Clerks 2 Review

Just saw Clerks 2 today. Here's the review I wrote for Visual Parables (along with some discussion questions):

Kevin Smith (who directed) is back and as raunchy as ever! And, yet, buried under all the cussing and references to body parts and bodily functions, Clerks 2 brings something sweet and refreshing.

This is not a movie I would recommend using in a Sunday School class. There aren’t any suitable scenes for use in a Sunday morning worship service. You can’t use it with your youth group. A movie like this might best be viewed 1) by yourself for personal reflection, 2) with a film viewing group, or 3) with a college-age or Gen-X group that is open to dealing with films that may at first glance seem not only inappropriate, but downright repugnant.

Clerks 2 opens in classic black-and-white with Dante (Brian O’Halloran) discovering the Quik Stop in flames. Soon, he and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are in full technicolor with new jobs working at Mooby’s (Kevin Smith’s recurring View Askew fast food joint).

What follows is 97 minutes of hilarious (though, I admit, terribly vulgar) conversation—something that Kevin Smith is a genius at writing. Dante and Randal are now in their early thirties. Dante is engaged to the woman he could never get when he was in high school. And Randal is frustrated that his best friend is moving to Florida to get married. Soon, however, Dante realizes that he’s not really in love with his fiancĂ© (Jennifer Schwalbach), but instead has fallen in love with his boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson).

Jay and Silent Bob are also back to add some extra humor and vulgarity. They’re still selling blunt (marijuana), but Jay is no longer using it. How can he resist the temptation? As Jay puts it, he can do it “with Christ on my side.” Jay says it sincerely, but it’s hard not to feel like there’s something kind of sacrilegious about it.

But that’s what makes Kevin Smith so fascinating. Smith is a devout Catholic who, in his liner notes on the Dogma DVD, says in reference that movie, “I wanted to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, yes; but I also wanted people to hear the joyful noise, and not just shut it out because I was running around talking about Jesus. So, I opted to pepper my parable about faith with some real salt of the earth-type humor.” In the end credits to Clerks 2, the first person that Smith thanks is “God—He who keeps my heart beating, and makes me appreciative, and scared.” Sounds like a guy who loves and fears God.

Over the course of Clerks 2, Dante and Randal struggle with being men in their thirties who are still merely clerks. Dante tells Randal that “The world left us behind a long time ago.” But in the midst of their struggle, they discover that their friendship—including the past ten years of working together as Quik Stop clerks—is more important than all the wealth and success that they wish they had.

One more thing I have to mention. Clerks 2 introduces a wonderful new character to the View Askew world: Elias (Trevor Fehrman), a nineteen-year-old Lord of the Rings geek who believes that The Transformers are “a gift from God.” I think that this is where we find some of the sweetness of this movie. Elias is completely childlike. He doesn’t cuss. He doesn’t sleep with his friend. He tries to do the right thing. He looks up to Randal and Dante, even though Randal constantly torments him. Elias sets the counterpoint to the decadence of everyone else in the film.

In the end, Clerks 2 has some good things to say about what’s really important in life. Is worldly success more important than friendship? Is wealth more important than love? Is Star Wars more important than Lord of the Rings? Definitely some worthwhile thoughts to consider.

Discussion Questions:

1) One of the hardest things for Christians to get around in a movie like this is the all the vulgarity and decadence. What do we do with that? How do we reconcile a film like Clerks 2 with Ephesians 5:4? What do we do with someone like Kevin Smith, who thanks God above all others?

2) How is God spoken of in this film? Is God dismissed out of hand? Is God taken seriously? Is God understood to be real?

3) What does this movie say about friendship? What does it say about love? What does it say about what the world calls success? What does the movie say through characters like Emma and Lance Dowds (Jason Lee)?


Too much Cross?

The Church Marketing Sucks website just posted results to a poll in which respondents were asked which symbols are overused by the church. Not surprising, the Cross is the big winner. Second place goes to the Dove.

So, that begs the question, so do we really overuse the Cross? It is after all the symbol that epidomizes the saving act of Jesus Christ, the central event of our faith.

But do we turn people off with the Cross? Has it come to mean something different for people in our culture? Or have we, the church, given it some new meaning that makes our culture uncomfortable?

If the Cross is no longer our best option as the symbol for our faith, what symbol is?

I don't have answers to these questions, but I'd love to hear what anyone else out there thinks.


