Monday, April 28, 2008

Guilty Pleasure 6: Legend

For his fourth film, director Ridley Scott decided to create a faerie tale. The result was "Legend," a film that was not well received at the time of it's release, but has since developed a bit of a cult following and has become somewhat legendary itself because of stories of production troubles and multiple versions of the film.

The story follows Jack, a forest dweller played by Tom Cruise, who is in love with a princess named Lilly, played by Mia Sara (file under celebrity crush of 1986-87). Jack takes Lilly to see some unicorns, she ignores his instructions not to touch them, this opens the door for a bunch of goblins to kill one of the creatures, and winter covers the land as the lord of Darkness, played by Tim Curry, launches his plan to extinguish the sun. Like I said it's a faerie tale, so the story is a bit silly. It's certainly the most bizarre entry on Ridley Scott's resume. At the same time, it has a great visual style, great sets, and some of the most incredible makeup effects ever...amazingly it lost the 1986 Oscar for makeup to the gross-out effects of "The Fly."

The production of "Legend" had a huge set back when the sets housed in the 007 stage at Pinewood Studios burned in huge fire. If that weren't enough, disastrous test screenings led to the film being cut down drastically and the classical score by maestro Jerry Goldsmith being replaced with a more electronic score from Tangerine Dream. To confuse matters more, a longer cut of the movie with the Goldsmith score in tact was released in Europe, while the shorter, Tangerine Dream version was released in the US. Both are now available on DVD. Both scores are very good, but they are also very different. Ironically, many movie music fans consider Goldsmith's "Legend" score to be one of the best of his career.

I seem to recall that on first viewing, I thought "Legend" was pretty dumb. But just like "Big Trouble in Little China" this thing was on cable TV like every day. I guess it started to grow on me. You gotta love Tim Curry's peformance as Darkness. Everything about it from the actual acting to the makeup design is over the top. Just check out that size of his horns, how could he even stand up straight!?! The great Billy Barty is also a standout in the role of Screwball, but the performance that steals the movie is Robert Picardo (yep The Doctor from "Star Trek: Voyager") completely unrecognizeable under tons of green latex as the gross Meg Mucklebones.

"Legend" was released on April 20, 1986 in the US, it was actually released in most of the rest of the world in the summer and fall of '85. Though it opened at #1, after disasters, delays, and disection, it never really found it's audience. It is interesting to note that if it had waited just a few more weeks to be released it may have achieved much greater success. It's hard to imagine now, but on April 20, 1986 Tom Cruise was not the household word he is today. At that point he had played supporting roles in films like "Taps" and "The Outsiders," but his only hit in a lead role had been "Risky Business." But less than a month after the release of "Legend" came "Top Gun," which launched his career to new heights. A few weeks after "Top Gun," actress Mia Sara also achieved greater success when she had a major role in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And... about a month later there would be renewed interest in Ridley Scott's work when James Cameron struck gold with "Aliens," the follow-up to Scott's "Alien." Had Universal Pictures been able to market the film as featuring the stars of "Top Gun" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and directed by the man that brought you "Alien," well they might have gotten a much bigger audience. Still, "Legend" does have a following. I guess one should never underestimate the appeal of seeing Tim Curry with goat legs.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Christian Ventriloquism in the New Jersey Star-Ledger

This afternoon my cell phone rang...nobody calls my cell phone on Sunday. The number listed was coming from New Jersey, well I only know one guy in New Jersey, it had to be ventriloquist pal Doug Nearpass.

A few weeks ago I had received a call from a reporter asking about Doug and his ministry. Apparently Doug was going to be featured in an article that is about intersting people in New Jersey. A few weeks later I was with Doug at one of our puppet festivals and he told me more about the article. Well, today the article appears both in the paper and's a link: I am New Jersey - Doug Nearpass

It turns out I am quoted a few times in the article, and they actually got it right. Doug is pleased with the article and so am I. Often reporters think doing a story about a Christian puppeteer or ventriloquist would be interesting, but they often try to take a humorous angle. I mean, it's weird enough that we play with puppets, but that we tell people about Jesus with them is just icing on the cake, right? Anyhow, this article is well written and presents Doug and his ministry in a very respectful way. Go check it out!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Gospel According to Droopy

A few weeks ago I was at a prayer meeting at 6:30 AM…that's worthy of a blog post for me right there. I don't do 6:30 in the morning without a little extra effort, brothers. At this meeting my associate pastor felt led to read a passage that was on his heart from the book of John. Chapter 10 verses 1 -4 says:

"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."

