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Batman vs Superman (film review)

            With a portfolio ranging from 300 to Suckerpunch, director Zack Snyder is a rather inconsistent director.  Perhaps unintentionally anti-auteur, Snyder swings for the fences with Batman vs Superman (BvS), attempting to cash in on what Marvel has so eloquently achieved over the past decade.  But is it too late? 

            BvS feels desperate to be loved, like a lonely teen struggling with existential angst.  Though the movie is riddled with hidden easter eggs and cultural nods – ranging from the obvious (previewing Aquaman and Cyborg), to the Geeky references (pointing to Darkseid coming), to the uber-Geek (a prisoner number ending in TK-421, the same call-sign the stormtrooper had in Star Wars Episode 4 when Han Solo confiscated the trooper disguise), all the way to the fanatical Superman Geeks (the Silver & Black S and the Christopher Reeves reference to a cat in a tree) – BvS never really finds its footing and purpose.  It is almost as if the film exists just to allow Batman to move from the Chris Nolan empire as well as to introduce Wonder Woman. 

            Think of it this way:  Superman and Batman are the leaders of the Justice League.  Therefore, the audience is left witnessing a 2.5 hour battle/conflict where we know they will get along in the end. 

            Then there’s the “huh?” moments; those times where the audience is scratching their heads wondering what on earth is going on.  During these scenes, people in the audience of my viewing were laughing because of the insanity of what was being witnessed.  Though sometimes these moments center around random prophetic Knightmares (yes, that is spelled correctly for this review as a nod for Geek readers), there are moments where lines are said, actions are made, and the film jumps to another scene giving the whole moment a pointless, useless, time-wasting attitude.  Perhaps if these moments were appropriately placed on the cutting room floor, the 2.5 hours would be down to an hour and 45 minutes, making for a better paced film. 

            Finally, though there are many problems with BvS, the last worth mentioning now are the gratuitous, repetitious God references.  Man of Steel had a similar tone, but not so shoved down your throat as in BvS.  Given the same motifs existing in most of Snyder’s previous films (300, Watchmen, Man of Steel), perhaps the director has a more personal God-issue/offense.  After all, the films mentioned had a repeating theme of God being evil, so let’s kill God.  Meanwhile, there’s also the “false God” message presented in Snyder’s films, further confusing the whole message.  If one is not going to be clear about their intentions, it’s probably best to just leave it out (or make your point, then move on rather than dwell on it a dozen times over the course of 2 and a half hours).      

            In the end, Batman vs Superman tries to do what Marvel did with the Avengers, and fails.  While BvS is not a bad movie, it is not a good movie.  BvS lacks the fun, lighter moments, humor, and pathos Marvel has captured with Captain America & Co.  DC has struggled with these concepts for a decade, and has yet to emerge successfully on the other side.  Sure, BvS will make a lot of money, but major bucks received does not equal a quality product. 

            I give Batman vs Superman:  The Dawn of Justice 2 out of 4 stars, and recommend viewing it on Redbox.  Nothing worth the big screen and big dollars here. 

 

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Hail, Caesar! (Film Review)

            From Raising Arizona to Fargo to No Country for Old Men, the Cohen Brothers have developed both an eclectic and polarizing film arsenal.  Love them or hate them, Hail, Caesar! is another entry in the Joel and Ethan canon as well as the conclusion to the George Clooney-Cohen trilogy (O Brother Where Art Thou and Intolerable Cruelty being the other 2). 

            In all honesty, the Cohen Brothers’ productions are not really mainstream.  On such a note (and despite an all-star cast including George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Scarlet Johansson, Jonah Hill, and many others), Hail, Caesar! is included as a cinephile, not a mainstream, film. 

            Caesar is a movie about making movies, along the lines of Singing in the Rain.  Throughout the film, 5 movies are shown in production paying homage to classic genres of the 1940s and 50s (musical westerns, choreographed-instrumental swimming scenes, sailor tap-dancing numbers, and the Biblical Epic – like The Robe or Ben-Hur). 

            While paying homage, the Cohens also create a slick satire serving as a commentary upon the Hollywood culture and lifestyle.  While the films are patriotic, wholesome, and family-centered, the cast and crew’s lifestyle do not reflect such ideals.  The young are tempted towards promiscuity, the middle-aged persuaded by naïve communistic rhetoric, all the while serving as a public relations nightmare for the producers trying to sell a film as moral and ethical entertainment to a society who desires the actors and actresses to live a life which exemplifies a realization of such purity.  The plot holding this mess together:  a kidnapping of a lead actor. 

            Along with A Serious Man, Hail, Caesar has a semi-religious/Biblical undertone which may take some viewers by surprise (for example, the identity of Jesus as the Son of the One True God is clearly stated more than once, and salvation of sins by grace is clearly presented multiple times). 

            In regards to the humor, there are plenty of elements of hilarity.  However, if one is not familiar with the film references, the humor may seem off-put, odd, and unevenly placed.  For a film nut, Caesar is pure gold (though does not require the benefit of a large-screen format). 

            All-in-all, I highly recommend the film…especially for film lovers, and give it 3.5 out of 4 stars.  Please keep in mind, this film is not geared towards the casual moviegoer.    

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Star Wars 7 review (No Plot Spoilers)

Star Wars:  the Force Awakens(Spoiler Free) 

            Few films and stories have sparked creativity, wonderment, and awe into my childhood like Star Wars.  Being a first generation fan (being raised in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s), Star Wars has grown with me (and within me) with a deep love and passion.  Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams has been like a second generation Lucas:  being a man who creates stories and awe both on the big screen and television; ranging from creating Lost to Spielberg-esque Super 8 to amazingly rebooting Star Trek.  The question is, can he perform the same magic for the Star Wars universe and mythos? 

            Abrams collects a dream team:  John Williams returns to do the music, Lawrence Kasdan as scriptwriter, (the chief writer for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), the old guard (Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as General Leia, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, and Anthony Daniels as C3PO), along with a new team to whom the torch will be passed:  Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren.  The stage is set.  What follows are two sections:  the review of the film, and a brief analysis on what makes Star Wars so special. 

 

Film Review

            The big question:  is the film any good?  Answer:  no, it is not good…it is fantastic.  From the smile that comes from the opening line in the credit scroll to the immense desire for more at the start of the ending credits, The Force Awakens is the epitome of big screen adventure and movie magic (and a film very much worth repeated viewing – especially to catch all the little cameos, like Daniel Craig’s Storm Trooper talking to an imprisoned Rey; as well as nods to the original trilogy). 

            Abrams provides a Star Wars film worthy of the name, and humorously delivers the perfect emotional story to advance the series in to a new direction.  With a sigh of relief, J.J. Abrams will not be nick-named Jar-Jar Abrams. 

            To avoid any potential spoilers, I will refrain from discussing the plot itself.  While there is a lot of use of practical effects, CGI still played a big role for the film.  Abrams utilizes CGI rather than forcing it (pun intended).  Such a strategy resulted in a great blend of not only old and new cast, but of old and new methods of special effects. 

            Somehow, John Williams composed new music for the Star Wars universe which felt so natural, I almost didn’t recognize it as new.  Rey and Ren’s musical themes blended seamlessly, allowing the Star Wars experience to be an experience for both the eyes and the ears. 

            I give the film 4 out of 4 stars, and highly recommend it for anyone aged 9 years and older.  As for those under the age of 9, you will have to know what your child can handle.  This film is rated PG-13, and I feel clearly earns it.   

 

What Makes Star Wars So Special

            What is it about Star Wars that makes it so unique?  Why does it resonate with so many across both cultures and generations?  One piece to this puzzle is how the movie is a fictional story which alludes and points to something 100% historically true and accurate. 

