The People Will Have the Final Say on ObamaCare, not Supreme Court

Thursday I was off from work. So I set my alarm and woke up early to watch coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act. I was elated as members of the media announced, “The individual mandate has been struck down, we repeat…”

But then people started talking in their ears, mumbling to each other, exchanging confused looks… “We are now getting word that the individual mandate has actually been upheld…”

I was only one of the millions of Americans who were devastated by the news that the Supreme Court had upheld ObamaCare’s key provision, the individual mandate, in a 5-4 decision.

Shockingly, the pivotal fifth vote was not the moderate Kennedy, but instead it was the supposedly conservative John Roberts. Roberts authored the majority opinion, stating that The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain in­dividuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax.” He also wrote that the Individual Mandate was not constitutional under the Commerce Clause, which is generally how President Obama and Democrats have defended its constitutionality.

Many were appalled that Roberts sided with the liberal judges on the court, as was I. Perhaps Justice Kennedy said it best in the dissenting opinion: “To say that the Individual Mandate merely imposes a tax is not to interpret the statute but to rewrite it. Judicial tax-writing is particularly troubling… Until today, no federal court has accepted the implausible argument that §5000A is an exercise of the tax power.” 

However, I believe Roberts, along with the liberal justices on the court, ironically enough, gave Mitt Romney the firepower to completely destroy President Obama on November 6. Time after time, Democrat legislators as well as Obama himself insisted, emphatically, that ObamaCare is not a tax (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_-qh9XDbgE).

Obama is on the record, dozens of times on the campaign trail, vowing to not raise taxes on the middle class or those families making under $250,000 a year. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wzs3aoRnl0E&feature=youtu.be).

Guess what? The Supreme Court has ruled that ObamaCare is only constitutional if read as a tax. That means that Democrats and the Obama campaign will have to defend the law to the people as a tax, contributing to the narrative that Obama is not just another tax-and-spend Democrat, but that he is the worst offender of extending overreaching government control in the history of the United States. According to the Supreme Court’s decision, President Obama is now the biggest taxer and spender in the history of the world.

Even before today’s ruling we knew that ObamaCare would raise taxes 21 different ways ((http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jun/28/republicans-ruling-focuses-election-obamas-health-/). Now, it’s official: the individual mandate is essentially a tax.

In 2009, when Obama and his Democrat Congress were ramming through the original 2500+ page legislation, it stirred an uprising that America has not seen in decades. Voters lashed out at their representatives in town halls, and the Tea Party was formed, sparking hundreds of gatherings and millions of protestors who favored limited government. Their message: NO new taxes. NO more spending. NO ObamaCare.

ObamaCare barely passed the House of Representatives, 219-212, with 34 Democrats voting against it. In November of 2010, voters came out in droves to send dozens of Democrats back home, giving Republicans an overwhelming majority in the House. The people did not want ObamaCare then, and they do not want it now. Recent polling indicates that about 60% of likely voters want a full repeal of ObamaCare.

believe the Tea Party is coming back. Only this this time, they’re not just coming for Democrats in the House and Senate. They’re coming for the White House. Mitt Romney has pledged on hundreds of occasions to repeal ObamaCare: ‎”On day one, I will issue an executive order to grant waivers to the 50 states. Then I will call on Congress to repeal ObamaCare.”

In his written opinion, Justice Roberts wrote that Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness,” indicating that just because they ruled it constitutional does not mean they deem it good law.

He goes on to say that “Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices” (emphasis added).

He’s right. It’s up to the people to decide if they want a $500 billion tax increase and an unrestrained federal government. It’s up to the people to decide if they want taxes raised 21 times. It’s up to the people to decide if they want government to continue to tax and spend and gain power without consequence.

Or not.

On Thursday June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court voted. On Tuesday November 6, 2012, the people will vote.

Obama Isn’t Working, Mitt Romney Does

Why this Graduating Senior is Proud that Mitt Romney is Speaking at Liberty University

Mitt Romney Speaks to Liberty University Graduates… And to Me

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On ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and Love and other Fairytales

“I love how she makes me feel, like anything’s possible. Like life is worth it.” -Tom Hansen

(500) Days of Summer isn’t just a movie, but an unflinchingly accurate portrayal of everything about romance and dating in today’s America. Soul-searching questions like, “What is love?” and “Is love a fantasy?” and “When do you give up?” are all on display. The film is as charming, humorous, and honest as any I’ve seen. It’s so honest that it hurts.
Summer is a postmodern movie for a postmodern world, complete with a narrative that jumps to seemingly random days throughout the couple’s relationship, in no particular order. The audience is thrown through a roller coaster of ups and downs, twists and turns as Tom Hansen falls in love with Summer, and Summer–well, Summer does whatever the heck she wants.

It’s a movie for hipsters by hipsters, with a science lab’s stock of chemistry between the two leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, and brilliant directing by Marc Webb. A Sundance official selection, Summer is a special movie by any standard. There seems to be no acting, because the two leads are so freaking talented, and the writing is unadulterated genius.

Tom Hansen’s life is forever changed when he meets the girl of his dreams at his dead-end job. They immediately form a special bond. But several months later, when Summer reveals that she’s never felt for him what he so obviously feels for her, Tom is unwilling to give up. “I don’t want to get over her, I want to get her back,” he boldly declares. As serendipity draws Summer and Tom together again and again, he tries to figure out the maze his life had become and wonders where it will lead, if anywhere.

