Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Grouse, A Squirrel, and a Four-Wheeler


Tuesday began with some squirrel hunting with a fellow PCA pastor, Jason Driggers. Saw several, but didn't hit anything . . . something must be wrong with my .22. But once I returned home, a friend in Winifrede took me out ATV four- wheeling--25 miles of deep-woods trails, mud, logs, rocks, sticks, briars, and, along the way, one poor little grouse. Unfortunately for the grouse, I had a shotgun with me. He is now resting quietly in my freezer beside the deer. Now if I could only get some squirrel, my hunting conquest would be complete.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wet Babies!


Ethan Deal was baptized at Winifrede Presbyterian Church on December 28, 2008. Right afterwards, I baptized Caleb Knapp. I then preached the first of two sermons on "Why We Baptize our Children." We have three more baptisms on January 25, when I will preach part two. It was a wonderful, humbling, and exciting experience. I thank God for the privilege and hope to be able to baptize many more in the years ahead.



Sunday, December 28, 2008

WV Roots . . . The House Mom Was Raised In.


Located in the community of Branchland in Lincoln County WV, my mother and her four sisters were raised in this home.  My grandparents finally moved out in the early seventies.  I lived there myself for the first few months of my life. The house has fallen into disrepair in the decades since and is now uninhabitable.  Probably should be torn down. But from what I understand, Mamaw and Papaw Bear had this little home looking quite pristine and beautiful beside the bottom by the Gyuandotte River.    Two small bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a little den, all fitting within a few hundred square feet.   Below are some pics of the interior as it appears today.  






Friday, December 19, 2008

Movie Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still

dayearthstoodstill Plot:  D
 Acting:  C
 Production Quality:  A
 Negative Elements:  B
 Positive Elements:  C

 GPA:  2.4


Comments:   The Day the Earth Stood Still was a misfire.  The human race is about to be exterminated by a coalition of alien civilizations that believes humans are killing the planet Earth.  It is going to happen soon, and humans are helpless to stop it.   This crisis appears to concern the actors in the movie, but I found it very easy to watch their plight with ambivalence.  Movies are at their best when they stir our affections:  fear, love, hatred, joy, etc.  Movies that fail to do this are either not my kind of movie (a matter of preference) or they are far from the best that movies can be.  Since sci-fi is right down my alley, I judge the latter.  The effects were fascinating to watch, but there was little else to commend it.  

Oh, for the good old days of rising-Cold-War-tension plot lines--that would have hit the heart!  This was in fact what the original 1951 flick tried to capitalize upon, and it hit at the heart of humanity's hateful problem of violent selfishness.  Today's "re-visioning" ties into the modernistic fetish of preserving the earth at the expense of human life.  No matter how environmentally conscious one should be, nature's priority over human existence is an extreme, modern  reversal of the created order--the logical conclusion of confused priorities.   Now, admittedly, the movie's producers were aiming to produce more money and fun than enviro-preaching and repentance.  But I still cannot give the premise a pass.  While Biblical environmentalism may be neglected, it still has man at the top, and no alien has the right to trump that.  Stupid aliens!

So these were the weakest elements of the movie:  1)  The storyline and style of presentation did not create suspense for the viewer.  When there is no tension to be resolved, the resolution is irrelevant.  2)   The choice of  "environmentalism" as the crisis felt manufactured and unrealistic.  As a thematic proposition, it defies the common sense of even the most ardent environmentalists (no matter what they say).  3) The transformation of the alien from executioner to savior was too easy and unconvincing.   The mother's argument was "we can change!"   Her proof was that she loved her child.  That is a silly, underwhelming non-sequitur.  Nothing was argued or proved to Klaatu in support of that proposition.  Stupid aliens!    I don't think this movie is worth watching once.   That's a shame--because I love a good sci-fi flick.  

In Memory of Steve Crawford, who also loved a good sci-fi flick, was looking forward to this film, and would also  have been disappointed.   Visit one of his favorite websites here:  www.outpost31.com.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bills's Go Way Back in WV


The gravestone of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, located in Pleasants County WV.  John Enoch Bills was born in 1763 and died in 1852, aged 91 years.   He was a revolutionary war veteran.  We have also located the burial places of his grandson all the way down through my grandfather.  We have not located the gravesites of his father and son.  A more recent marker honoring his service to our country is at his feet.   


Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter in Winifrede Hollow

Winter in Winifrede Hollow

A light snow fell this morning, less than an inch. Its simple beauty makes us look forward to a real snow that covers it all. Even with such a light coating, the hills were beautiful. Really, this pic does not do justice to just how magnificent are the trees on the hillsides surrounding the church.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's beginning to look alot like . . .


Christmas in the Bills Family living room.

38th Birthday

Binoculars, a watch, Starbucks whole bean breakfast blend, and two deer. A good weekend! Taylor, Josiah, and Spencer are celebrating with me.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

My First Deer


Finally, my first deer. Shot on my grandfather's property in Cabell County West Virginia.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

Acting:  A
Plot: B
Production Quality: A
Positive Elements:  B
Negative Elements:  B 

GPA:  3.4

Comments: While I enjoyed The Dark Knight, I was a little disappointed because it did not quite live up to the expectations that I had been building in the days and weeks before.   By opening day, the media was at a frenzy.  Of course, this was not just the media’s fault.  They accurately reported film-goers’ expectations and reactions, and the movie did break records.   Do not get me wrong; I enjoyed the movie very much and will watch it again.   I was just a little disappointed that the movie did not live up to the hype. 

At least three things frustrated my expectations:  1)  The movie did not dive deeply into its own conflict and plot.  It seemed to bounce on the surface of a larger story like a skipped rock on water.  It feels like another origin story—this time, Harvey Two-Face.  As such it feels incomplete or shallow, like it was missing the rest of the story or did not possess a satisfyingly self-contained plot.   2)  The Joker did not live up to my expectations.   I expected him to be more evil and terrifying instead of just smart and weird.  Once again, his role was a skip of the rock on the way toward deeper waters, a part of Harvey Two-Face’s back story.  Ledger was immersed in this character, revealing what are, no doubt, some incredible acting chops.  I have seen him in other things and still had a difficult time recognizing him in this movie.  I assume that says a lot about his acting skills; however, makeup no doubt contributed to the immersive illusion.   I suspect also that our “actor-worshiping” culture has deified Ledger because his death coincidentally followed a unique and iconic acting opportunity.   The result is martyr-like accolades and eventual Oscar canonization.   My cynicism wants to blame some of the frenzy simply on the fact of his death and the shallowness of our Entertainment Tonight culture.  3)  I wanted a grittier and darker Batman. Spoiler follows!—In the end, the real darkness of the movie’s title is a lie concocted to cover Harvey’s "death" and descent.  My understanding of Batman was that his darkness was no illusion or lie.  He was a hero that was to be feared and doubted by even good people, an unknown terror in the darkness.    The cover up was instead thrown in at the last minute to give “insight” into the movie’s title that was splashed up at the end—a sort of unearned melodramatic moment.  I thought it would have been better to show Batman as a dark and dubious character throughout. 

I am being picky.  The fact is, I would watch it again in a second (maybe even several times), but I would not buy it on DVD.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Plot: B
Acting: A
Production Quality: A
Positive Elements: D
Negative Elements: D

GPA:  2.6

Comments:  Some movies exist simply for the spectacle.   Spectacle can be very entertaining, but it usually leaves the viewer with little more than a couple hour's rush and the momentary pleasure of seeing something new. If you enjoy spectacle, then I suppose it might be worth watching on that merit alone.  For Wanted, there is little else that commends it.   Eye-candy with nothing nutritious.  Spectacle lovers above a junior high level of maturity who can handle stylized movie violence could be entertained for at most the length of the movie.  It is a very violent, action movie, but it has presented itself all along as nothing more.  The special effects are amazing.  I might watch it again on DVD simply for the spectacle. But I won't expect more, and I wouldn't let my grammar age boys watch it. 