            How does this fictional story point to something real?  Amongst the obvious would be the battle of good vs evil and the desire for justice.  However, many films share these motifs, yet Star Wars stands above and beyond those films both socially and culturally.  Therefore, there is more hidden beneath the surface. 

            Notice how the series is about something amazing coming from something obscure and seemingly insignificant.  Anakin Skywalker is an obscure little slave boy whose life impacts the universe (for good or bad) in an amazing manner.  Luke Skywalker is an obscure moisture farmer whose life impacts the universe in an amazing way.  In episode 7, we have an obscure Stormtrooper and a seemingly insignificant scavenger whose lives are about to have an amazing impact upon the course of history.  In all three trilogies is the common theme of something big coming from something small. 

            While many of us feel small from time to time, and desire for something great to happen (making watching a movie a vicarious experience attempting to fulfill that dream), perhaps there is something more to this greatness from smallness motif. 

            Think of an obscure child born in a city called Bethlehem.  This child moves to Nazareth, a town with the reputation of insignificance.  Yet, from obscurity and insignificance comes something amazing:  a seemingly random child who grows to become a simple carpenter, who later will have an amazing impact upon both the course of history and all of creation.  This child is Jesus (the Christ in Christmas).  Such an allegorical approach could place Star Wars amongst the top of Christmas movies. 

            A second piece to this puzzle is the reality of the battle of life.  While there is a physical battle between good and evil, there is also a mystical/spiritual battle (which is just as real).  The result of this spiritual battle in Star Wars between the light and the dark side will eventually hold the fate of the physical battle which continues to linger on.  One day the spiritual battle will be over, and with it ends the physical war.  The light side will win, and justice will reign.  Does this motif point to a reality in today’s world?  Yes.  The life of Jesus (as well as His death, burial, resurrection, ascent, and eventual return) is a physical reality of spiritual/mystical proportions.  The spiritual victory of Jesus will one day result in physical victory; Jesus’ return will be God setting the record straight, and defeating all evil. 

            Here is my point:  Star Wars is special because it is an allegory, a glimpse, of something very real; something that speaks to the depth of the human soul, trying to awaken it from the darkness of sleep and into the light of faith.  The existence of God is evident in every human. (though some have suppressed this truth so deep they have fooled themselves into thinking there is no God).  Every now and then, a movie like Star Wars comes long…and whether intentionally or not, it speaks to the souls of people, and awakens the cry for morality, the cry for justice, and the cry for a spiritual peace that leads to physical peace (something only God can do). 

            

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Trick or Treat: the Halloween of the Reformation

            Every October 31, the streets are flooded with costumed children (some dressed as Elsa, Kylo Ren, or any other cultural icon one can dream up).  With each passing year, many Christians are left with a lingering conundrum:  how should Christians celebrate Halloween?  Should they even celebrate it?  How does one thread the needle between cultural engagement/relevance without neither compromising one’s faith nor conforming to this present age?  On one hand, Halloween seems to be a dark season, one where wickedness and evil appear to be embraced, celebrated even, yet isn’t it also a time where kids can pretend via cosplay, and enjoy a candy party?  What is a Christian to do? 

            Perhaps even a dark holiday can be redeemed via perspective shifting.  Much like how December 25 used to be a dark time in Ancient Roman civilization, the Christians used their holiday time off to lighten up the festivities via celebrating the incarnation (the birth of Jesus).  Could such a perspective shift redeem Halloween (a season of witches, skulls, and darkness)? 

            Satan is one who loves to take every possible opportunity to tout himself as a celebrity.  Yet, Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) meaning he is all about tricks.  He knocks on the doors of people’s hearts wanting to deceive, devour, and destroy (1 Pt 5:8).  At the same time, Jesus, God the Son, also knocks on the door of people’s hearts (Rev 3:20), willing to bring the ultimate treat:  salvation, the forgiveness for sin.  Whenever we knock on someone’s house calling out, “trick or treat,” that is indeed the question. 

            Perhaps it is not without irony that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther knocked on a church door.  People had believed a trick (a lie) that salvation came via paying the church or paying to pray with observing certain sacred artifacts.  Luther knocked on a church door with a hammer, nailing his 95 thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, declaring the truth of the treat of salvation through Jesus and Jesus only, salvation by grace through faith. 

            When kids ask why we celebrate Halloween, perhaps we may be able to take the time to share the historical work of God in the hearts of people, and how Jesus is knocking still today. 

 

 

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A Call for Forgiveness

            Allow me to get straight to the point:  there is a lot of anger throughout our country.  It is as if a light switch has been thrown after the Supreme Court’s ruling.  Suddenly, my Facebook “friends” have become very anti-Christian, very violent and hateful in their talk.  Meanwhile, many Christians are not acting much different.  Like a Sith Lord, there is a lot of anger flowing through the country. 

            If there is going to be healing and restoration, there will need to be forgiveness (after all, forgiveness can be best defined as ‘lowering one’s anger toward someone’).  Where does one start in the process of forgiveness?    

 

Step #1:  Valuing

            This is not forgiveness, it is not saying “I love the person” or even “I like the person.”  This beginning stage is simply saying that the individual who hurt us has value as a human being.  If nothing else, every person is made in the image of God, God loves them, Jesus died for them, therefore they have value. 

 

Step #2:  Canceling Demands.

            In this stage, one must recognize that changing the unchangeable past is impossible.  If someone stole something from you, even if they give it back, there is still the broken trust, the feelings of betrayal and violation.  The past cannot be changed.  While restitution can happen, it still does not change what took place.  In this stage, we cancel the demand that the other person right the wrong they’ve done.  

 

Step #3:  Trusting.

            There is a difference between forgiveness and trust.  First, trust is an investment, one that has risk attached to it.  Second, trust does not wait for one to produce “good will;” after all, God didn't.  Third, trust can be built in small steps:  starting with “I'm willing to talk to you,” or at least say “hi” and wave with all of my fingers extended.  Simply talking to someone is trusting them (albeit small trust), because we are trusting they will say something back in a friendly, dignified, respectful manner. 

            Trust starts small and then advances to the point of no longer questioning the other person's motives (a more complete and deeper trust). 

 

Step #4:  Opening.

            This stage (and in my opinion is the hardest stage) is about dropping the iron-clad guarantee of the other's person's future behavior.  In other words, one gives the other person the freedom to fail again.  This is what is being given in forgiving.

            This stage is also more risky, because it also says, “I'm willing to be put into a position where you could hurt me again.  I hope you don’t, but I’m opening myself to it.” 

What makes this stage hard is that usually we want a guarantee of the other person’s behavior.         However, we are all free to think, feel, and do as we want, so we cannot have a guarantee of another person’s future behavior…therefore don’t demand it.  Thankfully, God didn’t demand it from us (I’ll only send Jesus to die on the cross as long as you give me a guarantee you’ll never sin again). 

 

Step #5:  Celebrating.

            Once stages 1-4 have been reached and completed in full, the relationship between two people can be considered restored and one can celebrate the reconciliation.  The re-found/reborn relationship is the celebration. 

 

            We are all broken…every person, regardless of their demographic, is broken (no one is perfect, therefore we all fail; everyone has shattered dreams; and everyone has alienated someone else whether by accident or by intention, etc.).  If ever there is going to be the ability for the church and society to engage each other with dignity and respect, there must first be forgiveness on, from, and for all people.    

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (Review)

            2012 was witness to a surprise behemoth named the Avengers.  Busting major box office records, crushing all competition, and becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time, the Avengers took the world by storm.  It revealed how to have an effective Hulk character (played by Mark Ruffalo), and how to assemble an array of characters by putting the fun in dysfunctional.  Three years later, all eyes turn once again to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with great anticipation.  Iron Man 3 was amazing, Captain America 2 was fantastic, the superb Guardians of the Galaxy revealed a whole new franchise…all pointing to one of the most anticipated sequels of the decade – Avengers:  Age of Ultron. 

