Friday, August 21, 2015

DC Movies: First to Worst

Last week, I ranked Marvel's live-action films (at least the 37 I have seen) from first to worst. Thanks to everyone who read the list and have asked me about it since.

This week, I'm tackling the DC films. As I mentioned last week, I am more of a DC guy. I grew up with Batman, Superman and the Justice League, and so I feel more invested in their comic universe. However, I am by no means a "comic nerd," meaning that I do not know every single thing about every single character in every single story-line. I just like the stories and the characters.

That being said, I have to admit something: DC, overall, is much better at animated films that live-action. They just haven't done that many, and the non-Batman or early-Superman ones have just not been that good. In short, this list is live-action films...and I basically just gave numbers to the ones after 10 in order to make a publishable list. So here goes:
  1. The Dark Knight (2008) -- This film is so good for so many reasons: Bale was at this best as Batman, Heath Ledger gave us one of the great screen villains of all time, and Nolan proved to a larger audience that he is a mater filmmaker.
  2. Superman (1978) -- Christopher Reeves in that plain-style Superman suit squaring off against Gene Hackman in a role he was born to play (Lex Luthor) with John Williams' incredible score playing in the background. You know you dressed up at least once as Superman for Halloween because of this movie. Also, it set the bar for everything that has come after, only to be outdone by the aforementioned The Dark Knight.
  3. Batman Begins (2005) -- In a lot of ways, this served as a reboot not only for the Batman film franchise but for superhero films in general. If you don't believe me, just look at what came between Batman Returns (1992) and Iron Man (2008) and honestly tell me those were some glory years (the Tobey McGuire-Spider-Man films aside).
  4. Batman (1989) -- This is the film that captured me as a Batman fan and drove me to the comics to learn more about this silent guardian...this masked vigilante...this caped crusader...this dark knight. Whether they say it or not, this is the film all comic-book and superhero filmmakers look to for both inspiration and challenge.
  5. Superman II (1980) -- The empire struck back that same year, which overshadowed Superman's return a little. Thankfully Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) was there to enchant audiences back to Metropolis.
  6. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) -- Of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, this is my least favorite simply because it is not as good as The Dark Knight. It feels rushed in spots. It's still better than the rest of the films on the list and many on the Marvel list. Yet it was a letdown in terms of ending Nolan's epic storyline.
  7. Batman Returns (1992) -- You could make a case that this is better than The Dark Knight Rises. You could probably make a strong case. It's a really good sequel to the 1989 Batman film and a good overall sequel film in general. Danny DeVito does a good job as Chester Cobblepot/Penguin; yet the Penguin is just a hard-to-believe character that it comes in just a step behind TDKR.
  8. Batman: The Movie (1966) -- The was campy Batman (and campy 1960s movie-making) at it's finest.
  9. Batman Forever (1995) -- I realize that I am probably going to catch some flack for this because Joel Schumacher directed this. However, if you pretend almost anyone else directed this, then you see that it's actually pretty good. It's right on the border of campy, and it suffers from it's own inflated ego due to the casting choices of Jim Carry (Riddler) and Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face) in superbly fun roles. However there was little to not like about this film.
  10. Watchmen (2009) -- This is arduously long and difficult to stick with (especially if you have not read the graphic novel), however it's better than everything else on this list.
  11. Man of Steel (2013) -- Yes, there are a lot of problems with this film. However, like Watchmen, it's better than everything else on this list.
  12. Superman Returns (2006) -- Bryan Singer left X-Men: The Last Stand to direct this? Are we sure that actually happened? Maybe Brett Ratner tricked Singer into thinking he was directing X-Men: The Last Stand. Regardless, this film is just flat and just flat boring. Even Kevin Spacey's well-played turn as Lex Luthor (in a way very much that draws from Hackman) couldn't help Sups soar here.
  13. Swamp Thing (1982) -- Just let this sink in for a moment, remind yourself you probably saw it on USA or SyFy once, and let's move on.
  14. The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) -- After seeing this and realizing that it only had a limited release, you wonder how the rest of the films on this list ever saw a single silver screen.
  15. Superman III (1983) -- After-school special about the dangers of tobacco and how smoking can ruin your the form of a Superman film that tried really, really hard to be a comedy.
  16. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) -- Getting scratched robs Superman of his power? Really? On a lighter note, the "Honest Trailer" for this is hysterical.
  17. Steel (1997) -- You can't actually prove that I saw this. I mean, I did...and I felt horrible as a result. But you still can't prove that I saw it.
  18. Green Lantern (2011) -- I'm just finishing off the list at this point. And DC was scrapping the bottom of the barrel here. Martin Campbell's stellar directorial career still hasn't recovered.
  19. Catwoman (2004) -- (sigh)
  20. Batman and Robin (1997) -- When your cast and director apologize for making the film, you know it's going to be awful.
  21. Supergirl (1984) -- I hear the new series is actually we'll pretend this didn't happen.
So there you go. My opinion of the DC films. Got something you would like me to review or list next week? Leave me a comment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Leadership Lessons I Learned from "Jurassic World" (With Apologies to Alissa Wilkinson)

