Category Archives: Movies

Monday Morning Humor: The Best Pictures Never Made

Wow, quite an Oscar night this year, wasn’t it? The beautiful stars parading down the red carpet, while you ignored them because they’re mostly ill-behaved louts who despise you, your country and everything you hold dear! The celebration of the cinematic arts (and their steady decline since 1939)! Well, just to keep the mood going, here’s Andrew Klavan discussing some movies that weren’t nominated for any Oscars this year, for the simple reason that they’ve never been made. I can’t think why. Though to be fair, this video is actually a few years old, and there were some bright spots in 2015’s Oscar lineup, including Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (Klavan-approved and reviewed by me here). I also enjoyed a smattering of the other Best Picture nominees and was truly moved by some Oscar-worthy performances. (If you haven’t checked out Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he is really phenomenal.) But still, Andrew is not far off the mark.

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Focus on the Family and Reviewing Bad Movies

This past weekend, Focus On the Family’s media outlet sent a representative to watch and review a wildly successful, wildly inappropriate movie. I shall henceforth refer to this movie as Nifty Blades of Hay (adapted from the wildly successful and inappropriate novel of the same name). If you have any idea what I’m talking about, you will understand exactly why I’m not even calling this toxic cult phenomenon by its real name. If you don’t, that’s just fine too. I really have no interest whatsoever in discussing this movie. I am interested in the fact that Focus On the Family chose to review it, and I’m interested in the considerable backlash from other Christians and Christian ministries that they’ve incurred as a result. Especially since the Christian film critic who wrote the review has become a friendly acquaintance of mine over the last few months.

Without going into any details, suffice it to say that this particular movie probably shouldn’t even have qualified for an “R” rating—by which I mean “R” is too soft. The abusive relationship that it chronicles is that vile and twisted. It may not be marketed and sold as “a p*rn film” in so many words, but that’s essentially what it is, in the guise of a Valentine’s Day blockbuster. So, naturally, some fans of Focus on the Family preemptively wrote and urged its “Plugged In” reviewers not to bother informing us that this movie is Bad. Even those of us who have striven mightily to avoid reading about it have managed to piece that much together. Wrote one concerned follower, “I’m fairly confident anyone who visits this website will not be interested in seeing the film, and I am troubled at the thought of sending one of your employees to go see it.”

But Plugged In disagreed. In a blog post written before the review went up, editor Paul Asay explained that he believed it was his duty to see and review this film. He begins with an uncomfortable but sobering fact: Not only are a lot of Christians very interested in reading about this thing, but some of them are even buying the tickets. Continue reading

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My Top 5 Underrated Love Songs

You’ve danced with your spouse to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “I Will Be Here.” You’ve sniffled and reached for the tissues at “Bless the Broken Road.”  You’ve sworn to throw random objects at the radio if they spin “I Will Always Love You” one more time. Now Valentine’s Day has rolled around once more, and you’re in the perfect mood to enjoy a romantic musical something. Or maybe not. Either way, I would like to shine a spotlight on five songs that you won’t see on most any Top 100 lists when people rank their favorite ditties about “luuuv.” In fact, I guarantee that half if not all of them will be new to you. Further, I guarantee that they are much deeper and more thought-provoking than what often passes for a love song in today’s cultural milieu. Think of it as my heart-shaped candy gift box to you, dear readers. Go on. Open it up and savor my Top Five Underrated Love Songs.

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Answering Your Questions About “American Sniper” [UPDATED]

American Sniper Kyle and Cooper collage

Top: SEAL sniper Chris Kyle ; Bottom: Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper

[UPDATE: 1/25/15 Since first writing this post, I’ve found more information on one of the slanderous claims that’s going around about Kyle, and I’ve updated it accordingly.]

Whether or not you’re the movie-going type, you’ve been hearing an awful lot about this one movie lately. It’s breaking box office records, FOX news is promoting it like crazy, and wild-eyed leftists are feverishly tweet-blogging their hatred for it and its subject. I’m talking about Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, based on the best-selling book by Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.

With over 150 confirmed kills, Chris Kyle is the most lethal sniper in American history. After ten years of putting country before family, he resigned from the Navy to recover from post-traumatic stress, save his marriage and get to know his own children. He chose to put his story in book form to give people a candid look at the Iraq conflicts and the sacrifices made by military families. A compelling war memoir and a painfully honest love story, it shot to the top of the charts, and Kyle’s public profile soared. But he took the most pride in the organizations he founded to help other struggling veterans cope with the transition back to civilian life. These included veterans with PTSD. On February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle was shot and killed by one of those veterans at a gun range. All of Texas mourned.

