Archives For Movies

There is something about the Irish.

Their accents.

Their humor,

or humour.

Their music.

And oh their movies!

What I love about the Irish-set or Irish made films is that they have a soul that very few other movies are able to capture. You can sense it in how they present their ideas throgh film–there is an honesty about life and it does not seem forced but often has a whimsical nature, which is inspiring.

When you think about Irish culture and its history, you may recall St. Patrick, Celtic music, marvelous green landscapes, war, the Potato Famine, immigration, lots of drinking, and the 20th Century fighting known as “The Troubles.”

Despite a fairly rough history, the Irish always seem to be optimistic, joyful, and occasionally magical. It shows in their films, which is why I have loved so many of them. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be Irish to love these films. You just need to have a soul that is open to laughing and growing.

I have had this blog in a draft form for over a year but after recently watching Brooklyn, it kicked me to finish it.

Here are five of the most impactful Irish movies as well as a few others I recommend.

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

When a lottery winner dies of shock, his fellow townsfolk attempt to claim the money. And yes, this is a comedy.

If you want to get a sense of the dark humor of the Irish, you’ll love this movie. A word of warning, there is crazy old man nudity in a race to cover up one of the funniest movie plots in years.

The Commitments (1991)

If I were to name my favorite Irish movie, it would be this. Follow along some down and outers from North Dublin who try to make is as a “soul” band. It has some of the foulest language but the finest of Irish-accented deliveries. Every year I put the soundtrack on the stereo to hear the Irish soul of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.

Calvary (2014)

I’ve written about this before as I still believe it is one of the most beautiful and relevant depictions of the Gospel (other than the actual Gospel) ever on film. Enough said.

Once (2007)

Here you see a grown up Glen Hansard (from his teenage years with The Commitments). He plays an unnamed Irish street musician in Dublin trying to get by. He meets a young female immigrant from Eastern Europe who shares his loves for music. You see their love of music and longing for connection blossom in the movie. And again, the soundtrack is golden.

Brooklyn (2015)

What a delightful movie about courage, family, community, friendship, loneliness, and love. The movie thrives because of the subtle wins for the main character played by Saoirse Ronan and feels more like real life than the over the top dramatic. One of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, About a Boy), wrote the screenplay.


Other great Irish films I recommend:

  • Evelyn
  • In the Name of the Father
  • Michael Collins
  • The Boxer
  • 71′ – not technically Irish but set in Northern Ireland
  • Bloody Sunday
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley
  • My Left Foot
  • Other notes:
    • I did not see Angela’s Ashes so please don’t hit me.
    • And before anyone brings it up…P.S. I Love You and Patriot Games don’t quite qualify.

I once heard Sheila Walsh say that there is this “sacred ache” within us. We sense that things in life aren’t supposed to be this way and we ache for what God intended for us from the beginning of time. Heaven awaits those who trust in Christ but as we live our lives today, we feel a loneliness and yearning for what it was also supposed to be. That is why we should return the garden of Eden.

My friend Erik Parks and his team at VCE Productions created a wonderful short film that captures the heart and story of man. It is a short 15 minute film so take time to watch and I would love to hear what you think.

After watching Return to the Garden, I was forced to sit down and think about it for a while. There is beauty yet a haunting in “Return to the Garden” that captures what is behind our joy and pain we experience through life. Just like what Sheila Walsh referenced, the lead male actor referred to the pain as “it wasn’t supposed to be like this.” We start life with so much joy and freedom but pain, sin, and disappointment creep in and we are tempted to throw in the towel like this young couple considers. The movie naturally put me in a place to reflect on my life and how I have experienced similar ups and downs. That is what a good film does, whether in 2 hours or 15 minutes – it brings the viewer personally into the story. There are few filmmakers, who happen to be Christian, who have the courage and ability to let the visuals and story tell the message without shouting it out.