Brings to mind a question some Christians would ask:  Is mere spectacle, especially violent spectacle, with little else to commend it, wrong for a Christian to view?  I do not propose to answer the question here, but many would answer with an unequivocal yes.  I think the answer is much more complex and individual than that, but it is a question that needs to be asked nonetheless.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

Acting:  B
Production Quality:  B
Plot:  B
Positive Elements:  B
Negative Elements: B

GPA:  3.0

Comments:  The Incredible Hulk sort of sat on the line between really good movie and decent movie.   I enjoyed it, but wished I was drawn in a little more.  It was definitely superior to Marvel's earlier effort a few years ago and made a great effort to be consistent with the themes and visuals of the TV series.  For those of us who watched every episode of the Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby when it was on in the late 70's and early 80's, there are many great, nostalgic throwbacks to the series: the theme song, the lab setup, Bruce Banner's lonely mission to rid himself of his alter-ego, "You wouldn't like me when I'm . . . ," and his name change at the end of the movie.

While I am sure the animation is a good as it can be, I kept wishing that I did not constantly think of it as animation.  The best animation was in the scene in which the Hulk is sitting calmy with Betty Ross in a cave.  He looks more real than anywhere else in the film.  Real skin, real size, real massiveness.   I was able to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the rest of the film very much, but the technology is not there yet to make the animation totally ignorable.

Also, I thought the much anticipated and built-up introduction of the Abomination was too quick.  It appeared to me like the editors knew they were running out of time and had to rush to get to the action on the other side of his final reveal.

One of the funnest aspects of the film is the hidden easter eggs that show the development of the Marvel Comic universe.  Look for the name of the scientist on the cryo-storage unit that contains the supersoldier serum, the references to the WWII program through which it was first developed, the name of the government agency that General Ross is utilizing to track the Hulk, and Tony Stark at the end of the movie with his not so subtle hint about the future.  I am sure there are many more that I will catch again upon second viewing.  The producers are laying the groundwork for a fully integrated Avengers universe containing the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and others.  I hear that we can expect the Captain America movie next followed by the full Avengers movie.

The movie is worth watching twice--once in the theater and once on DVD.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Happening

Acting:  D
Production Quality:  B
Plot:  D
Positive Elements:  C
Negative Elements:   B          (Violent depictions of suicides)

GPA:  2.0

Comments:  Here is my theory, M. Night Shyamalan, who made his name by surprising his audience with  clever, final twists at the end of his films, is actually taking a meta-cinematic approach to making films.  He is laying the groundwork by intentionally producing a spate of crummy films (The Village, Lady in the Water, and now, The Happening) and will soon cleverly surprise us all with another good film and a return to form.   That is, if the powers that be continue to allow him to make films. 

An additional theory is that he intentionally coaches his actors to give wooden, stilted performances for some reason that I have not yet discerned.  I am sure it is for some stylistic purpose. 

Still another theory is that Shyamalan is far less clever than his early work has led him to believe he is.  Maybe his early work was a fluke.  I hate that, because I really thought he had something at one time.

This was just a bad movie.  Not worth watching once.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Speed Racer

Acting: A
Production Quality: A
Plot: A
Positive Elements: A
Negative Elements: B (Occasional expletives and profanities)

GPA: 3.8

Comments: My boys and I thought this was a wonderful movie. Great action and some really fun humor that my boys would say was the best part of the movie-especially the scene with the poor ninja who tried to attack Speed Racer in the middle of the night but instead found himself facing the entire Racer family. I enjoyed this aspect mostly because my boys enjoyed it. In fact, they consistently cackled and jumped around in their seats with pleasure.

The production quality was unlike anything I have seen before. The Wachowski brothers have once again pushed the cinematic envelope. Since it was based upon a cartoon (that was admittedly before my time), it was appropriate for the directors to produce a movie that was the essence of animation reproduced in live action. The result is fun and mesmerizing. A real treat for the cinematic senses.

However, I was most impressed by two themes that were the centerpiece of the movie. The first was the theme of a family coming together to support each other in spite of and because of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The family's unconditional love was a testimony to an ideal that is built into the consciences of all people. The family is not perfect, but love covers a multitude of sins. Consistent with this was the additional, powerful theme of humble and costly sacrifice that has no need for glory, but instead acts entirely out of love for family and justice. Glory in not a thing to be grasped in order to bring justice and save the lives of many.

I highly recommend this movie to those families with children mature enought to avoid imitating occasional expletives and a few common profanities. We will probably see it again when it comes out on DVD because I think it is worth watching twice.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Acting:   B
Plot:   C
Production Quality:  B
Positive Elements:  B
Negative Elements:  A

GPA:  3.0

Comments:  LIke the first movie, Prince Caspian was a disappointment to me.  In contrast, my older boys appeared to enjoy it very much.  My five year old kept asking to leave however. 

