George Bailey and the Embrace Of Home

This year, one of my all-time favorite films turned 70. It’s a Wonderful Life has rightly earned its place as an American classic and one of Jimmy Stewart’s best roles. It gives the lie to anyone who tries to paint old Hollywood in broad, simplistic strokes, by presenting us with a likable hero who catches one bad break after another and eventually has to be pulled from the brink of suicide.

Over at The Stream, I paid tribute to the film by dusting off a film project I’ve featured here before, which combines the movie with Andrew Peterson’s song “World Traveler.” George’s story has so many layers of meaning, so many resonances, chief among them the resonance of home. In this article, I weave George’s story and the story Andrew tells in his song with some personal reflections of my own. I hope it cheers somebody this Christmas Eve. A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Two Sisters Review… Rogue One (Part 2 of 2)

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Is Rogue One really the first Star Wars movie to realize it’s about war? Why is Darth Vader suddenly making bad puns? What’s CGI [SPOILERS] doing in here? Can we talk about Jyssio for just a minute? And the 64k question: Did we NEED Rogue One? Welcome to Part 2 of our deep dive! And, as with Part I, SPOILER WARNING. If you have not yet seen the movie, bookmark this and come back when you have!

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Two Sisters Review…Rogue One (Part 1 of 2)

Well em gee… December sure flew by! As a reminder, for blog-only subscribers, you can follow me on Facebook (and now, on Twitter!) to keep up with my various writings. Despite appearances, I haven’t been wholly inactive this month. You can read my two latest articles for The Stream from my author’s page here. Both of them tie film together with life issues such as abortion and assisted suicide.

Today, we’re back with something lighter: another blockbuster deep dive in two parts with Little Sister, thus expanding the series which I’ve chosen to christen “Two Sisters Review.” WARNING: Thar be SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk.

Today, we cover stand-out new characters, likes and dislikes about character arcs, plot holes, and how we feel about the shades of grey it introduces into Star Wars morality. Tomorrow, we’ll cover Darth Vader (force-chokes! bad puns!), the new villain, more plot holes, Rogue One As War Movie, CGI… characters, and oh yes, shipping. Read on, and stay tuned!

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Two Sisters Review… Dr. Strange (Part 2 of 2)

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Little Sis and I pick up where we left off. We begin by discussing the film’s implicit pacifism, then really go at it over Marvel’s morality of magic and healing. We tackle the question of whether parallels can be drawn from Marvel world to our world, or to the world C. S. Lewis creates in Narnia. Finally, I wrap it up with a little discussion of new Harry Potter universe blockbuster Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, whose sympathetic portrayal of persecuted witches has been explicitly criticized by Catholic critic Steven Greydanus.

Enjoy! (And, as before, apologies for all the places where we say “Mordu” instead of “Mordo.” We forgot, okay?)

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Two Sisters Review… Dr. Strange (Part 1 of 2)

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Courtesy of Thanksgiving Break, Little Sis and I bring you our SPOILERIFIC deep dive into Dr. Strange. We discuss favorite moments and funny bits, as well as how the film handles mind/body dualism, death, and (of course!) magic. It got a little long, as LS observed towards the end, so I’ve broken it up into two parts. In Part II, we will discuss the film’s philosophy of suffering and hash out some differences of opinion on the last Easter Egg and whether we agree with its perspective on magical healing, while expanding on some compare and contrast with C. S. Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. For now, enjoy Part I, and stay tuned! (Note: I apologize in advance for our erroneous and repeated reference to the character of Mordo as “Mordu.” As you might be able to tell, we’re not exactly die-hard comic book fans, we just watch the movies!)

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Guest Writing Roundup: The Stream, More Than One Lesson

I may have lapsed in updating this little space, but if you follow me on FaceBook, you know I have not been idle in writing. Here is a quick run-down of what I’ve been up to.

First, I shared some thoughts in the aftermath of Phyllis Schlafly’s death for The Stream, which you can read here. In particular, I fondly recall getting to meet her in person at the age of 10.

Secondly, Tyler Smith’s podcast More Than One Lesson is one of my favorite places to soak up good film criticism with a Christian slant. Not all his tastes correspond with mine, but I frequently glean interesting insights from him on the films I do like. Recently, he approached me and asked if I’d be interested in throwing my hat in the contributors’ ring for the More Than One Lesson website. My first piece debuted a new film editing project I worked on over the summer, combining a beautiful song called “One Thing of Beauty” with the film The Soloist. In the piece, I reflect on the significance of beauty and how both the song and the film reflect mankind’s search for it. Die-hard readers may recognize echoes of some thoughts I jotted down here a while back.

