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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Glory Road

Actual 1966 Texas Western Team
As Portrayed in the movie
Glory Road

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Martin Luther King, Junior's Birthday than going to see the film Glory Road. What an experience to share with my family and a packed movie theater. Especially in the heart of basketball country, Kansas.

I have a special interest in civil rights movies. My son is African American; I grew up in a predominantly Black community, and currently live in a mixed race community where I pastor a church. The plight of the poor and minorities has always been something I have had to deal with. Living in the midst of those situations and communities has given me a passion for the subject. So
Glory Road was a movie I had looked forward to seeing since the advance trailers.

I also have an interest in sports films. My uncle was a great basketball player and I played football and soccer. I currently coach wrestling and am involved in my son’s life as an athlete. My daughter's life as a quality soccer player before that included my involvement in sports for many years, too many to count. Inspirational stories that look at the commitment of athletes are something that I have always felt many can learn from. The limits to which top-level athletes push themselves are something few understand unless they have entered into this type of lifestyle. To be a top-notch national-level athlete or national champion is something that not even many athletes fully understand. If they do, they realize the uniqueness one must have to reach the top echelon of any sport. To have the obstacles of racism and discrimination at the back door of one's effort is something that even fewer can relate to, unless they lived through those' times.

Even prior to my own son's adoption, we honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. While living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we would always attend the MLK parade, one of the largest in the nation, and various events commemorating the day and the celebration of the contribution Dr. King. No movie in recent years has portrayed the struggle of African Americans as well as
Glory Road.

Being a basketball fan, I already knew the history of the Texas Western (later UTEP, later the University of Texas at El Paso) basketball team. I recall actually watching Coach Haskins in later years coach against the University of Tulsa where I had season tickets, and later on watching his son coach. Coach Haskins was, and is, as far as I am concerned, a man of integrity who greatly contributed to the game of basketball. He didn’t just contribute to the game of basketball, though; he contributed to the advancement of the game as we know it today. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and was named the most important coach of our lifetime by CBS Sportsline Fans for a reason. It is arguable who contributed more to the game—him, or Coach Wooden from UCLA.

Glory Road wonderfully portrays the game of basketball prior to the mid 1960s. A game would on occasion feature Black players, but was still rooted in the prejudice that many Americans had towards Black athletes. Many colleges didn’t recruit Black players due to their prejudices and stereotypes. Coach Haskins, given unbelievable odds, decided to recruit the best players despite their color to have an impact and to win games. He was a coach that wanted to win, despite the University's own desire to follow racial stereotypes.

Coach Haskins, coaching a girls' high school team prior to the start of his tenure at Texas Western, was given the job as head basketball coach more for the desire of the University to have someone look out over the athletic dormitories than they did for their desire to win basketball games. This was a financial sacrifice for Haskins as well, since the University's salary was only $6,500 per year. Coach Haskins would have none of it though, and made tremendous sacrifices in order to give Black athletes the opportunity to play basketball. He would go out of his way, assisting athletes in the classroom, as well as finding ways to create unity among the Black and White athletes on his team. There was a price to pay, for many of the athletes and Haskins family.
Glory Road helps us understand not only their sacrifices, but the sacrifices of many during the period.

Glory Road is a tribute to a man (and his family) who made sacrifices to bring about racial acceptance and understanding on the basketball floor, thus contributing greatly to the hopes and desires within the African American community. The beauty of this movie is not just the sacrifice that Haskins made, but the sacrifice the team made, including White players. Individual sacrifice for the good of the whole is illustrated here as well as any movie in long time.

While movies have dealt with the political turmoil of the civil rights era, we have seldom seen movies that will reach the sports community. Not since
Remember the Titans has sports been used in a movie to bring about better understanding of the struggles of the African American community. Glory Road is already having an impact, not just with the basketball community, but the sports community. From football players to wrestlers, the sports world is talking about this movie and the impact that these individuals had on the sports world.

