Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Staying Sane

April 1, 2020

As people deal with shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, here are some interesting options for staying sane both individually and as a family.

Here’s a list of movies suitable for watching among multiple generations of adults.  I can vouch for The Two Popes as a worthwhile watch.  Our family has also (previously) watched The Hundred Foot Journey, and were not as thrilled with the overall quality of the movie despite a few good moments.  The Shawshank Redemption is one I only recently watched and found to be deserving of the accolades it has collected over the years.  Likewise Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great family classic.  Romancing the Stone isn’t nearly as good in the adventure category, and goes for some more sexual humor than Raiders does (although sequels to Raiders up the sexual innuendo substantially).  While it might sound boring, The King’s Speech is a phenomenal movie from an acting perspective.  As I remember, A Fish Called Wanda also has some sexual innuendo but also some stellar performances.  The Usual Suspects is one of my all time favorite films.

Perhaps you’d rather do some explorations in the real world?  Maybe a virtual trip to Disneyland would be a fun diversion?  Or if you’d rather wander farther afield, here is a collection of walks through various places in the world.

Farewell, Rutger

July 24, 2019

Interesting that there has been so little mention of the passing of actor Rutger Hauer.

He is most famous as the villain in the classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner.  His closing scene in the film is truly beautiful, and a testimony to his acting chops.  You can watch it – but only if you’ve already seen the film – major spoiler here!

I came to appreciate Blade Runner a bit belatedly.   Hauer will always be bound up in my memory with another film, Ladyhawke.  It could be that it’s an early film of Matthew Broderick.  It could have to do with the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer and those piercing blue eyes.  It could have to do with my personal preference for medieval settings and sword and sorcery stories.  It could be that I was young and it made a big impression on me.   It likely has to do with all of the above.

Regardless, the film is marred by one of the worst soundtracks I can think of, a terrible 80’s synthesizer fusion that doesn’t match at all the scenery or setting and is an awful distraction.  It’s unfortunate because the plot is a very good one.  And Hauer delivers a typically understated performance that still leaves you rooting for him.  It’s a shame his passing didn’t make more of an impression on the media.  But it’s a good reminder that fame is fickle and legacy is more often pursued than achieved.



March 7, 2019

If you grew up on Star Wars like I did, and have struggled (or given up trying) to appreciate the slew of films released over the last 19 years, you might enjoy this.  A really, really good fan film that tries and largely succeeds to incorporate over 40 years of franchise films into a five minute video.  Enjoy!


Movie Review – Venom

October 22, 2018

My oldest son has been excited to see Venom, and since his successful completion of his most challenging series of midterm exams to date, I decided it would be a nice reward to take him to see it.  Although Venom is very successful, I think there were six people total in the theater on a Monday mid-afternoon.

Warning, there are probably some spoilers ahead..

On the way there we talked a little about it.  I’ve never been a big comic-book/superhero  fanatic.  Never had the money for them on the one hand, and just never had any good entry into that whole arena, which has moved from being the realm of nerds and escapists to being incredibly sexy and profitable.  I don’t know the whole Marvel/DC universes and couldn’t probably tell you which superheros belonged to which one.  That didn’t make a lot of difference in watching the movie, but I’m sure that there were little surprises and hints and nods for those who are familiar with these things (such as the mid-credits scene, which made no sense to me but my son was able to explain the significance of).

We talked about how the concept of an alien symbiote seemed like a good metaphor for sin.  It’s part of us but only to a certain extent.  It is killing us even as we are led to trust it and think that it isn’t as bad as it really is.  And while certain sound frequencies might be lethal to the alien symbiotes in the movie, sin is only removable from us in real life by God.

I left the movie with questions.  It wasn’t a great movie, although I thought Tom Hardy gave a good performance.  Definitely the opportunity for a bit more nuance than some of the other roles I’ve seen him in, such as Mad Max or The Dark Knight Rises.   Michelle Williams had very little to work with, character-wise.  Riz Ahmed gave a very good performance as a new villain archetype for the 21st century – the uber-rich, uber-suave, uber-dedicated-to-good-causes tech giant.  Earlier arch-villains were just bad people.  But now we know that some of the most dangerous people in the world are those who are committed to what they see as good and necessary goals and causes, and who are willing to work through the system to accomplish their ends.  Ahmed’s character Carlton Drake is willing to stop at nothing in order to accomplish a higher good – saving the human race from almost certain self-destruction.  But he’s willing to follow the rules – such as having his victims sign waivers before he does experiments on them.  A good reminder that just because you’re following the rules doesn’t mean you’re doing good things.

