Saturday, November 25, 2006

New Seven Wonders of the World

I'm not sure why I'm into stuff like this, but I love voting in polls. Swiss author and filmmaker, Bernard Weber, launched a campaign to come up with the New Seven Wonders of the World and he's looking for votes. I just voted for the following seven:

1. Acropolis, Athens, Greece (400 B.C.)
2. Chichen Itza Pyramid, Yucatan, Mexico (800 A.D.)
3. Colosseum, Rome, Italy (80 A.D.)
4. Easter Islands Statues, Chile (10th-16th century)
5. Great Wall of China (220 B.C. through 1600 A.D.)
6. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt (2500 B.C.)
7. Stonehenge, Amesbury, U.K. (3000-1600 B.C.)

Maybe you want to counter my vote with something more patriotic like the Statue of Liberty or something more religious like the Christ Redeemer? I tried to write in Bruce Springsteen, but there was no spot for that! Here's where you can vote: New Seven Wonders. Let me know how you voted.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006


Today I am truly trying to think about what this day is set aside for: giving thanks. I am most thankful today for my salvation: the love of God and the gift of Jesus. Second, I am thankful for my sobriety: I so prefer being able to feel to being numb. Third, I am bursting with thanks for my wife and four children: Chrisy, Max, Wes, Zoey, & Kasey! Additionally, I am overwhelmed with grattitude for my church, Canyon Hills Church, and all the people that are a part of that community: I cannot imagine doing life outside a church. Also, I'm truly thankful for all the people in my life: people rule! If you're reading this post, you're one of the people I'm talking about: extended family, friends, neighbors, my kids teachers, & co-workers. Finally, I am truly thankful for where I live: all the trees and wildlife that line the streets. I thought about this as I was jogging this morning in shorts: I love California. Moreover, we have so much in the United States of America: blessings beyond all reason. It reminds me of a U2 lyric: "Freedom has a scent, like the top of a new born baby's head."

I am oh-so-thankful for God's living Word:

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!"

--Psalm 30:11-12

Happy Thanksgiving Day to you!

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Five Sentence Tribute: Robert Altman

Robert Altman was a film-making giant.
THE PLAYER (1992) and SHORT CUTS (1993) are beyond amazing.
If he had only made those two, I would still consider him a film-genius.
Yet, he directed so many more great films, especially in the 1970s.
I think POPEYE (1980) was underrated too.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Extinct Political Labels

Do you remember the old stereotypes of the two major political parties? I remember growing up, the Republicans would call the Democrats "big spenders" and they would say things to their opponents like, "All you do is tax and spend." The Democrats were supposedly for bigger government and the Grand Old Party wanted less government. I remember members of the GOP saying things like, "We want government out of your lives" or "The government that governs least, governs best," things like that.

Boy, those old stereotypes are dead, aren't they? I was just reading an article by renound Princeton historian, Sean Wilentz and he pointed out that the administration of George W. Bush has borrowed more money than all the prevous presidencies combined. You read that correctly, "according to the Treasury Department, the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions." On the other hand, just "between 2001 and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion." You can check out the history at the Bureau of the Public Debt.

Now, when I read that I immediately thought of somethings Wilentz didn't mention, like the cost of a Hummer driving across the desert in Iraq certainly cost more than your average horse back in the day, a musket under Washington certainly cost less than a riffle under Bush 43. Yet, those figures are staggering! Just staggering.

Bush actually inherited the largest federal surplus in American History. Now we have the largest deficit ever. I mean who would have guessed that John Kerry was the fiscal conservative in the last election? It's not just 9/11 and the subsequent wars either. Has this president vetoed any spending bills at all? What are we doing with all this money? If a lot of this money was going to the Global HIV/AID Initiative, I'd be way cool with that, but I read that the 2007 Budget that Bush sent to Congress actually had a net cut of money pledged to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. I read on Bono's DATA site that the cost to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria worldwide is under 20 Billion per year. His ONE campaign seeks a mere 1% of the US budget go toward fighting AIDS. One percent of our outlandish budget is about $25 billion dollars. I bring this up because, if all this debt we're racking up would go to something like ending AIDS, heck even preventing AIDS in Africa, or helping starving children, then it would be worth it, but that's not where it is going.