I won’t say anything more, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that this movie is worth anyone’s while. Anyone who has loved or been loved can relate to this sweet, unpredictable relationship on display. It might hurt to watch, but I bet you won’t be able to turn away, try as I did the first time I summoned the courage to watch it. I’ve yet to watch another movie like it.

In the opening break-up scene, all the emotions of a troubled relationship are on display when Summer starts a heart-breaking revelation over pancakes and sausage in a small diner. “I think we should see other people,” Summer says. Tom is dumbstruck, while Summer justifies herself, “I mean this thing, what are we doing?” Fumbling for words, Tom says with a heartbroken expression, “I don’t know, who cares, I’m happy, aren’t you happy?” The contradictions build when Summer says, “But we fight all the time,” and Tom retorts, “That is bull****” As Tom angrily gets up to leave, Summer pleads, “Tom, don’t go! You’re still my best friend!” (What guy hasn’t heard that line?)

From the very first scene, we see what seems to be so common in young romantic relationships: The frustrated lover, and the conflicted counterpart. While the “lover” is committed to a dream of unity, the counterpart is unsure if this is what he or she wants.

Flashback to Tom and Summer’s first “date” when their company all goes out to a local bar. The two had just recently met, but they quickly are engaged in a deep conversation. “I’m happy being on my own,” Summer announces, having been prodded by a drunk employee about her love life. “But what happens when you fall in love?” Tom asks. Summer smiles. “You don’t believe that, do you?” Tom counters, “What? It’s love, not Santa Clause.” Noting the high divorce rates and messy nature of most relationships, Summer concludes, “Love’s just a fantasy.”

Although Tom rages against this notion all through the movie, the miserable life he leads eventually leads to a climax at the place he works: a greeting card publisher. “We do a bad thing here,” he tells his co-workers. “People should be able to say how they really feel, not words that some stranger has put in their mouths.” It’s as if Tom has come to the conclusion that love, as that which has been advertised in television, books, and movies, is just a work of fiction: a fairytale. He’d been tricked. Summer was right. Right? But as we learn in the final few scenes of the movie, that isn’t really the point the movie is trying to make.

With each viewing, I pick up on some nuance, some new theme or moral. Some new irony. I love and hate Summer, because she’s perfect yet enigmatic, and I love and hate Tom, because he represents the ridiculously hopeless romantic in all of us. With this movie, there is no in between. You’ll love it or hate it, but most likely, you will love and hate it.It’s true that relationships are oftentimes driven by ridiculous expectations that are planted by modern entertainment and fanciful stories, but the basic idea of true love is not.

I suppose that chances are that if you’ve ever been in a rocky relationship, you’ll enjoy this film. But you’ll also hate it for the same reasons. Whether you want to experience the sting heartbreak along with the delightful charm is up to you. But I promise once you join in this special cinematic journey, you won’t be able to look away.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

NOTE: The movie discussed above is rated PG-13 for sensuality and some language, including some crude dialogue.

Movies, ‘Memento,’ and Me

I recently submitted the following essay to Regent University’s film school as part of the admission requirements of their MFA in Screenwriting. The task was to provide an academic writing sample in regards to my three favorite screenwriters and how their works will influence my own style, as well as what three genres I would like to pursue within Regent’s program.

In perfecting one’s craft, one must not only learn and practice it, but also study those who have accomplished great works. I have come to admire three accomplished screenwriters in particular and have studied their works in order to sharpen my own screenwriting skills.

The first of these screenwriters is John Logan, because he is so prolific and accomplished. Like me, his love for movies and writing began when he was very young when he watched old movies with his father. His first great success was Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Gladiator, a period action picture. However, he is also credited with authoring or co-authoring science-fiction films like The Time Machine and Star Trek: Nemesis, other period films like The Aviator and The Last Samurai, animated movies such as Rango and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, as well as the musical Sweeney Todd and many more. Steven Spielberg is set to direct his Lincoln script, while Darren Affronsky has been contracted to direct his Noah, and he also penned the new James Bond movie. Three of his screenplays have been nominated for Oscars: Gladiator, The Aviator, and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (Masters).

Logan has an impressive resume of critically acclaimed movies, often partnering with the very best acting and directing talent in the motion picture business. The diversity is something that I value in his work, because it mirrors my own interest in differing genres. My favorite script from Logan has to be The Aviator. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio give Oscar-worthy performances, but it’s only by Logan’s superb vision that the movie could be so entertaining. The character development of Howard Hughes, the brisk pace at which it follows the historical events of the protagonist, while staying true to theme and storyline, is a momentous accomplishment.

Though Howard Hughes was historically regarded as eccentric and unsociable, The Aviator connected the audience to this enigmatic figure in a very honest and personal way. The dialogue is among the best of any movie I’ve seen. Hughes’ lines, often going on for several paragraphs, reveal a genius but erratic mind. Although Hughes is mostly remembered for the madness that consumed him at the end of his life, The Aviator focuses instead on his life’s greatest achievements, climaxing with a sense of triumph over Hughes’ enemies: government, media, rival airlines, and his own madness, although temporarily.

