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Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Susan vs Helen"

My kids (ages 7 & 9) have wanted to see "Monsters vs Aliens" ever since they saw the trailer last December.

But they didn't want to see it in 3-D.

OK by me. I actually had to hunt for a theater here on the westside that was showing it in traditional 2-D format. We ended up at the early show at the Fox Village in Westwood Village (see my blog entry above).

The film centers around a character named Susan, who after being hit by a meteor is transformed into a 50 foot superhero (or "monster" if you will) who, along with her monster friends, saves the world from a band of aliens. Hence the title.

I was curious about a movie that Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey called "a story-time version of Feminism 101."

Of course, the film (which grossed $58 million it's first weekend) has some great, entertaining scenes. There's enough humor to keep adults engaged ("we need scientific experts," yells the President of the United States, "someone contact India!"). But the film tries too hard to sell the idea of "female empowerment."

Derek (Susan's fiancee) is a self-centered, egotistical wimp. (What's never explained is what Susan found attractive about this guy in the first place - but I digress.) When Derek dumps Susan because a 50 foot female might hurt his career, Susan moves on proclaiming "I don't need a man - I can can solve this problem alone." What she - and we - don't need is Derek.

In another scene a High School boy and girl are "parking" in an open convertible. The boy is weak and passive -- and he isn't interested in making out (huh?). The girl is confident and aggressive -- and wants to go for it. When they see an alien spaceship, the boy is "scared" - it's the girl goes and investigates. When it get dangerous, it's the girl carrying the "scared" boy in her arms. Perhaps it was suppose to be funny - but no one was laughing. My 9 year old commented later how "dumb" that scene was.

Maybe because, the last time I checked, women aren't attracted to weak men.

I'm curious what the reaction to the film would be if the women were portrayed as weak, self-centered, or ditsy ("whatever you say, dear"). Just thinking out loud, here.

Remember "The Incredibles"? Helen Parr (aka "Mrs. Incredible") was a great example of strong and believable female character. While Susan tells Derek: "I don't need you, I can do it alone," Helen tells her husband Bob "We can accomplish more if we work together."

The fact is, we do need each other. I felt like "Monsters vs Aliens" tries too hard too try and prove the worn out expression that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." In the end, even "I don't need a man" Susan needed the help of her monster friends to save the world (ironically, all of which were voiced by male actors).

The film provided some interesting conversation with my kids over lunch - at McDonalds in Santa Monica. They ordered the "Happy Meal" which included a promotional toy from, of course, "Monsters vs Aliens."

Some things you just can't escape from.

Fox Theater, Westwood Village

Saturday I took my kids to see "Monsters vs Aliens" at the Fox Theater in Westwod (see my previous blog - below - for some thoughts on the film).

The Fox Village Theater (now owned by Mann, so it's also called the "Mann Village Theater") is located in Westwood Village, just a block away from UCLA. We were there around 11am and because it was still Spring Break, it was really quiet.

The Fox was built in 1930 and opened in 1931. I really wanted to find a way to climb to the top of that tower back when I was a student at UCLA. The tower, and the theater itself, remind me a lot of the old Fox Carthay Circle Theater, which I've only seen pictures of (located south of Wilshire and torn down in 1969).

My kids just before going in.

I took the rest of these photos after we saw the movie (and the audience left). It's really a unique and amazing theater!

The lobby - like everything is with this theater is massive - with some beautiful detail.

The drinking fountain. Beautiful tile work.

An amazing bass relief in the lobby. The gold-miner theme is again similar in many ways to the old Fox Carthy Circle Theater. I can't imagine this being green-lighted in a theater built today. But then again, The Fox Village is almost 80 years old.

The steps leading up to the balcony ... and bathrooms.

Amazing artwork.

OK, normally, I would never take a photograph in the men's room --- but I felt like I was in a time machine. These are the funkiest looking urinals I've ever seen.

Part of the men's room included a "waiting area" ... with old photos of the theater from over the years.

Back when it opened. Look at the car to the right.

The Fox is still used for major Hollywood premiers by the Studios.

The auditorium is just massive, seating 1341 people. It has to be one of the largest single screen theaters in Los Angeles. And it's in pristine condition! I would definitely recommend seeing a movie here.

Even the ceiling is impressive!

The Fox Village was built just two years after sound was introduced to motion pictures. Really incredible. Yet movies are based on one thing: stories.