What about the concept of the government that governs least, governs best? Republicans tout that concept. But, we've gotten a much much bigger government under Bush 43. If you think about how the powers of government have been expanded under this president then you certainly must acknowledge that fact. We're talking discarding the Geneva Conventions, domestic surveillance, and the torture of detainees. Is the de facto suspension of habeas corpus something you would expect from the party that claims to distrust big government? Just curious.
How about "We want government out of your lives?" What does that even mean anymore? Maybe the Republicans want government out of your wallet, but not out of your lives. When I think about just a few issues like Terri Schiavo, homosexuals, unions, and abortion rights, it's obvious that "the government that governs least, governs best" and "we want government out of your lives" are just empty pieces of rhetoric; in practice, they're dead as the dodo bird.

I recently read an article in the Op/Ed page of the LA Times by a detainee in Guantanamo that broke my heart. Let me back up though, on September 1, 2006, in the same newspaper, Donald Rumsfeld, arguing that Guantanamo was not like a gulag, wrote: "The facility at Guantanamo Bay, by contrast, includes a volleyball court, basketball court, soccer field and library (the book most requested is "Harry Potter"). The food, served in accordance with Islamic diets, costs more per detainee than the average U.S. military ration." If you want to read his piece, New Enemies Demand New Thinking you can click on that link.
Now back to the detainee mentioned at the beginning of the previous paragraph. On October 1, 2006, the LA Times published No Holiday in Gitmo: I never saw Rumsfeld's volleyball courts during my two years in America's gulag by Moazzam Begg. Begg was taken from his home in Pakistan right in front of his wife and children. He spent one year in two prisons in Afghanistan and two years in an 8x6 cell at Guantanamo Bay: three years total without seeing or talking to his wife and children (including a son he had never seen). Begg wrote: "The principle 'innocent until proven guilty' is turned on its head. Everyone is guilty without charges, convicted without a trial." Does this seem to go with your idea of a less intrusive government?

Now before you size me up and try to pigeonhole my political leanings, let me just continue. This morning, on the way to work, I was listening to the song "I Am A Patriot" as sung by Jackson Browne, but written by Little Steven. Despite the fact that I've heard this song for over a decade, it actually brought tears to my soul. The lyrics, in part, say:

I ain't no communist
I ain't no capitalist
I ain't no socialist
I ain't no imperialist
I ain't no democrat
I ain't no republican
I only know one party
and it's name is freedom

I used to be a Democrat in the 1980s. The first guy I ever voted for was Jessie Jackson in a primary election. In the 1990s, I switched to a registered Republican. More recently, I changed that to Libertarian. But, for some time now, I have been unaffilated with a political party and registered simply as "decline to state." Part of the reason for that is articulated perfectly in the above lyrics. Another is that I see very little difference between the Democrats and Republicans nowadays. After all, the politically mixed legislative branch has largely supported the executive branch in many of the matters heretofore mentioned in this post. For example, the Republicans in Congress did not balk at the out of controll spending and the Democrats, for the most part, supported the war in Iraq.
I really don't consider myself liberal or conservative. It's funny, my liberal friends think I am pretty conservative and my conservative friends think I am pretty liberal. I will tell you that the most inspirational and eloquent political speech I have heard in the last 10 years came from Barack Obama in 2004. Here is part of what he said:
Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America — there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it.
I thought that was well put. Like I said, it inspired me. Maybe that's just because I'm weird. I mean, in the most recent election last week I voted for three different political parties. If anything I would have to say that I am fiscally pretty darn conservative and socially a bit liberal. Even though it's a cliche, I really do try to look at the individual candidate. I don't have a litmus test either.
Now, before you think, "Ah, ha, Doah quoted a Democrat, he must be a liberal," please consider these other words that Barak Obama spoke in his "Call to Renewal" speech on June 28, 2006, right after Alan Keyes stated publiclly, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama." As a retort, here's part of what Obama said:
Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope . . . . And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles.
You see what really makes me bothered is another outmoded stereotype: God has a preference for one policial party. For God, doesn't always come down to the heart? I mean, anyone who knows the Bible knows that King David is routinely referred to as "a man after God's own heart." However, David had Uriah the Hittite killed so that he could cover up an affair with Uriah's wife. By the way, if you want some reading that will top an episode of Desperate Housewives, check out 2 Samuel 11 and 12 (actually, I've never seen an episode so forgive me if I misstated that, but the passage is juicy). Nevertheless, Christians frequently act as if somebody who belongs to a party that supports abortion rights, cannot have a heart for God. Why is that? That's what Alan Keyes did to Obama. And, that's another reason I love that first Obama quote above because he says, "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States." How dare Alan Keyes claim to know how Jesus would vote. The funny thing is, I voted for Alan Keyes in the 2000 primary. But, what about Jesus's words in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Would that apply to what Alan Keyes said about Obama?
I imagine that if, six months ago, Ted Haggard was running for public office as a Republican against Barak Obama, a Democrat, Alan Keyes and many Christians would indeed have claimed that Jesus would vote for Haggard. I wonder if that would still be the case now that Haggard confessed to a sexual sin with a male prostitute? I wonder, would Jesus indeed pick somebody with unconfessed sin in their heart, leading a double life, just because they were not in favor of abortion rights? Notice I am not using "pro-choice" or "pro-life" here because it is the very contention of this post that these labels avail at nothing. I don't know. I just wonder.
I certainly do not think that the Democrats are godless or the Republicans are evil or that the Democrats are stupid or the Republicans are heartless or any of those pathetic statements that miss the grayness of life. That said, labels like "tax and spend Democrats" or "compassionate conservative" or "Party of Big Government" or "God's party" just don't matter anymore. Maybe they never did. We've had a Republican controlled Congress with a Republican executive branch since 2001 and this government seems plenty big to me. The old political stereotypes are dead. I mean really, go back to the "No Holiday in Gitmo" Op/Ed piece that I mentioned earlier. Bush ran on a platform of "compassionate conservatism" (now there's a label), but does the treatment of Moazzam Begg seem very compassionate to you?
Now, I told you I didn't want you to pigeonhole my political leanings, but I do welcome a good political debate and I would love to hear your comments. And, just to give you a little bit more to get worked up over, I'll say this in closing: If I was arrested as a suspected terrorist, I would rather be in the hands of Jerry Brown than Donald Rumsfeld. If my son had AIDS, I would rather Bono be in charge of his medicine and the finances to buy his medicine than George W. Bush. If somebody in my family was gay, I'd rather invite Barack Obama over for Thanksgiving dinner than Alan Keyes. Of course, I'd rather grab an In-n-Out burger with Sean Hannity than Al Franken though.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Mexico Update