Finally, last week Tyler posted another piece of mine about a stunning new documentary film called A German Life, about the woman who served as the personal stenographer for Nazi war criminal Joseph Goebbels. It looks like a gripping work, and I can’t wait to see the whole thing myself. In this piece, I take a sober look at what we can learn from this woman’s actions and how we can show mercy towards her. Here’s the trailer:

That’s all for the moment! I hope to check in here from time to time despite yet another demanding year of coursework for my graduate degree. While I’ve been blessed with a lot of freelancing opportunities this year and will keep you posted on those, I’m sure I will continue to have many thoughts that don’t fit neatly anywhere else but here, in this little space where it all started.

Seven Things I Hate About the New Ben-Hur Movie

[Note: If you were genuinely moved by the new Ben-Hur movie, chances are good you’ll be offended by this post. I wish to offend no man needlessly, so if you fit this description, you’ve been warned.]

“Why do they need to re-make Ben-Hur?” My sister asked this question the other day. It’s a good question. I’ll let you decide the answer.

Me, I wasn’t even going to bother seeing if it was as bad as I’d heard. But then, I got this idea that I could sell a free-lance piece including some discussion of the Jesus scenes, which had been very hyped up in the movie’s marketing. Supposedly, this re-make was going to improve on the Heston classic by giving Jesus top billing. That seemed interesting, but then early reviews started coming in. If they were to be trusted, Ben-Hur 2016 Jesus was about as deep as Joel Osteen’s Twitter feed. But, understandably, I couldn’t get paid to write anything about it unless I could say I’d seen the movie.

So, I saw it, only to discover that this new and improved, ostensibly beefed-up Jesus was so over-hyped, every single scene of his had already been put on YouTube or mentioned in the two reviews I saw. There was literally nothing else there. Fortune-cookie Joel Osteen Jesus was it.

But hey, I thought, at least I can have a little fun panning the whole thing for my blog, and that will make me feel like my $6.50 wasn’t entirely wasted. So, herewith, seven things I hated about the new Ben-Hur movie.

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Old Movies, New Eyes: In the Heat of the Night

They call me Mister Tibbs.

In light of the last couple weeks of turmoil, what better way to revive this flagging column of mine than by looking back at a film where a white cop and a black detective are forced to get along? Winning multiple awards, including Best Picture, Actor (Rod Steiger), and Adapted Screenplay, it became a defining film for Sidney Poitier and marked a shift in Hollywood’s portrayal of black characters. As a fan of crime drama and Rod Steiger, I had this film on my to-watch list for a while before I got around to seeing it. Knowing it was a 60s movie and that it was considered significant in the political landscape of the Civil Rights movement, I was worried that it might be heavy-handed or on-the-nose. Were all the white characters going to be idiots? Was it going to be a bait-and-switch affair that purports to be a crime flick but is really About Race in a super pompous, 60s way?

Thank goodness, no! I mean okay yes, it is about race, and yes, we’ll talk about That Scene where Poitier has a slap-off with a plantation owner. And yes, the mystery is ultimately a little flimsy and takes a back seat to the character drama. But really, it’s not so much About Race as it is About Male Bonding. In fact, an alternate title was considered—Machismo: The Movie.

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Two Sisters Review… Finding Dory

Little Sister returns, and today we’re here to review Pixar’s latest smash hit, Finding Dory! We got to see what all the fuss was about last week and are pleased to bring you our thoughts on the film’s treatment of adoption and disability, Pixar’s slump into “sequelitis,” and more. And yes, I realize I say “Okay, so…” way too much. Also, #spoilers. You’ve been warned.

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VidAngel is Being Sued, But It’s Probably Just as Well

In recent months, you may have noticed ads for a relatively new movie filtering service called VidAngel. Based in Utah (probably owned by a bunch of Mormons), it operates on a buyback model, where moviegoers can buy a movie, stream it through VidAngel’s content filters, then sell it back to VidAngel within 24 hours for a net loss of only $1. Well, sort of. Technically, if you read the fine print, you were paid back in VidAngel credit, so that you’d get a discount on the next movie you rented with them. See what they did there?

Anyway, it didn’t take long for Disney, Fox, Lucasfilm inter alia to notice the company in a legal way. You can read all about the team they’re assembling for the defense, posted last week on their blog.  They seem confident about their chances, believing they’ve discovered a loophole that will allow them to continue operating. The comments on this article provide good summaries of the state of the law and theories about how good their case actually is. Not being a legal expert, I’ll let others make those predictions. At any rate, this kind of legal battle is merely the latest in a long string of Hollywood vs. Mormon Video Editing Outfit battles. I’ll let you figure out who typically comes out on top, although in fairness, the most recent one was decided in the Mormon company’s favor, using the same legal team VidAngel is now hiring.

To be honest, I find it difficult to care who wins or loses this case. In fact, given the way this particular site has compiled and marketed its content, I can think of a couple reasons why it might be just as well if it went away.

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