Movies/Reviews

Movie Review: The Grey

The GreyThe Grey is a fascinating display of survival of the fittest. In this case, an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks find themselves stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash. Their only way to survive is to cooperate with one another, and follow John Ottway, played by the masterful Liam Neesen. Neesen’s task before the crash was to defend the workers from wolf attacks. His focused skill as a killer will be put to task when he and his crew find themselves surrounded by the same wolves that he mastered killing.

The men, alarmed by the persevering nature of the wolves to pursue them, begin to abandon their pride, and find themselves bound to one another in their hopes. Unfortunately, the wolves are unwavering in their intentions, and as each man begins to die Ottway begins to ponder the existence of God among the multitude of tragedies before him.

In the end one is left wondering if Ottway finds faith, or whether he assumes the posture of a fighting atheist until death.

Analysis

Christians will find the nature of these men reflected in their profane language, and sexual descriptions. But they should not overlook the intense loyalties of even the roughest of men. At the end of our lives, the gentle and the violent will call for help. The question is, “Will our help be in the Name of the Lord our God, or will we cling to our own strength.?”

Movie Review: Standing Firm

Once in a while I will venture into the low-budget productions in the “Christian movie industry.” Standing Firm is such a movie. The movie details the life of a  father and a son after the death of their wife and mother. It takes us through the troubled story of David (Father), who after losing his wife becomes furious with God. In trying to work tirelessly to pay his bills, he becomes overwhelmed with life. In the midst of despair he finds God, and turns his life around.

The movie portrays his son (Steven) as the faithful Christian who tries desperately to aid his father. His tactics to introduce his father to Christ fail again and again. In the end, however,  the power of prayer joined with the testimony of his son lead the father to Christ, and consequently back to the Church.

The deceased wife lived a fruitful Christian life serving the Church and her family. It takes her death for David to see that his wife had a living relationship with Christ.  Looking back after conversion, he realized that everything  had worked for his own good.

Commentary:

Stories like these are hard to swallow. They strike you with the hidden slogan “Jesus fixes everything.” The reality, however, is that he does not fix everything. A living union with Christ can actually make your life rather complicated. You may begin to risk your life more than before; you may lose friends, and arouse the fury of unbelievers.

The constant sloganizing coupled with the horrendous music offended my ears. This is precisely the type of Christianity that lacks power. It is evangelicalism boiled down to a sinner’s prayer. It misses the grand picture of God’s redeeming work.

At the same time, it is to be commended for revealing that the Christian faith does have ethical consequences in the workplace. Further, it also stresses the necessity of being in the community of faith. It is there that one’s faith is strengthened and most clearly lived out.

Unfortunately, the Church–the brief images of it in the movie–were replete with a miniature gospel proclamation giving the distinct impression that the movie had evangelism as its main purpose. Though there is nothing distinctly wrong with that intention it fails to provide a picture of the faith that is both intellectually sustainable and desirable. The question the movie kept raising was “Why won’t he just accept Christ?” It implied a form of easy-believism of the worst kind. The role of Jesus as Lord did not come in, but a compartmentalized version was central to the storyline.

One concludes that the complaint of David’s co-worker “that his parents had shoved religion down his throat, and therefore he was not interested in David’s new found faith,” is essentially embedded in the entire presentation. The movie felt like religion was being shoved down, and swallowing it was no easy task.  It implied a programmatic model to Christianity that is rather harmful and not beneficial to non-Christians considering the claims of Christ.

I will continue to support these types of movies, because I believe in Christian art as a manifestation of God’s desire to restore culture. However, at the same time I find these attempts falling far short of the Gospel I love so dearly. There is a future for this industry, but it first needs a healthy theology in order to become acceptable. This is evangelicalism at its worst.

Babette’s Feast: A Movie Review

Babette's Feast [DVD]Babette’s Feast is Robert Capon on screen. It is a delicious blend of humor and smells; sights and music. It is virtually impossible to contemplate the movie without considering its vastly religious and sacramental implications.

The 1987 movie is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen. The characters–two elderly maiden sisters–Martine and Philippa, continue the work of their deceased father, who was a prophet/pastor figure of a small Christian sect. After the death of their father, the two sisters immerse themselves in a life of charity while carrying their father’s work to a decreasing and dying number of followers. The two beautiful young women never married. Their father’s vision kept them from pursuing “worldly concerns.”