Those who knew Chris Kyle well remember him as a war hero, a loving husband and father, and a humble man who shied from the spotlight and never stopped pouring himself into the military community. But as always, the left-wing media knows best. Meanwhile, you, a fairly pro-military conservative Christian (if previous surveys of my readership are a clue) are watching it all unfold and getting curious. If you’re like me, you may not have even heard of Chris Kyle until this movie came out. You now have conservative friends who are raving about the movie, and you’re wondering if you should see it too, just to find out what all the fuss is about. You’re probably wondering how much of it is Hollywood and how much of it is Kyle’s true story. You wonder if it’s really as conservative as Fox News says. You wonder if it’s any good. And you wonder if there’s anyone out there discussing Chris Kyle’s story from a Christian perspective, as distinguished from a purely conservative perspective.

Wonder no more, because [Larryboy voice] I. Am. That. Hero. Having seen the movie, read the book, and listened to every interview with Kyle that I could find, I’m here today to answer all your questions about American Sniper. Continue reading

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Marriage in the Movies: Boyhood (Patheos cross-post)

Earlier this week, I contributed a guest piece to a blog at Patheos called “Watching God.” It’s maintained by Paul Asay, who is the editor of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In outlet. As some of you know, Plugged In keeps parents informed about objectionable content in popular film, games and music of the day. “Watching God” is a spot where Asay gets a little deeper into the craft of certain films that have interested him.

I’ve always liked Paul’s writing, so I got to know him a bit better when I saw that he had a new Patheos spot. I found out that he’s a really nice guy, and he’s given me some graciously complimentary feedback on my own writing. When I asked him if he’d like to host an article I’d written on Boyhood, the year’s front-runner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, he said yes. This film has been getting a lot of press for the fact that director Richard Linklater used the same cast for 12 consecutive years, so that you can watch a whole family age on screen together. I was very interested in how the film handled marriage and divorce, so I thought it would be a thoughtful and current addition to my ongoing “Marriage in the Movies” series. You can read the entire piece here. In my opinion, it ultimately did a better job than a movie like Mrs. Doubtfire (read my take on that film here), because there’s a very strong implication that the dissolution of the main marriage is a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. I get this sense both from the movie itself and from the way the actors talk about it. In one in-depth interview, they argue compellingly that because the characters can’t share the love of their children, they never see any side of each other besides the side they choose to see.

I originally intended to embed a clip from the movie, but Paul said there was a goof in the upload process. In this excerpt, the divorced father tries to strike up a conversation with his kids on one of their weekends together. It’s humorous, yet poignant at the same time:

Thanks for reading, and thank you Paul for allowing me to write a guest post! I’m also working on a guest piece about heroes and superheroes, but we might wait until the next Marvel movie comes out to share that one with the world. ;-)

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Great Movies: Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah Plain and Tall

I had a different post scheduled for today, but I immediately shifted it when I was browsing Youtube recently and discovered that all three of Hallmark’s Sarah, Plain and Tall adaptations had just been uploaded in full the other day. I had to take the opportunity to recommend them to my readers while this person’s channel is still live!

These movies are a little hard to track down and find, and they won’t always play on your computer even if you try to buy new copies (I speak from experience). Like many good made-for-TV movies, they’re buried gems waiting for the lucky viewer who chances upon them. Rarely do I feel that a movie adaptation of a book surpasses its source material, but this is an exception. For those who are unfamiliar with the stories, they follow a young family in Kansas at the turn of the century, whose lives are forever changed by the arrival of mail-order bride Sarah Wheaton (Glenn Close). The father, a widower named Jacob (Christopher Walken), literally places an ad in the paper for a potential new wife. Of course, she eventually stays for good.

I can’t recommend all three of them highly enough. They represent film-making at its finest. This is not Love Comes Softly. No offense to Janette Oke, but… yeah, just no. Continue reading

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New “Christian” Movie Waffles on Homosexuality

If you’ve seen Unbroken in theaters, you might have caught a preview for a new movie billing itself as a “Christian” production. The trailer’s soundtrack is current CCM, and the Dove Foundation has already rated it glowingly. So it’s safe to say that this product is being pushed in fairly mainstream evangelical circles. This isn’t Steve Taylor’s pet project. It’s the kind of thing for which your local Christian morning show might give away tickets when it gets a wider release. People are coming out of early screenings all smiles, saying what a “great message” the movie has and how much it moved them.