I am luke-warm when it comes to my opinion of Jurassic World, the recent and 4th installment of the Jurassic Park franchise. I had issues with when I went to see it, issues that were validated when I saw it.  This, however, is not a review of Jurassic World. Alissa Wilkinson gave a great review of the film.  [You should is hysterical.] That being said, there are a few lessons that I learned related to leadership from the film, lessons that I offer here:

1.  Don't Lead Out of Your Experience-Level

One of the big problems with the JP storyline is that humanity is re-creating dinosaurs simply because they can. As we see in each of the films, an idealist (or greedy accountant) thinks they can control these wild, confused creatures. Then reality sets in through some form of catastrophe that eventually leads to a larger catastrophe. Let's be honest...humanity has no experience when it comes to creating, controlling or corralling dinosaurs!

Yes leaders need to push themselves to grow and develop in their craft. Yet, in order to not bring the organization down in a flaming disaster, we must lead out of our limits. There are areas of leadership that I am just not good at. I need to be mature enough to delegate or collaborate with another leader to make sure the vision stays on track. There are times for jumping off the deep-end and launching out in faith. Yet, when we do that, we are actually trusting that God will guide us. From a day-to-day basis, however, we must lead out of our experience rather than trying to convince everyone that we know how to corral man-earing dinosaurs.

2.  High Heels Don't Work in the Jungle!

Now, don't get me wrong: Bryce Dallas Howard is an excellent actress (Lady in the Water and Twilight aside...we all make mistakes). Even when playing Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3, she has always come across as an articulate and intelligent woman. Her pedigree is solid. However...wearing high heels in the jungle or running through corridors from a dinosaur? Uh, no. That's just silly.

A scientist wearing sneakers or boots walking through the jungle is useful; a scientist wearing high heels walking through the jungle is a liability. When facing conflicts or challenges, leaders have a limited number of tools available, and we must use the ones that will be serve the situation. That also means that we may have to "go barefoot" because what we have with won't work. 

3.  Choose Your Team Wisely

The "alpha male" concept is huge in Hollywood. It's huge in self-help psychology. And it's huge in some streams of evangelical Christianity. However, an "alpha male" as a velociraptor trainer? Uh-huh. Let me know how that works out for you. As we see in the film, the only reason why the velociraptors allow Owen (Christ Pratt) to dominate them is so that they can gang up on Owen and the other humans and eat them (BTW, just like they did in Jurassic Park). Additionally, N-Gen are the bad guys in the JP universe. So why do these guys keep working with them?