I can’t imagine not mentioning the screenplays of Christopher Nolan, who is also an accomplished director. Every one of Nolan’s movies has received a glowing consensus from both critics and viewers alike. He has written or co-written each of the nine films he has also directed. His student film Following encapsulates his strengths as a screenwriter. In it, he uses voiceovers as a way to get into the protagonist’s head while providing a sort of narration. The voice-over is something Nolan also uses to perfection in his first Hollywood film Memento, as well as The Prestige, Inception, and even parts of Batman Begins. The plot twist might be his signature forte as a screenwriter. Following had a few plot twists, all revealed in the last third of the film. It was discovered that the protagonist had been in the dark about the true nature of the two other main characters, making the events of the film that much more consequential and ironic. Likewise, Memento’s plot twists also had to do with the character not having a firm grasp on reality.

The struggle with the nature of truth seems to be a theme in all of Nolan’s original movies. It’s also true of Insomnia and Inception. Likewise, and in Following and Memento in particular, the protagonists do not possess a firm grip on reality, and thus cannot be trusted by the audience. They are usually unscrupulous and shady: In Following and Inception, the protagonist is a thief. In Memento, the protagonist is a murderer. In Insomnia, the hero is a detective who has been accused of corruption. I believe Nolan uses these themes of questionable reality and depravity of man to encourage the viewer to reflect on his or her own views of reality and self. This contrasts sharply with his Dark Knight trilogy which seems to emphasize that people are inherently good, but can become corrupted by selfish ambition and power.

My favorite script of Nolan’s has to be Memento, because it is so unique. The script flows backwards in its narrative sequence, with each scene set directly after the one shown next. In between these scenes, there are short flashbacks of a phone conversation that continues through the movie. This brilliant technique of telling the story in reverse is used in order to disorient the viewer, mirroring the protagonist’s reality. Like the protagonist Leonard Shelby, (who has lost his short term memory and can only remember events that happened prior to a specific accident), the viewer is denied the knowledge of what comes before, having to work very hard to piece together the movie as it continues. Also like Leonard, the viewer is unsure of what characters can be trusted, if any. Soon, the viewer wonders if he can even trust Leonard himself, because the choices he makes are often based on emotion and not fact, which he claims to adhere to out of necessity. The script is a fascinating study of a disabled but dangerous person in a world that he struggles to rectify with his own goals.

Christopher Nolan’s movies range from the period piece The Prestige to the sci-fi action Inception and his comic book The Dark Knight trilogy. However, I think Nolan works the psychological thriller genre into each of his movies. Even in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne has to conquer his phobia of bats, a psychological struggle induced by a childhood trauma. “When it’s well done, a film noir or a psychological thriller speaks to things inside you very clearly,” Nolan once said. “It speaks to your own fears, your own neuroses. It speaks to your way of looking at the world” (Quinn). 

As mentioned previously, most all of Nolan’s movies contain a protagonist who struggles with grasping reality. In The Prestige, the viewer assumes that the protagonist has a split personality. In Inception, Dom Cobb cannot tell his dreams from reality and is haunted by apparitions of his wife. In Insomnia, Detective Dormer starts seeing things when he can’t sleep in the bright nights of Alaska; Dormer also struggles with extreme guilt and paranoia. By featuring characters whose internal struggles are profoundly psychological and personal, Nolan succeeds at deeply engaging the viewer in his films. They are meant to provoke conscious and unconscious thought such that the viewer cannot simply consume the material—it must be digested. His employment of the plot twist, his expertise at building tension through rising action, as well as the psychological and spiritual themes he utilizes, have earned him status as my favorite screenwriter.

Finally, Randall Wallace is someone I admire as a person as well as a professional. His primary claim to fame is as the screenwriter for the classic Braveheart. Wallace authored this brilliant masterpiece of epic proportions that continues to be a favorite. Unlike many Christian filmmakers, he doesn’t shy away from violence: “I resist and even resent the notion that a film with faith-based values has to be placid, soft, un-masculine and un-muscular” (David). He went on to direct his screenplay The Man in the Iron Mask and also wrote Pearl Harbor and We Were Soldiers, films that involved such Hollywood icons as Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Bay, and Mel Gibson. He seems to specialize in period pieces that involve war and violent conflict, during times ranging from the Middle Ages and Renaissance period to World War II and the Vietnam War. In the future, he wants to produce a new script involving Vikings with Mel Gibson.

My favorite work of his is probably We Were Soldiers. The main characters are portrayed with the appropriate amount of honor. Although I have great admiration for Wallace as a professional, I have an equal amount of respect for him as a person. Wallace started writing when he was only seven years old, and his journey to success was long and difficult. He had to work his way through college by working odd jobs. He is not shy about professing his faith in Jesus Christ, and he even founded Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity. Hard work, character, and excellence are all qualities I hope to display in my own life, pointing people to humanity’s Savior.

My vision for my ideas is one of unlimited possibilities and potential. I have compiled a file of unique ideas, along with corresponding research, character descriptions, and plot outlines. Although I am currently working on a romantic drama piece, the three genres I am interested in exploring at Regent University are psychological thriller, fantasy, and biopic/historical fiction. For the psychological thriller genre, I could channel Christopher Nolan with my idea for a small-town detective who struggles with an addiction to the drug Speed. When he discovers an “invisible” serial killer is employing stolen military technology to wreak havoc on his town, the detective must figure out how to confront his past as a military black-ops agent, and the killer. This particular story also employs science-fiction and action thriller elements. I would also like to develop smaller stories, like “The Watcher.” It’s about a strange young man who records people at night with his camcorder, exploring who people really are when no one is watching and exposing them on the internet. The script would follow what happens when his accidental encounter with a young prostitute provokes him to feelings of love. Before long, he is questioning her true identity, as well as his own.