Indeed, judging by the trailer, it looks like the script, story and acting alone should bring a lump to any film-lover’s throat.

Okay, in case your stomach wasn’t strong enough to venture clicking on the trailer, I’ll provide a brief recap: In an unspecified hamlet of white American suburbia, one earnest teen heartthrob dares to raise his voice against the tirades of an Oppressive White Male political candidate, who’s running on a platform of “fighting” lies, corruption, and sexual immorality. I’m not sure what’s supposed to be wrong with that, but anyway, our hero hears it as a message of “hate,” and he decides to Do Something about it. That Something turns out to be running for Congress against Mr. Oppressive White Male, at the age of 17 (I gather this legal sticking-point is somehow resolved in the plot). The stage is set for a showdown between the two sides, where Millenial Teen Heartthrob can be spotted mouthing such profundities as “We cannot choose hate! We have to choose each other!”

Hang on, I need to go ransack my closet for some insulin. BRB.

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Of Sinners and Saints: Missing the Point of “Unbroken”

 

This Christmas, Angelina Jolie’s much-hyped adaptation of the best-selling biography Unbroken made it to the big screen. Most of you probably know the story: It traces the remarkable journey of WWII hero Louis Zamperini, as he became a pre-war Olympic athlete, only to be drafted as a pilot and have his plane shot down, only to be captured by the Japanese and tortured in a prison camp. But amazingly, his story didn’t end there, as he went on to have a crisis of faith while grappling with the demons of his war experiences. Through the preaching of Billy Graham, both he and his wife became Christians and launched missions initiatives of their own. Eventually, he met and forgave nearly all of his former Japanese captors face-to-face. Only the most infamously sadistic one, known as “The Bird,” refused to meet him.

Unfortunately, Zamperini’s entire post-war conversion story is relegated to a few title cards at the end of this movie, which ends abruptly with his release and family reunion. While the book on which it’s based doesn’t even go into as much detail as Louis himself in his own memoirs, at least it provides something for the reader. Run-time considerations no doubt played a role, but Hollywood’s aversion to anything openly religious isn’t exactly a secret. Allegedly, Louis himself was pleased with the final cut of the film. His son wrote a recent op-ed saying that the film’s non “preachy” nature was exactly what his dad would have wanted (the idea being that people would be motivated to learn “the rest of the story” for themselves precisely because it’s only hinted at in the film).

Interestingly enough, a number of secular critics disagree. They argue that the film feels hollow and incomplete without these details. By cutting out the messy, sometimes dark and ultimately redemptive arc of Zamperini’s post-war journey, Jolie elevates him to an almost saintly stature. Sure, he starts off as a rakish lad who seems like he could turn into a bit of a troublemaker before his brother inspires him to channel that energy more constructively. But ultimately, Louis can do no wrong. Louis is magnificent. Louis is perfect. And his prison trials are lingered over with Passion-like symbolism. By enshrining Zamperini in this way, Jolie overlooks the flawed man underneath. As a result, the movie misses the whole point of its own hero’s story.

The reality is that Louis Zamperini was a deeply messed-up guy when he came home from the war. And who wouldn’t be? You try getting tortured for several years straight, followed by trying to resume a normal life. Zamperini’s PTSD nightmares were so strong that he would wake up finding himself at his wife’s throat, thinking she was the tormentor of his dreams. Like with many war veterans, Zamperini’s coping mechanisms spiraled into addictions–smoking, drinking, even p*rnography. On top of everything else, his wife was trying to take care of their baby girl.

Eventually, she decided to end the marriage. That’s when she walked in on a Billy Graham crusade in downtown Los Angeles. The message convicted her. She came home and announced that she was no longer planning to divorce Louis, and she wanted him to come hear the preacher too. The neat little bow ending to the story would be that Louis took her advice and came down to the altar the first time he heard Mr. Graham speak. But human nature is more stubborn than that. The first time he accompanied his wife, he turned around and walked out of the tent, angrily telling her, “Don’t ever try to get me back to a place like this again!” She urged him to try again, desperately hoping that it would save their marriage. He eventually agreed, on one condition: “As soon as that fellow says ‘Every head bowed, every eye closed, I’m outta there.'”