            [Allow me to offer a preface:  I saw Ultron in 3D.  Big mistake.  The 3D was absolutely horrible, distracting, and in some scenes even distorted the quality of the action and effects.  After several disappointing 3D ventures, I have decided that unless James Cameron directed it, I will never see a 3D film again.  While some IMAX 3D experiences can be decent, it just isn’t worth it.  Some of my criticisms of Ultron may exist resulting from the poor 3D format.  Therefore, I reserve the right to type this entry in pencil, allowing me to change some of my views after a second viewing of the film in 2D]. 

            Age of Ultron was a good movie, but it was not a great movie.  I had a hard time putting my finger on where the problem(s) lie (although it could be the 3D was the culprit).  Some of the scenes were director/writer Joss Wheddon at his best (like the Iron Man vs Hulk scene), while other moments felt either out of synch, unevenly paced, or simply lacking creative energy.  In one moment Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) opens a door and whimsically says “yay,” a rather funny, unexpected, and enjoyable moment.  An hour later Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) drives a motorcycle through a crowd whimsically yelling phrases like "Excuse me" and “Beep Beep,” yet it was neither funny nor enjoyable; in fact, the entire moment felt like an over-used cliché.  Such are the scenes in Avengers 2:  one moment they are fantastically thriving with exuberant energy; and another moment the movie is tired, not fresh, and lacking the spark Wheddon usually delivers in a film.  Thus, I found myself feeling a little restless and bored in one scene, while totally engaged and excited in another.  Call it a roller-coaster ride…but not necessarily in a good way. 

            There are a few new characters this time around.  Paul Bettany plays not only the voice of Jarvis, but also the android Vision:  a character who just simply exists in this film – perhaps he will be more utilized in parts 3 & 4?  Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Quicksilver – a speedy guy who has a quick line or three; and then there’s Elizabeth Olsen playing the Scarlet Witch.  Nonverbally, Olsen’s acting is fantastic (body posture, facial expressions, etc.); verbally she reminded me of Joey Tribbiani from NBCs Friends trying to portray Freud (turning every w into a v does not make for a good German accent).  While her use of powers and emotional arcs were great, the scenes got awkward every time she spoke.  Her best scene is a conversation with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and it’s a scene where she had zero dialogue but her face powerfully spoke everything that needed to be said.  Olsen shows she can be a great actress, but struggles with German accents. 

            Was Avengers 2 better than 1?  No, however that is not a bad thing.  This sequel does not seem to exist for the purpose of surpassing the original as much as it is trying to set up for the Infinity War to come in parts 3 & 4.  That being said, on a technical level, the movie serves as a cash cow, existing mainly to move plot points along for another movie…something which could have been thrust upon any number of the other Marvelettes (Captain America 3, Thor 3, Ant Man, etc.) as either short story tags or brief plot arcs.  In a sense, Avengers 2 is unnecessary…yet, it was an enjoyable piece of unnecessary.  It is not a bad movie…it is not a disappointing movie…it is not a necessary movie…but it is a rather enjoyable movie…and some of the scenes are fantastic (ever bit as good as the original), while the movie as a whole is not a smooth or as congruent as the original. 

            I give Avengers:  Age of Ultron 3 out of 4 stars, and recommend it (in the 2D format only).  One parental warning:  the dialogue is more vulgar and contains more innuendos than the first one; this is a film that earns its PG-13 rating with language, not just violence.  

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Old Fashioned (Film Review)

Comedy (and Romantic Comedy) Theory: 

             Comedies, on a very generic level, tend to contain two main elements:  an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation, or an extraordinary person in an ordinary situation; each allows hilarity to (hopefully) ensue.  From this general platform comes subgenres of comedies, each taking their own various spin upon the comedic formula.  In the case of a romantic comedy, a film tends to have an ordinary person in either an ordinary or extraordinary situation, and they find someone who is extraordinary (different).  What tends to follow is a story of love being discovered, love lost, and love regained – either by forgiving, finding love with a secondary character, or changing to be better dating/marriage material (or any combination of the above). 

            When talking with people who complain about romantic comedies, they tend to say things like, “the movie was so predictable, I knew how it was going to ultimately end.”  Sadly, a statement like this means someone has missed the point of the genre.  To be upset about knowing the love-lost-found storyline in a romantic comedy is like being upset there are cowboy hats and horses in a western; it is what helps make the genre what it is.  Yes, one can simply dislike the genre, just as some absolutely dislike sci-fi, but hopefully now you will be able to like (or dislike) the genre for more educated reasons. 

The Plot/Story: 

            Old Fashioned is a romantic comedy, and is released as counter-programming to the film 50 Shades of Grey.  In Old Fashioned, Rik Swartzwelder plays Clay, a Christian man with an ugly past, who has placed countless rules around him and upon others.  His rules are made out of fear, and his hope is to prevent himself from returning to his tasteless life of old.  One day, Amber (played by Elizabeth Roberts, who was in multiple episodes of Days of Our Lives and White Men Can’t Dance) comes into Clay’s town to set up home.  Running away from another disappointing lifestyle and abusive relationship, Amber’s goal is to drive until she runs out of gas, find a temporary home, save up money for a lot more gas, and then when things go awry drive until she runs out of gas again and restart the process.  The two meet, and the romantic comedy storyline takes off in proper form as the two begin to fall in love. 

The Review: 

            In all honesty, many Christian-made movies are usually sub-par in quality at best.  Lately, there has been some real exceptions (God’s Not Dead being one of the more popular well-directed and acted Christian-based films).  Old Fashioned, while has a rare moment or three of acting struggles, is a very solid production.  The lighting and cinematography is spot on, the writing is well done and genre appropriate, humor is definitely present, and the last 10 minutes of the film is one of the most romantic, intimate, heartfelt, and tender scenes I have seen on screen since the haircut scene in Phenomenon in 1996.  Phenomenon’s PG haricut scene was called by Gene Siskel as more romantic and steamy in 5 minutes than then NC-17 Showgirls ever hoped to be in its 2 hours.  I believe the same can be said for Old Fashioned vs 50 Shades of Grey.  Old Fashioned is truly a film that can help set a relationship free rather than tie it down. 

            The only negative I have about Old Fashioned is a real nitpick, but I do feel should be mentioned, given the nature of the movie.  Being a Christian film, there were two potential inconsistencies that bothered me. 

            First, Clay is a man who wants to find a truly Godly girl to marry, and he has set up a ton of his own rules to protect himself from lust and adultery.  However, Amber is not a Christian girl, and finds a life committed to Jesus as silly; yet the two begin to fall in love.  Given that the Bible very clearly teaches for Christians and non-Christians to not marry (1 Cor. 6:14), it was troubling for me that Clay would ever be interested in Amber.  Granted, he starts by saying she was not his type, and the love creeps in over time, but he does intentionally make the choice to pursue her. 

            Secondly, and lastly, the film tries to avoid being preachy about Jesus (which I can appreciate, as many movies go way over the top and are more filmed sermon than a movie with a story).  However, in trying to avoid being salvation preachy, it leaves it ambiguous to know if Amber accepts Jesus as Savior (becoming a Christian) or not.  She reads one verse and cries.  However, it was during the loss of love, and the verse she read is the first verse he quotes to her, and she could be experiencing an emotional catharsis during her grief and regret.  Her attitude and perspective does change afterward:  is it Jesus impacting her everyday life, or merely a new optimism and hope for a new ethic and thus a new life?  While I believe the film leans towards Amber’s salvation, the lack of information can lead to multiple perspectives.  This is where perhaps being a little, for lack of better terms, preachy, may have been beneficial.  While the director of the film (also Rik Swartzwelder) was at the advanced screening I attended, I was unable to talk to him to clarify these issues. 