Our world is lovely and tragic, and Parks nailed what is underneath this journey. I even sensed a young Terrence Malick in him in the style and storyline. Parks is an outstanding young writer and director and I am excited to see what is next. You can follow his movie review blog in the meantime as we await to hear his favorite movies of 2015.



The Top 10 Survival Movies

September 17, 2015 — 2 Comments

After watching two fascinating survival movies in the past few weeks, it has been a reminder of why I appreciate these movies so much. The first was 71′ starring Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) and All Is Lost (2013) starring Robert Redford. They are incredibly different stories of survival but their lives were at stake and basic human instincts the same. I understand that movies like this are difficult to watch for some but I would argue that they are necessary for us to watch, learn, and grow.


 Can Survival Movies Change Us?

What I love about survival movies is seeing how characters respond to their fear. Some panic. Some find their true grit. Ultimately each character must recognize that they need others and for many, they need God. No character is left unscathed and can survive alone.

If we look close enough, we can see ourselves in these characters. I draw hope, courage, and inspiration from many of them.

As movies like The Martian and Everest release, it is time to reflect on some of the finest survival films.

There are many excellent movies about survival, too many to count in fact, but here are my ten favorite along with honorable mention.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

A group of passengers struggle to survive and escape when their ocean liner completely capsizes at sea. Gene Hackman is at his best leading a group to safety.

All Is Lost (2013)

After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor played by Robert Redford finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, starring his mortality in the face. It is one of the most beautiful and personal films about survival because of the close-proximity filming style the director uses.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

After being shipwrecked on a deserted island, the Robinson family overcome the obstacles of nature and transform their new home into a community. Pirates, tigers, and storms. What more could a family adventure bring? If you visit Magic Kingdom at Disney World, you have to tour the treehouse.

Panic Room (2002)

A divorced woman played courageously by Jodie Foster and her diabetic daughter (a young Kristen Stewart) take refuge in their newly purchased house’s safe room, when three men break-in, searching for a missing fortune. Even in your own home, survival is the central theme.

Alive (1993)

Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash. The movie begs the question, ‘how far will you go to survive’?

Castaway (2000)

A FedEx executive played by Tom Hanks must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a crash landing on a deserted island. The ending still makes me wonder.

127 Hours (2010)

A climber played by James Franco goes on a hike and becomes trapped. Yes, he even has conversations with Scooby Doo. It’s a reminder to let people know where you are going before you head into the wilderness.

Rescue Dawn (2006)

A U.S. fighter pilot played by Christian Bale and his epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War.

Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

Robert Aldrich’s tense, 1965 drama about a plane crash in the Sahara is a unique psychological study of men in desperate circumstances. I studied this film in business management classes.

Apollo 13 (1995)

NASA must devise a strategy to return Apollo 13 to Earth safely after the spacecraft undergoes massive internal damage putting the lives of the three astronauts on board in jeopardy. Led by Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell and supported by Bill Paxton with the omnipresent Kevin Bacon, this is a must-watch “failure is not an option” movie.

Honorable Mention

Life is Beautiful (1997)

28 Days Later (2002)

The Day After (1983) 

71′ (2004)

Lone Survivor (2013)

Into the Wild (2007)

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

White Water Summer (1987)

Unbroken (2014)

Red Dawn (1984)

Empire of the Sun (1987) 

Gravity (2013)

What are your favorite survival movies and why?

This week has left me a bit unsettled in terms of movies. The Oscars came and went I just sighed, “oh well.”

I am usually pretty spot on with movie award nominations (and winners) but this year has been all over the place with no single film standing out for the masses.

As there are so many good books that get overlooked, there are also so many good movies who suffer the same anonymity, especially in the flare of blockbusters.

