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A Year of STUPID COVID

That is what we call it in the office here at church. Stupid COVID.

Today (March 11) seems to be the day we as a nation are marking the one year awareness of C-19. As a caveat, I would like to say I distinctly remember being aware of it by late January and all through February. I think what we are remembering is when people recognized how serious it was with the cancellation of NBA games and the public announcement that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for COVID-19.

I know when I took it seriously — it was March 4 when Sony MGM announced they were postponing the release of No Time To Die, the newest James Bond film and probably Daniel Craig’s last turn as 007. I remember my thought process very clearly — studios are designed to make money, and if they see the risk of releasing it in April then this must be quite the problem. The second real stand-up moment for me was March 13 when the NCAA announced it was cancelling the annual basketball tournament. March Madness is a huge money maker for these colleges. Cancelling it was serious. The best way to judge what people really think and feel is to follow the money. These two cancellations were demonstrable that people were afraid enough to throw money away.

At present, a year down the line, I am very optimistic about the future. It seems like the vaccines are working. Case numbers are down. People are rolling up their sleeves. I am very hopeful that by May or June we can be back to something like normal.

Since everyone else is dong it, let me make some observations about the past year.

  1. I am very impressed with the vast majority of Americans in general, people in my community in specific, and our church in the extreme. Most of us have gone above and beyond to help others, to take precautions, and to support the decisions that needed to be made.
  2. At the same time, the number of people who flippantly put other people’s health in jeopardy and show no concern for their neighbor disgusts me. COVID-19 has showed us who people really are and what they value.
  3. The pandemic has already changed us and how we interact. I’m pretty sure for the rest of my life when I fly or am in a crowded space, I will put on a mask. I know it has changed government and our expectations of it. It has also changed church. I don’t know if we will ever be completely comfortable in a potluck or really crowded classrooms ever again.
  4. Let me speak about that government business for a second. For a variety of reasons, the pandemic demonstrated we were not ready for it. It was humbling for our nation, which is okay. Pride is a sin, and recognizing weaknesses is an important part of growth. My fear is there will be an overreaction in the other direction which will be too much reliance upon government to solve every personal issue. Wisdom will find that sweet spot of competency and preparedness.
  5. Still on the government bit — I fully support the COVID relief bill which just passed through Congress. However, we need to start thinking right now of how we are going to pay for it. My recommendation is we tax hard and fast the tech industry, particularly digital communications. These were the platforms that made a killing during COVID-19 because we all had to use their products. While restaurants and airlines and cruise ships and cinemas and concerts were closed Amazon was making mad bank. We should tax them specifically for recovery. After that, something like a 1% added income tax for everyone until the national debt is paid. That’s my big idea.
  6. The most valuable workers in our nation are medical workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, childcare/education workers, and of course police officers. When the pandemic hit, these were the people we needed the most to keep us fed, supplied, and safe. How many parents now realize the work their school does for their children? All of us, I bet. I would like for our pay structures to reflect this. I’m not against athletes, entertainers, and CEO’s making as much money as they can negotiate for, but I am against the pathetic salary structure of people we so desperately need. We will have the money to do this, because pent up demand is going to set the worldwide economy on soaring heights. Soaring.
  7. Our church faired very well through this and I adamantly believe our church is the greatest church in the world. We took a super-cautious approach from the beginning. Nevertheless, I will freely admit it has been the hardest year of ministry I have ever experienced. It has taken a toll on my soul. Some of it is the amount of work we had to do to reinvent almost everything we did in order to maintain ministry, but most of it is the very negative, hateful, and personal attacks people have made. The number of people who have hurt me is very small, but the cuts are deep because they are relational.
  8. As to church in general, I think the church in American, at least, coming out of this will be smaller, poorer, but stronger. Some people who got out of the habit or who have filled the gap with other things, will never come back. Some folks who are angry at cautious protocols will stop giving. That’s okay, but the Lord is always using the ebb and flow of life to separate the wheat and the chaff.
  9. I am thankful for Zoom and Facebook Live because it has helped us stay in touch and connected. However, we have learned in the pandemic that remote learning and digital classrooms are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. This is true of schools and churches where learning is key. My perception is these technologies will be helpful in the business world because transformation and learning is not the goal, but information exchanges.
  10. Many people who learned to work from home will never return full-time to an office environment. Many people who used to travel for work will see their travel diminished as they’ve learned to do it from home via conference call. This will change the workplace and our culture, particularly parenting. What we have to do is remember that until the modern world, this was normal. Everyone worked from home before the Industrial Revolution.
  11. We are not out of this yet. In Texas, 202 people died yesterday from COVID-19 and 1,477 in the United States. We need to keep vigilance until we have the necessary 70-80% of the population vaccinated. That means masks, distance, hand sanitizer, and caution until at least mid-April. The weather here is getting better, so we are moving our worship services outside again in two weeks. Why? Because it is safer. Ignore the politicians and instead remember the words of Jesus and love your neighbor. Don’t be selfish and don’t give into the fatigue. Now is the time to stay vigilant. Don’t be afraid, but exercise love and self-control.