Being a comic-book movie, there are a lot of implausabilities and willing-suspension-of-disbelief sorts of things.  Hardy’s Eddie Brock can be snuck into a high-tech, highly secure compound that has no cameras monitoring things, so that the only way the villain can find out he was there was by cajoling his accomplice?  Come on!  But hey, it’s a comic  book, and it’s only two hours.  You gotta cut some corners to move things along.  Fair enough.

There are definitely some interesting theological aspects to the film, ranging from subtle to not so subtle.  There’s an in-your-face critique of the Judeo-Christian God, courtesy of a motivational speech by Drake to his first human testing victim that draws on the story of God and Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22.  I don’t agree with the interpretation and application presented but many people probably have similar responses to this very challenging story.  And he makes the very telling statement that, unlike God, he – the compassionate but ruthless tech god – won’t abandon humanity.  He will save us whereas God cannot be trusted to.

Which is a good reflection of how our culture treats technology and science at this point.  Clerical garb has been replaced by lab coats in terms of symbols of hope and salvation.  Science and technology will save us, our culture repeats.  Unless they destroy us first.  Many of the characters in this movie display a loyalty and trust of Drake that seem to be driven by the hope that he inspires, hope that his ruthlessness will result in the ultimate greater good of salvation.  You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette, after all, right?

The relationship of Brock to his alien symbiote is confusing.  At first it’s a lethal combination, but by the end of the movie there’s a happy medium?  Brock is in control.  He calls the shots, whereas the symbiote did so initially.  Why the change?  Wishful thinking?  The intrepidness of humanity?  Who knows.  But it was a rather jarring change in tone for the sake of a happy ending.  And the basic idea of a ruthless investigative reporter simply taking the word of his symbiote because it’s convenient isn’t very realistic either.

Or is it?  Hmmm.

Finally, the movie concludes with an assertion about the two types of people in the world – good people and bad people.  We are assured that you can tell the difference between a good person and a bad person, it can be intuited, if  I’m remembering the precise word he chose.  Good people can’t be eaten/judged/destroyed, but bad people are fair game.

Yet the line between good and evil and our perceptions of these things can be incredibly thin and difficult.  Is that person evil, or do I simply dislike what they do?  We’re introduced to two side characters in the film.  One is a security guard in a high-rise office complex, and the other is an extortionist demanding his payment at gunpoint from a shopkeeper.  Despite the fact that the security guard prevents Eddie from doing something that is very important and necessary for him to do, Eddie insists that the symbiote (Venom) can’t simply eat the guy.  Eddie knows him – he knows the guy works three jobs to care for his family.

On the flip side, when a SWAT team shows up to deal with Venom on a rampage, it’s acceptable for Venom to crush them and kill them if necessary just because they’re annoying and threatening.  Likewise, the extortionist is obviously a bad person because they’re doing a bad thing to somebody Eddie cares about.  You can guess what happens to this guy.

Our culture struggles with the issue of good and evil and how to tell them apart.  Essentially this has made us more distrustful of people who do good things and more empathetic to people who do bad things.  Villains are more convincing now when they’re operating out of arguably altruistic motives.  They still have to be defeated, of course, and we’re supposed to cheer when they are, because they are definitely evil people, and not people just doing bad things.  The idea seems to be that if you’re doing bad things, you should be willing and able to stop doing them.  And if you don’t, then it’s evidence that you’re evil and fair game for destruction.  All of which promotes an idea that most people are basically good.  Good people who sometimes do bad things and therefore just need help to see the error of their ways.  But if that isn’t successful, or if they don’t acknowledge that what they’re doing is bad, then they deserve to be destroyed.