What this means for leaders is that we must be careful in picking our teams and careful is whose support we draw from. Often leaders, especially when they are new to a organization, will fall prey to the "velociraptors" present -- those who got the last leader ousted, those who are looking to advance themselves through your failures or those who are jaded because you got the position they wanted. Additionally, we need to be confident enough in our own personality, training and experience to be courageous enough to lead. There is a place for trusting enemies, however we must always do so cautiously. Personally, I have been burned by those that I disagreed with because I thought they supported my vision only to be caught in a crossfire when their true motives came out.

I hope this list is helpful. Got another idea that you want to share? Leave me comment below or send me an email.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter (@DrRobOlynn)!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Semicolon Theology

Did you hear?  RNS columnist Jonathan Merritt got his first tattoo yesterday! Okay...that might not be the most startling news from yesterday. [Although, to be honest, I have a friend who is still waiting on me to get my first one...17 years later.] And, in all reality, Christians getting tattoos shouldn't even raise an eyebrow.

So why mention this little personal tidbit from Jonathan's life? Well, it's because of why he decided to get the tattoo specifically. He decided on a semicolon, and did so because it "is a reminder that there are times in a story when the author could choose to quit, but decides instead to go on." There is a lot of truth in that statement, spiritually speaking.

We are the authors of our own stories, and some of out storytelling is good and some of it is not so good. My comment back to Jonathan came from my favorite prayer in the Bible -- Psalm 30. We see the fascinating reality of faith demonstrated for us in a single verse: "By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face, I was dismayed" (NRSV).

Did you see what happened there? In the space of a semicolon, the poet's life changed from success to failure, from living high on the mountain to languishing down in the valley. And in just the space of the semicolon. The New Living Translation separates these as two sentences, which helps us see the idea here a little more clearly -- our life can change in just the space of a moment.

Whether it being in a traffic accident like I saw on Friday, walking out of a job interview or leaving someone at the table at Starbucks because we just broke up with them, our lives can change in just a moment. In one moment, life is stellar -- like Christopher Nolan/The Dark Knight stellar. Then, without any warning, the bottom falls out and we beg for God to intervene -- like I might have done when I saw the recent Fantastic 4 film with my son.

The point is, change is the one constant to life. That does not mean, however, that God is not present. It simply means that life happens. It means that we decide to go forward rather than quit when life gets too hard. Because, as we see at the end of Psalm 30, if we endure, then we will see God turn our mourning to dancing and clothe us with everlasting joy.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Marvel Movies: Best to Worst

I know, I know.  It's been awhile since I've "shared."  Hey, that's life for some of us.  However, after watching the latest "in-stall-ment" of the Fantastic Four movie franchise, I would offer my opinion on how it ranks against the 35 or so other Marvel films that I have seen.

Note to the Nerdlings: 1) I am actually a DC fan who enjoys Marvel films.  2) I have almost no stake in any of these films, except the Captain America and Cap affiliated films.  3) This is simply my opinion -- I am not Kevin Feige!

With all of this in mind, let's look at the list.  I have broken it down into chunks for readability.  I should note that I am using the list that is available on Wikipedia, and I am only ranking the films that I have actually seen (so there are a couple of early films, direct-to-video sequels, and some TV films that I am not including).

