Blue Like Jazz movie review

This might be an excuse for me to brag about seeing a rough cut of Blue Like Jazz (the movie based on Donald Miller’s amazing book of the same title), and even more significantly, brag about shaking hands with the director, Steve Taylor. But I’m totally going to blog about it, so here goes.

The movie wasn’t finished – Steve Taylor is making his final tweaks this week, in part based on the surveys we all filled out after watching the film, so anything I say won’t necessarily reflect what hits theaters April 13, 2012. And on top of that, once the story editing is finished, the special effects and sound editing still needs to be completed as well. But even as a rough cut, it was compelling.

What I appreciated about the movie was that it wasn’t afraid to face some really tough questions, the type of doubts and real struggles that young Christians face in their teen years and college years that for many are a breaking point in their faith. It culminates in a powerful scene at the end of the film that really becomes a teachable moment without being cheesy. For those wondering what earns a ‘cheesy’ title in my mind, I’ve only seen one other Christian film that I thought was relevant and cheese-less.

The actors were great, and other than the youth pastor (who was only on screen for a few moments), the characters were incredibly believable. I really found myself resonating with some of the main character’s struggles and doubts with faith in my own faith story – I wrestled a LOT with that in my teens and early twenties.

It will definitely earn it’s PG-13 rating. Between language, content, and some of the imagery (a giant condom on a church steeple … I’m not giving away any secrets here, Donald Miller has been pretty open about that story element), it is edgy. But that’s also what makes it more real, and the reality is, it’s still just a taste of what young people have their faith challenged with daily. Part of me wonders, though, if the film won’t be graphic enough for the secular audience while being too graphic for the Christian audience. It’s a challenge to say the least!

All that being said, I look forward to seeing the finished product in theaters next April. I think I do want to watch it with some of the older teens and college age types … I would love to do so with a coffee shop on the agenda afterwards for some intense discussion. I’m hoping the film team will put some resources/ideas out there, but if not, it’s easy enough to grab some from the book and launch with that. Or just ask what resonated with people and go from there.

Games: Video Edition by Youth Specialties

I recently purchased the ‘Games: Video Edition‘ DVD from Youth Specialties. I have to admit, I was kind of skeptical about it, but a friend recommended it so I figured I would give it a shot.

I love it.

There are 25 different game ideas on the DVD, all of which are great. What’s different is that instead of writing a description, they demonstrate each game. They actually pull it off in 30-45 second descriptions, making it quick and easy to review ahead of time … or it’s even an option to show the game to the group so they both hear the rules and see how it works.

Here’s where I thought it was great – see the games in action really sold me on some that we ended up using at our recent all nighter, and honestly, if I had just read them I would have been unimpressed and never considered them. In particular, the Mellow Yellow (mustard dipped marshmallow toss) and Bologna Face (bologna on the face), which have never interested me if I hadn’t actually seen them in action on the DVD. Awesome!

All that to say, great concept and I hope they have more on the way. Definitely worth the cost, well put together, great games, and a solid must-have youth ministry resource! You can find it here.

Mini Movie Reviews

I keep thinking I need to post some reviews on movies I’ve been watching … but I’m lazy so here are my sound bites:

  • Despicable Me is hilarious, definitely a lot of fun for the whole family.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a trip.  I was half way through the film before I finally accepted that it wasn’t some sort of bizarre day dream he was having but the actual world he inhabited.  Definitely some fun fight scenes, good jokes, and a quirky movie.
  • Inception was predictable I thought.  Am I the only one that thought there is a list of movies that have come out before with similar story lines?  I knew ten minutes into it how it would end – and was right.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie and wouldn’t avoid seeing it again, but I’m not quite sure why people were freaking out about it.  Maybe I watch too much science fiction.
  • 2012.  Meh.  It was okay, nothing new, kind of hard to suspend my disbelief.
  • Devil was gooood.  I enjoyed it a LOT more than I thought I would.  M. Night Shyamalan IS a good story teller – he just needs other people to direct his scripts!
  • The Other Guys is FUN.  I think my favorite moment was Samuel L Jackson and The Rock jumping off the building; ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’  ‘Aim for the bushes!’  Awesome.
  • The A-Team was great.  Still reeling from the shock of seeing the van get wrecked in the opening of the film.  I need to see it again.
  • Salt.  Yup.  It’s good.
  • Alice in Wonderland wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be – I thought the performances weren’t up to the energy of the film.  I loved the visuals, however.
  • Step Up 3.  Oh yeah, I watched it.  Some parts twice.  Loved seeing Twitch and the other ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ people getting movie roles!

