Posted on: 12/11/09 4:49 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I get to go to quite a few screenings… and I haven’t been to one this “regulated” in years. (Movie reviewers only, no guests, one screening, no cameras, etc.) But hey… this is James Freaking Cameron!

Think about it. We haven’t seen a film from Cameron since Titanic, the biggest box office success ever! So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that I got a chance to screen Avatar. Congruently, you can probably relate to my high expectations.

Look at Cameron’s repertoire of films: Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, T2, True Lies, Titanic… not a dud in the bunch (a couple of rentals, but not a dud). How do you follow up the greatest selling film of all time?

I’m actually not allowed to post my review of the film until next Friday, the 18th (told you it was stringent), but I’m allowed to make some broad comments about my screening experience.

First, I’ll tell you that the film is definitely worthy of going to the theatre for the release. A mere glimpse of the preview on the official site will tell you that. The film is over 2 hours and 40 minutes long and I didn’t want to miss a minute. I attended the screening right after lunch and had to pee so bad two hours into it I almost went in a cup! (I didn’t… I sprinted!)

I’d love to give you details, but I can’t yet. I’ll just tell you that there were a few scenes that were visually amazing. The fantasy genre has proven to be well liked by audiences in the last decade, and I think the whole “avatar” premise will be welcomed by an extremely “virtual” generation.

But, all that said, it was hard for the film to rise to my expectations. This film is the “little brother” of “the captain of the football team.” It doesn’t matter how good or bad it is… it will always be compared to Titanic.

I called my son as soon as the screening was done and started giving him the play-by-play. I told him of scenes he would love and scenes that I thought they could have improved. I told him it was enjoyable, but a little preachy and too new age for me at times (I didn’t tell you that… I just told him that.. wink, wink.)

The main aspect I have to vent about is the choice to do 3D. (I don’t even know if I’m allowed to talk about this) I’m really disappointed they went 3D. I’ll be honest: I’ve never enjoyed a 3D film, ever! I was sitting at home in front of an HD screen literally 3 hours after the screening and the preview came on. I thought the preview on my HD screen looked better than I had just seen on the big screen wearing the stupid 3D glasses. I hate 3D. And there weren’t really any great 3D moments. So the 3D definitely effected my perception of the film.

That all being said… the film was really good overall.

I’ll share my official review next week with what I liked and didn’t like. I’ll also share my “two cents” on how appropriate it is (or isn’t) for kids. The only thing I’ll say now is that there is a lot of weird religious themes throughout the film that parents will want to talk about with their kids, especially in today’s culture of mix and match religions (just saw an article on that very subject here yesterday).

Helping Kids Process Grief

Posted on: 12/10/09 10:12 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Tragedy is a reality. We all face it at times. The question we might have as parents and youth workers is, “How can we help our kids process this kind of grief?”

My city has been dealing with this recently as three young people were killed in a car wreck. The intriguing thing I’m noticing is the different advice we’re hearing about helping kids deal with this.

Our Sacramento Bee newspaper offered some interesting observations in their recent article about the incident, noting that teenagers don’t grieve like adults. The article contends that teenagers bury their feelings deep because of the pressure to look good and seem confident.

I’m not sure I agree with that generalization at all. I have seen plenty of evidence to the contrary, where kids will almost have complete meltdowns over even trivial matters. Youth workers like to call this “drama.” We’ve all seen it. Billy breaks up with Ali and Ali reacts no better than “Bella” in the recent movie New Moon… complete emotional breakdown.

I think some teenagers probably do have a propensity to repress feelings or “gunnysack,” but I wouldn’t try to rubberstamp that as a diagnosis for all teenagers. It would be difficult to generalize “all students” as grieving one way. Students are so diverse in how they process things.

But the same Bee article also noted something I found quite interesting- something I definitely have observed mainstream- the desire teenagers have to just be together and process grief with their friends.

“A lot of times, kids don’t necessarily want to talk, they just want to be together,” said Lissa Morgan, counselor at Rocklin. “They just want to go into the room and feel supported by one another.”

A steady rotation of students filled a conference room at Rocklin on Monday and Tuesday, where chaplains and counselors were on call. Most students sat quietly, Morgan said, or signed a poster with notes to Pak, a junior who died in the car crash.

Students at Folsom also taped a banner to an outside wall for Shaw, a senior who died in the crash. Throughout the day, students picked up Crayola markers to write notes or draw pictures. Or they gathered at the wall to share memories of Shaw.

