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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. Clich├ęs, 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.

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At the outset, let me just state that I loved The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Now let me tell you why:

The movie opens on Walter, alone, in his apartment, dressed for work, futzing around on social media. More specifically, he’s trying to work up the courage to send a “wink” to a coworker on eHarmony. He finally does, and… it doesn’t work. He can’t send the “wink.”

This begins one of the movie’s funnier subplots (it’s no spoiler to say that this involves Patton Oswalt, as he’s listed in the credits. You’ll just have to watch and find out how the whole eHarmony subplot is resolved). In fact, because I’m something of a literature nerd, this is but one instance of a Chekhov’s gun in the film. Chekhov’s gun, for the uninitiated, is a rule established by dramatist Anton Chekhov stating that one cannot introduce a gun in the first act that is not used later on.

There are numerous instances of this technique on display in Walter Mitty–none of which actually involve a gun. (If you see it, pay attention to: the aforementioned eHarmony subplot, a piano, a skateboard sequence, and a wallet). I bring this up because there is nothing wasted in this movie–the storytelling is tight, and focused. Within that framework, Ben Stiller has crafted a motion picture filled with great whimsy and flights of fancy. It is simultaneously grounded, and yet has its head in the clouds.

What a difference, say, from his 90’s era film, Reality Bites. In watching it, one gets the sense that, yes, reality can bite, but this is no reason to lose heart. In its opening sequence, in drab apartment, inside an even drabber building, that wistful tone is expertly portrayed: Walter is altogether too close to being a man who has lost heart. But it is upon arriving at work that day, when he learns of his company’s impending demise, that his journey begins. In storytelling terms, this is the inciting incident: the catalyst by which a character is forced to act. Walter’s is two-fold:

First, his company is reorganizing, and its next issue will be its last;

Second, a photographer with whom he has closely worked for sixteen years, has sent  negatives, stating that number 25 is his best work ever, and represents “the quintessence of life.”

Thing is, this negative is missing. Helping Walter track it down are his associate, Hernando, and a coworker named Cheryl.

Thus begins Walter’s journey. What begins as a quest for excellence becomes so much more. Walter thinks he is on a trip to find a photographer, but really he’s on a quest to get his heart back.

Isn’t that the same path we’re all on? We want to reclaim our hearts. We know there’s more to life, but have somehow lost it upon the way. On his way, Walter transitions from imaging himself to be a hero to actually being a hero.

He goes from existing to living, from surviving to thriving.

There are potholes on the way, the  temptation to lose heart arises again, but he digs deep, and gets the job done.

And if Walter can, so can I.

So can you.

So go see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. You’ll be glad you did.

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Much hash has been made of Jars of Clay abandoning their Evangelical roots. I’m not interested in that debate. The fact of the matter is that we are all called to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

That is what I see (and hear) Jars doing: making their faith their own, refusing to be defined by the convictions others project onto them. How this works in practical terms is that while honoring their past, youthful zeal has evolved into a deeper, more mature faith.

In essence, these are a group of guys who are so secure in their faith that making music about real life–their lives–comes naturally now. They have freed themselves from the expectations of a subculture that wants to keep them in a box called Christian music. As if Christians can’t make music about life, about struggle, conflict, heartache, without name-checking Jesus every few bars.

Last night at the show my wife and I attended, Dan Haseltine said (speaking of Inland), “This is a record that took us twenty years to make. One that we couldn’t have made when we were eighteen, and knew everything.” Meaning that he, and the group, have lived, have struggled, have seen and experienced things over the years. They’ve had victories, suffered losses, had setbacks, have had children, fights with their spouses…

They’ve lived.

And they’re better for it.

Last night’s show was at a smaller venue, so right off the bat you know it’s going to have an intimate feel. (My wife and I, because of my work schedule were late, and missed the first opening act, Kye Kye). What I noticed when Brooke Waggoner (an artist whose work, unfortunately, I wasn’t acquainted with prior to last night) began her set was that Stephen Mason (Jars’ guitarist/bass player/raconteur) was on stage, playing bass for her.

And from where I sat, he looked like he was enjoying himself–just playing for the sheer joy of it.

After Ms. Waggoner’s set, and during the intermission, the members of Jars were onstage setting up their own equipment. No roadies, just them–checking guitars, taping down lines and set lists. Gone was the bombast of, say, the 11th Hour tour. No video screens, no fog machines, no special effects.

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Just four guys (and supporting players) and their instruments.

The set list was a mix of old, and new, tunes. All delivered with passion, and without pretense. These are clearly men who trust one another implicitly (they would have to to still be doing what they do after all these years). I got the sense, based upon the repartee between Dan and Stephen, that these are guys who don’t take themselves seriously at all.

But they do take very seriously what they do, and that’s make great music. Despite being up on the stage, performing, the greatest impression I got from them was that they were both humbled, and honored, to be performing for us.

Among the old standbys, there were: One Thing, Flood (a rousing acoustic rendition), and Faith Like a Child (a crowd favorite, and certainly a highlight). Missing from the back catalog were: Love Song for a Savior, 5 Candles, Unforgetful You.

But they couldn’t play everything spanning their near twenty year career.

New songs included: After the Fight, Loneliness & Alcohol Alcohol, Inland, Fall Asleep, and others.

In all, it was a rousing, energetic, yet intimate, show. Looking forward to see where they go in the future. Of all I’ve said here, perhaps the best summation of the performance (and the highest praise), comes from my wife, Lisa, who said, “They’ve grown.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Do you like Jars of Clay? What’s your favorite song? Have you heard Inland?