So the symbiote metaphor for sin definitely breaks down.  Sin is not something we can completely control.  It isn’t something that can be tamed to socially responsible ends.  Our attempts to do so inevitably wind up by redefining good and evil to make the bad things we do seem less evil – or to even declare them good.   Without any solid moral baseline, these films inevitably portray vacillating and contradictory notions of redemption and condemnation, good and evil.  They strive to confuse us on these issues before feeding us the predicted outcome of true good destroying true evil.

This isn’t one of the better superhero movies, in my opinion.  The characters are not overly sympathetic, whether human or alien.  There was humor but it was more forced than the banter that defines the Avengers franchise, but you’ll still probably enjoy the movie if you are a comic-book fan or just like to turn off the brain for a bit.

But don’t think for a second that your sin is something you control, that you manage, that you outwit.  Or that your sin can be justified because of good intentions.  And hopefully give thanks that a promise has been given in Jesus Christ that one day, the sin that rages in us will be removed, permanently.  Not by sound frequencies but through the death and resurrection of the Son of God on your behalf.  That’s something to truly look forward to, even if Eddie Brock thinks he can make peace with his inner demon.





Movie Reviews

October 2, 2018

With part of the family out of town over the weekend, it was time to once again view some movies late at night when I ought to be sleeping.  One is a movie I’ve wanted to see since it was released, the other was an ill-advised impulse viewing.

If I tell you the latter was a Roger Corman film, you might understand the ill-advised description.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of his films before.  On the one hand this is impressive given the sheer number of films he’s been involved with over the years.  On the other hand, given what his films are known for, it’s not surprising.

As such, when I saw Death Race 2050 pop up in the Netflix feed, I thought, why not, this should be mindless entertainment.  In retrospect, I realize only the mindless bit was accurate.  I’ve heard of Death Race 2000 but never saw it.  Unless you like gratuitous violence, poor effects and a bit of gratuitous nudity for the sake of a very thin and not-well thought out social commentary, stay well clear of this.  Roger Corman fans will no doubt love it.

The second movie is the one I remember seeing the trailers for and wanting to see it.  Burn After Reading is another offering by the Coen brothers.  I like the kinds of movies they make and so I enjoyed this one.  It’s kind of painful to watch, a slow-motion train wreck that you want to reach out and stop from happening, but of course you can’t.  It seems to be a study in absurdity and stupidity.  And to not give away any spoilers, I think the most I can say is that the person who plans the most, fares the best of any of the characters.  Great performances all around, while still being rather one-dimensional characters.  Some might be tempted to compare it to one of their earliest films, Raising Arizona.  I think I’d agree with that for comedic value, but Burn After Reading is quite a bit darker humor throughout and less slapstick.

Movie Review – Evan Almighty

September 10, 2018

I have to admit that while I thought the trailers were cute when this came out, I didn’t expect it would do much for theology.  Evan Almighty plays itself off as slapstick but treats the Biblical story of Noah with a remarkable level of respect.

Spoiler alerts ahead, so don’t read if you’d like to see the movie someday (which I recommend) and draw your own conclusions.

Evan is a newscaster turned congressman.  He is transitioning to his new job and dealing with an opportunity to make a big splash as he seeks to fulfill his campaign slogan to change the world.  What he doesn’t bargain for is God showing up to take him up on his slogan by building an ark and channeling the Biblical Noah in the process.  I like Steve Carrell, and he does a good job at delivering a character that is not a bad guy, but he has some ambitions that could lead him down a path harmful to himself and his family.  It’s a good example of how good intentions can easily blind us to the important things in life. The movie is clever, at least initially, and it’s fun – before the movie spells it out – to pick up on the little subtle clues as to what’s  going on while Evan is at first oblivious and then in denial.  Evan is a good Everyman.  Early on his wife says that she prayed that their family would grow closer together.  Evan chides her softly that she doesn’t need to ask God to do that – he, Evan, will do that.

As the Biblical Noah, Evan has a wife (Joan, get it?!) and three sons.  Evan is tasked with building an ark – a duplicate of the Biblical one.  God provides everything, but Evan – with some help – has to do it  himself, which puts his career on a collision  course with this divine directive.  Hilarity ensues.  The CGI animals are cute but are held in check from running away with the show.

How does this movie version of the Noah story stack up with the original?

