Thursday, November 16, 2006

Review of Stranger Than Fiction

Try as I may, I could not walk into the theatre without a set of subtle presuppositions. With Will Ferrall’s name stretching across the poster who can blame me? While Elf, Talladega Nights, and the hilarious Anchorman hold a dear place in my heart (take notice of the unapologetic absence of Kicking and Screaming), the previews of Ferrall’s newest release struck a familiar yet suspicious chord in me. I walked in expecting a type-cast comedian giving a wack at something serious. Would this rival the satire and creativity of Jim Carrey’s Truman Show? Or perhaps it would prove a career-ending stab at crossing genres tantamount to casting Carrot-top as the new James Bond? With much joy I must report that the former rings true for me.

Harold Crick (Ferrall), a monotonous IRS auditor, starts to hear a female voice narrate his every action from brushing his teeth to sensual fantasies. Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) serves as the woman behind this British dialect—a delightfully eccentric author who is feverishly searching for a tragic ending to her new book. Unbeknownst to her, the main character in her book actually exists and is living out her plotline in real-time with her typewriter.

This leads Harold to the literature expert Professor Jules Hilbert played by the legendary Dustin Hoffman. Professor Hilbert acts as Harold’s literary detective as they narrow down the plot structure to determine whether he is living in a comedy or a tragedy. As Eiffel continues to write, Harold develops a crush on a free-spirited baker named Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and decides to scrap his life of numbers and punctuality. This leads to a personal transformation worthy of Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day.

The plot thickens as Eiffel seeks for the most poetic way to slay Harold. With the threat of writer’s block on the horizon, the publishing company brings in Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help ensure that Eiffel meets her deadline. And this is proof that this movie is worth seeing—any good movie requires an ex-rapper. I for one approve for the selection of Queen Latifah over Marky-Mark, Fresh Prince, Ice Cube, or L.L. Cool J.

The movie takes some risks with its cinematography, but it works in my opinion. Thompson renders the delicacies of her character brilliantly—a chain-smoking author with an inappropriate appreciation for morbidity. And if you mix that with Hoffman’s obvious talent and Ferrall’s natural gift for making the mundane mirthful, you have a winner. I just hope we get to see all the Ferrall's improvisations said in the DVD extras.

Ultimately, the strength of the film relies on the creativity of the plot. If this movie were a cartoon, it would be Pixar. I just love the idea of mixing Harold’s fumbling responses with someone who is arbitrarily writing his life. It makes me ask, “Just who is in control here?” Destiny meets human responsibility in the form of a British novel—if only we knew what God was trying to write about us. I’d welcome his knowing voice over my morning ritual (minus shower-time because that would just be weird). It is just that we all want to be the star of a story…to have a life worth narrating. The only catch is that sometimes the story may take us somewhere we find unappealing. If that ever happens to me, I can only hope that I face it like Harold Crick—faithfully living the script for the sake of a good story.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Writing About the Prosperity Gospel

I picked up a Time magazine the other day simply because of the cover (I guess that's the idea, huh). It simply read..."Does God Want You to Be Rich?" It was an edition mostly devoted to the phenomenal growth of the Prosperity Gospel in the United States.

Having received my theological education at a major Charismatic University, I was intrigued and thumbed through it. The theme seemed to revolve around a reinterpretation of Jesus' words: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36) The overwhelming sentiment I got from the Prosperity proponents was "sure, I don't want to forfeit my self, but why can't I have both?"

But I have mixed feelings about this Prosperity Gospel. On one hand, I despise its glorification of human effort and its almost animistic worldview; on the other hand, I appreciate its attempts to bring the attractive elements of Gospel into the center of Christianity (i.e. joy, blessing. and God's favor). On one side, these proponents dangerously overlook Scripture's insistence on God's Sovereignty, issues of stewardship, and the value of suffering; from another angle, they folks are all out to find happiness in the here and now (not so sinful of a pursuit if you ask me).

These thoughts led me to write an article that was recently published. Feel free to check it out here.