“You didn’t have to know him for this to affect you,” said Yasi Saderi, 17, senior class president, who plans to give the completed banner to Shaw’s mother. “We wanted everyone to express what they felt.”

The wall is especially effective for teens, White said, because it gives them permission to express their feelings without being put on the spot. Reading others’ comments helps teens understand their own feelings.

I emailed this article to my buddy Lane Palmer to ask his two cents. Lane has a counseling background and was a youth pastor in Columbine during the 1999 incident. Lane, a regular contributor to our website, has written articles for us about dealing with school shooting tragedies and how to process this kind of grief as a group. Lane chimed in on this particular Sacramento Bee article and how students can process grief in a healthy way:

Every teen to some extent will go through the grieving period during adolescence, so youth workers need to be aware and ready to help.  It could be the death of a parent, friend suicide, or even a grieving of moving out of childhood.  It’s a great opportunity to help students understand and process both the joys and loss that relationships and life brings.

I agree that letting the teens just ‘hang out’ and process on a peer level is important, but equally important is encouraging them to process their feelings in some way- talking, journaling, drawing, etc.  With some of the Columbine students, I just sat and let the conversation flow.

Avoid any ‘you need to be strong’ or ‘you need to move on’ stuff.  Every teen grieves in a different way and time.

I think hanging a huge butcher paper in the youth room and make a general opportunity to write thoughts, names, struggles, etc. would be a great thing for any youth group

Great advice from Lane.

You can check out the entire Sacramento Bee article here.

Posted in News, Youth Culture |  | Leave A Comment

Whooops! Wrong CONNECT

Posted on: 12/8/09 11:21 AM | by Jonathan McKee

This is a funny story… although it probably wasn’t too funny for the person that hit the wrong key on the keyboard, resulting in thousands of newly printed books being pulled. Whooops!

Most of you know that my brand new book CONNECT is due on the shelves in January, but I’m supposed to get copies this month (hundreds of you have already pre-ordered those copies and already received the free ppt training we’re giving away to anyone who buys the book from us).

For weeks now, the question has been… when this month? For those with a short attention span- the answer is- probably around Christmas. You’ll just never guess as to why

I never tell people the exact release dates in case of a mess-up. We just have been telling people a nice broad DECEMBER. Well… let me let you in on a huge whoops that is being corrected as we speak.

My publisher was actually going to get those books to me the day before Thanksgiving. I was thrilled, because then I would have been shipping them to you all and you probably would have had them in your hands right now! But, when the books were finished being printed, Fed-ex couldn’t deliver the 1,000-plus books I ordered before Thanksgiving, so we scheduled the delivery for the Monday after Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, my publisher overnighted one copy- hot off the press- and I received that two days before Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving day I’m hanging out with my family and my dad is thumbing through the book (the book that my publisher has already printed thousands of). My dad asks me, “What is this weird punctuation I keep seeing in the indented sections?”

Now, let me put this in perspective. I have proofed this book probably four times in the last three months. My publisher has editors, those editors even have proofers, then they send it to me for my two cents… then I send it back to them if I have any changes, etc. etc. The thing gets read and tweaked about 20 times in the last few months. When I got the copy off the press, I browsed through it quickly, but I didn’t look in detail. My dad, however, was reading through an entire chapter.

Apparently someone hit the wrong button when the final draft got sent to the printer. I don’t know how it happened… but every indented section in the book (every quote, every indented example, etc.) was somehow coded wrong and has some bizarre punctuation that makes it look like Spanish punctuation or something. Take a peek at this pic I snapped of one of the indented sections:

Those errors are throughout the whole book on that initial printing.

So on Thanksgiving day I’m emailing my publisher, “I’ve got some REALLY bad news.”

Long story short, thousands of books were recalled, and now they are being reprinted (within the next week, I think). We’ve all been waiting for a new date. Just today, they have told me that I will see the new “error free” copies, early in the week of Christmas.

So those of you who pre-order, you will still get them from me before you get them from anywhere else (because they are rushing me the first copies). And, those that order from our web site will not only get them first, they will also get the free ppt training we are giving away to anyone who purchases from us.

So what’s the date? If I am shipping them the week of Christmas… those who choose PRIORITY MAIL will get them just a few days later, but those who choose the cheap media mail won’t get them till closer to New Years.


