Archives For review

I’ll give you the TL,DR (too long, didn’t read) now: I loved Paddington. Watching it, you’ll believe a bear can talk. It was by turns smart, charming, whimsical, and had just enough slapstick for the kids (and the kids at heart). It really is that rare live-action family film which rises to Pixar levels of quality.

The movie with a prolog showing an expedition to darkest Peru. It is here that an intrepid British explorer encounters the rarest of bears. As he’s leaving, he tells them that if they’re ever in London they should look him up… Forty years later, we see those bears–Pastuzo and Lucy raising their nephew, as yet unnamed.

Something happens which necessitates the sending of the young bear to London to find a forever family. He means well, doesn’t mean to be disruptive, just wants to fit in. But he is after all a bear in human society. He meets the Browns, who take him in, and comic misadventures follow.

Hugh Bonneville is a delight as the play-it-safe Mr. Brown, Nicole Kidman chews the scenery as film’s antagonist, and Peter Capaldi (the current Dr. Who) plays a nervous, nosy NIMBY (not in my backyard) with his usual flair and timing.

Since I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory here, I’ll say this: Paddington is a change agent. Sometimes (often), we get so comfortable in our safe lives we’re afraid to take risks. What Paddington tells is that life is not life without risks, that we need to sometimes embrace the disruption instead of eschewing it. Especially if if makes us uncomfortable.

I give Paddington two unreserved thumbs way up.

Have you seen Paddington? Are you you going to?

To cap off our anniversary trip, my wife and I watched Dumb and Dumber To. And boy was it ever. Dumb, that is. There were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments (this depends, of course, upon your tolerance for toilet humor), but in my opinion it fell far short of the original. Which is not very far to fall at all, I guess.

Either that, or I’ve grown since the original came out twenty years ago (hint: I was twenty-five then, and I guess what I think is funny has changed). Don’t get me wrong: being a guy, fart jokes can still be funny, but a lot of what was passed off as humor in this movie was cringe-inducing. For instance, the name (spoiler warning) of Kathleen Turner’s character is Frida.

Frida Felcher <--warning unless you know, don't look that up on Urban Dictionary. Trust me on this. Beyond that, the story was by-and-large a retread of the original: Road trip? Check. Homicidal companion? Check. Girl in peril? Check? I could go on. Point being this: unless you're feeling uber nostalgic for the original, don't bother. There aren't even any memorable lines like "So you're saying there's a chance?" here. Dumb and Dumber To is rated PG-13 for crude humor and language. In my view, it’s time for Harry and Lloyd to fade into the sunset.

At the outset let me just say that I’m glad I didn’t pay good money to see A Good Day to Die Hard in theatres. Yes, I know it came out a year ago. I just had a free preview weekend of HBO courtesy of DirecTV, and it was on.

So I queued up the DVR to record it. Thinking, “You know, Live Free or Die Hard was cheesy, but I kinda liked it. How bad can this one be?”

The answer is so, so bad. Clichés, deus ex machina, etc. Near as I can figure the plot had something to do with bad blood between Evil Papa Smurf and Russian Alec Baldwin (his Russian doppelganger). Throw in a surly kid named Jack–who don’t know jack–and Bruce Willis acting like he wishes he were in a Geritol commercial with Wilford Brimley, and you’ve got the movie. Seriously, Willis looked like he needed a healthy dose of prune juice.

Don’t get me started on the ridiculous set pieces. Like a car chase involving a conveniently placed trailer? Whither credibility? At least with say James Bond there’s a willing suspension of disbelief (especially the Blonde Bond films). But here? They only thing that could’ve made this film worse is Shia LeBouef. Or maybe that’s better? MAYBE THEN WE’D KNOW NOT TO, YOU KNOW, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.

Yes, that I think–other than the absurdities (quick car ride to Chernobyl from Moscow, anyone? It’s 12 hours away!)–was the film’s greatest sin:

It took itself too seriously. It wasn’t fun. The one liners fell flat. And there wasn’t one single “Yippee-kai-ai!” in the whole sordid mess.

And that, my friends, is just one McClane too far.


Shawn Smucker co-wrote a great book, Refuse to Drown. It’s the story of a dad coming to grips with an awful choice, faith, and family in the midst of a terrible tragedy. The title, Refuse to Drown, is a metaphor about how that man, Tim Kreider, faced the circumstances which threatened to sink him: he refused to drown. He would not washed overboard, or swamped by the tides of life. His is a story of hope in the midst of terrible times. And this book is well worth yours. Because if Mr. Kreider–like Noah, Joseph, Jeremiah before him–can trust God through the hard times so can we all.