The entrance of two men into their lives offer a bit of adventure. Wendy McWright summarizes well the entrance and exit of the two characters:

First, Lorenz Lowenhielm, a dissolute young cadet, in summer exile at his aunt’s Jutland home as a result of parental punishment for unbecoming behavior, is captivated by Martine’s beauty, has an idealistic vision of a higher, purer life and wins an introduction to the pious circle where he hopes to make her acquaintance. But he soon finds himself at a loss in the rarified atmosphere and leaves, claiming that some things are impossible. The “world,” he announces, will be his heritage and he vows to achieve all worldly success, a feat which he duly accomplishes. Next, Achille Papin, a famous opera singer, finds himself on the remote coastland in search of rest. The solitude plunges him into a bleak mood which is relieved only upon hearing Philippa’s voice raised in angelic hymnody. Believing that her voice is destined to thrill the heart of Europe, Papin offers himself as vocal tutor and educates his pupil in the operatic repertoire. The frank sensuality of the musical lyrics soon convinces his pupil that she must terminate the lessons and Papin returns to the continent without her.

Years later, during the French Civil War, Papin sends them Babette. Babette has lost both husband and son and is now seeking refuge from war in the small island.

Babette’s work ethic and great culinary gifts bring a certain happiness and economic stability to the sisters. Babette’s role in the small community–especially among the few devout–is a kind of peace-bringer. As the remaining disciples age the quarrels increase and Babette adds the shalom element to the community embracing almost a spirit-figure restoring and putting broken pieces together.

In order to restore some sanity to the saints, the two sisters decide to offer a meal in celebration of her father’s one-hundredth birthday ( had he been alive). As the date draws near, Babette receives news that she has won 10,000 francs in the French lottery. The sisters are certain that she will now return to France and live off her new prize. Instead Babette decides to use her lottery wins to prepare a feast of a lifetime for the hundredth birthday celebration.

Babette, the culinary artist, goes to France and returns with all the ingredients (living and dead). Unaware of the strange ingredients to the feast–turtles, live quail, and wine–the sisters and the disciples decide to vow that they will lose their sense of taste and smell during the feast.

As the guests pour in and as each course is serve and each glass filled, the vow becomes harder and harder to fulfill. Each bite and each sip bring them new life and vitality, which begins to undo the bitterness and restore the small community. The quarrels are turned into joy and the memories are turned into frameable moments in their history.

The movie ends in a heavenly picture of the saints singing around a well. The well, the very biblical image of wars and wedding bells, become the symbol of joy and restoration; sins forgiven and relationships healed.

Babette’s Feast provides an image of the holy. The holy is not other-worldly, it is the entrance of the heavenly into the world. The feast takes on an incarnational element.    Food–bread and wine–is not merely earthly nourishment, but a symbol of joy and divine peace.

Movie Review: True Grit

I confess it has been a while since I watched a movie. We have enjoyed various TV series this past year, but now that have we have bid Netflix Streaming adieu, we are finally able to focus on our large movie queue.

True Grit is a lot of fun. The story focuses on a 14 year old girl named Mattie Ross. She is bold and unrelenting in pursuing her goal of finding the man who killed her father and to ensure that he dies as a result. In an attempt to find an able man to track Tom Chaney (her father’s killer), she is introduced to Rooster Cogburn, played by the inimitable Jeff Bridges. Cogburn is an old drunk who through the tenacity of Mattie Ross and the promise of $100 reward decides to take on the task. Mattie wants to go with Cogburn, but Cogburn says that this is no task for a little girl. And this is when Mattie’s commitment to her mission becomes more evident as she pursues both Cogburn and Texas Ranger Laboeuf (Matt Damon) with Little Blackie (her horse). Laboeuf begins with utter non-sympathy towards Mattie, but as the movie unfolds they grow deeply connected.

The movie is truly a masterpiece with great acting (most notably Jeff Bridges and the young star, Hailee Steinfield;  I suspect we will see her again in the next few years). The lines are memorable. Here area a few great ones:

Mattie Ross: You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.

