Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

What if you met someone randomly, but after a moment knew that you were destined to be with them forever? What if the world were designed so that you could never be together, despite what you know in your heart? The Adjustment Bureau asks these questions while offering a sincerely romantic look at what it means to pursue your destiny.

Confession: I've never read a Philip K. Dick story. Not one. I didn't even know who he was until I started hearing about this movie. When I did hear of him, I heard that he was a noted sci-fi author, and based on that info, and the previews, I thought the Adjustment Bureau looked like something from that genre, with a little romance thrown in (did I ever tell you how my mom tried to convince me Under Siege was a romance so I would watch it with her?). I'm not normally one for major Sci-Fi-ish movies, but here is what lured me in about The Adjustment Bureau:
* Matt Damon
* Love
* Weird premise of people being "adjusted"
* Matt Damon
* Emily Blunt being so beautiful in the previews
* It looked kind of action-y
* Matt Damon
So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard from multiple sources (my parents, and the three hands) that this story was way more romance than sci fi.

The Adjustment Bureau follows Senate hopeful David Norris as he meets, loses, meets again, loses again, and  maybe meets again his possible true love, Elise. At each step of the way, there are enigmatic men wearing fedoras who are talking with each other, watching the happenings and seemingly interested in the happenings for some reason. The role these be-capped men play in the lives of Emily and David, and ostensibly almost everyone in the world, is soon revealed and our hearts are broken along with our Hero's as we learn that following hard after love involves making sacrifices.

That's all I'm going to say about the story for now, because I want you to go into it without knowing too much. Its the themes I really want to talk about.

First, the theme that we don't have free will (or rather that we sort of have free will on the little things, but not the big things). This made me think a lot about the tensions between free will and predestination. In the movie, the plan is constantly changing - but the bible teaches us that we have a God who is outside of time and who knows the end from the beginning. So is the plan really changing? or are all these adjustments part of the fabric of it all?

Second, the theme that love is worth pursuing for against all. Agree. Wholeheartedly agree, and biblically speaking, I think this is verified. God pursues us to the ends of the earth. When we pursue him back, that is even better. True also in human love - as imperfect as it can be - mutual pursual is awesome and to know that someone made life choices based on their hopeless (because they may never see you again) love for you is pretty amazing.

Finally, the theme that we write our own story. I've been talking about this lately with a new friend, and I like that throughout this movie there are moments where Matt Damon's character refuses to believe that the story written for him is his story. He sees a different story, and sets out to write it for himself and for his love. While I believe fully in the providence and authority of God, I think that he also wants us to be walking out in faith and writing our story. He's like the ghostwriter, shaping it, guiding it, directing it, but in our day to day lives, as we seek to love him and serve others, we are writing our story.
Example: God tells us to love the downtrodden. There are a lot of ways I can do that. But for my story, one of the ways I want to do it is to know the homeless people in my neighborhood. I want to know their names and visit with them when I am on the way to the bus in the morning. In writing my own story of who I will be, I want to be the women who loves the downtrodden by acknowledging their humanity, by treating them like a person, like a friend. Somehow in those moments, I am both fulfilling God's perfect plan for me and being an author of my life.

Check out the Adjustment Bureau, for sure. I give it five spilled coffees out of five and think that it may end up on my Stranger than Fiction shelf as a go-to romantic favorite.

Disclosure one: My friends over at The Three Hands in the Popcorn Bag site also reviewed this movie - and frankly reviewed it really well. Check it out if you want more info:

Disclosure two: I saw this movie on a date with my new fella, and so I was probably predisposed to enjoy the romantic nature of the movie, but the fact is, I would have loved it anyway. I think we all want to be pursued, and we all want a love that is worth pursuing, so this movie was going to win me over no matter what.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review: The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter

"The Convenient Groom" is the most recent in the series of Nantucket Island stories by Denise Hunter. Dr. Kate is an advice columnist and psychologist who has just written a book for all the single ladies, titled "Finding Mr. Right-For-You." As a fun aside, each chapter includes a little witty word on finding Mr. Right from Kate's book.

The good news for Kate? The book is scheduled to release on the same day as her wedding to Bryan. The bad news? Today is her wedding day, and Bryan just called to tell her that he's in love with someone else. Enter Lucas, Kate's landlord, who overhears the call and suggests that she marry him instead. After all, what is the worst that can happen?

I had previously reviewed "Love Letters", just over a year ago, from the same series, and I can tell you that I enjoy her characters, and the settings of her stories. But I can also tell you that the whole time I'm reading I just want those same characters to talk to each other. In my review of Love Letters, I wrote "Stop messing around people. Let’s just get honest with each other..." and I felt the same way in this story. Lucas loves Kate, but doesn't tell her - instead suggesting he'd be willing to marry her if she'd help his parents with  free marital counseling. Kate (as you might suspect) begins to love Lucas, but can't reveal her feelings because of fears from her past. 