A second genre I want to explore is that of Fantasy. Elements of Wallace’s work would be present in a saga I’m currently calling “Chronicles of the Nephilim,” which is a fictional spin on Biblical and extra-Biblical passages that allude to giants and demons in human form. Set during the pre-Noahic period recorded only in Scripture as a set of genealogies, the Nephilim saga would explore what happens when demons take human form as superhuman “Watchers,” who possess special powers and knowledge, spawning demon-human hybrids known as Nephilim. What follows are epic tales of love and war as a band of God-fearing humans seek to confront the Satan-serving Watchers and the havoc-wrecking Nephilim, all set in a “prehistoric” world with dinosaurs and wild landscapes.

The final genre I currently want to develop is that of historical fiction and alternate reality. I’ve compiled files on biopics of historical figures like King David and Audrey Hepburn, but I also have developed an unnamed saga that features an alternate reality in which the Soviet Union invades and establishes a government in America. Themes of freedom, love, and self-sacrifice would be ever-present in this story that would echo epic tales of rebellion like the original Star Wars, The Matrix, and even The American Revolution.

Like Logan, I prefer not to limit myself to a particular niche, but rather my scripts fall into differing categories like fantasy, biopic, supernatural thriller, action suspense, psychological thriller, romantic drama, alternate reality, and science-fiction. I have developed an appreciation for a broad spectrum of genres that can appeal to a variety of demographics. At the same time, I want to model my work after Christopher Nolan, with his uncanny knack for connecting with the audience by employing psychological themes and styles. As with Randall Wallace, I want to entertain while employing themes that point people to the truth of the Gospel. More than anything, I hope to cause people to think long after they have viewed my scripts brought to life. As Wallace once said, I want to walk out of a theater and think, Because of what I just experienced, my life will never be the same. I think everybody wants that” (David). 

Works Cited

David, Eric. “Hero Maker.” Christianity Today Movies. Christianity Today International, 2006. Web. 10 Jun 2012. 

King, Susan. “John Logan writes his own success story.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 2012. Web. 10 Jun 2012. 

Masters, Tim. “Oscars 2012: John Logan talks Hugo, Rango and 007.” BBC News: Entertainment & Arts. BBC, 2012. Web. 10 Jun 2012. <Oscars 2012: John Logan talks Hugo, Rango and 007>.

Quinn, Karl. “Can’t get him out of our heads.” The Age. Fairfax Digital, 2002. Web. 8 Jun 2012. <http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/09/07/1031115958092.html&gt;.

Who Mitt Romney Should Select as his Vice Presidential Candidate

Nagging dissatisfaction with Romney as the Republican nominee has led many to clamor for an exciting candidate to help rally the base. Chris Christie could be Mitt’s “attack dog,” while possibly making up ground in northeastern states. Paul Ryan would be the young face with a mind for economics who could deliver Wisconsin. Marco Rubio, by far the most popular, is the young, Hispanic Floridian Senator who could not only deliver Florida, but could also make up ground with younger and Latino voters. Mike Huckabee would win over Evangelicals who are skeptical of Romney’s Mormonism. But who will Romney choose?

And the winner is, drum roll please…

Rob Portman? Few have even heard of him, but he might be Romney’s choice. On the surface, he’s a boring, old white guy. Let’s look at the factors that I believe will lead Romney to select the Senator from Ohio.

OHIO, OHIO, OHIO…

Hey, did I mention he’s from Ohio? Ohio has a large electoral pot, and is a must-win. Only six Presidents did not win Ohio, and the last President who did not carry the state was John F. Kennedy. Romney is running neck-and-neck with Obama in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, which all went for Obama last time. But they are all winnable without help. In Ohio, meanwhile, the polls have Romney down between 4 and 7 points, which is well outside the margin of error. Portman is fairly popular in Ohio, with a solid approval rating; only 23% of Ohioans disapprove of Portman’s job performance. If Romney is to win in November, he MUST win Ohio, along with the previously mentioned states. Romney is likely to win North Carolina, and the more accurate pollsters have Romney winning Virginia, while Florida is a dead heat and will probably swing for Romney. But in Ohio, Romney needs help. If he sweeps all four key states, Mitt Romney’s new home will be 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

CALMING CONCERNED CONSERVATIVES

Many conservatives view Romney as moderate, untrustworthy, and politically motivated. Although I have hoped to largely dispell this notion with a previous article, the fact remains that some Republicans just don’t care for Romney very much. That’s why it’s important to select a Vice Presidential candidate who is conservative to give the base some confidence. Romney formally joined the pro-life movement in 2004, but Portman has always been against abortion and holds a 100% pro-life voting record. According to votesmart.org, Portman receives very high marks on budgetary issues, gun rights, and being conservative. He stands on the side of traditional marriage, believes in preserving the fundamental principles of the Constitution, and has a great record when it comes to limited government and fiscal responsibility. Speaking of finances…

“THIS IS STILL ABOUT THE ECONOMY, AND WE’RE NOT STUPID”

Romney’s quote that deflected the distractions of the Obama campaign epitomizes the nature of the 2012 campaign: This election is a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy. Romney has built his campaign on his business and executive experience in turning around enterprises and even the state economy of Massachusetts. Romney has repeatedly attacked Obama for out-of-control spending; Obama has helped push American debt from $10 trillion to $16 trillion in less than four years. Romney needs to put his money where his mouth is and select someone who would be an important partner in tackling budget issues, not just an exciting personality like Palin was for McCain.