Rooster Cogburn: We’ll sleep here and follow in the morning.
Mattie Ross: But we promised to bury the poor soul inside!
Rooster Cogburn: Ground’s too hard. Them men wanted a decent burial, they should have got themselves killed in summer.

Cross-examining Lawyer: So, you say that when Amos Wharton raised his axe, you backed away from him.
Rooster Cogburn: That’s right.
Cross-examining Lawyer: In what direction were you going?
Rooster Cogburn: Backwards. I always go backwards when I back up.

Col. Stonehill: I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world itself is vexing enough.

Christian Conclusion:

True Grit is replete with Old Gospel music background. The soundtrack reminded me of a country revival. It is really a delightful story. The movie poses some interesting questions concerning states’ rights. States had a lot more say in those days concerning justice. Yet, one theme that prevails is that if you murder a man your life will be taken, echoing Genesis 9:6. In this Wild West age injustice cannot escape the determination of a 14 year old.

Cogburn’s self-sacrifice in the end redeems this poor “old and fat man,”as he describes himself. LaBoeuf understands loyalty too. In fact, True Grit is loyalty and friendship and great humor. I strongly recommend it.

Narnia Mis-Applied?

Has Hollywood been faithful to C.S. Lewis’ vision for Narnia? Stephen Boyer writes a comprehensive critique of Hollywood’s mis-characterization of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books. The article is worth every minute. Boyer concludes:

Aslan, without his appallingly hierarchical claws, is just another pussycat. I myself would prefer to hear him roar.

Movie Review: Fireproof

It took us a while, but my wife and I finally watched Fireproof. I am a firm supporter of evangelicals pursuing every field of life, including movies, and bringing a distinctly Christian perspective to it. For instance, Brian Godawa has done a fine job entering this virtually virgin field and bringing some sanity to Hollywood’s perpetual madness. Other attempts have been frankly embarrassing. The movie version of Pilgrim’s Progress was a sincere attempt, but a horrendous one. Facing the Giants was another honest attempt, but failed at many levels. So what about Fireproof?

In typical Framian fashion let me offer several positive elements:

First, Kirk Cameron was a perfect fit for his role as a pig-loose-canon-husband. His past acting experience came in beautifully in this role. In many ways his role added a certain authenticity to Christian movies that is often lacking.

Second, fellow pastor Douglas Wilson observed: “And they (men) would rather watch a movie about a woman being abused so long as the movie was made right than to have the woman treated right in a movie that offended their refined sensibilities.” Christian men are satisfied with explicit brutality and abuse in movies so long as it doesn’t upset their sophisticated ideals of what a movie should look like. Fireproof offered an alternative ending to what most typically reflects modern marriage movies (MMM). To this end, it should be commended.

Third, the movie depicts marriage as hard. It drives away any naive ideas of married life. It is difficult, and it requires a whole lot of work. Marriage is a perpetual maturation process.

Fourth, in one of the scenes, Cameron’s co-workers encouraged him to lead his heart, not to be followed by it. A good start, I say. Following the heart (sinful heart) is the culprit to many of America’s divorces.

Fifth, for all the theological flaws, the movie illustrates what the Bible makes clear: apart from Me you can do nothing. A marriage can be fixed only to be broken again, but a marriage transformed by Christ can be fixed and restored again and again.

Before I delve into the negative aspects of the movie, I should say that  I applaud the continual attempts of Christians engaging the movie industry. This is dominion-minded (though most may not realize it) and is a part of the old Kuyperian strategy. Most of us need to be reminded that the Christian industry is an infant industry. There is a lot of growing up and learning to do. We should not bring $150 million budget films (Hollywod) and compare it side by side with a $50,000 film. We have a long way to go.

Several negative elements:

First, there  is an explicit version of Christianity exposed. It was not the Reformed, Anglican, or Lutheran version. It was the pop-evangelical, revivalistic version. The salvation message was overtly individualistic.  Here is a camp, here is a cross, here is a Bible, here is a prayer=Eureka. While many come to Christ through such formulas, my central concern is who they become after such conversion experiences. Do they become lovers of orthodoxy, creeds, unity, catholicity, theology, bread and wine, church, Trinity, or do they simply treat this new found faith as recovery from a miserable past life, like an addiction?

Second, formulaic Christianity is really bothersome. 3 steps to this or 40 steps to that fits neatly on a page, but really messy in real life.

