that best define each generation. The list is compiled from my personal observations, research and comparison of similar lists online and from polling friends. I don’t expect everyone to agree with this list but my hope is for this to be a way to learn more about our generations through the art of movies.

I isolate three types of movies for each generation; cultural, comedy, and war. I want to know what makes people laugh, how they live and what they fight for. I have watched all of these movies and appreciate them uniquely for what they represent. I hope you will enjoy them too.

The Greatest Generation – The “G.I. Generation” or “WWII Generation” (1925-1939))

Silent Generation / The Boomer Generation – “The Sandwich Generation” or “War Babies” Born 1939-1964

Generation X – The “Gen X’ers” or “MTV Generation” Born 1965-1979

Generation Y & Millennials The “Millennial” or “Echo Boomers” Born 1980-1991

Generation Z – The “iGeneration” Born 1991-present

Which movies do you feel best defines your generation? Why?

I hope you get the idea from reading this blog that I love movies.  I am developing multiple lists of movies to share with my children someday.  When I was a kid I remember being exposed to several powerful movies for the first time.  I was inspired by some of them and some of them haunt me until this day.  My mother and I joke now but when I was eight years old I first watched Platoon (1986).  Although a fantastic Oscar worthy film, most would agree it’s hardly one to introduce to an eight year old.  To this day mom keeps apologizing about that, which makes me laugh and I then remind her that I turned out just fine.  As that semi-innocent eight year old, I dreamed of being a soldier. I think she felt that me watching Platoon would provide some perspective about what the military could look like. Yep, after a couple of hours of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam, that was enough for me to abandon that ambition. (Thanks mom?)

Like anything in culture, each person has their own filter in what they are able to absorb.  We can be molded by the world so I have become quite self-conscious on how my worldview is formed.  It is a reminder that the world can be scary. I’m a parent now and my wife and I are trying to figure out what our kids should absorb when it comes to education and entertainment.  Recently my kids (2 and 3) and I were watching Aladdin and it is one of the darkest kids movies I’ve seen. In fact, most Disney movies are like that I’ve noticed. I recently read about The Top 26 Most Disturbing Kids Movies by Babble.com.  Is your young child watching one of these?  My wife has usually been the wise one to ask the question,

“Should the kids be watching this?”

In your mind you think that it is a great movie about heroes, villains, and a family uniting to save the world.  What is wrong with that? Wait…but they hit and the even (gulp), kill the villain.

The tension is strong because we don’t just want to expose our kids to just fairy tales.  We want them to be inspired but also see what real life looks like.  One of my favorite Christian thinkers and commentators of culture is Phil Cooke.  In his recent blog, The Change Revolution he noted,

After all, if we filmed the Bible, much of it would be R-rated, and occasionally worse. The Bible doesn’t gloss over real life and God apparently wasn’t afraid to tell real, authentic stories. I think the culture would respect our message much more if we stopped producing just cheesy, G-rated films and started telling gritty stories about real life.

Should we sugar coat life?

My check as a parent now is questioning “what, when, and why” I should introduce when it comes to entertainment, learning, etc.  Most parents would agree that the book To Kill a Mockingbird has a life-changing message that every child should read.  But I’m challenged to rethink when the girls are ready for such an important message.  Most importantly, I am are challenged to pray for the wisdom to figure this out on a daily basis. Romans 12:2 cautions us to never forget that we must go ultimately to God for this discernment.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

What was the most disturbing movie you first watched as a kid? 

If you are a parent, how do you filter what you share with your kids? 

Your Top 5 Comedy Movies…

November 21, 2011 — 24 Comments

A warning to any person who interviews to work with me.

I ask a lot of questions but to be honest assuming I have done my research on you and know your work ethic, I want to a few simple things.

I will learn more about you from asking this question than fifty others.

What are your top fives movie comedies?

Over the years I love asking people what their Top 5 (fill in the blank) as it keeps great conversation and I do learn more about that person in the process.  If you have read the book or watched the movie High Fidelity (2000), you will get the glimpse of the power of identifying your  “Top 5″ of anything; your top 5 breakup songs, Top 5 places to live, Top 5 embarrassments in life, Top 5 songs about death, Top 5 _____.  There is a great line in High Fidelity and I don’t completely agree with it but the idea always amuses me.

“I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films – these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the (expletive) truth.”

Ultimately I do care “who” you are but this sometimes can be more fun.

So let’s have fun.

Here is my rule for identifying your top 5 comedies:  The comedy must be at least 5 years old so you can test if it has “staying power.”  If you don’t understand, there is a possibility for The Hangover to eclipse this list.  You will notice that all of these movies are incredibly quotable.

Tommy Boy: Pure dumb and clean humor.

“Brothers don’t shake hands. Brothers gotta hug.”

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The finest of English “humour” to hit this side of the pond.

“I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

Wedding Crashers: The classic buddy movie…never leave your brother behind.
“Never walk away from a crasher in a funny jacket! Rule #115!”
The Big Lebowski: Crass it may be but it is the most quotable movie…ever.
“At least I’m housebroken.”
Caddyshack: I grew up on this movie and being a golfer, it makes that much more special.
“Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac… It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!”
The Fringe list: The Hangover, Airplane, Anchorman, Old School, Animal House, Strange Brew, Top Secret, High Fidelity, and National Lampoon’s Vacation (and Christmas Vacation of course).

When I need the best laugh, I simply press play to watch The Big Lebowksi. Any Lebowski fan will love this line,

“Obviously you’re not a golfer.”

So have you thought about your top 5?

Would you believe there is a “help” website to find your top five?  Check it out here.

Comedy likes are so personal and can have tremendous variety.  Take a look at these.

College Humor’s Top 100 Comedies

Only these guys would come up with a countdown to awesomeness like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, Anchorman, The Hangover, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Glorious top 5.  I want these guys running the country. No wait…the world.

Time Out London’s Top 100 Comedies

How typical that the English would come up with two Monty Pythons in the top 5 and This is Spinal Tap.  I guess they need to represent their homeland best.  I do appreciate their Zucker brother humor by keeping Airplane as #2.

AFI’s 100 Years, a Hundred Laughs

The irony of their top two is that Some Like It Hot and Tootsie both feature cross dressing.  Although I love AFI and these two movies are they the top two comedies of all times?  Hmm…

So…

What are your top 5 comedies and why?