2020 Best Picture Nominees

The pressure has been real this year. The Oscars are two weeks earlier than normal, which means I had two fewer weeks to watch them all. But I did it. I watched all the best picture nominees. Here is my rundown of the nominees and a brief review and then I’ll give you my picks for the major categories.

1917

This is great film, but not for the feint of heart. As a historian, I found it captured much of the idiocy of World War I. Troops fighting endless offensives and defensives to secure eighteen inches of territory all the while starving to death as their feet rot off. The only thing missing was nerve gas. It was a stupid war fought in a stupid way, and the movie captures that desperate senselessness. There are a lot of symbolic moments, but what will stay with you is the editing — the long uncut scenes — which give you a powerful sense of being in the middle of the action.

When I left the theater I wanted to drink a glass of milk and cry.

Ford v Ferrari

The sound of this movie is still in my ears. I’m not a car person, and car racing is even more of a foreign concept, but this movie made me want to buy a new fast car and then watch racing nonstop. The performances were spectacular, and the second greatest travesty of the Oscar season was Christian Bale did not get nominated for best actor.

Joker

I didn’t like this movie as much as most people. In its effort to be fresh and original, I think it muddied the waters on a familiar narrative. For example, If I’m seeing it right, The Joker is way older than Batman, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are other problems for me, including one that seems cliche but to mention it would be a great spoiler so I’ll leave it there.

As an aside, I think this movie does harm to the view of mental illness. Mentally ill people are not homicidal or violent. Yes, there are violent people in this world who do horrible, terrible things but this movie draws too thick of a line between violent rages and mental illness. The best thing this film does, however, is capture the icky feeling of the late 70s and early 80s.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

This movie should not have been nominated and it is not worthy of mentioning along with these other outstanding films. Is it funny? At times. Is it interesting? At times. Is the acting good? At times. The only reason, though, this film has any mentions is because Quentin Tarantino made it AND Leo and Brad are in it AND it is about Hollywood. Hollywood is completely infatuated with itself.

When I left the theater back in the summer when it came out, I was mumbling to myself, “You can do that once, QT, but you can’t do it again.”

Parasite

My baseline review of this movie: It starts out as Korean Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Finishes as Helter Skelter. The performances were outstanding and the story was well told. There are some editing issues and pacing problems, but the brilliance of the way the story uses issues like smell and social expectations make up for those problems.

This movie is social commentary through and through and by the end you will ask yourself who is the parasite and who is really violent. I also asked myself what was real in the movie. It is this year’s “Get Out”.

The Irishman

I hated this movie. It is three hours of self-indulgent cliche. It is a crime against storytelling this movie was nominated.

Little Women

The best scene in this movie is when the old rich neighbor (Chris Cooper) sits on the stairs and listens to Beth play the piano. That scene alone earns this movie a spot on the nominees list, and if it doesn’t melt your heart then you need to check and make sure you have one. The acting, with the exception of Emma Watson, is so very good. Saoirse Ronan is quite simply one of the finest actresses of all time.

Jojo Rabbit

I was not expecting to like this movie because the premise sounded absurd. However, I was wrong. This movie was at times delightful and laugh-out-loud funny and then it turns and kicks you in the gut. The plot is not really great, but it is a stunning character piece. And Sam Rockwell. Sam Rockwell is a national treasure.

