10 Films for Advent

When most people think of movies for December/Christmas, they think Frank Capra, Christmas Vacation or Home Alone. Which are all great. But the season of Advent is not just about twinkling lights, feel-good family reunions, and Macaulay Culkin-burns-Joe-Pesci’s-head gags. It’s also about feeling the tension of waiting… for redemption, for justice, for the renewal of all things. It’s about waiting with anticipation for better days, knowing they are coming because God became man and paved a way.

The following are some films that I think capture some of that spirit. They are not Christian films or Christmas films. They are just films I’ve been thinking of as I’ve been meditating on Advent this year.

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Tags | Film

The Enemy of Cynicism

“What difference you think you can make? One single man, in all this madness?”

This is a question Sean Penn’s character asks Jim Caviezel in a memorable exchange in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line–a hardened cynic questioning an idealist’s optimism amidst the horrors of battle on Guadalcanal.

It’s a question that everyone who watches the film has at some point, in some way, asked of themselves. However idealistic we are, and whether or not we’ve ever experienced the tragedies of war and squalor first hand, we all are painfully aware of the limits of our own world-bettering, problem-solving abilities.

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Advent Playlist

It’s the second week of Advent, 2010, and I’ve put together a playlist of songs that feel appropriate to this moment. They are songs that represent both the darkness of the world and the power of the penetrating light. They are songs about waiting, hoping, and dwelling in the now-and-not-yet. I’ll be listening to them with plenty of hot cider and a hopefully quieted soul, beckoning Emmanuel to come and ransom this captive creation.

Jonsi – “Hengilas”
Coldplay – “We Never Change”
Cat Power – “Where is My Love”
Julie Lee – “Hope’s the Thing With Feathers”

Tags | Music

Thankful for Airports

On Wednesday I will be traveling to to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. I’ll be flying out of John Wayne airport in Orange County, and I’m sure it will be a hassle to wait in security lines. I’m sure it will feel invasive and unnecessary to stand in the nude scanner or get padded down, “Don’t touch my junk” style. I’m sure the whole rigmarole of flying on the busiest travel day of the year will be somewhat painful. But I really don’t want to complain.

Rather than lamenting the difficulties and inconveniences of flying these days, I want to give thanks for the amazing fact that I can fly home, that planes and airports even exist to transport us in three hours distances that used to take three months to traverse. What a gift! How lucky are we? We don’t deserve airplanes.

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Review: Fair Game

Of all the Iraq War-themed films that have come out since 2003, Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker is the best. But Doug Liman’s Fair Game is probably the second best.

A ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about the Valerie Plame-Joe Wilson-Scooter Libby spy drama (read here for a background on that), Fair Game recounts a curious real-life spy drama incident from America’s recent past. Starring an excellent Naomi Watts as the covert CIA spy Plame and a somewhat preachy (isn’t he always?) Sean Penn as Plame’s husband Joe Wilson, Game hits all the right notes as a taut, smart, well-acted political drama, even if it becomes awkwardly heavy-handed and didactic at the end (it is a Participant Production, after all).

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Tags | Film

Take Comfort in Rituals

I love Starbucks. Unabashedly. Starbucks is like Coldplay or The Shawshank Redemption: wonderful things that are widely beloved and thus not “cool” to like… but wonderful nonetheless.

I also love Starbucks’ new advertising slogan–Take Comfort in Rituals–for a number of reasons. I love it because it’s just so right for Starbucks’ brand. As someone who works in marketing/advertising for a living, I have huge respect for brands that get their messaging so right. But I also love it because, for me, it captures precisely why Starbucks is so appealing.

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The Missing Middle

Over the weekend, a formidable crowd of well-dressed, sunglassed Americans attended the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert “Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear” on the Washington Mall. I watched it on C-SPAN. A sort of variety show-meets-stand-up-meets-political-rally, the (mostly) satirical event featured Stewart/Colbert tag team banter, live performances (from the likes of Cat Stevens, Ozzy Osbourne, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow and Tony Bennett), and the sort of hilarious video montages and comedy bits you’d find on an average episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report.

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Turn on the Lights

The first episode of the 5th (and sadly final) season of TV’s best show, Friday Night Lights, aired last night. It’s absolutely tragic that only 9 more episodes remain in what TV history will surely document as one of the sharpest highlights of the waning days of the network era. NBC’s creative arrangement with DirecTV to co-finance Lights and air the show twice (I’m watching it on DirecTV now… but it will air on NBC sometime in 2011) is a fittingly transitional model for a show that thrives on the tension between old and new, nostalgia and moving on.

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Thoughts on China

I just returned from 10 days in China (Shanghai and Beijing), which definitely isn’t near enough time to get any sort of grasp on this astoundingly large, complicated country. But over the course of my time there I definitely observed certain things, which I’ll summarize below in the form of somewhat fragmentary,  just-me-and-my-initial-thoughts bullet points:

Scale: The most consistent theme of my experience in China was immensity. Everything was on such a huge scale. The crowds I experienced at the Shanghai World Expo (I just so happened to be there on the record-setting 1 million+ visitors day) redefined my paradigm for crowds. But it wasn’t the exception. On every subway ride, street corner, mall, market or museum, the reality of vast humanity (1.3 billion+ in China, and growing) was ever-present. But mind-boggling scale also showed itself in the country’s infrastructure and jaw-dropping architecture–both old (the Great Wall) and new (the CCTV Tower, Birds Nest, China Pavilion, etc.) Some of it is really impressive… Puts American skyscrapers to shame.

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Gaga-Speak

I recently read Camille Paglia’s fascinating deconstruction of Lady Gaga from The London Times in September. The piece is utterly surprising and amusingly scathing–surprising because Paglia, a prominent American intellectual and social critic, once called Madonna “the future of feminism”; scathing because, well, Paglia describes Gaga as a “plasticized android” and “laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture” who “represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution.”

But the really fascinating part of Paglia’s critique was, for me, where she tied in Gaga’s over-the-top one dimensionality with the current generation’s inability to understand nuance, connected dots, and nonverbal communication in the age of disembodied Twitter culture.

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About
Brett currently works full-time for Biola University as managing editor for Biola magazine. He also writes movie reviews for Christianity Today and contributes frequently to Relevant magazine.


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