Stories capture our imaginations, they move our heads and our hearts. They're incredibly influential. What do my kids want to hear when I tuck them in at night? A story.

As a Christian, I'm reminded that Jesus did much of His teaching in parables, stories. They were immediately remembered by His audience, and His opponents. To this day, the stories and parables Jesus told continue to influence hundreds of millions of men and women, in countries and cultures the world over.

A couple days ago I had the privilege of meeting over coffee with a young film maker whose upcoming film will be showing in the Cannes Film Festival. He's a Christian, committed to bringing his faith and his world-view into what he does. Fantastic, really. I wish him all the best.

The Fox was built when, aside from radio and print medium, movies were the only way of conveying story. Yet, despite advances in technology, that's what it all comes back to.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pacific Crossroads

This post was from 2009. Here's a link to an update on a more recent visit to Pacific Crossroads, now meeting Sunday mornings at Santa Monica High School. 

Pacific Crossroads Church is a relatively new church here on the westside of Los Angeles, meeting Sunday mornings at University High School ("Uni High") on Barrington Avenue in between Wilshire & Santa Monica Blvds.

I had heard a lot of good things about this church - including from a UCLA professor (who I met last Fall) who is a member here. While my family and I attend another church here on the westside, I decided it was time to pay a visit to Pacific Crossroads. The church meets both at 9am and 11am.

The immediate area around Uni High is fairly urban: 3 & 4 story apartment buildings, as well as a few apartment towers. Twenty years ago I heard that only 2% of people on the westside of Los Angeles attend any kind of weekly religious service (church, synagogue, mosque). Sounds about right. A pretty surprising place to find a dynamic, growing church.

Music was contemporary and upbeat - yet reverent. The up front musicians and worship team set a great tone and those around me were singing along. There really was a sense of "we're here to worship God." Pacific Crossroads is part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

The congregation was really multi-ethnic, with a large percentage (maybe 40%?) being Asian-American. Several young families were sitting along the edge with strollers, but it looked like at least half the church were single or young marrieds without kids.

Pastor Rankin Wilbourne delivered a great sermon. He's a gifted communicator that engaged both the congregations' heads and hearts on the biblical texts. I actually came back to the 11am sermon just to hear him again.

After each of the two services several hundred people stuck around, to talk and connect. There were some info tables set up for visitors and highlighting ministry opportunities around the city.

I like their vision statement:

"Pacific Crossroads Church is a people, not a place. We are a people called to worship the Living God and give witness to the good news that God accepts us as we are, not as we should be. Our vision is to be an authentic community that manifests the presence and reign of Jesus Christ throughout Los Angeles through personal transformation, social justice and cultural renewal. We seek the welfare of this city and pray that lives would be astonished and changed by the One who came to serve."
From what I understand, Pacific Crossroads in Los Angeles has a strong relationship with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City (pastored by Tim Keller). The mission statements and desire to "seek the welfare" of the city sound very similar.

Pacific Crossroads' website is:

Guess they'll need to update their "invite" cards now that they've gone to two service times.

As a visitor, I was really impressed with this church. Whether you're a seeker investigating the claims of Christianity, or already a follower of Christ, this really looks like a great church to be a part of --- or at least come by and see what it's all about.

Glad they're here on the westside.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


One of downtown Los Angeles' treasures just celebrated it's 100 year anniversary: "Philippe's: Home of The Original French Dipped Sandwiches."

We were there this past Saturday. As usual, the place was packed. During the week you'll see CEO's from downtown office towers standing in line next to construction workers; young hipsters next to eighty year olds. Weekends bring in families who want to share the Philippe's experience with their kids or grandkids.

Molly and I waiting in line. It moved fairly fast considering how crowded it was.

Philippe's is the kind of place my grandfather would have taken me to: a throwback to the 1940's or 50's. It's not one of those cheesy places that's themed to look old. Philippe's is the real deal. There's a small display of model trains, including those that came in and out of Los Angeles, towards the back (Philippe's is located across the street from Union Station).

Cash only and, like the sign says, coffee still only 9 cents a cup.

The dining room is basic - and very large. Get your food, grab a seat. Order the French Dip - it was invented here in 1918 (seriously!).

My son and his cousin thought the whole idea of "phone booths" were cool.

Philippe's offers free parking (in the back) while you eat. One of very few places downtown that does.

Here's their website:

What's the appeal of Philippe's?

The food?

The history?