Marriage Story

There are times when I loved this movie and times when I hated it. It does a great job of eliciting emotions, and the acting is impeccable. What I wish was something less formulaic and less done than a divorce and custody battle for Scarlett and Adam (notice how I feel like I know them so well I can just use their first names) to work with. Those two make the movie, and I don’t begrudge them their nominations in acting categories. However, overall I think the movie is uneven and, as I said, the theme is overdone. I liked this movie the first time I saw it when it as called Kramer vs Kramer.


Predictions

Best picture: The most likely winner is 1917. From start to finish it is the best movie with the highest overall quality. However, I think Ford v Ferrari has a punchers chance. The outside long shot is Jojo Rabbit.

Actor In A Leading Role: I would like for it to be Tom Hanks, but he wasn’t nominated. My second pick wold be Christian Bale, but he wasn’t nominated either. My third pick would be Jonathan Pryce because The Two Popes was soooooo gooooooood. However, the winner will be Joaquin Phoenix.

Actor In A Supporting Role: The winner is Tom Hanks. I would have liked for Chris Cooper to have gotten a nomination and maybe even Alan Alda but all the slots had to go to mobsters and Hollywood.

Actress In A Leading Role: Renee Zellwegger will win for her outstanding performance in Judy. However, we all know the wrong person won this last year so you never know. If Cynthia Erivo wins that will be fine with me. Harriet was a great movie.

Actress In A Supporting Role: This is a toss up for me. I have not seen Bombshell or Richard Jewell, and apparently neither have many other people, so my pick here is limited. I feel like Scarlett fatigue might keep her from winning, so I lean toward Laura Dern. Yeah, I’m picking Laura Dern. But the winner should be Ana de Armas from Knives Out. Her snubbing is a tragedy.

Animated Feature Film: I never pick the right one, but How To Train Your Dragon made me and Mrs. Greenbean both cry. So there.

Directing: Sam Mendes is a lock.

Original Score: I’ve listened to them all and . . no bias here . . . the best music is Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. It should win.

Original Song: Stand Up from Harriet.

Original Screenplay: I’d like for Knives Out to win, but it will be Parasite.


Before I leave, a word about Mr. Rogers. Oscar must hate Mr. Rogers. Last year it snubbed the outstanding documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and this year the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” should have been nominated for best picture and director (Marielle Heller) and Hanks should have gotten a best actor nod. But no. Oscar hates Mr. Rogers.

Frozen Ferrari Fred Whodunit

Other than the fact “Ferrari Fred” sounds like the name of a character in a bad Stephen King novel, what am I talking about with this crazy blog title? I WENT TO THE MOVIES, that is what I’m talking about.

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend we saw the four hot movies out right now, and they were all wonderful in their own way. No, they are not all for everyone, but they are all wonderful. I will take them in the order I saw them.

Ford v Ferrari

Everything about this movie was near perfection. The story was tight, the dialogue was crisp and memorable, the imagery was iconic, and the sound and sights of those beautiful cars was spectacular. Even if you don’t like cars, you’ll like the movie and if you like cars, you’ll love the movie. Christian Bale will get a best actor nomination and the movie will get a best picture nomination. It has some language in it, so you might want to keep the kiddos away, but there is no violence or pornographic material.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Movies usually entertain. Sometimes they inspire. Sometimes they mesmerize. This movie affirms humanity and the possibilities for making the world a better place. Shot in the same style as the old Mr. Rogers Neighborhood television show, it usher you into a different world from the very beginning. Yet this movie is not really about Mr. Rogers as much as it is the journalist covering him, but at the same time it really is. The main character, Lloyd, is changed by Mr. Rogers. Tom Hanks will get a nod for best actor and the movie should be a top contender for best picture.

As an aside, I also recommend you watch the outstanding documentary about Mr. Rogers. Click here to read what I wrote about that.

Frozen II

All four of us enjoyed it and so can your entire family. The music is very good, but the emotions are what steal the show. There is one particular moment when Anna is everyone of us — fighting to keep up hope in a lonely and dark world. I liked this movie more than the first one, probably because of the heavy Tolkien influence on the story. I’m serious. If Olaf is viewed as a happy shiny Gollum, Elsa as Gandalf, Anna as Frodo/Aragorn, Sven and Kristoff become hobbits then the journey parallels nicely.