One that sticks out is the 2014 filmcalvary-8Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson (remember Hamish from Braveheart?), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids), and Kelly Reilly (Flight). It is an Irish-made film by the talented director, John Michael McDonagh. I watched it in theater last year and then again this past week at home. I have always had an affinity toward Irish films like The Commitments, Waking Ned Devine, Michael Connolly, In the Name of the Father, Bloody Sunday, and Once. There is something about the unique dry humor in Irish films as well as their ability to hit some of the deepest emotional themes in life through storytelling.

Calvary may just be one of the finest films that has ever moved me. My film aficionado friend Erik Parks featured Calvary as the top movie of 2014, even beating out some of the Oscar winners this year. I agree with him.


The Irish sure know how to tell a story, especially a familiar story.

Erik shared a great overview of the movie from his blog:

The opening of this film shows a good priest in confession as he listens to a mystery man recount his years of sexual abuse by a bad priest. He then tells the good priest that as an act of revenge, he plans on killing him in a week. Crazy setup but a fantastic film that shows a faithful man of God dealing with psychological torture as he continues to love and care for the wicked people of his town. Mercy, love, forgiveness and ultimately Christ-likeness are the overarching themes in this dark, but extraordinary little Irish film. (Rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use.)

calvary-butcherI’m not sure why people are so afraid of the Gospel. When you read about Jesus, this is what we get. It’s very R-rated. It’s bloody. It’s violent. It’s poignant and challenging. As you read in the Bible within the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you get the nitty-gritty of Jesus’ life and death and in Calvary the movie, it follows well. That is why Calvary succeeds because it doesn’t hold back from real life.

Calvary may be the best movie representation of the Gospel I’ve ever seen.

It is rich with symbolism as well as lines to make you contemplate and pray over.

Father James Lavelle: “God is great and the limits of his mercy have not been set.”


Father James Lavelle: I think there’s too much talk about sins to be honest not enough talk about virtues.

Fiona Lavelle: What would be your number one?

Father James Lavelle: I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.


Father James Lavelle: He was a good man, your husband? (to a lady who just lost her husband)

Teresa: Yes. He was a good man. We had a very good life together. We loved each other very much. And now… he has gone. And that is not unfair. That is just what happened. But many people don’t live good lives. They don’t feel love. That is why it’s unfair. I feel sorry for them.

calvary3Your life will be changed after watching it. My encouragement is to go see for yourself and let me know what you think.



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?


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.

From Boyhood to Killing Lions

September 25, 2014 — 6 Comments

There are times when I get discouraged after watching a slew of movies. Occasionally seem like the majority of filmmakers are playing it safe and opting for just trying to entertain us without any serious thought. Don’t get me wrong, I love entertaining movies but now and then we need to be challenged more seriously. This past month has been great for film-watching after seeing one of the most powerful representation of the Gospel I’ve ever seen, Calvary. Then came the movie, Boyhood

imagesI felt the need to go see the movie Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater because of the fact that he and others committed twelve years of his life to make the film. Linklater and his team gathered in Texas each year to film ten to fifteen minute short films capturing a year in a boy’s life. The boy, Mason, is portrayed to be an average American kid growing up and you follow him each year as he grows up. In key scenes, you see him interacting with friends, engaging with bullies, introduced to porn, you see a lot of his mother’s effort to support him and his sister, an in and out divorced father played by Ethan Hawke, and multiple step-fathers who are alcoholics. Mason along the way is navigates through relationships and a first love and constantly adjusting to change before him.

Any man would have to be sleeping not to see some part of themselves in Mason’s journey. I sure did.

Boyhood is a long and hard movie but a necessary one to endure and I encourage you to watch it with good friends. My friend Phil commented that he could not stop thinking about for the next day but couldn’t figure out why. It is rated R so I recommend watching it with caution and in context of a different worldview. I also wouldn’t expect any major spiritual revelations from it like your common Christian film. It is a movie that displays hope but also exposes the brokeness in a life without a father consistently being in the life. You can’t help but feel for his mother trying to raise Mason while making mistakes of her own trusting the family to drunk stepfathers along the way. We are reminded in the movie that we live in a fatherless nation.