Early on there is mention of Joan and the boys praying, but there’s no indication in the movie that Evan and his family are religious.  They aren’t anti-religion, but it’s clearly not something that’s part and parcel of their life.  When Evan prays, he’s appropriately awkward, as though it’s something he maybe used to do, early in life, but hasn’t done in a while.  God is never portrayed in a bad way in this movie, nor is faith, though obviously faith can seem like madness from the outside (and even at times from the inside).

The movie tries not to say more than God does.  Evan wants to know why God wants him to build an ark, and God simply affirms that whatever God does, He does because He loves him.  A good way of sidestepping the whole promise in Genesis 9 never to destroy the world by flood again.  God doesn’t claim – in the movie – that He’s sending a flood.  Only that Evan is to build the ark.

Of course Evan is labeled crazy.  Despite the rather remarkable fact that he quickly is the center of a lot of unusual animal activity.  People have things they want from Evan.  A powerful colleague wants him to co-sponsor a land use bill.  His office staff want him to do a good job so their jobs are secure.  His wife and kids want him to spend time with them.  His neighbors want him to act normal.  The city wants him to cease and desist his illegal building project.  Evan is constantly challenged whether he will obey God’s command or try to meet the expectations of everyone around him.  God doesn’t make this an easy choice for Evan, as whenever he tries to ignore God’s work to do his own work or what others expect him to do, things go badly.

Of course, God is right, and the end of the movie shows this in an unexpected and only a little far-fetched way.  Evil is defeated.  Good prevails, although once good has prevailed, there’s not much discussion about our – or Evan’s  – continued walk with God after the fact.  Frankly, there ought to be a sequel to this movie that deals with how Evan’s community – who saw God’s wisdom played out through Evan – deal with this reality.  Will they respond in faith?  If history is any prequel, probably not.

This is a good family movie,  raising opportunities for discussion with the family along the way.  Don’t be afraid to pause the movie so you can look up the Noah story for yourself along the way.  It’s a clean movie and cute, but tries not to overplay these elements or heavy-hand them any more than the premise dictates.



Stop Rewriting Our Past

May 17, 2018

The problem with rewriting the moral undergirding of a culture is the transition period.  More specifically, it is the transitional period of which the rewriters are part of that is most problematic.  How to explain adequately that there has been a massive change, and that people were a part of things before the change as well as after the change?  That they were more or less happy with things in the past but now are compelled to say that those things were bad and wrong.  How to reconcile how things – and we – used to be, with how things and ourselves are now perceived to be?  There is a strong temptation to defensiveness, an attempt to filter history in such a way as to show that the ideas and themes that are championed today were actually there all along if we just had eyes to see them, or people to tell us that this is what was really happening.  What results is a type of historical revision, and the awkward part is that there are people around who know that this is a load of mule muffins.

Case in point, Lando Calrissian.  For those of you who didn’t grow up with Star Wars as part of your cultural fabric, Lando is the dashing rogue turned hero who appears in The Empire Strikes Back, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams.  I never understood why he didn’t get more of a prominent place in the franchise, but I guess if you wait long enough and sell off the rights to the franchise, eventually someone will come around to exploring those overlooked characters more.  And so it is that Calrissian will have a role in the new Han Solo spin-off movie, although played by a different and younger actor.

Fair enough.

Except that the original Calrissian is, at least in the eyes of some, being rewritten into something he never was – a hero/icon/whatever for the LGBT community.  And the guy trying to do the rewriting is a venerated veteran of the Star Wars community – Lawrence Kasdan.  In a recent interview Kasdan claims that Lando is a pan-sexual, someone who is not limited to sexual preferences and practices regarding “biological sex, gender, or gender identity”.  Kasdan claims that not only the new portrayal of Lando but also Williams’ original portrayal lead us towards this conclusion.  Kasdan is not speaking authoritatively – he doesn’t get to arbitrarily dictate the canon of Star Wars, but he carries a lot of weight.

The problem is, regardless of how the new movie portrays Lando, there’s nothing in the original character’s portrayal in 1980 that would lead us to this conclusion at all.  By revisiting a character and redefining him now according to popular ideas, there is the assumption that we can cast these ideas back to the original character.

Except you can’t.