Conclusion: 

            Old Fashioned was a good movie, and definitely better than the average romantic comedy.  It’s worth the money for the theater, and has one of the most romantic moments/scenes I have ever seen in a movie.  I give the film 3 out of 4 stars.   

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The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies (film review)

            I have come to this conclusion:  had Peter Jackson made the Hobbit films (yes, all three) before ever making the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I think the Hobbit would be significantly better received.  The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, though connected by an over-arching story, are also very significantly different stories.  They differ in theme, aura, and even differ in their story-arches.  The Hobbit is primarily about the reclaiming of the Dwarves home under the mountain, while the Lord of the Rings is about the battle of the destruction of the ring, and the corruption of the ring upon the hearts of those who bear it.  The Hobbit, primarily, is a children’s story whereas the Lord of the Rings most certainly is not. 

            Yet, viewers are forced to compare the movies.  Why?  Because Jackson made the Hobbit in a LOTR-esque manner by adding to the original book the Hobbit-related appendices found at the end of Return of the King as well as information and history found in the Silmarillion.  Thus, to view the third Hobbit installment is a rather complicated endeavor.  On one hand it is far from the brilliance that was LOTR.  On the other hand, The Battle of the Five Armies is also one of the better films this year.  How does one say, “not as good as LOTR” yet say “better than the average film,” other than to say just that? 

            One of the things that makes the middle-earth series so amazing is the attitude in which Tolkien wrote them:  through a Christian worldview.  He once stated the God of the Bible is the God of humans and hobbits.  This element is very evident in both LOTR as well as the Hobbit films.  At one point in the Battle of the Five Armies, Gandalf says to Bilbo, “do you really think all this happened because of luck?”  For Tolkien, there is no such thing as luck.  In LOTR, Gandalf talks about how Bilbo was meant to find the ring, Gollum has a role to play, and that there is more at work in the world than just evil.  God working silently behind the scenes is one of the passions of Tolkien, and one of the great values of the entire middle-earth series. 

 

The Strengths: 

            This film shows how money/wealth can corrupt as deeply as the ring itself (complete with some Gollum allusions), and how the love for money can lead one to do all kinds of evil; the special effects are very well done; running at 2 hours and 24 minutes long (including the end credits) you will find the pace being significantly quickened (compared to the other films in the series), and due to the inclusion of the Return of the King appendices and the Silmarillion, the story of the Hobbit is told with more fullness than just reading the book. 

The Weaknesses: 

            There are no inspiring speeches prior to war, while there are some shocking moments of death, there is a lack of deep emotional moments in the film; some of the multi-story archs in the film feel a tad out of place (like two movies merged into one), likely a result of Tolkien writing the additional Hobbit story-lines after writing LOTR. 

Overall, the film is a good movie and a decent film-going experience.  I do recommend the film, but I caution all who see it not to expect LOTR quality here (neither in performance, acting, nor in story). 

Grade:  B+   

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Messianic Prophecies

     Often, one will hear a statement stating something along the lines of, "Christians are so exclusive; in reality, all religions are just paths up the same mountain."  Call this a Finding Nemo theology:  all drains lead to the ocean.  In reality, none of the major religions believe this:  Islam states Allah is the only way to paradise, Judaism states eternal life is found only in YHWH, Christianity states salvation comes from the Triune God of the Bible (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), Taoism states one has to become part of the Tao, and the list goes on and on.  

     In reality, religions are not like a mountain; instead, they are a lot like a maze.  Like most good mazes, there are many paths, but in the end there is only one way out (or to the end).  However, most major religions state they are the one path.  How is it that Jesus is the only path, and the other religions are paths that may, at times, appear to line up and be similar paths, but after all is said and done, only lead to dead-ends?  How can someone know Jesus is the only way?  

     Before Jesus was ever born, the Old Testament was written.  Actually, the Old Testament (OT for short) was written from over a thousands years before Jesus was born up to about 400 years prior.  While some speculate over the accuracy of the dates of authorship, what is 100% known is that the OT was fully written, assembled, widely circulated, and then translated into Greek around 250 years before Jesus' birth (and the Greek translation of the OT was titled the Septuagint).  

     Over 200 years before Jesus was ever born, there were over 300 prophecies predicting the Messiah.  Here's a short list: 

                   1) Gen. 3:15 – come from the seed of woman

                   2) Gen. 9:26-27 – come from the line of Shem

                   3) Gen. 12:3 – be a descendant of Abraham

                   4) Gen. 26:2-5 – come from the line of Isaac

                   5) Num. 24:17-19 – Descendant of Jacob

                   6) Gen. 49:10 - and from the tribe of Judah  

                   7) 2 Sam. 7:12 – from the house of David

                   8) Micah 5:2 – born in Bethlehem 

                   9) Ps. 2:7-8 – Messiah will be crucified

                  10) Is 53 – He will be despised, rejected, killed, and bare the sins of the world 

                   11) Ps. 41:9 – Messiah will be betrayed by a friend

                   12) Zech. 11:10-13 – betrayed for 30 (not 29) pieces of silver (not gold)

                   13) Zech. 11:13 – pieces of silver thrown (not placed) onto the temple floor

                   14) Zech. 11:13 – silver used to buy a field 

                   15) Is. 53:9 – buried in a rich man’s tomb. 

                   16) Is. 25:8 – will rise from the dead 

                   17) Ps. 68:18 – will ascend

                   18) Ps. 110:1 – will be seated at the right hand of the Father  

     Taking just 8 of these prophecies:  the odds of any 1 person fulfilling just 8 of these prophecies is 1 in 100 Quadrillion (that's a 10 to the 17th power, or a 10 followed by 17 zeros).  Josh McDowell's team came up with a word picture to help understand what this statistic means:  If you took the state of Texas, covered it from border to border with silver dollars staked 2 feet deep; took just 1 silver dollar and marked it, threw it back into the pile, took a bulldozer to mix the dollars all up and reorganized the pile; then took a man, blind-folded him, and had him wade through the state of Texas.  Afterwards, he randomly stopped, randomly picked up one silver dollar; the odds of him picking that one marked dollar is the same odds of 1 person fulfilling 8 of the OT prophecies.  Jesus fulfilled not just 8...not 50...not 100...but over 300 prophecies.  If 8 is near statistically impossible, then fulfilling over 300 would require Divine intervention/planning/intention.  

     Messianic Prophecies are merely one out of several dozen ways we know Jesus is the true Messiah, and the one and only Holy and Righteous One.  

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Dumb and Dumber To (film review)

            I guarantee it, this film delivers its namesake; you will get what the movie promises, and you will feel dumb and dumber ‘too.’ 

            Jim Carrey is a comedian whose prime was in the 1990s.  Almost every movie with his name attached became a box office smash (Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, the Mask, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, The Truman Show, etc.).  However, over the past decade, his live action feature-length comedies have fallen short (like Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Yes Man, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone).  As for Jeff Daniels, he has made a whole new name for himself in the award winning role of Will McAvoy in HBO’s The Newsroom.  Perhaps such a serious role influenced Daniels to return to his comedic roots as a chance to burn off some steam? 

            The big question:  is this movie funny?  Ultimately, yes.  However, it is not as funny as I would have appreciated.  While I did laugh many times in the movie, none of the laughs neither made my sides hurt, my eyes water, nor bring me to the point of hyperventilating.  I remember being brought to that point in the first Dumb and Dumber…however, in all fairness, I was 18 years old, fresh out of high school, and a 30 second diarrhea scene was right up my alley.  While no laxatives were used during the making of this film, the humor is not too far removed.  On a personal note, what I tend to never find funny are people being jerks.  Being dumb?  Fine.  But being mean to someone for the sake of being mean is not funny to me.  In the first film, one joke I did not care for at all involved a blind boy and his pet bird.  In this sequel, the blind kid returns and is a recurring joke several times over.  Picking on a blind kid who is not a villain is mean, and really spoiled the film for a while for me.  Once a true villain was introduced (and humorous pranks played on him provided a type of comedic-justice, serving as some of the funniest parts of the film), I was able to get back into the groove of laughing once again. 