“There’s a sense out there that Washington is careening down a path toward a fiscal catastrophe,” Portman recently said. He authored at least twelve bills that became laws, including legislation that reformed the IRS and confronted unfunded mandates. He also wrote a bill that sought to eliminate capital gains taxes on homes. Portman was a member of the Committee on Ways and Means, vice chair of the Committee on the Budget, served as a communicator between the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans, and was named Director of Management and  Budget for about a year under Bush. Portman’s experience with budgetary issues is just what Romney can use.

UNITY, NOT DIVISION

President Obama talked a good game about bipartisanship, but he will likely go down as the most partisan President in American history. Not only does he ignore Republican efforts to help confront problems, but he has separated himself from Congress altogether, trying to paint it as “do-nothing” while he threatens to use executive “authority.” He is still blaming Bush, and he frequently refers to Republican ideas as “extreme” and “backward.” While Obama hypocritically preaches bipartisanship, Mitt Romney has lived it. He regularly met with leading members of a Democrat legislature when he was Governor of Massachusetts. He held these meetings on a weekly basis, not in his own office, but in the office of the Democrat legislators. This is why Romney was able to accomplish so much for the conservative cause, even while battling a legislature that was 85% Democrat.

Likewise, Portman has a history of bipartisanship. According to Democratic Representative Stephanie Jones of Cleveland, Portman, “compared to other Republicans, is pleasant and good to work with.” His work with the IRS earned him praise from Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union: “He set a professional work environment that rose above partisanship and ultimately gave taxpayers more rights.”  Clearly, Portman has experience with budgetary issues and bridging the gap between the executive and legislative branches, while working with both parties to actually get productive things accomplished.

YAY BORING!

I think it would be a mistake if Romney picks someone like a Christie or a Rubio. I have great respect for both men, but they would probably upstage Romney, since they are popular, outspoken, and nationally known. It would make Romney appear weak, as Palin did to McCain in 2008. Palin, not McCain, became the star of the campaign, and McCain’s image suffered for it. It’s one of the reasons that Joe Biden is Obama’s Vice President, not Hillary Clinton. The more boring the candidate, the better it is for Romney. I would prefer a man who is accomplished, who would work well with Romney, not a person that would make a big splash. That would come off as cheap, desperate, and too politically motivated.

I think Rob Portman is the logical pick. Romney is a no-nonsense, get-things-done kind of guy. Rob Portman fits that bill perfectly.

The River: The Best New Show that was Cancelled

When producer Steven Schneider approached Steven Spielberg about developing a new TV show, Spielberg jumped on an idea simply titled The River. The show is a TV anomaly from the mind of Oren Peli, the creator of Paranormal Activity. It’s a horror show of sorts, with a Paranormal Activity-like, found-footage style, complete with supernatural elements. Throw in the fact that it’s set in an uncharted region of the Amazon, and you’ve got the most unique show on television.

The show is as addictive as it is pulse-pounding as it is mind-bending. When longtime explorer and TV star Dr. Emmett Cole goes missing, his wife becomes obsessed with finding him. She convinces the same studio that made her family members into celebrities to fund the search in the Amazon. But there’s a catch: a film crew must go along to document every moment.

The search party descends on a remote part of the Amazon, complete with hostile personalities and questionable motives. They recover the old show’s ship The Magus, which is now a ghost ship, but Emmett Cole is nowhere to be found. Soon, strange things start happening. Birds fall from the sky, mysterious entities hunt them, and the jungle begins to willfully entangle the ship. Never has Cole’s catchphrase “There’s magic out there” been so true. To make matters worse, the man they hired for protection is secretly working for a mysterious organization, and the mechanic’s daughter seems to know too much about the dark forces that haunt them. Each episode is better than the last, and the thrills build until the final episode’s heart-wrenching climax.

What doesn’t help the show’s loyal followers is that the finale leaves on a cliff hanger, wherein the Amazon River literally reshapes itself to trap the crew of The Magus, forcing them to confront whatever “magic” still awaits them. And I can’t help but wonder what the river’s demon is trying to protect, and how or if Lena will fulfill the prophecies.

There is not a weak link among the entire cast, which is rare in television. Bruce Greenwood is a longtime film star and brings credibility to his character, while Leslie Hope is absolutely stellar as the doggedly determined Tess Cole. Lincoln Cole, played by Joe Anderson, is the true hero of the show, possessing amazing emotional depth; his portrayal is truly a revelation. Paul Blackthorne as the producer Clark Quietly is perfectly cast. Katie Featherston, of Paranormal Activity fame, even makes an appearance in a few episodes. It’s a shame that they may never produce another episode of such a phenomenal show.

