Sunday, June 29, 2008


So, nothing huge new with me. Busy as always, though midterms went well. I have one year left and school is no more! This is a big deal, because except for my mission, I've been in school since I was 4 or 5!. I am going to San Francisco this week for a Smart Marriages conference, and I'll be there for the 4th of July! I'm thinking of going to the Redwoods and/or to Alcatraz, but we'll see what happens.

So these won't be new to my siblings, but they were to me. I just found em.' I give you the best of some recently unearthed pictures.

Mom's 50th birthday! I was on my mission when this was taken. Gosh, she rocks! I miss you, Mom.

Me, at about age 13, hangin' with my BFF Tim's little cousin. I LOVE THE 90'S! Check out the "Mossimo" shirt and the "No Fear" hat I'm workin'!

Uhh...Jaimee, I don't think girls in our family were allowed such skanky short shorts! Points for flexibility, though :) Nineteen years later, we're about to hit Park City again!

Dad and I hiked the Y when he came to my BYU graduation.

Mom and Princess Julia. Hahahaha.

What is up with our hair? On second thought, I don't love the 90's.

And, this little gem of an unused promo poster for CTU Provo. There you go James, just me and Donny.

SPIRITUAL THOUGHT: This week it's just a simple testimony. I went with the missionaries to teach a discussion, and I'll tell you what, I know by the sweet confirmation of the Holy Ghost that the latter-day work of the Church of Jesus Christ is divine. If you get the chance to accompany the missionaries on a discussion, do so. It is a faith-confirming experience.


I loved it, loved it, loved it. From the visuals to the characters to the story to the comedy to the surprisingly deep morality, this is a fantastic movie, even if you don't have any whippersnappers with you. Surprisingly touching, poignantly romantic (I know, it's about robots, have to see it to understand). Previously, the best Pixar movies had a razor-sharp verbal wit (Toy Story, The Incredibles) but Wall*E, having a pair of leads who hardly speak, resurrects the type of sweet and good-natured characterizations and physical comedy found in, candidly, the silent masterworks of Charlie Chaplin. Seriously, if you love Wall*E, go and rent Charlie Chaplin's City Lights; it's one of the best romantic comedies ever. At any rate, while Iron Man may be the year's most kick-a** entertainer so far, Wall*E spoke to me more, and was equally entertaining in it's own sweet way. And it is a visual feast. See it on the big screen. ***** (out of five)


In a nutshell: Get Smart will have you smiling the whole time, chuckling and giggling for a healthy chunk of it, and a handful of times it'll make you laugh until it hurts. Surprisingly solid action, a very likable role for Steve Carrell, and Anne Hatheway showing more charm than...well...ever. Alan Arkin, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson...they're all good. Not an instant classic, but definitely worth catching if you need a laugh. Some terrific one-liners and physical comedy. Steve Carrell seems to be channeling more of his Daily Show persona and less of Michael Scott, and it's good to be reminded of his comedic range. Rated PG-13 for a few profanities and a handful of vulgar jokes/innuendo. ***1/2 (out of five).

Less of a riotous comedy (though it does have its moments) and more of a just plain likable, feel-good, fun movie about making your own movies. I may be biased, as I love Jack Black and Mos Def, but this is a great little film that really captures the fun of making movies with your friends, for your friends. Really entertaining. Rated PG-13 for a few profanities and one innuendo. ***1/2 (out of five).

Saturday, June 14, 2008


To all my friends and family who are fathers, I wish you a very happy Fathers' Day. I wish to pay a brief tribute to my truly exceptional dad. Though I'd like to fill this page with memories and thoughts, if I got started I'll be here all night, so I'll keep this brief. My dad is one of the best people I've ever met. He truly emulates the Savior in the way he deals with others. He is patient. He's caring. He's kind. He's merciful. He is hard-working, and self-sacrificing. He's fun-loving. He's a fantastic, considerate, and loving husband. As my mom once wrote to us about him: "You girls would be so lucky to marry a man like this. You boys would be so lucky to be a man like this." He's been so good to our family, to Carol, to the Rays, and to everyone he meets. He's been a great counselor and a great friend. He instilled in me a love for God, a passion for the scriptures, and an awe for nature. He taught, by word and example, the importance of honoring women and of treating all people with friendliness and respect. He got me into Frankie Vallie, Old Westerns, Bond movies, camping, hiking, running, dogs, and (after a lot of effort)...dirt biking. (Sorry, Dad, I haven't been bit by the handball bug yet). He taught me to revere the Holy Priesthood and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. There's a lot I could say, but most importantly: Dad, I love you. You're a great father, a great husband, a great son and brother, a fun grandfather, a beloved church leader, and a great man.