He continued reading through Chapter 10, on into verses 11-13, which says:

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep."

My pastor shared that what was on his heart was that too often we are the "hired hand." The wolf is coming and what do we do? We scatter, we care nothing for the sheep. Christ is the shepherd, and we are the sheep, but we are called to be more like Christ. We are striving to be like the shepherd. So when trouble, the wolf, comes, do we act as the shepherd would or do we act as the hired hand would.

Of course, in my deep theological mind this took me to images of a Droopy cartoon, 1958's "Sheep Wrecked." In this short, Droopy plays the shepherd as the Wolf (voiced by the great Daws Butler) is trying to get in and get himself a meal. That's really all there is to plot, it's just a set up for numerous gags where something blows up in the Wolf's face. But it is interesting to note that Droopy, like Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, isn't just playing defense here. By the end of the movie, it's clear that he's the one playing offense as he turns all the wolf's plans back on himself. This reminds me a great passage from Mark Batterson's book "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day" in which he describes coaching his son's basketball team. These fourth-graders were still learning the fundamentals of the game, so at times they didn't know if they were on offense of defense. Batterson often found himself yelling from the sidelines, "You're on offense! You're on offense!" Batterson then writes, "Sometimes I wonder if the cloud of witnesses sitting in the celestial bleachers is yelling "You're on offense! You're on offense!"

I'm so glad we have a shepherd, not a hired hand, and that he's on offense.

Super Mario Bros. Theme Played with Bottles and an RC Car

Ok, I have a small brain. I'm easily amused. If you are too, you'll probably love this video of the theme from Super Mario Bros. played with beer bottles and a remote control car.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Image of Stars Wars Muppets Released

A few months ago it was announced that some figures of the Muppets playing different Star Wars characters were on the way. Some concept art has been available online for awhile, but today an image of the figures popped up over at So check out the link and see Kermit as Luke, Miss Piggy as Princess Leia, Fozzie Bear as Chewbacca, Gonzo as Darth Vader, Beaker as C3-PO and Rizzo the Rat as Yoda.

Here's the link: Star Wars Muppets

These will only be available at Disney Theme parks...Grrr. So if you're Magic Kingdom bound you know what to bring back for me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Return of the Rockafire Explosion

This video is just too fun to pass up. When I was a kid, the cool place to go was Showbiz Pizza. Mediocre pizza, skeeball, video games, and an animatronic animal band...who could ask for more? Well apparently there's a guy out there in the land of the internet who has a collection of the animatronic figures from Showbiz, and he's taken it upon himself to re-program them to perform some more recent tunes. So here's the Rock-afire Explosion performing the remake of the Genesis classic "Land of Confusion" by Disturbed. Since I have fond memories of Showbiz, love cover songs (BTW check out the Coverville podcast), and am a huge Genesis fan...this was just plain cool.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Guilty Pleasure 5: The Wiz

Like so many others, my earliest movie viewing memory is watching "The Wizard of Oz" on one of it's annual showings on CBS. I tell my kids about this and they can't even fathom that we could only journey to Oz once a year. I love "The Wizard of Oz!" If there is such a thing as a perfect movie, Oz is it. I also have a deep appreciation for L. Frank Baum's original book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." A couple of years ago my daughter and I read through the book as our nightly bedtime story (I had read it once as a child as well) and it led to us tackling all 14 of Baum's Oz books. The world Baum created shows a man of amazing creativity, and I love watching the various interpretations of his most famous Oz story. The original book has been in the public domain since 1956, so many different versions have come out since that time. Which leads us to one of the most well known, "The Wiz."

Originally a Broadway musical, "The Wiz" debuted in 1975 with the film to follow in 1978. The film, which takes place in an urban Oz, differs greatly from the stage version, which was set in the same time as the original book. I actually find the urban setting to be intriguing, but it doesn't exactly make Oz into a fantastic place where you'd actually want to stay.

This is actually an odd time for movie musicals, "Grease" was released earlier in the year, and ended up being the highest grossing movie of 78. But "Grease" was also the last great movie musical before the long dry spell for the genre. So, in a sense, "The Wiz" is the genre's last gasp.