What impressed me the most was the variety and depth of the stories that are interwoven through the episodes. Each episode is a unique ghost story, but part of a larger ghost story involving a Satan-like creature playing cat-and-mouse with the crew of The Magus. But with all the black magic and elements that smell faintly of witchcraft, the triumphs over the evil often involves a spiritual battle within the characters. These internal struggles climax in strangely Biblical themes: confession and acknowledgment of internal evil, redemption and renewal, and even self-sacrifice. There are overarching themes of confronting past wrongs, living with or dealing with guilt, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I was so surprised to see these struggles displayed so prominently in a television show, that I became enamored with the show even more.

The River was put at a terrible disadvantage when ABC placed it in the 9PM Tuesday time slot, going up against longtime powerhouse NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS) and New Girl (FOX). It didn’t help that the episodes are layered with a formulaic soundtrack that makes the scares less scary. In other words: Why is there music in found footage? I think the show would have been taken more seriously had the producers been completely committed to the format. I remember ABC’s initial promo campaign being subpar in substance, though aggressive in visibility. I can’t quite pinpoint what the reason could be, but the show averaged just 5 million viewers.

Perhaps the reason for its lack of popularity is the very nature of the show: it is different. It’s not another reality singing competition or a Twilight ripoff or yet another crude comedy about people living together. It is none of those things and thus without a go-to audience. There have been rumors that a new studio may pick it up, and even Netflix has expressed interest, but that has since dissipated. Still, a “Save The River” Facebook page has garnered over 5,000 followers, keeping ardent fans updated on any news regarding the show.

If you’re interested, you can get The River on DVD for about $20. It’s not exactly a fun show, but it’s an exciting show. It’s a show that can open your mind and your heart. It’s a show that can make you wonder if there is indeed “magic out there,” and be horrified at the thought. The world might seem a bit bigger, somewhat stranger, and a heck of a lot scarier. Not many television shows can do that.

Prometheus: The Movie and Questions of Origins

“A king has his reign. And then he dies.”

When I first learned that director Ridley Scott was revisiting his Alien series with a prequel, I immediately introduced myself to the series. I’m glad that I did. Alien was a visionary piece of film, and its sequels would launch the careers of James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) and David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club) respectively. Prometheus promised to give context to the original trilogy.

It doesn’t disappoint. Elevated by brilliant cinematography and awe-inspiring visuals, Prometheus is a masterpiece of spectacle and terror. It is the anti-Avatar with its barren landscapes and cynical tone. It is as thought-provoking as it is horrifying. In other words, it’s everything it’s meant to be and more.

When Doctors Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover several ancient cave paintings from diverse civilizations, all indicating visitors who came from space, the Weyland Corporation agrees to fund a mission to discover the solar system portrayed in the paintings.

As you might have guessed, what they find is not the friendly “gods” they imagined. What follows is arguably the most shocking experience I’ve had in the cinema. I saw things I’ve never seen before, and isn’t that why we still go to the theater? Those hoping for answers regarding the Alien series will have many more questions by the end credits, and that is the film’s one glaring flaw, if you can call it that.

Noomi Rapace gives a completely engrossing performance as Doctor Shaw, the film’s heroine, and Michael Fassbender nearly steals the show as a devilishly enigmatic android named David. Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce lend star credence to the cast, offering haunting portrayals of their own. Through its first ten days in wide release, Prometheus has collected about $90 million in the United States and another $130 million in the foreign box office on a $130 million budget.

But what struck me, even more than the plot of the movie and the new possibilities it opened, was the questions the film posed, as well as the mythological and spiritual undertones. The name of the central spaceship, and of the movie itself, has deep mythological roots. In Greek lore, Prometheus formed mankind from clay and then introduced humans to the power of fire. As punishment for giving mere mortals this power, Zeus had Prometheus chained to a cliff. Once a day, a large bird would come to pick at Prometheus’ liver as a perpetual torture.

There are striking similarities to the Biblical account of creation in which God formed mankind out of the dust of the earth. But it also recalls non-canonical writings like the Book of Enoch, which is of unknown origin. In the Book of Enoch, demons assume superhuman form and share their knowledge with humans. Sound familiar? The account of Prometheus’ punishment even mirrors the prophecies in the book of Revelation, which says Satan will be released from the bottomless pit only to be later chained in Hades forever. The god Prometheus has ties to both God and Satan of the Bible, as do the “Engineers” in the film Prometheus. Whether the accounts be from the Bible, Greek mythology, scientists, or a hit movie, they all pose fundamental questions: Where do we come from, and why were we made?

Ridley Scott, who recently converted from Atheism to Agnosticism, says that nearly half of the scientists that he has interacted with or read, say that there must be something more than Darwinian Evolution. According to Scott, a growing number of scientists are increasingly finding the theory ridiculous. In his mind, there almost must have been some creative intelligence behind the existence of mankind. When you study the complexity and the miracle that is life, it’s difficult to think otherwise. A growing number of people, including renowned atheist Richard Dawkins, posture that life must have been “seeded” on earth, which Prometheus certainly gives credence to. Whether Ridley Scott believes this is unclear, but the movie acknowledges that even if extraterrestrial beings did seed life on earth, it only moves the questions of origins to another race and another planet. In other words, where did the aliens who created us come from? It still allows for the possibility of a God.