Words from an International Criminal

I know, I know... I took way too long to write this post. But I'm not gonna waste any time with excuses, so I'll just jump right in.

I wanted to share a couple of thoughts about my time in Belize (beyond what I've already shared). I learned a lot about the culture, economy, government, etc. out there, and it makes me really grateful for the country that I do live in.

A lot of times the U.S. gets a bad rap for being too capitalistic or materialistic or consumeristic or imperialistic or whatever. And sometimes there's truth to that. But I have to admit, the U.S. is definitely the lesser of two evils. Or, compared to most of the world, I think it's probably among the least of many evils.

I readily admit that what I learned was mostly from one local guy named Calvin, so there may or may not be some inaccuracies. But let's start with the facts.

Calvin, who worked with us on painting a school in Caledonia and a community center in San Narciso, is a very educated man. He got a full scholarship to a university in Santa Fe, New Mexico (can't remember which university) where he was able to earn his Associates degree. While there, he and other international students took trips to various cities throughout the U.S., allowing him to see much more of the U.S. than many Americans ever see. He then returned to Belize to be a high school teacher.

At the end of one of our work-days, we swung by Calvin's house to pick up some mangos from his mango tree. His house was fairly nice by Belize standards--it had an indoor kitchen! But I have to admit that by U.S. standards, it very likely wouldn't have passed inspection. As we left, it occurred to me that no matter how educated Calvin is, no matter how good he is at what he does, no matter how intelligent he is (and he is very intelligent), Calvin will never have a house like the one I live in. And mine is nothing spectacular by any stretch (heh... at least by U.S. standards).

It must be so frustrating for Calvin.

Some other things I discovered. All of our meals were prepared by one particular family in San Narciso. Howard Storm said that they were one of the wealthier families in the village. And that was obvious--their house was much nicer than most of the others. I asked Howard what "wealthy" meant in a village like San Narciso and he responded, "Less than $10,000 a year." I was shocked.

That means that Calvin, who is not one of the wealthier people in his village, probably makes around five or six thousand a year.

It gets worse.

A lot of times people will say that the cost of living is much cheaper in developing countries. Not true.

A gallon of gas costs $6.00 ($12.00 in Belize currency). That's about twice what we pay in the U.S.

A 3-liter bottle of generic cola costs $2.50 ($5.00 Belize). I only pay 59 cents for a 2-liter Kroger brand soda.

And why is soda so expensive. Because Coca-Cola holds a virtual monopoly in Belize. A couple years ago, Pepsi was forced to close its bottling plants, making Coca-Cola the only legal soda in Belize. Other sodas can be imported, but there are huge taxes on imports (which is another reason why the cost of living is so high in Belize--impose taxes, raise the price of imports for the end-consumers, generally the poor of Belize).

The funny thing is that generic colas are smuggled into Belize all the time. The 3-liter bottle of generic cola that some locals shared with us was considered contraband. Yup. That makes me a criminal in Belize. The funny (or sad, or maddening) thing is that Coca-Cola is putting huge pressure on the Belize government to stop the smuggling of contraband colas.

So, there you go. Life just isn't fair for people in Belize. It is truly a country where the rich are filthy rich and the poor are dirt poor.

How do you fix something like that? I suppose the government could take steps to bring more prosperity to the people of Belize. But take one look at the roads in Belize (worst roads I've ever experienced) and it's clear that the government really doesn't give a rip about it's people. If they did, they'd fix the potholes.

So, I'm not gonna complain about my paycheck anymore. I'm not gonna complain that my house is too small. I'm not gonna complain that I don't have a home theater in my house. I'm just gonna be thankful for what I do have and do my part in helping make life a little better for those who don't have as much.

And I'll go back to Belize next year.


Back from Belize!

Woohoo!! I'm home!! I had a great time on our mission trip to Belize, but I gotta tell you... it's so great to be home again. I missed Robin and Micah (my wife and son) so much during this trip. The last couple days were the hardest because I just wanted to hold my little boy again and give him a kiss. But it was all worth it when I arrived back home and when Micah saw me got all excited and ran to me! I almost started crying... sniff....

Anyway, the trip to Belize was great. We completed construction on a house for a family in the village of San Victor. We painted two classrooms and a snack shack at an elementary school in Caledonia. And we painted a Community Center and a church in San Narciso.