As it says in the Scriptures, “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” And God is our morning–our perpetual morning. Especially when it’s dark, and we don’t understand. He will be the eye of our hurricane if we let Him. It’s a paradox I don’t understand, but surrender seems to be the only antidote to a life spiraling out of control. The more we try to control, the more things slip out of our hands. Kreider learned, in the most heart-wrenching way possible–that there were indeed things he couldn’t control. He couldn’t bargain his way out.

His only recourse was surrender.

He could well have surrendered to:




But he chose to, despite his lack of understanding, and his inability to control (and protect), surrender to Christ. Let that be a lesson to us: surrender is the answer, but it’s all about Who we surrender to. We may cede our rights to all manner of things (some of which are listed above), but while those things medicate they don’t give us the one thing we’re all looking for:


Only God can do that–give us life.


As I mentioned above, Shawn Smucker co-wrote this book with Mr. Kreider. I’ve read a number of his books, and I felt his deft touch on every page bringing the words of Kreider’s journal to life. There’s a vibrancy, a potency, and immediacy to the narrative as it unfolds. I as a reader felt as if I was there–down in the valleys, and back out again. This book will break, and re-make, your heart in the best way possible.

And all while pointing you to the Giver of Life. Which is why, in the post title above, I said this is not a book review. Because, ultimately, refusing to drown isn’t so much a book, as it is a way of life.

Get your copy: Refuse to Drown on Amazon You won’t be sorry.


I know, I know. Oblivious… I’m sorry, Oblivion came out almost a year ago. But it’s new to me. As in I’ve only just seen it. The reasons for this are many, but come down to: $. And my movie $ were spent elsewhere last year. (And I didn’t even think of seeing M. Night Shyamalamdingdong’s After Birth).

I’m not saying Oblivious, I’m sorry–Oblivion–is bad. It’s… entertaining. To a point. It’s entertaining in the ways the most Hollywood “high concept” pictures are entertaining these days.
In fact, I imagine the pitch going something like this:

Studio flunky #1: “We’ve got this great piece. High concept. Dystopian future. Like Hunger Games.  Only not.”

Studio Exec: “Tell me more. What do you mean like “Hunger Games?”

Studio flunky #2: “Well, it’s like Hunger Games in that it’s set in a Dystopian future. That’s what’s like. But you know what? Think more in terms of alien invasion. But not.”

Studio Exec looks perplexed, but give his best “Temba, his arms open” look and gesture: “Tell me more.”

Studio flunky #1: “Yeah, it’s dystopian like Hunger Games, but if you think more like Independence Day meets Michael Bay’s The Island you’d be closer to the mark.”

Studio flunky #2: “Yeah, that’s totally it! It’s Independence Day meets The Island! Cause we’ve got an alien invasion and clones!”

Studio Exec: “Clones? Where do the clones come in? And who’s it got? Who’s attached to star?”

Studio flunky #1: “Well, you know how ID4 had Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum? We think we need to mix it up like that, too…”

Studio flunky #2: “Yeah, instead of those guys, we’ll have Morgan Freeman and Tom Cruise!”

Studio flunkies #1 and #2 in unison: “And it’s a total misdirection! We start in media res, and make the audience think one thing–when it’s totally something else! Tom Cruise is a clone!”

Studio Exec: “Tell me something I didn’t know.”

Studio flunkies exchange a bemused look.

Studio flunky #1: “There’s of course a love interest, a resistance group on earth, and cool special effects. And a happy ending!”

Studio flunky #2: “We think it’s got legs. It’ll do boffo box office.”

Studio Exec: “Where do I sign?”


I call the film Oblivious, because, #1 the studio heads have to be completely clueless when such hackneyed tropes get used over an over again; and #2, they count on us, the movie going populace, to be completely oblivious when they do so. The story really does borrow heavily from both The Island and ID4. There is an invasion, but it happens before the movie’s beginning. We think (are in fact told) that humanity won the war, but ruined the planet (when the the truth is we did not). This is totally telegraphed, and by the time the big twist drops, we know. I knew what was coming: Tom Cruise is a clone. Not only that, but like Bay’s before: there is no Island (in this case, Triton). We’ve seen it all before. We’ve seen it done better…

I wanted to like Oblivion. I really did. But the ending? Ugh. Total Hollywood! Not only do they blatantly steal the “blow up the alien mother ship” sequence from ID4, they take the sacrifice the Tom Cruise character makes, and take a dump all over it with a tacked-on, schmaltzy happy ending. A sacrifice is a sacrifice precisely because it costs somebody something.

But not, I guess, in Hollywood.

Where far too many folks are, you guessed it, oblivious. Or maybe I’m just cynical and jaded.