It is therefore only fitting that the two scientists in the movie are Atheist and Christian respectively. When it appears early on in the movie that the “Engineers” have all died, the Atheist is devastated, even though he has made the greatest discovery in the history of mankind. His questions will never be answered. In his mind, there is no meaning, no purpose. But the Christian scientist didn’t need those answers. Though she thirsts for knowledge, she is satisfied by her own faith.

Faith is a recurring theme in the movie, starting with a flashback of the Christian scientist when she was very young, interacting with her father. When she asks him about the afterlife and how he can know he will see his loved ones again one day, he simply replies, “I don’t know. But it’s what I choose to believe.”

It’s not exactly the pat answer of a fundamentalist Christian, but it does speak to mankind’s basic needs, though Prometheus seems to be saying that none of us can know for sure; we can only choose our beliefs. Everyone wants truth. Everyone asks the questions. Where did I come from? Why am I here? Is there more than this short, brutal life on earth? Am I alone? Is there a life after death? Where do I get my answers? Can any of us really know?

Regardless of what you believe, this movie will make you think. What do you believe? Do you have your answers? Are your answers reliable? A film that poses these questions in such a powerful way is a very good film indeed.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Note: This movie is rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and some language.


Jesus & Cinema: Why Most Christian Movies Suck, and What We Can Do About It


About two years ago Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis and Executive Producer of Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia series, spoke at Liberty University’s Chapel service, as well as in not one but two of my classes. I can’t say I’ve been more impressed with a man than Douglas Gresham. He’s been a rancher in the Australian outback, a radio broadcaster, an actor, and a Hollywood producer. He’s pretty much the real version of “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” So when Gresham opened up about his opinion of Christian filmmaking in my History of Film class, my ears perked up. He told us with steely-eyed conviction in his thick British-Australian accent, “The world doesn’t need more Christian movies. It needs more Christians making good movies.”

That phrase has stuck with me for the past two and a half years. I didn’t even have to write it down, because it was forever engrained in my mind. Early the next day, Gresham would drop by my 400-level Philosophy class (an elective that I didn’t have the brain capacity for, and had to later drop). After he weathered through the 60 minutes of Narnia-related questions from my peers, I was able to chase him down the hallway and ask for his e-mail address and phone number.

Eventually I was able to share a thirty minute phone conversation with him about what it takes to make it in Hollywood. I had to wake up very early one Saturday morning to call his house phone in Malta; it was evening there. In our conversation, he dutifully answered my questions. He emphasized hard work, connections, and most of all, prayer. In other words, “Good luck, kid. You’re gonna need it.”

When I pressed him on whether Christians should pursue the purchase of a multi-billion dollar studio, as was recently proposed by Christian filmmakers in a book, he soundly rejected the notion. He acknowledged that, not only would this foster an “Us vs. Them” mentality and thus compromise the legitimacy of the films, but it is completely unnecessary.  “Christians don’t need to fight Hollywood, Garrett,” he said. “They need to infiltrate Hollywood.”

Let’s face it. Christian movies, by and large, are disappointments. I’m not talking The Passion of the Christ or Narnia, because those movies were well-produced with the power of Hollywood behind them. I’m talking Left Behind. I’m talking Fireproof. I’m even talking Thr3e and The Visitation and House, which were based on very good Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker novels. The last three, products of a recent 20th Century Fox venture called FoxFaith, are the kind of stories that I think can be successful. Psychological thrillers can really make people think if done well. Unfortunately, the movies are embarrassments.

The problem with the latter three movies, based on the stellar books of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, has something to do with money. The average Hollywood movie costs over $100 million. But the average budget for a FoxFaith film was $1 million. To make a movie, you need money. If it’s a big idea, you need a lot more money. Avatar cost $500 million. The Dark Knight was a relatively cheap superhero movie at $200 million. But Saw, which is a similar scale to House, cost only $1.2 million to make. Paranormal Activity is extremely entertaining and made on a $15,000 budget. Obviously a movie doesn’t have to be expensive to work.

So why is one movie a success and the other a joke? My theory is personnel. House had bad direction, worse acting, awkward editing, and a poorly adapted script. Had a legitimate studio with accomplished filmmakers taken the reigns of House, my theory is that it would have been professionally made, well-promoted, and would have performed positively at the box office.

People have to have a reason to see a movie. First, they have to know it exists. Second, promotional materials have to spark interest and capture their imagination. There has to be a hook, some spectacle, or interesting idea behind it. A potential audience has to “buy” it. Does it look like it’s worth $10 to go see it? Is it worth two or more hours of their time? Of course, it helps when a movie is associated with people who have a strong reputation. If Steven Spielberg’s name is on a film, chances are it’s going to be very entertaining. If Leonardo DiCaprio is starring, it’s probably an Oscar contender. We expect excellence from established stars. I doubt Christopher Nolan would be directing an ensemble cast in The Dark Knight Rises, had it not been for his brilliant script Memento that caught the interest of Guy Pearce. Nolan’s very first film is considered to be one of the top 100 films of all time, and it cost only $3 million to make.

So it’s not so much money as it is execution. Which brings me to the Sherwood films, produced by Sherwood Baptist Church. They have come a long way in terms of production quality since Facing the Giants, but Courageous is still laughable in terms of acting, writing, and appeal. These films have their place: they have redeeming and soul-altering messages. But they are sadly, deeply flawed. First of all, they have little to no appeal outside of churchgoing folk. And even churchgoers find little worth their time in these movies. It’s a two-hour sermon masquerading as a movie. Movies are supposed to whisper truths, not take a crowbar to people’s heads until they “get it.” I don’t dislike the Sherwood films because of their messages; I dislike them, because of the way they tell them.