Aside from this, it is easy to see the motif of the movie — a needed restoration and reconciliation between indigenous peoples and those who exploited and took from them. It’s a good message.

Knives Out

This one surprised me. I didn’t expect to like it so much, but man was it fun. Nothing will be nominated from this movie, and there will be no awards for it but it is fun. Here was my take away on this movie: Knives Out is the Thanksgiving movie America needed but didn’t know it needed. Besides, it’s got Captain America, James Bond, half of Miami Vice, and Captain Von Trapp, and Halloween! There is a lot of star power here, but Ana de Armas steals the show as Marta.

There is a lot of language and one particular violent moment, but no nudie bits. Perfect for adults who want to slurp soda and enjoy themselves.

2016 OSCAR BEST PICTURE OVERVIEW

88-Academy-Awards-2016-Oscars-ListThe 2016 Academy Awards are this weekend. As is my custom I have watched all of the best picture nominations. I will predict winners in a following blog, as well as make some other comments, but for now, here are my brief thoughts on each film. NO SPOILERS.

Bridge of Spies–Loved this film. I can’t believe Tom Hanks is not nominated for best actor and that Spielberg is not on the list for best director. A movie like this can bog down in its pacing, and the acting can become stiff. Neither of these are problems. The best part of the movie, though, is Mark Rylance as the Russian spy Rudolf Abel.

Mad Max: Fury Road–For a film in this genre, Fury Road is a great movie. The only way it can win best picture is if all the voting members of the academy are seventeen-year-old boys. The movie is essentially one giant car chase.

The Revenant–Leonardo DiCaprio did a fantastic job in this movie, and the cinematography is fantastic. I especially enjoyed the camera work on some of the action sequences. The “Bear Scene” is among the best 10 minutes of any movie you’ll ever see.  Sadly, the movie’s whole is not as good as its parts. It bogs down at times, and the characters, though interesting, are flat. In addition, I didn’t care for the ‘weirdness’ elements of the film that try to give it a spiritual punch. Bonus Information–Revenant is a word that means “ghost” or “revived”. Its a good title.

Spotlight–This movie is about heroes. The journalist showcased in the film are heroes because they dug and dug and dug until they uncovered the travesty taking place in the Roman Catholic Church.  I know from personal experience that there are sexual predators that find their way into churches (and schools, civic organizations, etc…), but the cover-up is what this story is mostly about. This movie does a fantastic job of dealing with a difficult subject in an outstanding way. I believe, in a certain way, it is the kind of film that all church-going people should watch.

The Martian–A fun movie, but not as good as the book. Particularly, it is not as funny as the book. The MC, Mark Watney, was much funnier in print than on film. The movie is a great science fiction film, but I don’t know if it rises to the quality of great film. Two bonus items on this movie: Bonus one–Matt Damon keeps getting stuck somewhere and Hollywood has spent a lot of money bringing him home (click here for proof) Bonus two–It really irked me how much of the story they gave away in the trailer for this film. Hollywood, please try not to tell the whole story in the thirty minute trailer.

The Big Short–Unless you are an unscrupulous banker or financial adviser, this film will make you angry. This movie takes the job of exposing the excesses of Wall Street with zeal. The acting is brilliant–particularly Steve Carell and Christian Bale–and the script is crisp enough to keep people engaged in what could otherwise be glassy-eyed mumbo jumbo. A special part of this movie is the way it intentionally breaks the fourth wall in order to take a moment to explain something. It is a clever method of exposition.

Room–Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are fantastic. The movie is gut wrenching, the plot is horrifying, and the characters are authentically tragic. It comes at you in two acts–and without giving anything away, the second act, though less tense, is the best and bravest part.

Brooklyn–This movie has everything. It is an immigrants tale, but it is the story of all of us insofar as it follows a young woman who works through a changing cultural environment, falls in love, matures, and then must face her past and choose.  This is the kind of movie you want to watch with someone you love. Religion, ethnicity, soci0-economic, immigration, and coming-of-age are all deliciously treated through very complex characters.

Summary–None of these movies are duds (unlike several of the previous years) and all of them are interesting. I am not certain all of them are worthy of their nomination, but none of them are a complete waste of time. Each movie is for mature audiences, and none, in my opinion, are appropriate for children under fifteen.