SPIRITUAL THOUGHT: For Father's Day, I love this quote by President Howard W. Hunter: "The title 'father' is sacred and eternal. It is significant that of all the titles of respect and honor that are given to Deity, he has asked us to address him as 'Father.'"


After Director Ang Lee's (Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Brokeback Mountain) artsy-fartsy take on The Hulk tanked at the box office a few years ago, things looked dire for the big green dude. So what was in order? Recast the franchise, get a new director, and basically pretend the first one never happened. This is a reboot of the Hulk franchise, and it's a credit to the filmmakers that I very much enjoyed this film, given that I have no history of giving a crap about the Hulk or his tendency to smash things. I've always looked on the character with mild disdain, writing him off as a Jekyll & Hyde-type on steroids. But this Hulk kept me entertained from start to finish.

Credit must be given to Edward Norton, whose Bruce Banner is a lonely, tortured soul who struggles to keep the rageful beast within him at bay. Norton makes a sympathetic lead, and he does some fine character work here. Nothing amazing, ala Christian Bale or Robert Downey Jr., but solid nonetheless. Liv Tyler does just fine (though there's sure to be some inexplicable hatred for her by the public...there always is for the love interest in superhero movies! I don't get it. I liked Katie Holmes, Kirsten Dunst, and Kate Bosworth just fine). William Hurt, Tim Roth...the entire cast turns in good performances. The cinematography is excellent (some stuff in Brazil is particularly eye-catching). The pacing is great, and while there is some down-time between Hulk moments, the film doesn't lag. This is a much more somber movie than the crowd-pleasing Iron Man, but the handful of attempts at humor hit the mark just fine.

Most importantly, the film gives you a good dose of Hulk smashing things real good. The CGI on the Hulk is far better than the trailers made me think it'd be (with a few exceptions). And the action in this movie is fantastic, visceral, hard-hitting stuff. You truly feel the physical power of the character, and a couple moments startle you with just how kicka** they are. The final battle in particular is a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the exploration of the "villain's" motives (villains who think they're doing the right thing are always more interesting), as well as Bruce's desire to control his demons. Good people have a dark side, and bad people often have some virtue left in them, and this movie explores that idea to good effect.

Flaws? Well, being a comic-book movie, you have to suspend disbelief (even within the rules of its own universe) about what's possible or even plausible. Some plot-holes arise (though some are explained as the film goes on, in the moment I was thinking "wait, what?"). One side character's actions seem like a bit of a stretch. But mostly, any qualms I have stem from the fact that I've been spoiled by excellent superhero movies, like Iron Man and Batman Begins. This is not an excellent superhero movie. It is, however, a very good superhero movie that has some truly rockin' action, solid character work, and good acting. It's more than worth catching in the theatres. (Rated PG-13 for action violence, mild language, and a brief foreplay scene that goes nowhere). ***1/2 (out of five).


This year's indie darling is every bit as good as you've heard. Just be aware that the story itself isn't ground-shaking. It's a good, simple, sweet, and straight-forward tale. What sets the movie apart is its tone, dialogue, acting, and sheer likability. As someone who's worked with teens for the past five years, I can tell you that this is pretty true to life in terms of current teen vernacular and attitude. And while this world of teenage pregnancy, divorce, and step-families is not "traditional," it is, sadly, true to life for a lot of people, and what I liked is how a lot of the characters are truly supportive of one another and try their best to do the right thing by each other. The relationships are complex; some are touching, honest, and giving, while others are less so. Even the least likable character in the film is painted in a way that, while the actions are inexcusable, they are understandable.

Ultimately, this is a morality tale where a teenage girl decides against an abortion and places her child up for adoption; from my perspective, that's to be applauded. Her dad and stepmom, while frowning upon her sexual activity, genuinely love her and support her in their own irreverent way. The film has other uplifting messages, and while the way things happen with Juno should be interpreted by teenagers as the exception, not the norm, for unwed pregnancies, in the context of these particular characters it works. Where the film really shines is in the very real and engaging performances by the actors across the board. Elizabeth Page (X3: The Last Stand) is truly fantastic as Juno, running the whole gamut of emotion. Michael Cera, of Arrested Development fame, basically plays the same character he did on that show, which is fine, because he's just so dang lovable. J.K. Simmons (the newspaper boss in Spiderman) and Allison Janney (Hairspray) are a hoot as Juno's parents. Jennifer Garner (13 Going on 30, Alias) and Jason Bateman (also of Arrested Development) do good work as the prospective adoptive parents. And a certain cast member of The Office makes a brief, funny early appearance.