Watching the bonus features on the DVD actually offers some interesting insight into how "The Wiz" made it to the screen. Apparently a producer acquired the rights to the musical and was working to bring it to the screen when he received a call that singer Diana Ross decided that she wanted to play Dorothy in "The Wiz." First mistake, right there. Ross is all wrong for the role of Dorothy. Sure she can sing, but her Dorothy is whiny and irritating as opposed to the wide-eyed girl she should be. The rest of the casting is inspired, though. Michael Jackson, not quite as notorious in those days, is great as the Scarecrow. Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, and Richard Pryor (as the Tin Man, Lion, and Wizard respectively) are no slouches either.

The film was directed by Sidney Lumet, who helmed films like "12 Angry Men," "Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon," and "Network." So what happened here? OK, I'll just say it, "The Wiz" is not a good film. It lacks the sense of awe and excitement that should be present on any visit to Oz. So why do I list it as a guilty pleasure. I guess it ranks up there as an odd curiosity for me. Some of the songs are real downers, but I just can't resist some of the more upbeat offerings like "Don't Nobody Bring me no Bad News," "Ease on Down the Road," and "Everybody Rejoice/A Brand New Day." Though, I must admit, when the Winkies suddenly transform into the Solid Gold Dancers during that last song, it's a little creepy. I guess part of it is also just seeing a different interpretation of a favorite story. I'd love to see somebody take a stab at "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," in the vein that the recent Lord of the Rings and Narnia films have followed. I doubt it will happen, though. Still, "The Wiz" is fun to drag out every now and then.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Puppet Ministry on the Children's Ministry Talk Podcast!

"Children's Ministry Talk" is a great podcast produced by Dick Gruber and Jason Rhode that covers all areas of children's ministry. The most recent episode, posted today, is on puppet ministry, and I was thrilled to be their guest on the podcast along with brainchild Amy Harder.

It's my first time being on a podcast, so check it out! You can subscribe to the podcast through services like iTunes, and here's a direct link to the podcast at Puppet Ministry Principles and Practices

Thanks Dick and Jason for the opportunity to be on the podcast! It was fun!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Loss of Imagination

I just read a very interesting little blog post over at Mark Batterson's blog Mark is one of my favorite recent authors. I'm on my second read of his book "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day."

Anyhow, he spoke at an event called "Awaken" where each speaker was only given 10 minutes to share. He decided to speak about "one of the greatest dangers we face as leaders." Here's what he had to say:

"Neurological studies have shown that over the course of time, there is a cognitive shift from right-brain to left-brain. And if we don't find a way to stop the shift, memory overtakes imagination. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past. We stop innovating and start imitating. We stop doing ministry out of imagination and start doing ministry out of memory."

Oooh, that hurts. I've certainly been guilty of looking at a new opportunity to share a puppet program and thought, "Hmm, what can I do that won't require me to make any new props, or plan any new choreography." Or thought, "These kids have never seen me perform such-and-such before, I'll just do that." God may be presenting me with new opportunities for innovation and imagination, and I opt for the easy route. Ouch, ouch and double ouch Mark!

Read the full post here.


A few weeks ago I finished reading the book "unChristian" by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. This is a book that all Christians should read. The book has to do with studies conducted by The Barna Group about the perceptions young people (age 18 - 29) have about Christians, and more importantly, what needs to be done about it.

I fear that many people's reaction to this book will be to get on the defensive without even thinking. Perhaps without even reading the book. I've run across some bloggers and radio personalities who clearly have not read the book commenting on it. The book is not about changing the message of the Gospel to make it more appealing to the current generation. It is about how we as Christians often do not often approach things according to what Christ said.

My copy of the book is now marked all over with bright yellow highlighter. Here are a few items I highlighted, but I would encourage every disciple of Christ to tackle the entire book with an open heart and mind:

"We need to be more concerned about reaching those who need Jesus than 'proving' our faith to those who already claim to know Jesus."

"God wants to use us in the gritty and raw places of people's lives, but our usefulness is hindered if we are more concerned about our protection from sin than the effects of sin in the lives of others."

"When people say that America is a mission field, it would be more accurate to say it is many diverse mission fields."

"Rather than being known for criticism, let's learn to step in and work toward a solution for the problems we see. As Michelangelo said 'Critique by creating.' "

"With young people, how we communicate is as important as what we communicate."

"If our primary focus is on the sin, it is virtually impossible to demonstrate love to an individual."

"The reality is that if we do not demonstrate loving relationships within the church, it does not matter how much we display Jesus to outsiders."