Glory Road hits the nail on the head. The basketball sequences, while not using top NBA or Collegiate superstars, get it down with the actors and athletes they use. The filmmakers realize the importance of the game sequences, but more importantly, the importance of the story. The acting, story, and situations are so good that even a sports fan like me found myself drawn into the story. Not since Hoosiers has the basketball community had a movie to stand up and cheer in like they do with Glory Road. One of the strengths of this movie was illustrated to me in that I was watching the movie in a crowd of die-hard basketball fans. Die-hard Kansas University (KU) fans. There is a semifinal game in the movie that I was wondering how the audience would react to, especially since in the movie, and in real life, the game was played against KU. It is the first time I have been in a predominantly KU-friendly environment where the crowd applauded someone other than KU. I’m not talking about symbolically applauding the Texas Western team, I am talking about actually applauding the outcomes of the games as they were portrayed on screen.

Technically this movie is very good, from the direction—which was surprising since it was a first time theatrical effort by director James Gartner, who made his niche directing television commercials—to the sound, which keeps the audience in the period of the movie. I was very pleased with the effort and was impressed with the fact that Disney was back on track with putting out a quality live-action feature that would appeal to the entire family.

I had a wonderful conversation with my son after the movie and I think he actually has a better understanding of the civil rights movement as a result of being able to relate to a basketball player who has to run lines, work hard for his team, and goes through tremendous obstacles to obtain something they have desired.

Our conversation after the movie was highlighted by what happens in the credits. We have had many surprises in the past by sitting through the credits, and we had a pleasant surprise halfway through the credits of Glory Road. The makers of the film show interviews with those who lived the story including Pat Riley, then a player with the Kentucky Wildcats, Coach Haskins, and various players. There is actual game footage that was a joy to watch. For those leaving the theater early you will miss out on one of the best parts of the film. This lets you know the story was true, and many who lived it are still around to talk about it. If you missed the sequence, it is worth attending the movie again to see it.

Glory Road is not a perfect movie, but it is a very good movie. One that I will see again and eventually own. There are numerous spiritual points that are addressed, but none more strongly presented than the need to love and accept all people, despite their race, nationality or position in life. The struggles and sacrifices that changed the course of America are portrayed in Glory Road. Thankfully, Glory Road helps illustrate those sacrifices for us. As a parent who strives for my son to understand his roots, I say thank you. I say thank you to those who lived the story and thank you to those putting this wonderful story on film.

On a scale of 1-10, for the perfect 10 minus the two overtimes against Kansas in the Midwest Regional Finals in 1966, a very enjoyable and deserving 8


PDF Format
and Production Notes
Word Format

Thursday, January 12, 2006


—1. Overview
—2. Cast and Crew
—3. Photo Pages
—4. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—5. Posters (Horror Films)
—6. Production Notes (pdf)
—7. Spiritual Connections
—8. Presentation Downloads

enlargeThere are times I am glad that a movie isn’t long; Hostel is a perfect example. While it may not be the most grisly movie ever made, it is grisly and, truth is, hard to watch. Eli Roth has written and directed a thought-provoking screenplay that truly evokes repulsion. It is no great surprise that the film is classified as “horror.”

Hostel in many ways is an example of how some stories can be told in a unique way using the horror genre. This movie exemplifies a theme that many in the religious community thrive on—Romans 6:23, which reads, “Sin pays off with death. But God's gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Contemporary English Version). Unfortunately, I do not expect that many within the religious community will see this movie.

The story, without giving away too much, revolves around three men backpacking through Europe. Paxton and Josh are spending time together enjoying the sights, trying to live life to the fullest, when they meet up with Oli, a friend from Iceland. For the most part, it seems as if their only purpose is to do what they perceive is “fun,” which largely consists of everything from hanging out in hash bars in Amsterdam to seeking the cheapest and sleaziest sex they can find along the way. Ultimately they discover a place where they can have it all—with beautiful women, and for free. Their quest for pleasure results in a vivid illustration that indeed, sin pays off with death.

As would be expected from Quentin Tarantino, who helped produce this movie, this story is multi-layered and told in a convincing way. There are ample examples of foreshadowing and allegory, for those who are looking. To say that the movie is only about violence, sex, and gore would be a sad mistake. The illustrations in the film include much more.

enlargeHostel is definitely a horror film, yet as with any good horror film, its monsters are extremely symbolic. The monsters in this film don’t have the makeup or the special effects of “traditional” monsters; instead, they are the monsters of psychological and psychotic thrillers. The monsters in this movie are people, just like you and me—but people who find pleasure in death.