As most of you know, last month, Chrisy and Max, went to Mexico to help build a house. They both said that it was a really good experience and a lot of work to boot. Chrisy really thanks those of you who prayed for this trip and prayed for me at home with the other three kids. She also appreciates the donations that some of you gave for the building supplies. I know a lot of you were wondering about more of the specifics of the trip. I want to direct you to the Project Mexico website. You will need to click on the link to the post that says "Oct 20-22, 2006" and you can read all about the details. That October 20-22 trip is the one Chrisy and Max were on so you can read about it there. Also, there is a link to more pictures from that trip. As you can see, both Chrisy and Max are in the photo above as well. Again, I really encourage you to click on the link provided and read about the trip. This ministry really is worth supporting. The ministry as a whole built 5 homes in 3 days! Gracias a Dios!

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Five Sentence Tribute: Jack Palance

Here's a new feature on my blog. When somebody I think is noteworthy dies, I will post a five sentence tribute. Here is my first.

When I was a kid I loved the movie SHANE (1953).
In fact, I just watched it with my boys.
Jack Palance was in that movie.
38 years later people loved him as Curly Washburn.
He did push-ups and made Marisa's day during the Oscars.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Shadows and Illusions

The child in me ran to hide
The man inside prepared to fight
Both options were facades
Exposing my pain would hurt my pride

War and withdrawl both lie
But, masks of the real me
Are all you're allowed to see
The boy and the fighter help me get by

It's been this way since my youth
I hide in solitude or fury
Disregarding God's power
I run from the truth

What's the truth I know?
Anger is a defense of the weak
I have been justified
It pays to let vulnerability show

Yet, the truth is an intrusion
Comfortable with what I know
All you'll ever see from me
Are shadows and illusions

--Shenandoah Lynd


Thursday, November 09, 2006

. . . . and I read about me

I had one of those rare moments wherein I was overcome with self-revelation. That is, I was reading the Bible, a quiet-time before work, and this particular passage really "spoke" to me:

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."

This passage from 1 Timothy 1:12-16 hit me in so many ways. I thought about the line "appointing me to his service." Just last Sunday in the junior high room at church I got all teary-eyed because I was so blown away by how rewarding my service in that ministry is for me. As I read this section of the Bible, I feel some sense of bewilderment that I could be utilized by God in such a way to bring him any benefit.