I remember Lando.  I remember thinking he was dashing and handsome and charming – all characteristics that came into full play only with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).  Lando and Han (Harrison Ford) were friends, and friends with a long and complicated past to be sure, but there was nothing flirty in their interactions.  The closest you could get to anything like this would be the fact that they hug shortly after reuniting in Bespin.

But that scene clearly is not romantic or erotic in any way.  It’s clear that both of them are somewhat wary of the other, and Han more so of Lando than visa versa.  If you want to get theological, Lando’s hug is a form of Judas kiss, attempting to put Solo at ease while perhaps identifying him to the guards watching who may eventually have to ensure that he does not escape.  There are many nuances which can only be appreciated after the film is over.  But there’s no mistaking this for any sort of sexualized behavior.

But that’s what it has to be in order to be appreciated properly by today’s standards.  So Lando will be rewritten to be sexually ambiguous, which in the process will throw Han’s sexuality into question as well.  What gets undermined is two strong, masculine, heterosexual characters.  What gets undermined is the concept of manly friendship, friendship that can be close and intimate without being sexualized (PLEASE read C.S. Lewis’ marvelous book The Four Loves for a wondrous exposition on the necessity and beauty of such masculine friendship!).  What gets undermined are the role models of previous generations, because now there is guilt associated with cheering them on in their heterosexual appreciation and tug of war over a beautiful woman, a woman also strong enough in her own right to hold her own and seek to maintain a certain element of aloofness and control in the midst of a situation she realizes at a gut level is suspicious.

All of that can be pitched because what we really want to sell today is sexuality and sexuality as unrestricted and self-defined as we feel like it.  In the long run, that sales pitch will become more and more effective as those who lived through the transition – and can thus speak out against the historical revision through first-person experience – die off (or, as has already happened, get cowed into silence by a militant and vocal vanguard for the new order).

I’m not dead yet.  And I haven’t forgotten.  And whatever Kasdan’s personal issues are, and regardless of how the new movie may attempt to redefine the character, Lando will remain for me that original charming and clearly heterosexual man he appeared to be – and which nearly everyone who saw those original movies both wanted him and assumed him to be.  There wasn’t anything wrong with that.  There still isn’t.  Quit trying to rewrite my history – our history – into something else.


Movie Review – Coco

November 28, 2017

With an opening weekend topping $70 million dollars, Pixar/Disney’s newest release, Coco, is already an impressive hit.  And not unrightfully so.  It’s pleasing to the eyes and the ears and has an innovative and compelling storyline.  I’ll try not to let any serious spoilers slip here, but I do want to talk a little bit about the philosophy and theology of the movie.

As with other Pixar movies, this one also has a short featurette,  a clearly Disney called Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a take-off involving the characters of Frozen.  This was a terrible, terrible short.  Pixar shorts are clever and every bit as awe-inspiring as their movies.  But the Olaf short ruined a cute character and abused us with a barrage of songs as though hoping to snag another chart topper.

More than this though, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was deeply offensive theologically.  As Olaf peruses a variety of seasonal traditions, we are treated to aspects of Christmas that are culturally familiar – fruit cakes, hot cocoa, garlands, etc.  All well and good.  However there is pointedly no mention made of actual Christmas or Christian traditions.  A (presumably) Hebrew family is shown playing with a dreidel, but the closest link to actual Christmas would be the Christmas tree, which is the one tradition that Olaf disparages.  Any and every other tradition is just fine, thank you very much.

If they had avoided any religious connotation it would have been bad enough, but it wouldn’t have been offensive.  But to pointedly exclude the entire reason for Christmas as being a holiday while acknowledging another religious holiday in the same timeframe is just plain rude.  But it shows where we’re at as a culture.  Nobody would dare mock the dreidel, but it’s OK to make fun of Christmas trees because that’s generally associated with a Christian holiday.

The overarching theme both in this short as well as in Coco is the importance of family.  But both films do the same thing – they emphasize the importance of family as a means of compensating for any other lasting hope.  Family is the paramount thing, and of course family is very important – ironic that a culture that has and continues to devastate the family likes to romanticize it.