Juno works very well as both a comedy and a drama, with some very touching moments intermixed with wonderfully written comedic dialogue. NOTE: The first 20 minutes feature an unnecessarily dense onslaught of vulgar humor, but after that it gets much better.The music is great, too. RATED PG-13 for frank sexual discussion, vulgar humor towards the start, moderate language (including one variation of the f-word), and brief sensuality). ****1/2 (out of five).


This is an older one that I've just got around to seeing. Blah. Meh. I like both of the main actors, but this movie was just so...bland. An hour into it I thought: "I haven't laughed or been moved, engaged, or amused by this once. Not once. In a whole hour. It wasn't terrible, it just...didn't try. I generally love romantic movies, but there was no real chemistry in this. Hugh Jackman falls for Meg Ryan even though they'd not shared one genuine moment of connection and she'd been a total b---- to him nonstop. Dialogue: bland. Story: half-baked. I did enjoy the argument for chivalry, I just wish it'd been presented in a better movie. If you need your Meg or Hugh fix, go watch Sleepless in Seattle or The Prestige instead. ** (out of five).


So I caught this show on Friday night at a local pub by singer/songwriter/mother Meghan Coffee. She's local (from Georgia), but has a New York sound. I actually went with a friend to see another band, only to find out this girl and her band were playing instead. I was thinking of bailing, but then we heard her sing and stuck around. Really good stuff, if you ask me. If you're into Sarah McLoughlin, my good friend Laura Ostler, or think Jennifer Tilly would sound awesome if she sang, give this girl a listen. Her band was very good, as well. I LOVE her CD (Songs To Sail By), which I bought at the show. It comes out next week, and I bet you can get it on iTunes within a few weeks. For now, give her a listen at:

Just let the music on her myspace play in the background while you do something. If you don't love it...then we agree to disagree, no biggie. I really dug it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Thank you all for your kind phone calls and emails. I felt truly loved on my 27th. I celebrated by having lunch with the OCC (Obsessively Close Cohort), AKA my marriage and family therapy buddies. We ate pizza at the Mellow Mushroom (Auburn's best, if you ask me). A friend of mine threw me a surprise birthday party at a nearby park, where my friends gathered for cake, games, and a roast on yours truly, with embarrassing stories provided by my sisters (I'll get you!). At work my superior Roberta baked me a chocolate brownie cake and we had a little party with my coworkers. Charan called with his annual Indian-accent rendition of the "Happy Birthday" song. Family and friends all contacted me. Thanks and I love you all.

Went with the YSA's from my branch to a Young Single Adult Conference in Atlanta. There were hundreds of people there. Friday night was a dance. Young men and young women then stayed over at separate members' houses. We made a late night run over to Waffle House; ironically , we were just debating the sanitary level of the restaurant when we spotted a roach running across the kitchen floor. We just laughed and kept eating. Good stuff. Saturday morning was a series of Gospel workshops (kind of like glorified Institute classes, but on multiple specific topics). There was outdoor volleyball, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a movie, a fantastic testimony meeting, and another dance. Great times.

We followed a spiritual prompting to pull over and help a motorist on the side of the road. He was an old man who had broken his femur, and on his first day out of the hospital his car ran out of gas on the freeway. I was sad to hear that he'd been trying to wave down cars for an hour and a half, at night, but no one stopped in all that time. Just goes to show that one should always follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost. We got him some gas, and when we had some other technical problems, Caitlynn and Tiffany started praying in my car, and viola, problems solved. I had a good chat with him about the Savior (he's Christian) and we gave him a Conference Ensign and a Family Proclamation/Living Christ double-sided bookmark. So all in all, a pretty awesome experience!

I had what I believe to be a rather profound insight from the Holy Ghost today as I read from The Book of Mormon.

"... the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure"
(ALMA 4: 8).