Mercy and grace are perhaps the two most amazing words in our language and I am so thankful for receiving them both in abundance. The more I ponder this small piece of scripture, I am certain that everything I thought I knew about God's grace and mercy is entirely inadequate to even begin to scratch the surface of just how great and generous and loving God really is. Although I thought I had covered these topics over a decade ago, I found myself going to the dictionary and then found myself thinking: "It's one thing to 'refrain from inflicting punishment or pain to an offender' but it is quite another all together to be able to show 'favor and goodwill' instead." I wonder: What does this look like when it's played out in my home, my classroom, and on the street?

I reread and I'm struck by the phrase "has given me strength" now. I cannot describe this tremendous sense of strength I've been feeling for months now. The best way that I can even begin to articulate what I even mean by this is that I feel like I have moved beyond self-controll (a concept I'm beginning to realize is totally bogus and unobtainable anyway) to being Christ-controlled. Now, I am scared to even type that, okay, not scared to type it, but hesitant to "publish" it because it sounds arrogant, but I actually feel powerful. I feel like am beginning to finally begin to tap into the spirit of strength God has placed within me as is promised in the scriptures. It feels good! I feel very grateful for this strength as I reread the words of Paul here. Do me a favor? If you see me faltering, remind me of this spirit.

Finally, it's like I never saw this line before in all my life. Paul writes here about Christ displaying his "unlimited patience" through him. Who am I kidding? This is about me. I recall this Steven Curtis Chapman song that begins, "Started out this morning, in the usual way, chasing thoughts inside my head of all I had to do today . . . . I opened up the Bible and I read about me . . . ." Instead of being all teary-eyed now, I'm chuckling to myself thinking about what a great vehicle I have been for Christ's patience. I've given Him every opportunity to be patient with me. "Why was/am I so stubborn?," I'm thinking. But, I find great hope in thinking that maybe, like Paul, God is using my very weaknesses to bring glory to Himself? It's baffling really.

Many times when I read the Bible, I gain information, sometimes insight, sometimes it's just going through the motions, but this particular morning I was reading about me and I wish I could actually describe to you what it feels like when you're thinking, really believing, "This was written about me, for me, and nobody in the history of the world has ever found this secret place that I'm in right now."

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006


So, California votes to spend, borrow, and tax itself into oblivion (bonds are not free money people); Tom McClintock loses the Lt. Governor's race to Garamendi (McClintock won 60.9% to Garamendi's 34.4% in my county, but lost 44.9% to 49.5% statewide!); Britney Spears is divorcing K-Fed (if I had hope for any marriage); Rumseld steps down (to spend more time with his family I presume); and, to top it all off . . . after tonight's episode, there won't be a new episode of LOST until February!

The next thing you're going to tell me is that evangelical leaders and pastors are susceptible to moral failings just like "normal" people!

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Why I adore Sofia Coppola films

I just saw MARIE ANTOINETTE last weekend. It's the third film from Sofia Coppola and I really liked the movie. Kirsten Dunst gave a knock-out performance in the title role too. It's not the best movie of the year for me; however, I was captivated by it. I got to thinking about what it is I like about a Sofia Coppola film. Since I had previously decided only to blog about my number one film of the year, I figured I would just do a post about all three of Coppola's films.

Sofia Coppola has written and directed three films.

Honestly, I don't think I could like Sofia Coppola as writer and director any more than I do, except maybe, if I was a girl, I just might like her a bit more because I'd probably really have this "she gets me" feeling.

All of Sofia's films seem to capture the very essence of a female in emotional exile. Consider THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (2000). I really cared about Lux Lisbon. Played by Kirsten Dunst, Lux was totally isolated by her over-protective parents. I felt for her and all her sisters. What's weird, Sofia didn't pass judgement on the parents. She just let us see into the teenagers tragic lives as bystanders. Watching THE VIRGIN SUICIDES I got the sense that here's a writer and director who cares deeply about the situation of those teens. Their lonely circumstance and disconnection from the world weighed heavily on my heart after seeing film and for years to come. It's a film I own. I like this film for so many reasons. James Woods, Kathleen Turner, and Josh Hartnett are wonderful. As in all Sofia's movies, the music is fantastic. I'll never forget the classic phone call the curious boys make to the Lisbon girls wherein they play "Hello It's Me" by Todd Rundgren (In fact, I'm playing it as I type this and, although the song predates the film, I cannot hear it without associating it with the film--a connection that only a few great movies can do with a previously great song). In short, this movie is simply one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful movies I have ever seen. It's one of the best directorial debuts ever.