How to Train Your Dragon

I’m sitting here watching ‘How to train your dragon’ for the third or fourth time (not bad for a movie that JUST came out on DVD … sheesh).  My kids LOVE it – which makes sense.  A movie about a boy getting a pet dragon and saving the day is pretty awesome.

So, in the interest of keeping my sanity, I thought I’d post a quick review.  It’s actually really well written, fun to watch, full of adventure, a great (although unoriginal) storyline, quick paced and visually stunning.  It’s definitely intended to be for an audience of all ages, not just kids – it’s on my short list to show the next time I need a movie for middle school kids!

On the down side, it has several intense scenes.  The first time we watched it we had to fast forward several times because it got too scary for our four year old and two year old.  Even the second time around it was still freaking Noah (four year old) out.  It definitely looks like the loved characters (boy and dragon) will die at several points, and they both sustain some serious injuries over the course of the film.  At the same time, the bond that is created between the two of them, and even the reaction of my kids liking the idea that the two handicapped characters (by the end of the film) lean on each other to become the leaders is a great message about handicaps being turned into strengths.

So, all that to say, it’s a great movie and a lot of fun to watch … just a little much for the younger crowd!

Skit Guys – You Teach volume 5

I love the Skit Guys!  They are a hilarious comedy duo who have been performing for years now!  They’ve got a lot of dvd’s out there at this point, all of which are great resources for youth workers and churches.  Their coolest resource lately has been the You Teach series put together with Youth Specialties; each dvd has six to seven video clips that can be used as illustrations, discussion launchers, or funny intros.  What makes it so great compared to other similar resources out there is that each dvd comes with lesson guides, discussion sheets, leader notes and more for each video clip – they make is so easy to turn each clip into an entire lesson!

Their target audience is youth ministry, but I’ve found over the years that their clips are just as powerful and popular in the ‘big church’ worship service as well!  They’re one of the few groups out there that manage to connect just as effectively with teens and adults.  You Teach Vol. 5 is no different!  There are seven videos on the DVD (making each illustration less than $3!), covering a range of topics from faith to greed to idol worship and more!  I absolutely love it!  It’s a bargain with all the resources it comes with and a big hit every time I use them!

The video above and below are both from the dvd – enjoy!

I love the Kindle app!

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while, but I am seriously loving the Kindle for iPhone app that Amazon put together!  I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have the iPod Touch which it also works on.  I downloaded it because it was free and then I grabbed a few free books (there are a couple free Star Wars books on there!).  I was honestly shocked to find that I enjoy reading on my iPod almost as much as holding a book!  When I’m at my desk or on the couch, I still prefer an actual book, but being able to carry around a library in my pocket rocks when I’m waiting to meet up with someone, sitting at the doctor’s, travelling, or whatever else.  It’s actually cheaper buying digital books vs physical, too, which is a plus.  What I really love is that I’m able to read youth ministry resources on the go, grabbing a few minutes here and there.

Anyone else out there using the app?  What do you think about digital books in general?  I never would have thought that I’d be into them!

The $5 Youth Ministry

I’ve been reading through Todd Outcalt’s new book, The $5 Youth Ministry.  And yes, I’ve heard all the jokes about the book costing more than the title ($9.99), but for all the ideas in it, it’s a GREAT deal.  I like his style in how he laid the book out; it’s almost 200 pages of idea after idea, all costing around $5 to pull off, and everyone of them is categorized in several different ways making it very easy to track down specific types of ideas.  The categories Outcalt uses are: Activities, Camp/Retreat, Food, Games, Ice Breakers, Mission/Outreach, Support (fundraising), Teaching, and Worship.  The categories are all indexed at the beginning of the book, making it easy to skim through and track down your specific needs, which I liked.