            In the end, the movie was not a good movie.  It also was not the worse film I’ve seen, so it was not really a bad movie.  I guess I wish it were about 20 minutes shorter, move at a faster pace, and allow for the chaos to shoot more rapidly.  Sure, the actors are in their 50s, but the movie does not have to have the pace as if it were shot in that era.  At the same time, can one really expect ‘quality’ from a film titled “Dumb and Dumber To?”  You will get what you are told you will get:  a check-your-brain-in-at-the-door film.  Too bad the film was not funnier.  Apparently, according to my wife, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was a much better film. 

GRADE:  C- 

PS:  what made this movie a good experience for me was the company I saw it with.  Sometimes, a not good movie can be enjoyable because you’re groaning, moaning, and laughing with friends.  

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Interstellar (Film Review)

Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and the hit TV series Person of Interest are but a glimpse at the caliber and quality the Nolan brothers possess.  The best pieces of each of their bodies of work collide into the mesmerizing, moving, and magnificent film Interstellar. 

I had the wonderful opportunity to see Interstellar in IMAX with a film projected print (not digital).  While I am a fan of digital technology, the grit of a film print increased the experience of the Dust-Bowl-esque culture of earth life.  Not only do people have to wipe dust and dirt from their dining room tables, there’s grit and grain on the screen itself.  Nolan’s choice to shoot with ‘old-fashioned’ film is spot-on appropriate for this story. 

What a story.  Generically speaking, the film is about a future world where resources have become so limited, the human race is facing extinction.  To help save the people remaining, multiple missions are launched in search of another planet to inhabit.  Though there is a lot of plots points regarding space travel, interstellar theories, etc., the film is also about a father and his family, and the influence a father plays upon and within that family dynamic (his influence when present and when he is absent); and how a father, at times, will have to struggle with the deep emotion of regret regarding choices made (regardless of intention).  

Oscar-winners Jessica Chastain, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Michael Cain (a super high-caliber cast) give some of the best performances of their careers (yes, all of them).  If there are not multiple Academy Award acting nominations for this film it will be a true travesty.  Also, expect a nomination for musical score, special effects, art design, editing, and cinematography (possibly not best picture/director/screenplay, but it does deserve all those as well...however, there are too many other films which are more likely to fill up the spaces for those three crowded categories).  

The story is epic, sweeping, and so full even the nearly three hour length of the film cannot contain it all…and doesn’t.  The ending, while uplifting and encouraging, can divide some viewers between those who prefer neatly wrapped up premises and those who can appreciate the ‘left-undone-plotlines.’  At least the story allows the audience to know where the story is likely going, and what will probably transpire in the years/decades to come (no, this film does not end with the ambiguous ending of Inception, but does not have the finality of the Dark Knight Rises). 

Interstellar also has the ability to spark a lot of conversations about worldviews, the purpose and meaning of history, the role of public education enhancing (or totally destroying) history, and the purpose/goal of human existence.  The film does tend to teeter towards declaring humanity’s goal of being pioneers over being caretakers of the earth.  Personally, I tend to see (coming from a Biblical worldview) humanity needing to be both:  both pioneers/explorers as well as being caretakers and good stewards of what we have been given. 

In short, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan rebirth the sci-fi genre on a grand scale, reviving the philosophical DNA of the genre.  Too often science fiction has become just about little green men and monsters with a plethora of explosions, and it is refreshing to see philosophical sci-fi done on such a grand scale…and done by the hands of story-telling masters. 

I highly recommend seeing Interstellar, and see it on the biggest screen you can afford (yes, I did my best to not comment on details of the story as I do not want to spoil the multiple surprises). 

Grade:  A+.  

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Historicity of Jesus

            In an article published by the Council for Secular Humanism, historical researcher and author Michael Paulkovich claims that Jesus of Nazareth never existed and is a mythical character.  In addition, Richard Dawkins, atheist and author of “The God Delusion,” has previously described the evidence for Jesus’ existence as “shaky.”  Self-proclaimed Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill said that Jesus was manufactured by Roman aristocrats in a government effort to control citizens — a plot he speaks about in his book, “Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.” 

 

            Are these authors accurate?  Could it be that Jesus never existed at all?  Is the silence from over 100 ancient historians really proof of Jesus being a fallacy?  Or, are they wrong?  Is there historical proof of Jesus existing? 

 

            First, it should be noted there is an overwhelming evidence that the New Testament is a reliable record composed by contemporaries and eyewitnesses of the events…and that Archaeology is continually confirming details of their writing.  Nevertheless, though the Bible is indeed a reliable source, many still desire for sources/evidence outside of the Biblical text.  After all, as Paulkovich points out, if Jesus did exist, then there should be other writings available. 

            However, before exploring further, the error of Paulkovich’s logic should be noted.  Just because 100+ historians did not write about Jesus does not mean no historians from that time period wrote about Jesus, and the argument from silence certainly does not prove a lack of existence.  Many historians never wrote about Abraham Lincoln, yet he existed.  To only site the historians who did not mention Honest Abe does not mean Abe did not honestly exist (as they are not the only historians who wrote).  Second, many historical documents have been forever lost because of various library burnings and demolished civilizations.  Thus, because data may be either limited or missing presently does not mean such data was always missing or limited. 

 

Ancient Historical Evidences

            There are many non-Christian ancient historians who not only wrote about Jesus, but either lived while Jesus was alive or lived and wrote soon after Jesus’ ascension.  There’s the first-century Roman Tacitus, who is considered to be one of the most accurate historians of the ancient world.  He wrote about Christians and the resurrected Christ.  Suetonius was the chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian who wrote about Christ (he uses the name Chrestus for Jesus the Christ) who lived, and certain Jews who followed Him caused disturbances.  There is also Flavius Josephus who became a historian working under Emperor Vespasian.  He wrote two passages about Jesus in his work “Antiquities.”  Thallus, who wrote around 52AD, described the darkness which followed the crucifixion of Jesus. 

            Beyond ancient historians, there are also ancient non-Christian Government officials offered official information concerning Jesus:  Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan (in reply to Pliny’s letter), and Emperor Hadrian writing to Mincius Fundanus are a few examples.  There are also other sources like the Jewish Talmud and Toledoth Jesu, or even non-Christian, non-Jewish, and non-Roman Lucian of Samosata (a Greek), and Mara Bar-Serapion (a Syrian). 

 

            These are but the tip of the iceberg.  Needless to say, not only is the Bible a historically reliable document, there are also a plethora of other sources available indicating the historicity of Jesus the Christ. 

 

 

 

Sources: 

 

1) http://www.addictinginfo.org/2014/10/01/author-suggests-jesus-never-existed-after-finding-no-mention-of-him-in-historical-texts/ 

 

2) Geisler, Norman L.  Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books Publishing, 1999). 

 

3) Bruce, F.F.  The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdman’s Publishing, 2003). 

 

4) Habermas, Gary, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (St. Joplin, MO:  College Press Publishing Company, Inc., 1996). 

 

5) McDowell, Josh, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, 1999).  

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (review)

Dragons, Vikings, Dreamworks Animation…what a great combination.  How to Train Your Dragon came out in 2010 to modest box office results, but went on to become a large sleeper hit.  An animation series and multiple toy sales later, a sequel was inevitable.  The question is:  was there a story big enough to garner a good sequel (like Pixar’s Toy Story series), or will this be another one of those simple adventures for a simple dollar? 