There is some fabulous commentary here, both spoken and not, regarding the monsters in Hostel. For example (and a spoiler here): the monsters are basically regular people with a lot of money who essentially have everything they want—except power. Consequently, they buy victims to murder in the most sadistic of ways. This is as much a commentary on social elitism as anything George Romero may put out—vividly exposing that people obtain many things without ever getting what they want. They don’t have the pleasure of feeling like they are in ultimate control, they may discover that their fulfillment may have been in a different career, and they certainly don’t have control over life and death. These faces of horror have families, with children whom they love, yet they still don’t have a true understanding of what love is. They are ultimately not fulfilled in the things they have.

enlargeThere is also some commentary in the movie regarding national powers and the global perspectives of them. For example, it costs more to kill an American than it does anyone else. Why? People are willing to pay more because they hate Americans more than people from other countries. There is resentment and hatred for the symbols of success and power.

I may be dead wrong here, but in some ways I also believe this movie is about love. Ultimately, the primary characters think they will find complete joy and pleasure in sex. While there are moments of pleasure and joy for them, that pleasure and joy ultimately lead to death. The one thing the characters have in the end is each other. Eventually, they come to the realization that they love life, and that the value of life doesn’t come from the things that they anticipated early on; rather, that value comes from greater elements such as family, hopes and ambitions—and they have missed out on that love with others.

enlargeTechnically, this movie is not up to par with other films that Tarantino has either produced or directed. I don’t even think it holds up to Cabin Fever, Eli Roth’s last effort in the genre, but it is better than some more recent contributions such as Saw or Saw II. The storyline, combined with the quality components of story-telling, show that not only can Roth direct a good movie, he can write one as well. I personally look forward to his future efforts where he will be allowed to explore his talents even more.

While it may appear that I liked this movie, the truth is that I had trouble and wasn’t especially pleased with it. I left the theater thinking about the symbolism but wondering whether it was truly necessary to tell it in the way it was told. Jay Hernandez does a good job as Paxton, and I do appreciate the intent of the story and the symbolism of the movie. But the acting as a whole wasn’t great, the direction wasn’t up to par, and the story, while thought-provoking, left me wanting more in terms of character development, sympathy, concern, and understanding of myself. I guess one of the things that bothered me is that I didn’t buy the symbolism that was used. The purpose was obvious, but little was done to help me relate to any of the characters. As a result, I think more could have—and should have—been done here in addressing societal issues. The truth is, I didn’t really care that much for any of the characters: the monsters, victims, or any one else for that matter. From that perspective, the movie failed for me.

Would I recommend seeing this? Even if you can handle the intensity of the horror, I would recommend waiting for the DVD release. Hopefully the director’s commentary in the special features will clarify or augment what they were trying to say through the film. Until then, I personally wouldn’t spend my money on it and am personally glad I saw it as a matinee rather than a regular feature.

On a scale of 1-10, our of deference for the friends who seemed to have some concern at least for each other, I’ll give a rather disappointing 3.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Why Does The Church Not Support Some Films?

—1. Overview (multimedia)
—2. Overview Basic (dial up speed)
—3. Reviews and Blogs
—4. Cast and Crew
—5. Photo Pages
—6. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—7. Posters
—8. Production Notes (pdf)
—9. Spiritual Connections

Yesterday I watched the DVD of The Gospel, the first time since writing the original review for the movie. I must say that I enjoyed the DVD as much as the movie and was drawn into the story as much as ever some months later. There are little things about DVDs that I like: primarily the special features and the search for "Easter Eggs." (For those that don’t know, "Easter Eggs" are the hidden features on many DVDs.) Unfortunately I haven’t found any on the DVD of The Gospel, but the DVD is loaded with wonderful special features, including uncut and unedited song versions, and a "Making of" feature.

While watching the DVD yesterday with my wife, who had not yet seen the movie, I was struck with a resounding question: Why did the Church not get behind this film and support it as they have virtually every other “religious” film of recent years? I was troubled by that, and I still am, especially considering that this is a rather thought-provoking retelling of the Prodigal Son parable from the Gospel of Luke. While the story is contemporized, the reality is that the story is just as thought-provoking as ever, and addresses various spiritual themes that one would think the Church would actively support.