Here we have an instance not of the unbelievers persecuting the saints, but the other way around. In our quest to become righteous, we must beware of becoming self-righteous. In our attempts to "be in the world, not of the world," Satan may erroneously lead us to despise the world. This would be contrary to the Savior's example; He loved the world. Jesus associated with harlots, sinners, and publicans. He despised worldliness, but never the world. "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation" (2 NEPHI 25:24).

The Father is the same way: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." (JOHN 3:16). We ought to be careful to never think of ourselves as better than those who do not share our beliefs. That's how the Gospel of Peace turns into a dogma of hatred, as it did with the Crusades, the Inquisition, the KKK, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The Lord loved the world and its people without being worldly, and He's our example, see where I'm going with this.


In's awesome. This is the best CGI-animation movie since The Incredibles. Clever writing, gorgeous animation, fun action, and stellar vocal work by Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, and...(drumroll please)...Jackie Chan! The latter lends a feel of authenticity to this kung-fu themed flick, but you don't have to be a martial arts afficionado to enjoy the ride. Like The Incredibles, this works on multiple levels: kids movie, adult comedy, fantasy, and action movie. Jack Black is immensely likable and Dustin Hoffman charms. There's even some decent morality and philosophy going on. And it'll make you laugh. What more do you want? **** (out of five).


DWIGHT SCHRUTE: Do you watch Battlestar Galactica?
Then you are an idiot.

TV Guide gives it a 10 out of 10 and says it "transcends genre. One of TV's boldest and best dramas...intensely suspenseful." The Boston Globe says "it surpasses nearly everything else on TV." Entertainment Weekly gives it an A- and calls it a show "you ought to be watching... spaceships or not!" The Chicago Tribune, USA get the picture. It doesn't matter if you don't like sci/fi. Brushing this show aside for being set in space would be like missing out on Lost because it has a smoke monster, Batman Begins for being about a bat-man, or The Lord of the Rings because it has dwarves, elves, and dragons. The point is, anywhere smart writing, thrilling acting, complex moral dillemmas, and great storytelling are going on, you can bet I'll be there. I've been watching this show on DVD and I love it. It's constantly being praised as the best show on TV, and while I personally think that title goes to Lost, this is pretty awesome in its own right. Fantastic actors, gripping plots, surprisingly intense action, great production values, you name it. While it's first few episodes are fine, it builds steam as it goes on and becomes truly great. Examines issues of faith, politics, war, morality, family, and more without taking sides or providing easy answers. It's also very emotionally impacting. Currently airing its fourth (and final) season, now is a good time to give this a shot on DVD and catch up. Has some sexual material (more in the earlier episodes than later), but it's easy to see it coming and FF it. Edward James Olmos (Stand and Deliver) and Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves) lead an exceptional cast. Give it a shot! I'm Jono Decker, and I endorse this message.


The Gyst:
I don't care who you are, you'll laugh till your sides ache. **** (out of five).

The Full Scoop: Once again, you don't have to like sci-fi to enjoy this. All you need is an affinity for dry wit and clever sarcasm. This movie made me laugh harder than any other film I've seen all year. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was a cult TV hit in the 90's that spawned this 1996 movie. The plot (not that it matters) is that a mad scientist wants to dominate the world, but first he needs to find a movie so bad that forcing humanity to watch it would break their collective spirits (rendering them easily conquerable). To test his catalogue of terrible B movies, he kidnaps some poor schmo (Mike Nelson) and sends him up into space, forcing him to watch cheap, poorly acted crap (and yes, these ARE real movies). Mike fights loneliness by building a pair of robot friends, and together the three of them maintain their sanity by endlessly making fun of the movies that are sent to them.

This is where the show (and the movie) excells. While the brief intermission sketches are pretty weak, the actual riffing of old movies provides some of the most clever, brutal, and quick humor I've ever experienced. But don't take my word alone for it:

- "Siezes hold of your funny bone like a rabid mongoose and never lets go." USA TODAY.
- "Flat-out hilarious. Provides more laughs per minute than most Hollywood comedies." THE WASHINGTON POST
- "Hilarious commentary. ***" ROGER EBERT
- "May be the mildest PG-13 film in quite some time. Though the robots utter a couple of profanities and there are some vulgar cracks, it easily could have received a PG rating. When MST3K is on the mark, it's a howl. Only a couple of jokes...fall flat. There are more than enough genuine belly laughs to make Mystery Science Theater worthwhile. ***" DESERET NEWS

So give it a shot. The first 5-10 minutes are slow, but then it kicks in. P.S. When our heroes realize that one of the actors in the movie they're watching is the professor from Gilligan's Island, the riffing is particularly rich.