 

The Story: 

“Dragon 2” is indeed a continuation of the story, not just another rehash of the original.  There’s a very dark villain Drago Bludvist (played by Djimon Hounsou) who is building a dragon army.  His intent:  war and power.  Hiccup (played by Jay Baruchel) tries to see if there’s a way to reason with such a man for the interest of tribal peace.  Meanwhile, Hiccup’s father Stoick (played by Gerard Butler) tries to train his dragon-of-a-son for leadership. 

 

The Review: 

Two elements stand out allowing Dragon 2 to both show signs of growth as well as signs of decline.  First the growth.  The character arches are very well done, and the story advances appropriately without falling into writing cliché traps.  While the film has a clear-cut ending, it is clear more story can be told and more is in store for the Vikings of Berk.  Granted some of the dialog animation was a little over-exaggerated in scenes, the quality is still above and beyond normal theatrical animations.  Some scenes were done so well, one even forgets they are watch animation at all (especially in the scene Guillermo del Toro assisted with).  Concerning del Toro’s influence, this is a film which rightly earns its PG rating, and parents are strongly cautioned to view the film first before bringing children under the age of 6 to the theater. 

 

The Decline: 

Whenever a story begins a dark turn like Dragon 2 does, the temptation to add more adult-based issues increases.  Even when an animation aims to be adult friendly, one must discern where the line is to be drawn between adding too much adult issues in a film whose audience primarily consists of children.  Sadly, this is where the writers, directors, and actors are losing sight.  Gobber (played by Craig Ferguson) comes “out of the closet” regarding his homosexual orientation, and admits he did not get married because of Gay marriage issues.  While the entire statement is not given in the movie itself, Ferguson admitted in an interview that he ad-libbed the line, the director left it in, and will add a gay lover for Gobber in the third movie with a marriage motif and arch.  While director Dean DeBlois promised the storyline would not be graphic and too detailed, such a storyline really does not belong in such a child-oriented film.  One of the things I really enjoy about some movies are their provision of a guarantee for a break from the social, moral, and political battles of everyday life.  While those issues are appropriate to be explored in film, some films benefit by not delving into those issues and allowing the audience to connect with non-divisive topics such as heroism, sacrificing self to help others flourish, good defeating evil, the protection and commitment to morality; the topics which take center stage in Dragon 2 but may get left behind in 3. 

 

In the End: 

In short, Dragon 2 is a well made film with a great story.  The ad-libbed line did detract a little from the enjoyment (thoughts of “really?” and “why did they leave that in there?”) detracted a little, but does not destroy the overall film.  Dragon 2 does have a strong emotional arch in it, so one may want to view with a tissue on hand for a potential tear or three.  

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Godzilla (movie review)

            Godzilla:  hero or villain?  Over the multiple decades of Japanese Godzilla films, this question has been the tension undergirding it all.  Godzilla vs King Kong, Mothra, and various others has Godzilla as more of a villain (along with the originals Gojirah and Godzilla King of Monsters).  These films operate on the allegory of nuclear weapons being our destruction, and the “natural” being humanity’s redeemer.  Then there are a plethora of other films:  from Godzilla vs Ghidorah all the way to Destroy all Monsters which has Godzilla as a hero.  Though the hero Godzilla messes with the original allegory, it did add for some fun and entertaining filmmaking. 

            What has been difficult in the process of remaking Godzilla for modern-day audiences is how most Godzilla movies did not take themselves seriously (Godzilla flipping himself upside down and using his fire breath to fly like a jet engine, or Godzilla dancing an irish-style jig after defeating a monster are just some examples).  The question becomes:  how does the new Godzilla film fit within the canon of Godzilla movies?  Does it do what is necessary to possibly launch a new series?  To answer these questions, allow me to analyze the movie’s drama and its spectacle. 

 

THE DRAMA 

            It takes about an hour for Godzilla to first appear.  For a 2 hour movie, that means over half the film is about something other than Godzilla.  The drama is a little longer than some may appreciate, but the story is what allows a movie to progress and gives the Godzilla elements a place and purpose.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who was in the Illusionist and Talk to Me) and Elizabeth Olsen (who is in the upcoming Avengers:  Age of Ultron) provide the main storyline.  While some will criticize the dialogue, the campy happy ending, etc., these are the very elements that allow for the emotional connection to the original Godzilla films (remember they were campy, happy, etc.).  Thus, the storyline fits…but are not the reason people watch Godzilla.  They watch for … 

 

THE SPECTACLE

            Make no mistake, this is a true Godzilla film, especially when concerning the monster battle scenes.  In fact, the only thing lacking in the battle scenes is that I wanted more of them. Though the effects were amazing, what was really fun were the battles themselves.  Godzilla using his tail, his fire, and kicking butt were the highlights of the film, and even got the crowd cheering, ah-ing, and clapping. 

            Director Gareth Edwards (known for his movie Monsters) does something very intelligent.  Several times he took what made Monsters a good film and implemented those techniques in Godzilla:  not being afraid of putting some of the best moments in the background of a wide shot.  Most directors want their money shots front and center, but Edwards is bold enough to allow those moments to be behind-the-scenes so-to-speak.  Yes, there are plenty of close-ups of Godzilla, and direct shots during the crucial battle moments…so you will get to see the goods front-and-center…AND Edwards allows for some great moments to happen just off-screen which allows for anticipation, expectation, and rooting humor.  These moments also advanced the tension of Godzilla being a villain who ends up being the hero (yes, this movie actually shows the transition of people fearing him to respecting him to loving/praising him).  

 

CONCLUSION

            I was raised on Godzilla.  For over 35 years I have watched just about every Godzilla movie ever made.  I remember seeing Godzilla 1985 in the theater (I was 9).  So I went into this new Godzilla with excitement, expectations, and was not at all disappointed.  In fact, I would love to do a repeat viewing.  I recommend this film…and I recommend it in 3D if you can do it.  Yes, you will feel like you wasted your extra dollars during the first half of the film (however, there was this old lady in the theater I was at who must have been seeing her first 3D movie, because she screamed at an Atom Bomb stock footage explosion coming at the screen), but you get more than your money’s worth by the end.  True to the legacy of Godzilla, and setting itself up perfectly for a sequel or four, Godzilla is what it needed to be…monsterous fun! 

 

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Amazing Spiderman 2 (film review)

            Spider-man has been one of those superheroes that has held a sweet-spot in the heart of Americans for over a decade.  Perhaps it’s because the first Spiderman came out in 2002, not too long after the two towers/9-11 disaster (and Spiderman lives and rescues New York City).  Perhaps it’s because Spiderman was the transition film from comic-campy superhero films towards a more dark-realistic turn (paving the way for Dark Knight & Avengers). 

 

            Whatever the reason, The Amazing Spiderman 2 does not live up to the legacy left behind by the previous spider films.  This may be more of a redbox movie than a “spend-your-monthly-mortgage-at-the-cineplex” film. 

 

THE GOOD

            First, Andrew Garfield plays a more enjoyable, humorous, and relatable Peter Parker/Spiderman than Tobey Maguire.  In Amazing 2, his character takes on a more almost ditzy/whimsical nature (done mostly for effective and needed humor). 

            Spiderman has a story that asks where hope comes from, how one handles the responsibility that is thrust upon them, and how one balances relationships with the stresses of life.  A storyline many can relate to and appreciate. 

            Some of the drama and action scenes were also fairly well done. 

 

THE NOT-SO-GOOD

            Though some of the action and drama were well done, the well done scenes were too few and far between.  Amazing Spiderman 2 is a film that tries to do too much in one movie.  It is almost as if the writers and director were so afraid of having too weak a story that they ended up ironically developing a not good story by cramming too much in, not allowing for any real depth of development. 