Perhaps it's what MacDonald Harris of the New York Times ("Real Food in L.A., March 1990): wrote: "There is a camaraderie among the customers, a kind of unspoken friendliness and consideration that's rare in a big city ... The customers are people of all kinds: shoppers, residents of nearby Chinatown, businessmen, Amtrack workers from the station, people who have been coming here for years and are now bringing their children. More than any other place I can think of, Philippe's typifies the democratic spirit of Los Angeles ..."

Remember the old TV show "Cheers"? The place "where everyone knows your name"? As a Christian, I wonder what it would take for more more churches to be like that, a place where everyone knows your name, a place of "unspoken friendliness and consideration"? Of course, there are churches like that - and the church is called to be much, much more than that. But it's also that.

Here's to treating others with "unspoken friendliness and consideration." Amazing how lunch at one our city's oldest restaurants is a reminder of that - with a French Dip sandwich thrown in to boot.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Keepin' L.A. Moving --- but don't let this happen to you

These "anti-gridlock" signs are not unique to Los Angeles - you'll find them in most major cities. They're designed to open up another traffic lane during rush hour. Without them, traffic - especially in cities like L.A. - would even be worse.

A few weeks back I was at Cal State Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, meeting with some university professors - great time. Had a chance to connect with a fraternity brother from UCLA who is now a professor at CSUN. Unfortunately, I didn't pay attention to the parking signs on the street.

Walking back to your car and seeing it already on a tow truck = never good. The driver would have already taken off, except that there was another car in front of mine that also was also blocking the traffic lane. Fortunately, the driver of the other car showed up just in time. She wasn't happy with her $200 ticket ...

Either was I, but at least it meant that the tow truck operator could give me back my car (instead of having to tow away my car and hers). It's coming down off the rack in the photo above. I still had to pay an additional $200 to get it back - but I consider myself very fortunate. At least I didn't have to walk to some impound location in another part of the Valley (esp as it was almost dark).

$200 ticket + an additional $200 to get it off the rack = $400. Ouch.

As a Christian I'm reminded that the commands in Scripture are for our protection and our provision. When God says "don't" - it's to keep us from harm: physically, emotionally, socially, or relationally. "I did it my way" might be a memorable line from an old Sinatra song, but it really screws things up.

That little "don't" sign (as in "don't park here - tow away") reminds me of the "don't's" - and the "do's" - God gives us in life.

Ignoring them = never good.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


This weekend my daughter really wanted to take the bus into Westwood Village, for a special "daddy daughter date." We could - of course - drive, but she really was excited about taking a bus.

By the way, that Statue of Liberty billboard on the right of the photo above isn't a billboard - it's the side of a twelve story building.

Much of Westwood Village isn't much of a "village" anymore. This is at the corner of Westwood & Wilshire Blvds. - which has the distinction of being the busiest intersection in Los Angeles.

This is to prove that - yes - we did take the bus. The MTA driver was super friendly, and there was zero traffic into Westwood (it was a Saturday). I actually walked from our home to Westwood Village a couple of times last year (long walks). Riding with my daugther = much more fun!

This is much more of the "village" of Westwood Village: on Broxton Avenue, with "The Fox" movie theater visible in the distance through the trees. In addition to being the home of UCLA (my alma mater), Westwood has the highest concentration of movie theaters in the world.

Westwood is technically part of the city of Los Angeles.

Westwood, as well as places like Brentwood, Hollywood, Encino are all communities within the city limits of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile ... Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Pasadena are all seperate, independent cities. Confused? Don't be. Even people who've lived here their entire lives aren't sure what's part of the city of L.A. - and what's not.

Lunch at Subway. Pay to park - unless, of course, you took the bus.

Dessert at Diddy Riese. Now we're talking!

Huge line out the door. Yummy ice cream and cookies - at a price that blows away all competition.

Their big cookie ice cream sandwich is just $1.50. THAT'S why there's almost always a line.

We decided to take a completely different bus route home. It involved a transfer, but my daughter was really excited about the prospect of going a different way and taking two buses home (twice as fun).

We love being able to help our kids engage with the city. 3000 years ago King Solomon wrote "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).
This verse is often limited to what some might see as "religious instruction" - rather than all of life. Thinking out loud, I wonder if my daughter will even want her parents to show her how to ride the bus - where to get on, how to make a transfer, how to read a schedule - when she's older. How much better to have her mom and me start to show her now.

Even on a "date" with her dad.

Welcome Aboard.

© 2009