I get it. I do. I get that its hard to talk about our feelings. And that in a marriage, and in a dating relationship, it can be hard to know what is OK to say and what isn't. It can be hard to be transparent about our feelings because we don't want to be rejected. But I don't want to live my life that way, at least as much as possible I don't, and so while I enjoy these books, they sort of frustrate me. 

The bottom line: Hunter writes good characters and authentic-feeling friendships and family relationships, but I wish that the hero and heroine would have their conflict throughout the book - with each other, instead of within their heads. I think that would make the story of Kate and Lucas more honest, more instructive, and ultimately tell us more about God's loving nature (which based on the discussion guide is a key part of the story of Lucas' love for Kate). 

I rate The Convenient Groom 3.5 bon mots out of 5. If you enjoy sweet Christian romances, you'll probably enjoy this one, but be prepared that you might be shouting at the main characters to just talk to each other already.

*** In the interest of full disclosure, I was provided with a copy of this book for free from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. If you are interested in reviewing books for Bethany House, click here. If you are interested in being  a part of Book Sneeze (a review program for Thomas Nelson) check out the tag on the right side of the blog. ***

Monday, March 7, 2011

I'm a romantic.

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a romantic. I'm a sucker for romance - not always in the traditional bring me roses and fawn all over me way (but that is nice) but I'm a romantic about little things, like when you text me a picture of something you made because you want to share it with me, or like when you smile while patiently teaching me something. I'm a romantic for when you say I'm tired, but I want to see you, so lets find a way to sit on a couch together and not talk but just enjoy each other's space.

My mom would say that all this romantic-ness is perfect for me because I'm kind of dramatic.

She's right, I'm a dramatic romantic. I both love and hate the emotional roller coaster that exists within all relationships (not just love ones). I go high and low and want to hit the panic button and eject one minute and want to suggest we get married (or live next door to each other if we are just friends) in the next.

I chalk it up to the amount of books I read. I do read some romance novels, sometimes. If the characters are good. But I also read lots of other fiction: mystery, legal thrillers, suspense. Lots of drama in those (and also sometimes romance and friendship).

Anyway, recently my friend Kristen reposted this word of "advice" over on her blog. And I found myself loving it - in a romantic, idyllic, "yes love me this way!" kind of way. I've now reposted it below. Enjoy.

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve. 

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.
She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.
Buy her another cup of coffee.
Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.
It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.
She has to give it a shot somehow.
Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.
Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.
Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilightseries.
If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.
You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.
You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.
Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.
Or better yet, date a girl who writes.”  (Reposted from: — Rosemary Urquico (via themonicabird))

A Million Miles (in a thousand years) - out now on paperback!

I first came across Donald Miller's writing when Scotty (the head coach I worked for at Greenville) was sent a review copy of "Blue Like Jazz" - he asked me to read through it and let him know if it was worth reading. I did so, and found that Miller had explained my west coast experience with Christianity in a way that I was struggling to do, and it blessed me, taught me, and helped me to communicate better with my midwestern community.

Since then I've been a big fan and am excited to check out his latest release: A Million Miles (in a thousand years). Check out the video below, and then check out the book - you can order it online starting today!

Are you living a great story with your life? from Donald Miller on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Review: Saint Francis (Christian Encounters Series) by Robert West

Well friends, I should know better. After trudging through "Isaac Newton" (of this same series), I decided to take a stab at reviewing a another. Unfortunately for me, my love of biographies has not really extended to this series. Despite that, I will try to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about how you'll like this book.

I'll give West this, right from the beginning, he does a great job of painting a picture about what the world was like when Francis of Assisi was a young, wealthy man. His description is rich and he paints an interesting and compelling picture of what young Francis' life was like. More importantly, there are easy parallels to what some of our lives may have been like before we knew Jesus - we can see our own lives and how easily the enemy makes us think we have it all, and how the Lord intervenes in those moments to show us what we really have (or lack).

The main problem that I have with book is that the rich description that serves West well as a historian, does not move the story forward very quickly or easily. I felt like I was continually waiting to really see what this guy Francis of Assisi was about. Along the way, I understood that he believed strongly in a life of poverty and sacrifice, and he led others wisely. But I have to be honest - if I'm not sucked into the book by halfway through its 220 very small pages - then I just can't recommend it that highly. I don't know if I'm not connecting with this series because I've only read about men thus far, or if its the format, but I have to rate it 2 sheep out of 5.

** Full disclosure: I was provided with this book free of charge by Thomas Nelson, in exchange for my honest review. I have no other affiliation with Thomas Nelson. If you are interested in being a part of this program, click the "Book Sneeze" link to the right of the blog.