            Some of the performances were way over-the-top and into the realm of melodramatic.  Peter Parker wanting to break-up with his girlfriend in order to protect her is not only a tiresome plot line, it is also irrelevant and inconsistent (like not being in a relationship means a villain won’t still try to hurt her to get to him, and that he won’t still come running).  Some of Jamie Foxx’s lines felt like something from a Joel Schumacher film (Batman & Robin-esque); Marton Csokas’ Dr. Ashley Kafka was so stereotypically done it was distractingly laughable (again Schumacher-esque).  Even Paul Giamatti was wildly over-the-top in his character performance.  In short, I fear this Spiderman is a turn down a creative dark path like Batman Forever was taking.  Hopefully there is a turnaround, and Amazing Spiderman 3 does not equal 1997’s Batman and Robin. 

 

CONCLUSION

            Save your precious dollars and rent this one.  Amazing 2 is not a terrible movie, and is still better than Raimi’s Spiderman 3.  Yet, there are warning signs that the series is coming to an end.  Here’s hoping Spiderman’s demise is not related (nor prophetic) concerning other Marvel films.  

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Draft Day (film review)

            Ivan Reitman brought us comedic classics such as Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters (all with Bill Murray), as well as Twins, Kindergarten Cop, and Junior (all starring Arnold Schwartzenegger).  Reitman is equally responsible for the comedic flops Father’s Day, Evolution, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and No Strings Attached.  After only making 2 movies in 14 years, using a sports dramedy as his third entry this millennium was (on paper) an odd choice (almost as odd as Ron Howard making Rush).  Especially since sport-based films have flooded the cinema as of late (Cinderella Man, The Blind Side, Moneyball, 42, Trouble with the Curve, and Rush, just to name a few). 

            Not being a sports fan in any stretch of the imagination, I went into Draft Day (starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner) with confused expectations.  Part of me wanted to see something dramatic like The Blind Side, yet the trailers indicated something more humorous.  In the end, Draft Day is actually a well-executed dramedy about what happens behind the scenes when teams are formed:  political battles, emotional manipulation, media and social pressure, and whoever gets picked first gets paid the most, causing managers to throw their influence onto the field to benefit their clients.  After all, the potential future of a team, the players, and the organization all lie within a single day of draft picks. 

           

            What makes Draft Day stand out as unusual is not the casting, not the suspense, not the occasional joke, but the directing and editing technique used to tell this story.  Green screen effects, line and bar wipes, split screens, and multi-layered effects involving actors’ entrance and exits (all combined with jump cuts) allow for every phone call to feel like watching a game of football itself.  Such a technique took me off guard when it started.  Half-way into the film, I began to really appreciate the style, and by the end of the film I wanted to watch it again to experience how the timing and speed of the effects worked to see if they sped up to increase the level of tension (which is my theory and expectation). 

 

            Make no mistake, this film is more drama than comedy; though the comedy does build as the tension builds.  Originally given an R rating then given a PG-13 based on appeal only (no re-editing or changes were made), this film is a heavy PG-13 concerning language.  So those with sensitive ears beware. 

 

            In the end, Draft Day was an uplifting and inspiring film, not because of Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner…but because of the side characters effected by the draft itself.  Their lives, their character, and their stories are the real heart of this piece.  Their stories are also minor, intentionally (and ingeniously) kept on the sidelines for maximum impact.  In short, Draft Day is about character, integrity, and dignity.  

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Captain America: Winter Soldier (film review)

            Amongst the Marvel universe, usually there is a disconnect between the worlds of the superheroes and reality.  Sometimes this disconnection is very obvious and direct (as with Thor and the dealings of Asgard), and other times the disconnect is more subtle (as with Iron Man).  Try as the studios might to add “real world situations” into the storylines, the disconnect is ever present (Asgard is still otherworldly even when Thor is on earth, and Iron Man will always have super wealth and sci-fi level technology). 

            Enter, stage left, Captain America.  While the character Steve Rogers (aka Captain America, played by Chris Evans) is a type of genetic alteration/mutation, what the Captain films capture is much more common to the everyday man:  cultural clashes and trust. 

            What makes Captain America unique is the presence of “old school” chivalry, integrity, dignity, tactfulness, and the respect for authority.  Taking these virtues and placing them 70 years later into modern-day America brings about the culture clashing.  What the Captain has to figure out is how to stay true to the virtues he holds dear while simultaneously dealing with issues of trust:  can those in power be trusted with that power, or is there a point where that trust is broken…and can broken trust be restored?  How does one respect authority when said authority is potentially corrupt? 

 

            While not quite as good as the first Captain America, Winter Soldier still rises to be one of the best of the Marvel films (behind only The Avengers and the first Captain America film).  The main reason the second falters from the first has to do with film mechanics.  Sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo have most of the experience with directing TV programming (several episodes of Arrested Development and Community).  Winter Soldier is a grand opportunity for the Russos, but also new territory.  While they made a magnificent film, some of the hand-held and “shaky-cam” effects were actually more distracting than suspense-building.  Such camera work can be very effective (as with Saving Private Ryan), but was not executed to the best potential here.  Sometimes the camera would pass the point of interest and have to backtrack as if it were live documentary footage.  When most of the film is shot with still, focused, intentioned shots, such directorial and cinematography change is rather jarring and incongruent. 

 

            Even with the camera/editing choices, Captain America: Winter Soldier is far above and beyond most of the other Marvel entries (and one of the better “superhero films” in general).  The best addition to this entry is a welcomed appearance of Robert Redford as S.H.I.E.L.D. supervisor Alexander Pierce.  Every time he opens his mouth to speak, the words and scene glows with class and style.  Redford has a mastered craft of acting and delivery, even when his delivery is reminiscence of Martin Bishop from Sneakers. 

           

            From the hilarious opening scene all the way through the potentially Oscar-nominated special effect extravaganza ending, this second Captain America film is filled with suspense, great script writing, and philosophical musings rarely found in popcorn popping films. 

            If you see Captain America:  The Winter Soldier in the theater, make sure you stay to the end of the credits, as there is an additional scene both during the credits AND at the end.  Both will play a role in developing Captain America 3 and the Avengers: Age of Ultron. 

 

*very mild Spoiler Alert concerning the footage during the closing credits* 

 

 

In the middle of the credits is a short scene that gives a preview of what Avengers: Age of Ultron will be containing.  First, we are introduced to Captain America’s arch nemesis Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, and Strucker has obtained Loki’s staff (the same one used to in the Avengers).  He also has imprisoned the twins:  Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.  I share this for those who are not major comic fans, and since Joss Whedon has already announced the presence of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch on the internet movie database (imdb.com), I’m not really spoiling anything too great.  J  

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TV Cosmos vs Creationism

On Monday, March 31st 2014, Neil deGrasse claimed he debunked Biblical creation via analysis of the speed of light.  In this 4th episode of ‘Cosmos:  A Space Time Odyssey,” the argument was postulated stating there are multiple nebulas (like the Crab Nebula) which are at or over 6500 lightyears away.  Should Biblical creation be accurate, and the earth would be around 6-7000 years old, then there would be no way for such nebulas to be visible as the light would not have reached human visibility.  

 

Whenever one deals with issues regarding the origins of humanity, because the event cannot be retested, repeated, and observed, every person entering into the conversation arrives with presuppositions.  Some join the origins arena with the presupposition there is a God, while others appear with the presupposition there is no God.  Due to the presuppositions, one has to be honest with themselves by admitting the lack of true objectivity. 

 

Now onto lightyears and creation.  When God made Adam, Adam was an adult.  When God made Eve, Adam did not have to change her diapers as she too was an adult.  When God made trees, He did not have to wait 20 years for the tree to take root and grow into maturity and produce fruit.  When God made the fish, the birds, the grass…in every instance creation was made in a mature state.  The same goes with light.  When God made the stars, He did not have to wait for the light to travel the multiple lightyears before being visible…maturity existed for the light as well. 