Are there easy answers to why the Church didn't support this film? I don’t think so. One of the most obvious answers, which I would hope is not true, is that the movie is centered around the Black Church; yet other movies, like Diary of a Mad Black Woman, did at least garner the support of many in the Black Church. Then there are others such as Woman Thou Art Loosed, which was an excellent film that depicted the conflict between abuse and faith (among other themes) and received very little support from either the churched or non-churched movie-going audience. With all of the recent films dealing with faith, and particularly the Black Church, few have done so in as positive a way as has The Gospel. It is a film with wonderful music, a well-told story that both believers and non-believers can enjoy, and a compelling cast. The film does not compromise the integrity of the Christian faith, yet it tells that story in such a way as to not be preachy and derogatory. So again, the question: why didn't the Church get behind and support this film?

Fortunately, the church has the opportunity to make things right with the release of the DVD. I seldom promote a movie to this magnitude, but will—without hesitation—for The Gospel. After my second viewing, it is a film that I will use—one that I look forward to using—for various film discussions.

My direction in discussion, though, would be why the Church openly and actively supports some movies and not others. We often talk about the opportunity and even the need for the church to drive the entertainement industry: film, music or whatever. There was a day when the Church did just that. Many of our greatest artists, musicians, and contributors to society were Christians, or were certainly influenced by faith. Fortunately, as George Barna describes them in his latest book, Revolution, there are those who are "infiltrating the arts" and using their gifts and crafts to produce a quality product while at the same time offering insights into spiritual issues such as the need for social action and redemption. Yet for many of those things, the Church seems to be lagging behind in what it does or doesn't support. My hope is that people of faith will take advantage of the opportunities that are given them.

In that regard, the movie The Gospel is deserving of our support. It is a shame that it didn’t get more of it when it was initially released. Until the Church starts putting its money where its mouth is, I don’t suspect we will see the number of quality Christian films increase. Hopefully when making decisions as to what to support or not support, we are not influenced by large marketing campaigns. When we are, we are unfortunately letting others tell us what to think, instead of thinking for ourselves.

Overview (multimedia)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

—1. Overview (multimedia)
Overview Basic (dial up speed)
Reviews and Blogs
Cast and Crew
Photo Pages
Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
Posters (Heath Ledger)
Production Notes (pdf)
—9. Spiritual Connections
—10. Presentation Downloads

Brokeback Mountain was a movie that I was actually looking forward to seeing. To see it on the weekend of the HJAG along with Chris Utley and Elisabeth Leitch, fellow reviewers from Hollywood Jesus, was almost a moment of euphoria
after all, we had the nice little meal from Bill's Bar and Pub across the street and everything was almost perfect. I should have seen the foreshadowing that lay ahead when a seagull resting on the eaves of the Egyptian Theater in Seattle decided to use my shirt sleeve as a toilet.

I was as drawn in to the movie prehype as much as any movie I have seen. I have already received criticism from the religious right, condemning my perspective that
The Crying Game is my favorite love story ever filmed. So from my respect of that particular movie, I knew that as a follower of Jesusoften times criticized by the religious right, and a male married to a loving wife with childrenI didn’t have the preconceived stereotypes and prejudices as many would have seeing this movie. I had heard from friends who are gay, and others who weren’t (along with reviews), to be ready for the heart tugging ending and great story. I actually wanted that movie, I desired, longed for, and hungered for the ending that would cause many who don’t understand homosexuality to have a better understanding, a deeper love, and a compassionate understanding to see gay people as just that, people first, with a different sexual persuasion. I cringe every time I see the Bible Thumping Televangelist blasting homosexuals along with every perverted word imaginable. Truth is I never felt compelled to throw the first stone at anyone. I also don’t quite understand the need to emphasize certain aspects of life or preconceived “sin” more than others. Seems to me that many could equally look at pride, greed, gluttony, and other things that are in the views of many, “sin.” Truth is, virtually all movies with actors involve people that the Bible says are in “sin.” The need to pick on any particular group is a question that has caused me more than one headache, trying to figure out the rationalization of some.

I wanted
Brokeback Mountain to address issues in a real way that would cause a better understanding of the homosexual community. I wanted it to provide characters that the Homosexual community could look up to, respect, learn from and admire to some extent. I wanted that because we all deserve some measure of hope and understanding. For years, this medium has given the issue far too little mainstream exposure and not enough real questions and issues have been asked as a result of the movies being made. With the exception of Philadelphia, staring Tom Hanks and the controversial Crying Game, not many movies with primarily gay characters has received mainstream recognition. The press this year, for whatever reason, has resoundingly praised Brokeback Mountain. With all of the hoopla I was expecting great things.