The Best of the Bunch (#1-10)
  1. Iron Man (2008) -- Yes, I said it.  It is the best stand-alone Marvel film.  It set the bar and is, therefore, the best.
  2. Spider-Man 2 (2004) -- This film proved that sequels can be better than the origin story, and is # 2 only because it is a sequel.
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) -- Absolutely better than the original...even "Rotten Tomatoes", "Cinema Score" and "Screen Junkies" thought so.  This is one that I will watch just because I own it.
  4. The Avengers (2012) -- Hands-down one of the best ensemble films around!
  5. Spider-Man (2002) -- Marvel learned that "With great power, comes great responsibility" when it comes to making comic-book movies.
  6. X-Men (2000) -- For better or for worse, Fox's only successful superhero franchise (to date) has been an important cultural, political and spiritual talking point.
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) -- This one is just plain fun, and, I think, set some new standards for science fiction films.
  8. Ant-Man (2015) -- Surprise! Marvel took one their darker characters and stayed truthful to the origin and evolution of this character in a way that even my 9-year-old (non-comic-book fan) daughter absolutely loved.
  9. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) -- After seeing it three times, I realized that while it is better than the other 25 films on this list, it just was not as good as the original films.  I liked the evolved interactions between the team, the James Spader-voiced Ultron was superb, yet it also came across at times at trying to be better than the original.
  10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) -- Cap is essential to the Marvel Universe in so many ways.  And while the origin story was slow in parts, this was certainly a Joe Johnston film: it was respectful to the origin story, it was respectful to the "gosh, golly wilikers" era, and it told a decent story.  Yes, the "crashing the plane in the ice rather than landing it safely in NYC" rather silly, but the movie, overall, was great.
Not as Good, But Better than Others (#11-20)
  1. Iron Man 2 (2010) -- Better known as "Nick Fury: Origin Story"
  2. Thor (2011) -- Not bad...definitely better than several others...but not stellar either. 
  3. X2 (aka, X-Men 2: X-Men United) (2003) -- Foreshadowing...lots of foreshadowing.
  4. X-Men: First Class (2011) -- Post-Brett Ratner.
  5. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) -- Maybe my memory is starting to get a little hazy.  There have been so many X-Men movies.  It's almost like Fox is trying to milk this franchise for all it's worth...
  6. Thor: The Dark World (2013) -- Again, not bad...definitely better than several others...but not stellar either.
  7. The Incredible Hulk (2008) -- The non-Ang Lee one.  Pretend Bill Bixby is playing Banner and it's actually not bad.
  8. Blade (1998) -- Actually, not a bad film.  Mythology is about as bad as the Underworld mythos, yet watching Wesley Snipes go all Wesley Snipes on some vampires is pretty cool.
  9. The Wolverine (2013) -- Storyline aside, this is a decent stand-alone superhero film.
  10. Iron Man 3 (2013) -- Let's be honest...this was simply to pass the time until Cap and Thor got their sequels made.
When Executives Make Dollar-Based Decisions (#21-30)
  1. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) -- Did we really need a new Spider-Man this soon?
  2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) -- Are we completely sure Brett Ratner didn't make this?  I mean, a Deadpool who can't speak?  Where's the fun in that?
  3. Spider-Man 3 (2007) -- It's got to go somewhere on the list.
  4. Blade II (2002) -- Fun fact: Guillermo del Toro directed this one.  *Ding*
  5. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) -- There was nothing "last" about this...Brett Ratner is still making movies somehow.
  6. Hulk (2003) -- The Ang Lee-directed one.  R.I.P. Bill Bixby.
  7. Fantastic Four (2005) -- Sympathy vote, plain and simple.
  8. Howard the Duck (1986) -- A really bad movie that we really like.
  9. The Punisher (2004) -- sigh
  10. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) -- Unnecessary hipster reboot.
Scrapping the Bottom of the Barrel (#31-37)
  1. Blade: Trinity (2004) -- When Ryan Reynolds actually steals the show (and not as Deadpool).
  2. Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) -- So...who was the film actually supposed to be about?  And that's the best Fox could do with Galactus?
  3. Fantastic 4 (2015) -- The trailer was literally better than the movie.  Most of the scenes in the trailer weren't even in the movie...and they were better than what made the movie!
  4. Ghost Rider (2007) -- I still have not actually seen all of it...I can't force myself to finish it.
  5. Daredevil (2003) -- Hey, I hear the television series is excellent.
  6. Elektra (2005) -- Jennifer Garner grew up in West Virginia...I was born in West Virginia...that was my justification for seeing this and I then promptly repenting of my cinematic sin.
  7. The Fantastic Four (1994) -- I have only seen clips...and they are awful.
So, there you go.  My ranking of the Marvel films from best to worst.  Sorry about the numbering; code-writing is not my thing.  

Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: "More: From Messes to Miracles" by Tammie Head

There is an ancient practice in Celtic Christianity called the “soul friend.”  Essentially, it was the earliest systematized form of the contemporary practice of mentoring where one Christian seeks guidance, instruction or discipline from another Christian.  In many ways, Tammie Head’s book More functions like a “soul friend.”  Head, a Christian woman who has overcome a great deal of adversity in her life, including a teenage shotgun marriage and escaping the sex trade industry, does not offer a treatise on Christian theology nor does she offer an organized plan for spiritual growth.  What she does offer is a conversation, a conversation about faith.  She is honest about her faults and struggles, especially those about her marriage and pride in ministry.  She does offer some thoughts and reflections on some spiritual disciplines that have been helpful to her, like intercessory prayer and reading scripture.  However the bulk of the content comes in the form of stories collected over a lifetime of spiritual peaks and valleys.  The ultimate goal of her book is simple: God can redeem any messy person and turn him or her into a glorious spiritual miracle.  The chapters do not necessarily follow any particular progression but function more like informal conversations around a dinner table or in a coffee shop.  There is a lot of good stuff here, a buffet of stories and insights that can benefit readers in only one chapter doses or in reading the entire book at once.

As basic and conversational as this book is, there are a few faults that I had with it.  For the most part, these are fairly small details, however I think they are worth noting.  First, there are a few places where the author refers to her readers as “daughters of God.”  Now, I get it—very few men are going to read this book; it is written more for women.  However, as a male reader and as one who gets aggravated when male writers assume only men will read their books, I think Head does herself a disservice by assuming that only women will read her book.  As I mentioned above, there is a lot of good stuff here that can benefit any reader, regardless of gender.  Second, the author gets a little repetitious in some of her comments and stories.  This was not so much of a returning to stories in order to continue telling them as much as it was repeating stories as if that particular story had not been told previously.  Third—and this one is a little theological—the author mixes or equates the roles of God and Jesus in a way that made me scratch my head a time or two.  From an evangelical perspective, I can understand the blurring of Trinitarian personalities because we teach them as one in the same.  However, from an academic perspective, this reflects a lacking in biblical and theological competency that is problematic, especially for skeptical, unchurched readers.

Overall, I think this is a good book that will a helpful read for those who are looking for some encouragement on how God can turn our messes into miracles.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Membership Matters

Note: This post originally appeared as my 25 January 2015 church bulletin article.

In his wonderfully brief yet profound book I Am a Church Member, Thom Rainer, a church-based researcher in Nashville, surveyed nearly 600 congregations to get an idea of the shape of the American church.  His research demonstrated that 90% of these congregations were declining, a statistic that has been verified in other studies.  He deals with this research in his book Autopsy of a Deceased Church, which we be looking at later.

However Rainer also found six common characteristics of members (not ministers) in the 10% of congregations that were healthy, vibrant, stable and/or growing.  First, healthy churches have functioning members.  It is not just a one-man show; everyone plays a part in the work of the congregation.  Second, healthy churches have members who seek unity.  We do not have to all like or agree with what goes on around here (that’s conformity); yet we should strive to unify in our support of the vision because we believe it is where God is leading us.

Third, healthy churches have members who put the mission of the church ahead of their own preferences.  This one is touchy, I know.  However, remember the words of the Paul to the Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (2:3).  Our whims and fancies about what should go on should also be second to the vision that God has given our congregation.

Fourth, healthy churches have members who pray for their leaders.  I personally appreciate how many of you tell me that you pray for me on a regular basis.  Fifth, healthy churches have members who make church a family affair.  Membership is not a Sunday-only commitment but carries over in to every aspect of our lives.  And sixth, healthy churches have members who treasure their membership.  This means we put aside our sense of entitlement and live with the understanding that salvation (and church membership) is a gift that has been gracious given to us.  May we never abuse this wonderful gift from God!