In defense of my publisher Zondervan… they’ve never made a mistake like this before with me, and they have been amazing through this process. They have promised to rush me my pre-order copies and are making every effort to help. Much thanks to all of them at Z!

And thanks to all of you who are being patient as well. I know, I know… we’ve said December all along. But usually I wouldn’t have pushed it this close to January. So thanks for your patience!

Posted in Books, Personal |  | Leave A Comment

Free Stuff from To Save a Life

Posted on: 12/7/09 12:29 PM | by Jonathan McKee

You guys like free stuff, right? Well… I’ve got something for ya. Those of you who have been subscribers of my blog for a while might remember me talking about a Christian film I got a chance to screen, a film titled, To Save a Life. The writer of the film, Jim Britts, is a buddy of mine, and he just hooked me up with some free stuff to give away to you guys. I’ve got 10 things to give away. So I thought we’d have another little contest. More on that in a minute.

This film is one you really should check into. It’s releasing in the theatres January 22 and is something I would use in two ways. One, I’d use it to open doors to spiritual conversations with my outreach kids. Secondly, I’d definitely use this as a tool with my student leaders to help them start thinking about reaching out to their friends at school and what that actually looks like. The film addressed typical church youth group “hypocracy” like no other.

I really enjoyed this film (you can check out my earlier blog about it here, where I gave my complete “two cents” on the film and received a few comments that got pretty interesting). As I mentioned, it’s a fantastic tool to show to a small group of kids or even an entire youth groups and discuss afterwards. It’s very real… even a little edgy at parts (You can see their new trailer here on their official site).

Jim is giving me three of his Youth Curriculum Kits to give away to you (a cool little kit with a seven week teaching series- it’s got a leaders guide, a DVD with clips from the film, ppts, and more)… and seven of the To Save a Life Novels. Cool stuff!

So here goes: a little “google-proof” movie trivia again since we’re talking about movies here:

The first three people that use the comment feature of this blog to answer just one of the questions below correctly, get the To Save a Life Kits. The 7 runner ups get the novels.

*BONUS PRIZE: Because of the rapid rate at which people won the first contest, I offered a bonus prize to any of those who could answer questions 1 or 3 below (because question 2 turned out to be “Googlable!) To those bonus winners, I put them on the list to receive a copy of my new CONNECT book coming out this month. Only two additional people got it. CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. All comments are posted below now.

1. What scene of what movie did actor Richard Dreyfuss refer to when he said that he didn’t even have to make up his interest in another actor because he was so captivated by his performance? (those are my words, so you can’t Google his real words!)   🙂   ANSWER: Jaws, during Quint’s speech

2. In what movie does Joe say, “I got Ice Capades!”   ANSWER: Joe Junior says it in my wife’s favorite film ever, While You Were Sleeping. Then he says, “I know a guy!”

3. What scene of what movie did Morgan Freeman shoot, only to come onto the set the next day with an ice-pack on his shoulder, with no mention of it or no complaint?   ANSWER: The baseball throwing scene in Shawshank Redemption.

That’s it. If you don’t know it, ask your movie geek friends. First 10 people with correct answers win!

If you’re just visiting the blog now and want to subscribe so next time you don’t miss all the fun- do so here– it’s free!

Sexting and the Teenage Brain

Posted on: 12/4/09 10:30 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I think sexting is probably one of the biggest youth culture issues addressed by the news-media in the last year. Our ministry has written articles on the subject, (including this article about how to wade through “media hype”) and I’ve blogged about it numerous times, even this week when we saw another suicide that began from a sexting incident.

Now MTV/Associated Press has taken a poll and shared their findings. I always find it ironic that MTV is doing these studies. I understand why they want to know this information– so they can better understand the generation that they are pimping their smut too— but I just wonder how MTV execs sleep at night when they discover the truth from all these polls.

Even Conan O Brian joked about this in his monologue last night, commenting that MTV was recommending that kids don’t participate in sexting. He jested, “MTV says there’s a time and a place to share these intimate moments… and that’s on one of our 17 reality shows!”    🙂

Anyway… the AP article reporting on this study shares that more than a quarter of young people have been involved in sexting in some form. I also found it interesting that only about half of the kids surveyed saw the issue as a big problem.

The article goes on to talk about the teen brain, arguing that teenage brains are not quite mature enough to make good decisions:

Research shows teenage brains are not quite mature enough to make good decisions consistently. By the mid-teens, the brain’s reward centers, the parts involved in emotional arousal, are well-developed, making teens more vulnerable to peer pressure.