Third, poor acting. If movies want to take a decidedly Christian direction, one actor ( Kirk Cameron) can’t carry the weight of the entire movie. Again, we’re only babies at this stage in the game.

Fourth, Jesus does not always save marriages; sometimes He actually destroys them and sometimes He asks that you endure the marriage for the sake of the other. In the Christian world we can’t always expect a happy ending.

The movie is certainly an improvement; a slow, but noticeable one.

The Five Best Movies I Saw In 2009

As the New Year begins, I reflect ever-so-briefly on some of the most memorable movies of 2009. There were many others  I could add to this list, but these were the ones, which for various reasons made my list.

Dan in Real Life Dan in Real Life is the story of a widower with three daughters managing the difficult task of parenting, working, and seeking love. There was a tenderness to this story, which drew me along. Positive: The necessity for fathers to love their girls. If girls will not find love in fathers, they will seek it elsewhere. Also, there is the significance of the family. There is laughter and joy. Negative: False views of love displayed; “the love at first sight” syndrome. Comments: Not the ideal dad, no biblical guidance, but some redeeming values.

Breach “Based on the true story, FBI upstart Eric O’Neill enters into a power game with his boss, Robert Hanssen, an agent who was ultimately convicted of selling secrets to the Soviet Union.” Positive: Loyalty and commitment to family and defense of country’s secrets and integrity. Negative: The same loyalty is used to manipulate others. Comments: Guilt can kill.

Seven Pounds Suffering from guilt, Will Smith’s character will give everything to those in need. Positive: Self-sacrifice and overwhelming love. Negative: As always and so common in Hollywood, sex outside of wedlock is still wrong. Lying and breaking the law to help others. Comments: Is it ever legitimate to lie? Rahab in Judges proves there are exceptions, whether this is one needs to be proven.

Rescue Dawn A US fighter-pilot (Christian Bale) is shut down on a mission and tries to survive in the jungles of Vietnam. Based on a true story. Positive: Friendship, Loyalty, Encouragement to those in need. Negative: Little to say. Comments: The question arises, What must be done in war to stay alive?

Defiance “Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters and endeavor to build a village in order to protect themselves and about 1,000 Jewish non-combatants.” Positive: Familial Loyalty, helping the needy, friendship. Good introduction to Jewish culture and rituals. Negative: Taking the lives of those who took the lives of family members. God says: Vengeance is mine! Comments: Lots of ethical questions. Must we kill to eat and survive? Seems like an Exodus theme. Jews leaving tyranny and establishing order.

Wanna See “Saved?”

There has been some significant changes in Hollywood’s agenda in the last few years, but one agenda that is still overwhelmingly prevalent is their Anti-Christian sentiments. Since the success of “The Passion of the Christ,” directors have found new motivation to espouse their secular world views through the most effective means in our society – THE SCREEN!

In case you are wondering about the new Summer release “Saved,” well, I have good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good news. I actually think it will be good if you go and see it. Well, perhaps not what you would expect from a conservative Presbyterian, but let me explain why this is so. The Christian community has been in a tremendous disadvantage in the last few decades. We have practically lost the cultural war not due to lack of intelligence, but due to lack of information. Our churches are devoid of cultural thinking, and here, I believe, we have gone the wrong way.

Christianity, while not embracing the world’s philosophy, must analyze it carefully and at times even meticulously. What is the result? The result will be a group of informed believers armed with the power of God through the authority of His Word and informed enough to debate the issues of the day, better yet, to debate the current thought process of secularism. At least one thing we know for sure: the secular agenda is always transparent.

Now for the bad news. All your fears are really true. The movie is an affront to the authentic Christian message. It portrays the gospel’s message as feeble and useless. Granted, that is their intention. Though utterly perplexing and frustrating at times, this mockery of the faith opens the human heart and finds nothing but filth–the stuff our actions look like (Isaiah 64:6). Perhaps the movie, though shocking, may cause some of us to see the hypocrisy in our lives and abandon our old ways, repent, and renew our trust in the saving gospel of Christ.

A note: I would not recommend this movie for any children. Parents need to know the level of maturity of their own children. There is one sex scene in the movie, and pervasive talk about abortion.

For another great review of the movie, see Brian Godawa’s excellent analysis.