The great Christian fiction writers didn’t preach in their fiction. C.S. Lewis, as obvious as his analogy was, did not make Lucy accept Aslan into her heart. The reason that Ted Dekker has sold about 10 million books in just 10 years is because he weaves Christ into his writing without actually telling you that he does it. It’s the mark of a great storyteller. Christians may pick up on it, but his stories undoubtedly make non-believers think. Dekker was highly influential in making Christ tangible to me, and he didn’t pen the name “Jesus” once. He didn’t even quote Scripture.

When I pick up a book, pop in a DVD, or sit down at a movie theater, I don’t do it to get hit over the head with a shovel. I do it to be entertained. I do it to have my mind stretched, my eyes dazzled, and my heart softened. And when I think about the message of the story being told, I want to be pointed to the answer, not given the answer repeatedly. Not only is it lame, but it’s cheap. People don’t want to be treated like complete idiots, and that’s what too many Christian movies do. Storytellers who can’t show without telling are just not good storytellers.

Remember Jesus’ fiction? It was edgy, and it resonated with the day’s culture. An outcast Samaritan was the hero of one of his tales. In several stories, a religious leader was the antagonist. A man trespassed, then deceived a land owner in order to obtain a hidden treasure. A father celebrated the return of a wayward son who had spent his inheritance and committed all kinds of sins. And usually people had to bug the crap out of Jesus to understand what He had meant. The listeners of Jesus’ stories were so moved and deeply invested in his stories, that they debated their meanings, and were perplexed by the implications.

Yes, we need movies like Dekker’s The Circle Series. Movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which poses very spiritual questions like no other movie I’ve seen. Movies like Memento and Inception, which deal with the topics of truth, belief, and depravity. Like Signs, which confronts issues of faith and loss. I believe that Christians can make the best ideas, the best movies, because we have the greatest muse in the Greatest Storyteller. We can show the world Truth and Love. We can provoke people to life-altering thoughts and heart-stirring emotion.

But that raises another question. Where do we draw the line? If we don’t have to quote Scripture or preach Jesus in our stories, where is the end? How much violence is permissible for a Christian filmmaker to show? Is profane language off-limits? I can’t say for certain, but I do know that Jesus was more concerned about hearts than rules.

Randall Wallace, who spoke at Liberty University’s 2011 Commencement ceremony, penned the screenplay for movies like We Were Soldiers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and most notably Braveheart. He grew up in a strongly Christian home and is still a bold Christ-follower to this day. Wallace frequently cites Jesus Christ as his inspiration, Savior, and Lord. But there is graphic violence in his movies. Yes, there is cursing as well. In fact, there are even a handful of F-words.

In an interview with Christianity Today, Wallace defended the content of his films. “I resist and even resent the notion that a film with faith-based values has to be placid, soft, un-masculine and un-muscular.”

Has he crossed the line? Disobeyed Christ? Has he forsaken his witness? As a young aspiring screenwriter, I am still establishing the lines I wish to never cross. But one phrase keeps running through my head, and it was made by one of the most prolific authors in the history of mankind: Stephen King. In his nonfiction book titled On Writing, speaks to this issue: “A writer has one job. To tell the truth.”

King is not a Christian, as far as I know, but he acknowledges the principle that stories are told best when they are believable and real. If we cannot tell the truth in film, I fear we will never succeed.

“Doesn’t everybody love stories about heroes?” asks Wallace. “They grab our attention, they make our hearts pound—but only if we believe them, only if we can identify with them in some way and hope that to some extent we can become more like them.”

Like the greatest storytellers, he recognizes the influence and importance of messages and themes in film.  “I want to walk out of a theater and think, Because of what I just experienced, my life will never be the same. I think everybody wants that.”

To create stories that provoke deep thoughts and emotions, we must portray both good and evil in clear and tangible ways. Ted Dekker said it best, when he defended the edgy nature of his novels.

“It’s critical as a storyteller, as anybody who’s interested in impacting culture, [that] you must speak the language of the culture you wish to impact.”

Could this be what the Apostle Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he said, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some”? Through the surrounding verses, he emphasized being able to relate to the lost, not ostracizing them. We are all human, and we all struggle with the same questions, the same vices. The difference is that as Christians, we have a hero, lover, and friend in Jesus Christ who enables us to be His instruments. To be that, we have to have a conversation with the prostitute, the tax collector, the drunkard, the lame–the abused, the user, the afflicted, and the weak. We have to tell it straight.

“It’s critical that we use a very dark brush to paint evil,” says Dekker. “When you bring the light into that darkness, that light is very vivid. When it dispels the darkness, we see the brilliance that’s there.”

I’m completely with Dekker on this issue. He attracts a wide audience with themes and stories that resonate. They are radical, completely original, and soul-searching without being off-putting. But he’s not about to downplay his Christianity either.

“The greatest hero that exists today without a doubt is Jesus Christ,” says Dekker. “To characterize him as a hero, it’s important to make his enemy a ferocious enemy. The one story that’s most exciting to us, and to Him, is that story when He defeats evil.”