But it is not until the early 20s that the brain’s frontal cortex, where reasoning connects with emotion, enabling people to weigh consequences, has finished forming.

Beyond feeling invincible, young people also have a much different view of sexual photos that might be posted online, Bogle said. They don’t think about the idea that those photos might wind up in the hands of potential employers or college admissions officers, she said.

“Sometimes they think of it as a joke; they have a laugh about it,” Bogle said. “In some cases, it’s seen as flirtation. They’re thinking of it as something far less serious and aren’t thinking of it as consequences down the road or who can get hold of this information. They’re also not thinking about worst-case scenarios that parents might worry about.”

You can read the whole AP article here.

This seems to coincide with earlier research about the brain- I talked about the teenage brain a few years back, with my two cents and a biblical response.

Bottom line: continue to talk with our kids about these issues.

(ht to KJ for the AP article)

My Movie Room

Posted on: 12/2/09 3:57 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Okay… so it’s not really a movie room. It’s a room in my house that my kids have always called “the play room.” It’s got a TV, some game systems, our family computer, a big corner couch.

Last weekend I got a crazy idea for decorating it… looks pretty cool, huh?

Quick contest: Take a peek at the border of movies around the top (I’ll tell you how I did that in a moment). First 5 people who comment below with the title of at least 15 of the 19 movies displayed in this picture… I’ll send you any one of my books for free- your choice. Bonus offer: The first person who sends me the CORRECT names of the directors of all 19 films… I’ll send you any three of my books for free! (make sure you include your email- never displayed- when you enter the comment so I can email the winners)

UPDATE: We have all 5 single book winners: Brian Senecal, Ryan Klein, Ed Overell, Jeff Gin, and Chris Miller have each named at least 15. And now Mike just won the bonus prize too. Good job! Thanks all for playin!

The movies around the top border are actually laser disc covers. For those of you who aren’t total movie geeks like I am… Laser discs are those big silver things that looked like records before DVDs. They actually were the “hype” when VHS was still around. Laser discs had almost twice the resolution… so movie geeks owned them. Once DVD’s came out… movie geeks like me were left with a large collection of silver Frisbees!

But when I saw the covers the other day, I thought, “Hey, those would make a good border around the room!”

There you have it!

Pretty cool, huh?

Posted in Movies, Personal |  | Leave A Comment

The Ugly… Ugly Truth

Posted on: 12/1/09 3:53 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Last night Lori and I rented the comedy romance The Ugly Truth with Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl. I needed to review it anyway for our MOVIE REVIEW page, and I always enjoy a good romantic comedy with Lori.

My thoughts?

Very ugly… very little truth.

Some people might be quick to tell me, “Hey Jonathan, it’s rated R! What did you expect?” First, this won’t be the first time I’ve said it, I don’t put much weight in the MPAA’s rating system. The Ugly Truth is “rated R for sexual content and language.” That would also describe Jerry McGuire or When Harry Met Sally, both films that are not only “true” and real, but also are very pro-marriage.

The Ugly Truth was none of that. Looking at the preview, I should have foreseen that.

Here’s a snippet from my official movie review:

Abby (Katherine Heigl) is a romantically challenged morning show producer who is appalled by Mike (Gerard Butler), a chauvinist with a cable call-in show called “The Ugly Truth.” When Abby’s station faces the reality of low ratings, they hire Mike to come and liven up her show with his raw, risqué antics. In other words, they sold out, like most of today’s media does.
This attempt at a romantic comedy was simply one raunchy gag after the next, and sprinkled with the typical subtle lies that promote today’s “hook-up” culture.
Audiences who enjoyed Knocked Up and the like will probably enjoy this film as well. Audiences who don’t enjoy non-stop locker-room humor will want to skip this insult to their intelligence.
Take the moment early in the film when Abby is climbing a tree to save her cat, only to see in her “hunk” of a neighbor’s window, seeing him get out of the shower. Of course the branch breaks, she loudly falls, catching herself by her feet so we can see her hang upside down in her panties, and him run out in a towel to see what all the hullabaloo is all about (I’ve been waiting for years to use that word in a sentence). She somehow grabs his towel off, leaving him standing naked with his crotch in her face.
Did the writers of Three’s Company write this?
Don’t waste your time. Skip it.