 

Another way of wording this would be:  when God created, He created with age already in place.  This would explain why so many look upon the earth and they see a very aged earth.  This is how God worked.  Jesus worked in a similar fashion in the New Testament.  When Jesus turned water into wine, the wine was described as the best wine…meaning Jesus made wine that had age already in place.  When Jesus gave sight to a blind person, that person did not have to learn how to interpret sight (just as the lame did not have to wait for their muscles to strengthen for them to walk).  Jesus healed with aged knowledge already in place. 

 

So to answer deGrasse, yes the Earth can be 6-7,000 years old and simultaneously have light visible from objects over 7,000 lightyears away. 

 

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Noah (film review)

            Movies based on and inspired by previously existing stories/events originally told in other mediums is a risky and tricky business.  Historical events occur (like slavery in America), and stories/novels are written about said events.  When motion pictures enter the arena, events and people are often changed, added, removed, etc. due to the change in the medium (12 Years a Slave, Lord of the Rings, and Passion of the Christ are some examples).  Stories in the written form allow for different detail, gives the reader permission to understand the thoughts/motives of the characters, and grants access to back-stories and histories.  Should movies attempt to capture every written detail appropriately, they would not be a single 2 hour movie.  Instead, they would end up being a mini-series for the theater (can anyone say Hobbit trilogy:  three movies from one book?).  Given the expense of film production, theater admission, and the infamous concessions equaling a small mortgage, such endeavors are usually dismissed as a viable option by movie companies.  Therefore, liberties are almost always taken to the original stories to increase the likelihood of turning a profit (done epically by James Cameron with the film Titanic). 

            The notion of requiring stories to be 100% verbatim of history is a rather modern construct.  People today get upset when a movie does not line up with previously existing material.  Today’s average American viewer struggle with understanding and appreciating changes in the story when the medium changes. 

            Sometimes the changes can actually improve upon the story, being better than the book (I often feel this way about many Shakespeare movies, especially those involving Kenneth Branagh).  Other times changes really detract from the original story (like with Michael Bay’s Transformers).  Occasionally a movie is actually very close to the original story when in reality changes should have been made because the book just does not translate very well to the screen (like with the DaVinci Code). 

            Given this preface and foundation, the questions can be asked, is Noah a good stand-alone movie?  Is Noah a good adaptation of the original story; in other words, Noah may not be 100% accurate to the original text, but does it capture the heart and essence of what the original story was about (did the changes made/liberties taken detract from the story)? 

 

            Make no mistake, Noah is not your typical Bible film.  Usually Bible films are in desert lands, people are in simple brown robes with head coverings, and the dialogue tends to be delivered with a wooden “awe” like stage players give Shakespearian lines (appropriate for the stage, but boarder-line melodramatic on the big screen).  Noah, on the other hand, has beautiful mountains, plush forests, modern-feeling outfits, all of which participate in graphically showing the rise of industry and technology, and how such advancement can influence people towards a life of self-pleasure, greed, and arrogance. 

            The outfits/costumes are very unique:  they feel modern-friendly yet have an old-world aura.  Along with the weapons and civilization, the movie Noah has a highly advanced feel, allowing for a more medieval tone rather than an ancient middle-eastern feel.  A risky and bold choice, but allows the audience to connect more to the situation and characters rather than feeling thousands of years removed and displaced.  It is almost like the director is wanting to give a warning to the audience:  humanity has been down this road in the past, and in a parallel manner society is treading that path yet again; perhaps we are not so removed from the evils of the story as we would like to think. 

 

NOAH:  the Positive. 

            The wizards at Industrial Light & Magic said they had never had a project neither as ambitious nor as involved as they have had with Noah (this said from the gurus who made Jurassic Park).  Their work paid off as the effects are astounding.  The camera work done by Matthew Libatique (same director of cinematography Darren Aronofsky used in all his past films) is profound, grand, and sweeping.  Matthew and Darren clearly work well together to allow the camera to speak as powerfully as the people on the screen. 

            Russell Crowe gives an amazing performance as the titular character Noah.  Not since Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind has he given such life and heart to a character.  In Noah’s darkest hours, Crowe lays out his heart, and brings the audience with him in his journey of love, determination, near madness, and restoration.  Jennifer Connelly also gives probably the best performance of her career (who also played Crowe’s wife in A Beautiful Mind).  It was also a pleasure to see Emma Watson grow beyond her Harry Potter starts, showing she is an acting force to be reckoned with…and should she continue to grow as an actress, she will one day be taking home a little golden statue of her own.  As for the other characters, they do what they need to do, with no performance neither standing out as superb nor detracting from the film’s atmosphere. 

 

NOAH:  the Negative. 

            Despite all the liberties taken from the original story, one element of change really bothered me:  at one point I did not like the character Noah.  After the film was over, and Noah was restored and accepted grace and mercy, I was relieved.  Until then, when Noah fell into utter darkness and madness, I actually did not like him, and had no idea how the story was going to end. 

            On one hand, Noah’s darkness reveals his humanity.  In the Bible Noah was a Godly man.  Because God’s favor was upon him, because of God’s forgiveness, Noah was “blameless.”  However, Noah was also a fallen human being, and therefore a sinner like everyone else.  It has been my experience many within the church read Genesis 6-9 and place Noah on a pedestal:  a man who had it all figured out, didn’t struggle, and didn’t sin.  This is far from the truth, and Darren Aronofsky reveals this reality very well.  At the same time, it was extremely difficult to watch because of how dark Noah became all the while thinking he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do.  As a result, the third act is very dark, disturbing, and will be hard for many to watch. 

 

NOAH:  the Final Product. 

            Overall, as a stand-alone movie, I like the film.  Since Noah is a movie done as just that, a movie, which happens to have Bible-Noah-likeness in it, I went into the film not expecting 100% Biblical accuracy.  After all, the moment we rely upon Hollywood to be the teacher of history and religion we all have a large problem on our hands.  Yes, the movie changes a lot from the Biblical text (for example:  not all of  Noah’s sons are married on the ark, fallen angels encrusted in rock help Noah build the ark, and the main villain Tubal-Cain – played by Ray Winstone – stowaways upon the ark for a final climatic battle for Noah and his sons), yet the heart of the Biblical narrative is properly captured:  sin separates creation from the Creator; grace, mercy, and forgiveness is offered and possible; while God is a patient God, He is a God of justice and will one day offer judgment upon creation and that judgment is inescapable; those who through faith find salvation in God’s grace will experience new life.  That is what is at the heart of the Biblical narrative, and the same motif is at the heart of the film Noah. 

 

Final Thoughts… 

            Many Christians are wondering whether or not to see the film.  After all, it’s not 100% accurate to the text, the director is not a Christian, and therefore why waste one’s time when we have the Bible itself.  Some will especially find the rock-encrusted fallen angels an awkward addition to the story, including their redemption and reception back into heaven.  When I watched the film, two people got up, walked out not to return during the first major scene involving the rock creatures talking to Noah. 

            Here is my personal opinion:  see the movie, but go into it expecting exactly that:  a movie (not the Bible on screen).  Noah is a film named after the lead character in this story, and there are many parts of the film that are borrowed from (and some parts directly from) the Bible.  But this is not the Bible on screen. 

            Let me be again honest:  this film does not need to be the Bible on screen.  After all, we have the Bible to read, and in all honesty many parts of the Bible just would not translate well to the screen 100% (as it would be very boring…anyone for 3 hours of Laws?). 

 

            Noah is a film people can watch and enjoy…and maybe they would like to know the real story that inspired this fictional one, and therefore turn to Scripture.  I know my curiosity and love for history has been elevated countless times because of a movie (accurate or not).  

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