We got to be fairly immersed in the culture, which was really neat. All of our meals were provided by a local family--and, man, the food was good!! Yeah, it was hard work. And, yeah, it was hot and humid. And, yeah, we all got our share of mosquito bites (my feet are covered even as I write). And, yeah, the sleeping accommodations were by no means 5-star (or even 1-star for that matter...). But the food was always spectacular! I was hoping to lose a little weight on this trip. Sadly... I gained about three pounds! Yikes!!

We also had some time for recreation. We went scuba diving one day and I got to touch a nurse shark and a sting ray. Another day we visited Altun Ha, ruins of an ancient Mayan city, followed by a trip to the Belize Zoo.

But the coolest excursion was totally spur of the moment. One night after dinner, Howard Storm (who led our trip) said, "Hey, guys. You wanna go try to find crocodiles in the lagoon?" And of couse we all said, "Heck, yeah!"

So, off we went with a few locals to pick up their boats. One of the boats was a good size and held most of our group. The other boad was not designed to hold four large men. Unfortunately, I was in the smaller boat. The edge of the boat was only about 2 or 3 inches above the surface of the water. A couple of times, we actually let water into the side of the boat, and Shane (my high schooler) and I started freaking out!

It was pretty spooky out on that lagoon in the dark of night. There was a full moon, so we did have some natural light. But the water was perfectly still, adding to the eeriness of it.

At one point, something wet and slimy touched my hand! And I of course jumped, rocking the boat way more than it was meant to be rocked. Turns out a small fish actually jumped out of the water and into our boat, landing on my hand and then falling onto the bench in front of me.

The coolest thing is that we did end up finding a crocodile! We saw the eyes glowing as we shined our spotlights around and made our way toward the eyes. We found the croc submerged just below the surface, but we could see him perfectly with our spotlights. Fortunately, it wasn't a huge one--only about four or five feet long from nose to tail. Not a baby croc--more like a teenager. We looked at it for a while, then one of the locals pushed it with his pole and off it swam into the lagoon.

Anyway, a very cool trip. I've got some other thoughts on the culture, economics, etc. of Belize and I'll try to mention those somtime in the next couple days.


Belize and Superman

Too many trips in too short at time!! Sheesh! Tomorrow morning I take off again, this time to Belize. We're doing a mission trip with an organization called Mission to Belize, led by Howard Storm. I'm really looking forward to this trip--not only to bless those we'll be serving, but also to be blessed by them. I'm praying that this will be a time of significant spiritual growth for, not only the high schoolers and other leaders, but also for me!

I wish I had time to write a full-fledged review of Superman Returns, but, alas, no such luck. I will, however, say that I loved the movie. It was just a little bit too long--and it took about an hour before it felt like something was really happening (there was a lot of exposition during that first hour)--but, all in all, it was a great movie!

It's clear to me now why Brandon Routh was cast as Superman. To me, he looks a little too young to be Superman (although, Entertainment Weekly says that he's the same age Christopher Reeve was in the original Superman), but he acts and sounds almost exactly like Christopher Reeve! It's actually really cool! You could practically close your eyes and imagine that it's Christopher Reeve.

The opening was pretty cool, too. They used the same zooming blue text as the original movies for the opening credits.

The part that I really wish I had more time to write about is the theme of Superman as Christ-figure. He's actually refered to as a "savior" several times. I think my favorite scene (at least, for the sake of theological thinking--and for use in a sermon!) is the one between Superman and Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) in the clouds. Superman takes Lois up into the clouds and mentions that she had written in her article called "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman" that people don't need a savior. Then he asks her to listen and tell him what she hears (from a mile above the city!). She says she hears nothing. Superman then tells her something like this: "I hear everything. All I hear is people crying out for a savior."

Wow!! That'll preach! I can't wait to get this on DVD and use it in a sermon!

After seeing the movie, I read the article about it in Entertainment Weekly (I didn't want to expose myself to any potential spoilers before the movie). In the article, Bryan Singer (who directed) says that he wanted to explore the biblical themes in this movie. Pretty cool!

Just another example that God is at work in all kinds of ways and through all kinds of people--not merely through the church!


Finally, a few days with the internet...

Just wanted to let everyone know that I've been internetless (is that a word yet?) for the past two weeks--one in Hawaii for my brother-in-law's wedding and one in Cleveland, Tennessee, for The Great Escape, our Middle School camp.

I'm home till next Wednesday morning, so hopefully I'll be able to post something of substance. I'm hoping to see Superman Returns tomorrow night, so maybe that'll give me someting to reflect on. If the movie is anything like the first teaser, I bet there'll be plenty to talk about.