Monday, June 2, 2008


From left: Tiffany, me, Michelle, Caitlynn, Dave.


Caitlynn and I

When Bono meets Jono.

So I went with my friends Dave, Michelle, Tiffany, and Caitlynn on a day trip to Pensacola, Florida on Saturday. It's about a four hour drive, but it was worth it. Among the highlights, I got stung three times by jellyfish! The current brought them in by the hundreds. Fortunately, there was a good 3 hours of quality time in the water before those little nasties showed up, and it was fantastic. White sands, clear water, outside temperature of about 90 degrees and ocean temperature of about 70-75!

It was a paradise. At least one couple thought so, because they were definitely inspired by the beauty of the location to just go ahead and have sex in the water! I'm serious! Didn't even care that there were hundreds of people around. "Um, guys?" I said to my friends, "let's go swim far, far away!"

Anyway, Krispy Kremes and Waffle House were eaten, skin was bronzed (or cooked), and we rocked out in the car. Lotsa laughs. Good friends, good times.

Tanning while eating Sun Chips. What a life!


Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Freedom Writers) and Gerard Butler (300, The Phantom of the Opera) star in this romantic marriage dramedy about...well, do I really want to tell you? If you've seen the trailer, you know its plot, and if you haven't, I won't spoil it. I will say its definitely worth the watch. I don't know if I'm just a sucker for this type of movie, but both this and No Reservations got lukewarm reviews, but I really liked em.' Perhaps film critics in general are just too cynical, but I thought this was a great movie. The leads are engaging and have wonderful chemistry, the supporting cast is fun. It's sentimental and sappy, and you know what? I liked it! It was touching. It made me want to be a better man. It shows a passionate marriage that was imperfect but real, with actual commitment, sacrifice, and love. It's well-acted, its funny. The only bothersome aspect for me is a scene condoning premarital "comfort sex." If you can get past that, this movie has a lot of good things to say about love, marriage, family, adversity, and friendship, and has fun doing so. Hilary Swank is a fine lead, hitting an impressive range of acting beats (silly to sweet to dramatic), and Gerard Butler is also showing his range, having personified battlefield machismo in 300, seductive menace in Phantom, and goofy charm here. Lisa Kudrow is a riot, as is Harry Connick Jr. as a man with no personal conversation filter. Kathy Bates is solid, as always. **** (out of five). Rated PG-13 for moderate language, a handful of innuendos, sweet, funny and non-raunchy foreplay between a married couple, and a brief shot of male rear nudity (it's a fast-forwardable scene). WATCH THE TRAILER HERE (contains plot spoilers):


ABC's Lost just finished its fourth season, AKA "the Season of Answers," and definitely its best season since the first. This is a big moment for me, but I must admit that if it continues this level of quality for its two remaining seasons, it will claim the title for Best TV Show Ever (24 has to re-earn my affections this year. I still love it, but I'm putting it in the corner with a dunce cap, for now, due to its poopy past season). If you haven't gotten into Lost, or fell away during the slower middle seasons, now is the time to give it a chance/come back. With an established finish line (2010), it's now focused not on filler episodes but on telling its amazing story as efficiently as possible. Not only is it entertaining on so many levels (drama, laughs, action, mythology, mystery, fantasy, suspense), it has fantastic, nonstatic characters and wonderful moral and philosophical themes. It plays with time in an ingenious way that's often heady but never confusing. It has the best villain on TV right now. It's plot-driven and character driven. And last week's season finale kicked my trash in all the right ways. Seriously, jump on board!


I love my faith. I love movies. Naturally, I'm intrigued by the melding of the two, though more often then not I've been dissappointed with the type of drivel LDS Cinema has provided. However, there have been a handful of exceptions, ranging from good to excellent, and anytime I get wind of something that seems well-made, I get genuinely excited. Such is the case with The Errand of Angels, a film about sister missionaries in Austria that looks like a companion movie to the wonderful The Best Two Years. Produced by Excell Entertainment (the more dependable of the two major Mormon Cinema studios), it looks solid, and has beautiful scenery (and no, I'm not just talking about the redheaded sister, hahaha). After several movies about male missionaries, it's good to see a story from the other half's perspective.