The acting in the movie is quite good; in many regards I would personally consider it exceptional, especially Michelle Williams who wonderfully plays the part of Ennis Del Mar’s wife. I was also impressed with the character Jack Twist played beautifully by Jake Gyllenhall. While at times the character of Ennis Del Mar is wonderful, I was detracted by the mumbling of Heath Ledger in playing of the part. I don’t personally blame Ledger but Ang Lee who, in my opinion provides poor direction, and shows in the inability to fully understand the characters he is presenting. For example, it is typical for cowboys to mumble; I know this because of living in Kansas, and in the past in Oklahoma. Those places are unique in that while they may be metropolitan areas, it don’t take long to find a “real cowboy.” The real cowboys often mumble because of the fact that they are speaking with a dip of snuff. Yet, while you see no cowboys dipping tobacco in this movie, you do see them often times smoking. At this point I draw the conclusion that Lee or someone on staff has likely heard cowboys speak, just never figured out why they speak the way they do.

There are other issues with the direction of this film that I had problems with. There is little character development with the exception of the two primary lead characters. Even there, the character development leaves one with questions. Some of the press has spoken about the fact that people will be speaking of the movie long after they see it. I believe that assumption true, but they are not speaking on themes as much as they are trying to figure things out. I won’t answer or ask any of those questions here, but rest assured, you will know what I am speaking about when and if you see the movie.

I also had issues with the editing of this movie and the make-up. In critical scenes, on male characters you see make-up blotches on a lead character, especially in close up scenes. Then the editing jumps from one scene to another with little or no continuity or relevant transition. Not just in transitional scenes, but in critical scenes. These things provide a distraction that hindered the enjoyment and educational process of the movie.

There is an abundance of spiritual symbolism that is a primary component for the characters in the film. From discussions on denominational differences, to theological issues, those questions arise. The first sexual encounter of the characters should not be lost in the fact that it occurs when one individual fails to fulfill his responsibilities in looking out for the sheep he is responsible for. There are images of cowboys carrying sheep to safety in the same way that we have seen images of Jesus, or King David carrying sheep. The transitions from religious discussion in the movie, tied in with the responsibility to watch the sheep, and then the failure to do so, leads to the first homosexual act in the movie; I believe that is more than a coincidence.

There are other themes, such as infidelity, commitment, and more that come up in the movie. Those themes are centered around characters who openly admit that at one time they were actively involved in church. While not involved in church for much of the movie, they recognize the need to provide spiritual opportunities for their children, including taking them to, and picking them up from church. This raises questions: Why is faith so critical to the characters and their families? What happened to that faith? Why aren’t the lead characters consistent in that faith? These are all valid questions. One can even take the concept further; has the church missed the boat on the issue of homosexuality? How do the actions of the church affect those who are gay? How does the church address the struggles of faith that are asked in the Gay Community? All questions worthy of discussion
and all questions largely not addressed with any conclusion, or even editorial comment provided, in the movie where the themes are evident and a part of the lives of the characters.

There are other questions that one could ask, especially questions those in the church could ask themselves. I have to admit, that I am not as troubled with acts of sex between a male and female in a movie as I am acts of sex between two partners of the same sex. Why? I will give
Brokeback Mountain credit for causing me to reflect on my own views and reflections in a way that I haven’t before. Why we view some issues as being wrong, or even more wrong than others, is an appropriate question. Especially in light of a belief system that sees any “sin” or “wrong” as being disobedient to God. In many ways, it seems to drive home a misconstrued, inconsistent God—a God that people have difficulty figuring out. I can't help but believe that God is far more consistent than I am, and doesn’t have the varying areas of “wrong” that I sometimes have in my own life. In that regard, Brokeback Mountain caused me to reflect with positive results.

Unfortunately, reflecting on things
not addressed in a movie doesn’t constitute a good movie. I went in with high expectations and left feeling that Brokeback Mountain is the most overhyped, disappointing movie I have seen this year. It is unfortunate because the gay community deserves better. They deserve a film that will give them heroes, lasting love, and hope. They deserve a movie that will cause the public to reflect upon them as people, a movie that will cause open and honest discussion of spiritual things. For me, Brokeback Mountain fell far short of any of those expectations.

On a scale of 1 – 10, for the company of 3 that went to see the movie together, plus the sea gull which left me a little present on my shirt, a very disappointing 3.