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There are countless similar resources out there; my shelf is full of different books packed with student ministry ideas.  What separates this one from the rest is that every idea in it is low cost, or even free.  I like that I don’t find myself worrying about how much of a hit my budget will take if I use one of his ice breakers or games.  The book is easy to navigate, well written, with a ton of solid ideas.  Over the last year my student ministry budget has taken a significant hit, making this a very timely resource worth grabbing.

LIVE Curriculum Year 3 available!

livecurriculum

I just noticed that year three has been released on the Live curriculum!  If you don’t know what it is, the Live curriculum is possibly the best resource out there for student ministry high school level small groups!  There are four years worth of small group lessons (see above), all available to the subscriber (they’ve been releasing each year over the course of this school year)!  We’ve been using it this year with our small groups and it would not be an exaggeration to say that at every team meeting with my volunteers someone is again saying how much they love this curriculum, how it’s given them everything they need, the students are engaging it, etc.  I love that it’s really given our small group program a balanced feel, and it’s really freed up my small group leaders to focus on their groups instead of trying to find lessons or come up with stuff.

Because it comes with 36 weeks of material per year, and we only meet 31 weeks (and some of those dates we use for holiday related activities), I kind of picked and chose which topics we would use in the small groups … and then used the other lessons for Sunday mornings!  Anyway, check it out – download the free samples and give it a test drive!

In gaming news …

We’ve been doing some gaming lately!  Thanks to some trades at Playswitch and trade-ins at Gamestop, we’ve gotten a few new sweet games!

Super Mario Bros. Wii is AMAZING.  My kids and I all love it.  It totally has the feel of the original Mario Bros. games but with GREAT graphics and some new twists.  One of the changes is that up to four players can play simultaneously; it has pros and cons.  On the one had, with four players going, you can get farther quicker … on the other hand, my kids are always knocking my guy down a hole!  All in all, we’re having a great time with it!

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 … apparently everyone in America bought it?  It made like 550 million dollars it’s first five days!  Ridiculous!  It is violent, but my word, I don’t think I’ve seen a game with such flawless graphics.  The story line was really good as well – it’s the first time I’ve ever felt like a game was actually an interactive movie.  Very, very cool experience.

Halo ODST – the other game everyone bought!  I actually got kind of bored part way through and quit playing for a couple weeks, but got back into it big time a couple days ago.  Apparently it was just a dud level or something.  Definitely a lot of fun; I like that by not being Master Chief, some of the enemies that used to be so easy are very challenging now.  I also loved playing Firefight with some of the other teens – it’s basically a survive as long as you can kind of a scenario, but it doesn’t get boring because they keep changing up the villains and tactics.  The graphics are, of course, amazing.  I do have to admit, though, it’s starting to feel like the Halo franchise is getting a little too franchised.  I don’t know … maybe they need to take a break for a while to keep people wanting more?  One weird complaint from other people that I thought wasn’t entirely accurate – people have said the story is too short, but it’s actually taking me longer to beat than Modern Warfare 2, so I’m not sure what that’s all about (on the other hand, Modern Warfare 2 was definitely too short).

Pure; it’s an ATV game that is the BEST one out there.  I used it the other day to show off how sweet the XBox 360’s graphics can be.  There’s not much I can say other than I love ATV games, and this is far and away the best I’ve ever played.  Absolutely recommend (and it’s only $12.99 at Amazon right now)!

LIVE Curriculum year two available

Live Curriculum

I’m super excited!  We’ve been using Simply Youth Ministry’s Live Curriculum for our senior high small groups this year – I have been getting all sorts of great feedback from leaders and students just about every week!  It’s great!  It includes overviews, leader guides, student handouts, and even parent emails, all in digital form so we can reproduce it as much as we want.  Well, I just noticed that the second year’s worth of curriculum has been released!  The subscription actually includes all four years, so by the end of this year I’ll have a balanced small group curriculum that my leaders and students love for all four years a student is in our high school program!  Sweet!

Plus, they managed to work Mountain Dew into the ad.  That’s just another level of awesome-ness.