Fortunately, God had other plans, and Graham’s well-chosen words pierced Zamperini’s shell the second time through. As Franklin Graham recounts it:

He went home that night, got rid of his p*rnography,  he got rid of his alcohol, he threw his cigarettes away. And he found his Bible that was given to him in the military, and he began to read and study the Bible, and his life was transformed instantly that day, and it stayed with him the rest of his life. He never turned from what he had put his faith and trust in, and that was Jesus Christ.

In a world of murky anti-hero stories, it’s difficult to argue with a straight-forward hero story such as the one Jolie presents in her film. And the events she depicts are, in fact, true as far as they go. Yet people can tell when the whole truth is being airbrushed out of the story. The real hero of Zamperini’s story isn’t Zamperini himself, because Zamperini himself failed to live up to a heroic standard. His own merits were insufficient to break the vicious cycle of sin that was eating away at his life and his marriage. The Holy Spirit had to take him by the collar and shake him up. Thus it has always been and evermore shall be.

To rectify the gaps in Jolie’s film adaptation, the Billy Graham foundation has pulled some exclusive interview footage from the vault and put together a short documentary called Louis Zamperini: Captured By Grace. You can watch a couple clips for yourself, including a younger Louie giving his testimony at a crusade, and see if it seems “preachy” or “cheesy.”

The foundation is offering DVDs of the documentary at a “pay what you want” rate on their website here.

 

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Christmas: To Know it For the First Time

One of my favorite Christmas movies is It’s a Wonderful Life. Technically, you could say the entire thing takes place on Christmas Eve, since George Bailey’s life story is told entirely through flashbacks as Clarence gets debriefed before touching down for his rescue mission that fateful night. Once George has his moment of grace and time returns to normal, he comes home to celebrate Christmas with family and friends as his oldest pounds out the tune of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” All the people who love him are gathered around, giving all that they can for this man who has helped so many.

When I was first teaching myself to make music videos a few years ago, I was inspired with the perfect song choice to match this movie. It’s a song called “World Traveler,” by Andrew Peterson. The character it describes sounds a lot like George Bailey. He grows up with dreams of seeing the world, but he winds up falling in love instead. In the process, he discovers the beauties and mysteries outside his own front door:

Take a left at the end of my street, just a few doors down

Up the hill and into the trees, there’s a hole in the ground

Where we traveled the caverns so deep

Wandered the wonders so wild

It was right beneath our feet

All this time, all this time…

Although Andrew was partly inspired by some actual caves that were discovered near his house, the song obviously has a double meaning. Even if we never go anywhere or see anything spectacular by the world’s terms, the adventure of finding love and raising a family can be just as epic. A man can lose himself walking the infinite hills of his wife’s soul. His children are images of God lying right beneath his roof. And the fellowship of dear friends is more precious than gold.

This Christmas morning, I’ll simply share my creation with you and hope that it moves you as much as it moved me while I made it. As T. S. Eliot wrote, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”

Merry Christmas to all!

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My Favorite Movie of 2014: Interstellar

“Do not go gentle into that good night; Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” — Dylan Thomas

Matthew McConaughey and McKenzie Foy in Interstellar

Since this film is still showing in IMAX theaters, and since it’s still my favorite film of the year, I thought it appropriate to put out my review of Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar. Grappling with Big Questions about Life, the Universe and Everything, with characters I cared about, set against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of astrophysics geekery… what more could I ask for? As my dad said on our way out of the theater, “I might come up with something to dislike about it. Next year.” But in truth, that’s not quite accurate. I do have some criticisms of the film. They’re just outweighed by the positives.

In brief, the premise is that some time in the near future, Earth’s crops are plagued by blight, and the atmosphere is slowly becoming unbreathable. In this 21st century dustbowl, we’re introduced to former NASA pilot/engineer turned farmer Joseph Cooper (“Coop”), played by Matthew McConaughey. Coop is a restless soul, a man born out of due time. In the words of his father-in-law, he “was good at something and never got a chance to use it.” He can’t pretend to like farming. But the world needs farmers, not engineers, and he’ll do anything to carve out a life for his two children.

His daughter Murphy is preternaturally smart. So when she starts to report some paranormal happenings, Coop is puzzled and skeptical. Books are falling off her shelf by themselves, she says. A small ship model is found inexplicably broken on the floor. Her theory? “I looked it up. It’s called a poltergeist.”

“That’s not very scientific, Murph,” murmurs Papa with mild disapproval.

“You said science is about admitting what we don’t know.”

The kid’s got a point. And a knack for foreshadowing dialogue.

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