The themes of the books just do not seem to be resonating in the movies.  I was a child when i read the books, so they are pictured in my mind through the imagination of a child.  The movies just do not capture what I remember. 

The four main characters seemed pretty useless to me.  I kept wondering why they were necessary for the rebellion to begin.  The movie could just as well have left them out, and we could have had just as much excitement.  But they had to show up in this movie or it could not have been called a sequel.   I guess that summarizes my issue with the movie:  It just did not seem like it had to be a Narnia movie.   It could have been any milktoasty fantasy movie if a few characters were changed or dropped. Aslan was not shown to be intrinsic to the plot.  I was left wondering why he needed or wanted the four kings and queens of the past to show up before doing anything.  That plot point is left totally unanswered.  When he does show up,  there is no doubt who will win, no tension.  He is an epitome of Deus Ex Machina.  He is not a being to be related to personally, but a plot convenience to wrap things up.  There is little or no emotional need for his eventual arrival.  

In the book, Reepicheep and the dwarf with an attitude are an important emotional focus.   The movie does not capture the emotional attachment to these characters that the reader developed in the book.  The result is that the payoff at the end has no impact.  The movie portrays the healing of Reepicheep's tail and the lifting of the dwarf's blindness to see the grandness and reality of Aslan.  However, their characters are not properly interwoven and invested in the plot so that we care as much as we did in the book.  I remember the dwarf's "conversion" in the book as being an emotionally powerful climax. Not here. Here it was an afterthought that seemed thrown in just to wrap up his meager storyline. 

For those who want to see their imagined world of the book portrayed objectively, I would recommend seeing the movie once on DVD.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


Plot:  A
Acting:  A
Production Values:  A
Positive Elements:  B
Negative Elements:  B

GPA:  3.6

Comments:  I am known for not liking most movies that I see.  Well-rounded quality seems hard to come by even when millions of dollars are spent on productions.  One of my tests for evaluation is based upon my visceral reaction to a movie.  It is an evaluation without thought based simply upon the feeling I have when leaving the theater.  It is usually voiced in one of three simple critiques:  "That was not a good movie"  or "That was a good movie," or, as in the case of Ironman, "That was a great movie!" Now when I get to thinking about a movie and try to describe what was good or bad about it, I can provide some support for those comments beyond the immediate visceral reaction.  However, even when I must grant that more detailed analysis of a "great movie" may not appear to add up to the visceral reaction, I generally do not allow the most immediate reaction to be totally overturned.   I left Ironman knowing that it was the first great movie I had seen in about four years (the last one was Serenity). I was thrilled from start to finish and left the theater thinking that it had everything that I want from a superhero origin movie.   Upon further reflection I must provide the caveat that there were two or three scenes that were unfortunately necessary to establish the playboy image of the hero and to show the extent of the transformation that had occured in his life.  These scenes contained some non-explicit but definitely suggestive images that I would prefer that my children did not see without my being there to fast forward through them.  Adults should be able to handle them fine.  This is a movie that I would definitely see more than once, and were I inclined to spend money on that sort of thing would add to my imaginary collection of favorite movies.

Everybody needs a Superhero.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Acting:  B
Plot:  D
Production Values:  B
Positive Elements:  C
Negative Elements:  A

GPA:  2.6

Comments:  Unfortunately for those of us whose pinnacle of early movie going experiences were the three Indiana Jones movies of the 80's, this movie cannot compare.  Perhaps the difference is that I am much older, less impressionable, and less filled with wonder anytime the lights dim and the previews start, but I really think the producers have failed to provide a movie that matches the wonder of the early films. Indy was practically an afterthought in the film, and the alien plot line stretched the incredible universe of Indiana Jones beyond credulity. 

From beginning to end, I was very disappointed that that visceral place of movie-going enjoyment was just never touched by this film.  That visceral place cannot really be explained.  It is a place that registers the movie-going experience without words.  It communicates to you that a movie is good even when you cannot explain why.  It also communicates when a movie is bad, even when words fail.  This movie just does not compare to the Indiana Jones mythos that was the pinnacle of my impressionable teenage movie experience. 

I suppose I would recommend a viewing on DVD, but it is hardly worth a theater visit.