Kirsten Dunst as Lux Lisbon

Where the Lisbon sisters were in isolation at home because of their parents, there's Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, who's incommunicado in a hotel in Tokyo in LOST IN TRANSLATION. She tries to call a friend back home, but they don't understand her any more than her husband. He's too consumed by work to see her loneliness. What's most spectacular about this film is that Charlotte finds a lovestarved kindrid spirit in Bob Harris. Played fantastically by Bill Murray, Bob Harris is one of the reasons LOST IN TRANSLATION is my favorite Sofia Coppola film. I loved watching the connection made by Bob and Charlotte unfold. I've run into so many people that hated this movie and most of them just say something to the effect of "nothing happened" or "Why? Why do you like it?" I love that it's real, really real. Every conversation between Bob and Charlotte is one that I could imagine myself having. There was nothing forced, no Hollywood cookie-cutter phoney nonsense, just real life with all its beautiful yearning. More than anything, I cared for Charlotte and I loved the fact that both her and Bob knew that taking their relationship further wouldn't change anything about their detached spouses or their lives. LOST IN TRANSLATION is another film I own and it was my personal favorite film from 2003.

Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte

Having really enjoyed both THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION, I couldn't wait to see Sofia's third film and I must say MARIE ANTOINETTE didn't disappoint me. As of this writing, however, I would say it's my third favorite of her movies. Like Charlotte and Lux, Marie Antoinette is a woman who definately had my sympathies throughout the entire movie. I mean what's with the new husband not wanting to consummate their marriage? The poor young bride goes through something like seven years of celibacy after she's married! Is there a deeper sense of isolation than sharing a bed with someone and having them be completely uninterested? Yet, her own mother insists on putting all the blame on her daughter. The poor girl. She's literally stripped of everything she owned and loved and thrust into this fishbowl of a life at such an early age; who could blame her for being completely uninterested in the politics of her new country? This is a beautifully shot movie and I really liked how Sofia just lets us take it all in. As I've come to expect, there's no spoon-feeding here, no condescension. Again, maybe Antoinette was a "bad" queen, but the director doesn't pass judgement on her; rather, we're seeing France only from this young queen's point-of-view. Even though she's surrounded by people (so many that it's obscene), she has no real connections, nobody to bare her soul to. There are many shots that just hang there: the decadence of food and dress, Antoinette starring out a window, the young queen alone in nature. We're meant to feel what it was like to be this woman in her particular world. And, even though the young lady lived 200 years ago, Sofia somehow understands her. That's much of Sofia's genius, because she has utilized contemporary music, this doesn't feel like a detached period piece. Instead, this might as well be about a misunderstood teen living in our times.

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette

The pacing of a Sofia Coppola film seems to be an issue for a lot of people. My wife, for example, thought MARIE ANTOINETTE was slow. However, this pacing is deliberate and it is perhaps the foremost quality that I admire in these three films from this brilliant writer/director. Recently, many of the people that I know (Chrisy included) who went on a "Road Trip" mission to South Africa last May came back and said that one of the big "take away" lessons they learned was that you don't always have to be "doing" something, that you can just "be" and that is often not only good enough, it's even preferable. I think the idea of just "being" is something I've desired from the medium of film for quite awhile. When I think about the antithesis of just "being there" in a Sofia Coppola film, the image that comes to mind is from another movie I saw earlier this year wherein Johnny Depp is running like a hamster in a big spinning runaway wheel. Although plenty was happening, I felt cheated at the end of the experience. To me, that type of experience is like a really busy day in which I have a long list of things I have to do and I've got to hurry and rush to get them all done. At the end of the day, I've got no recollection of the scenery or the people I didn't encounter. It's unfulfiling and the "people" I've met are reduced to cartoon characters. In contrast, a Sofia Coppola film feels like I've got no agenda and I just happened to run into a good friend or I meet an interesting stranger and we both chose to just sit around, talking, and intentionally be dilatory. She's the antonym of a summer popcorn film. As is clear by this post, I'll take spending two hours with any of Sofia's interesting ladies over spinning my wheels anytime. You see, I'd rather just linger with a fellow human being, exposing both our connectedness and our solitariness. That's why I adore a Sofia Coppola film: I can just be there and feel for the character, seeping in all the nonjudgemental emotional observation.