The problem is that it romanticizes family as everything.  Which is wonderful if you have family.  But obviously, devastating if you don’t.  I can imagine how devastating this movie will be for kids (of all ages) who don’t have families, or who are struggling with bad family dynamics, divorce, separation, etc.  I can also see the immense guilt that this movie could place even on children (of all ages) with good families.   After all, you could bear responsibility for the continued existence of your family members in the afterlife!

Coco never mentions God or anything religious.  No mention of heaven or hell.  No prayers are offered.  The dead are petitioned, and depicted as having the power to grant certain things through their blessings, but they seem to be the only entities capable of doing so.  Animals seem to inhabit a separate spiritual reality, being independent of the familial memories that form the basis of human afterlife existence (at least for a while).

As I said, Coco  is very entertaining.  While I don’t think it personally matches up to earlier Pixar films, it’s a respectable member of the Pixar family (hehe).  We had a good family conversation over dinner afterwards, identifying some of the key aspects of the film (family is the most important thing, etc.), as well as fleshing out some of the theological ideas that were mish-mashed together.  I’d argue that if you have very sensitive children you might need to be prepared to comfort them if they get worried about forgetting family members.  But otherwise enjoy the film as a good opportunity to talk about what (and who) our hope is, and how family interplays with that hope.




November 27, 2017

I gotta admit, this is a clever, 1-minute film!



Movie Review: The Book of Eli

May 24, 2017

I’ve wanted to see The Book of Eli for some time.  I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic films and on a long trans-Atlantic flight recently I had the opportunity to finally watch it.  Visually it’s impressive.  The fight scenes are brutal and sparse.   Characters are basic and two-dimensional, but the acting is fine if not exquisite.  I felt like Gary Oldman was re-channeling his Zorg character from The Fifth Element, but that’s fine as well.

My interest was piqued by the centrality of the Bible in the movie.  Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, possesses a very rare commodity – a Bible.  Most Bibles were wiped out after the nuclear holocaust, viewed widely as a leading contributor to the catastrophe.  Eli is on a mission to deliver the Bible to the West Coast for reasons not altogether clear even to himself.  Oldman’s character, Carnegie, is the tyrant of a small town and has been searching in vain for a Bible for some time.  Both men need and want the Bible, but their reasons differ.  Eli needs and wants the Bible to give it away, believing that in doing so, he is contributing to humanity.  Carnegie needs and wants the Bible as the ultimate tool of coercion and control of the masses.

Fascinating interplay, but I was disappointed but the very shallow treatment of Scripture in the movie.  Oh, don’t worry, there are a few verses scattered throughout .  But I mean the overall understanding of the importance of the Bible is lacking.  Both characters see the Bible as the single-most important book on earth.  But Carnegie sees it only as a means to control others, not understanding the source of this power which ultimately would undermine what he hoped to accomplish with it.  And Eli thinks the Bible basically says “to do more for others than you do for yourself”, without recognizing that such a message could hardly be responsible for nuclear annihlation.

The movie gets it right – the Bible is the single-most dangerous and subversive book in all of human history.  But it fails to really take this seriously and explore what that means and why.  It presents both Eli’s faith and Carnegie’s utilitarianism as relative equals.  One is nicer than the other, but both are viable responses to the book.  Both basically use the Bible for personal ends – one is more altruistic at first blush but Eli is just as ready to defend his faith – which he has barely any grasp of – and use of the book as Carnegie is.  Is that really altruism?

The Bible is dangerous and subversive to any institution of power or control as it removes all authority to God.  Both Eli and Carnegie can’t make sense of this beyond their own limited perceptions.  We are not free to do things as we see fit.  We are responsible to a Creator who will judge us, as Eli whispers to a thug he has just severely roughed up.  It’s phenomenal to me that the writers/directors could think that Eli could be wandering westward for 30 years, reading the Bible every single day, willing to defend it with his life, yet completely unaware of the true power and story it contains.  It’s baffling that someone could see the Bible as dangerous simply for saying be nice to each other.  The Bible goes well beyond that – to demonstrate that we can’t even do that one little thing, and that we are dying because of our failure, a failure we can’t overcome on our own no matter how much we might attempt to.

It’s an interesting post-apocalyptic movie but it had the potential to be so much more, and there were brief moments I thought it might succeed.