Boyhood is a powerful and necessary movie to watch because it captures life as we remember it, in the most important scenes.

That is a big reason I started blogging on this theme four years ago. Often, we remember our lives in the most dramatic scenes; the saddest ones and the ones that have filled us with the most joy. We also do remember some random memories but beneath them is usually a deeper story God is telling us.

I recommend Boyhood for any man or woman wanting to understand what it is like growing up in today’s American culture. It won’t answer all of your questions but you will find yourself in Mason and learn to be more empathetic of what most boys face today.

A few weeks after I watched Boyhood, I was sent a copy of Killing Lions to read. It is written by John Eldredge (Wild at Heart) and his son Sam Eldredge.

I’ve always enjoyed Eldredge’s books and appreciate his heart as a writer because it always feels truest to my own yearnings. There are some in the extreme conservative theology crowd, even close friends, who take issue with some of his writing but I encourage you to keep an open mind to understand what he is trying to communicate. I’m learning in life that God speaks to us in many ways starting with his word, the Bible. He also gave us the holy spirit used through experience, books, movies, music, and fathers.

Your heart and your mind needs to be open.

UnknownIn a refreshing style, Killing Lions is a conversation about life between Sam (in his mid twenties) and his father, John. Like Mason in Boyhood, many men today have been raised without present fathers or grown up rejecting men above them. Men have a way of thinking they can figure life out by themselves (including me) and it is literally killing us.

I agree with Eldredge that our lives are broken into the stages of life. I am in my mid-thirties, married, have two daughters, and work in publishing. Prior to that I was in the stages of marriage without kids, single life, traveling, and school.

I am content at times but my wife and I often wonder when we will hit that next stage of life, responsibility, and more?

“just when you think you’ve arrived, you are called up again. As soon as we’ve begun to get a feel for the stage we are at, the next one comes knocking at the door. And though one stage really does prepare us for another, they are never quite the same and so once again we wonder if we have what it takes.”

We can go through life’s journey alone as an island or we can join forces and seek guidance. Eldredge’s encouragement in all of his books is pressing on us the need for other men to show us the way.

“Having a guru or father we can learn from, to guide us down the path of mastery, may be the only way to really know we are heading in the right direction.” – Sam Eldredge

I also have learned that machoism is not what God is calling us to. It is a humility to understand that God continues to work through us and takes kindness in our process. We never lose our boyhood in some ways, which explains a lot of how I feel in this process of going up; constantly learning and reflecting. Do you feel that way?

“Every man is part boy and part man. God requires the man to step up and play the man; but to the boy he offers comfort and healing. Be kind to the boy inside. It is the man God is calling to face down the next lion, but the boy he treated with genuine kindness.”

I love author Thomas Wolfe’s take on man,

“The deepest search in life, it seemed to me, the thing that in one way or another was central to all living was man’s search to find a father, not merely the lost father of his youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom external to his need and superior to his hunger, to which the belief and power of his own life could be united.”

We need other men to guide us. We need our heavenly father to guide all of us.

What do I do with this great wisdom? I am ready to do the following:

  • Ask God regularly to guide me in this journey. (Eldredge has some great prayers to help us start)
  • Be intentional in my time with my father to talk about life’s stages, today’s struggles and triumphs,
  • Re-engage with mentors of mine.
  • Seek to help those younger than me as a mentor.
  • Lovingly talk with my wife more about these things.
  • Teach my daughters about the journey they are on to understand God’s greatness through their femininity and how to deal with men in their lives.

I encourage you to read Killing Lions and watch Boyhood. Let me know what you think!

You can get a copy of the Killing Lions here from Ransomed Heart Ministries. They have some very helpful and impactful free videos to go with the book that I encourage you to also watch.
Boyhood should be in theaters for a few more weeks. Go watch it with a group of friends and share what you think.