Death and Self-Denial In Disney’s Tangled

Posted: November 20, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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MV5BMTAxNDYxMjg0MjNeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDcyNTk2OTM@._V1__SX1394_SY676_The titular protagonist of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, an affable and astute priest, has a penchant for crime-solving. And while he always catches the perpetrator, the really fun thing about Father Brown is how he solves the mystery. More often than not, he does it by noticing the obvious—the things that are so overt they often go overlooked. In “The Secret Garden,” for instance, where a body and a decapitated head is discovered in a back yard garden at a dinner party, Father Brown is able to track down the murderer when he is the first one to notice that the decapitated head does not belong to the body with which it has been placed.

I bring Chesterton into the discussion for two reasons. The first is that if you have not read any of the Father Brown stories, you truly must do so … and soon. Second, is that I had my own Father Brown moment the other day. It happened when—for the I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time—my wife and I sat down to watch one of our favorite Disney movies, Tangled. Even though I have seen the movie multiple times, I—like so many of Father Brown’s laymen—missed one of its most astonishingly biblical motifs. Making my oversight all the more laughable is that it is announced in the opening scene (and not in a subtle and mysterious way).

Tangled begins with a voiceover by Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi), a notorious thief who’s is depicted on a wanted poster. “This is the story of how I died,” he says. Those of you who have seen Tangled will recall (spoiler alert) that Flynn does indeed die after he is literally stabbed in the back by the villainous Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy). And while it is possible to take Flynn’s opening dialogue solely at face value, meaning that he was physically dead for a period of time in the film, I’m convinced that there is something much more significant—more spiritual—happening. Flynn’s line brings to mind the words of Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). It seems to me, then, that Tangled is a story about death and rebirth.

Flynn Ryder is introduced to us as a self-obsessed thief, a swindler and braggart. The first time we actually see Flynn, he is waxing eloquently to his companions, dreaming of a time when he will have enough stolen goods to live a life of luxury. He then proceeds to rob a castle and betray his friends by taking the horde for himself. Later, when Flynn and Rapunzel’s (Mandy Moore) lives become intertwined, his initial plan is to use her to help him accomplish his goals. But he changes. He begins to die. Slowly but surely, we see Flynn turn from his narcissism, pride, and greed, as he learns to love someone (Rapunzel) more than himself. Christ said, a grain of wheat only bears fruit if it dies, and so Flynn learns that true life—life abundant—comes paradoxically through self-denial. And his transformation culminates in his literal physical death, from which he is raised to walk in newness of life.

But why does Flynn change? What is that causes him to rejoice, singing, “at last I’ve seen the light?” Simply put, he discovers what the Puritan Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” Flynn looked upon Rapunzel and found her to be exceedingly beautiful, kind, selfless, and everything else he was not; and his love for riches, fame, and his love for himself was overwhelmed by a greater love for Rapunzel.

Flynn is right; Tangled is a story about death, but not the kind of death we might first imagine. It’s about a man who dies to his old way of life and is born anew. In it we see a picture of the greater, transformative and saving power of Jesus Christ.

Trailer Tuesday: The Peanuts Movie

Posted: November 18, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Trailer Tuesday
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Document 1People sometimes quip, Ministry would be easy if you didn’t have to deal with people.  The same could be said of relationships – they would be easier if you didn’t have to deal with people.  The subtitle to Paul David Tripp and Timothy Lane’s book entitled Relationships aptly reads A Mess Worth Making.  If anyone were to sum up the story of Two Lovers in a word ‘Messy!’ would prove fairly accurate.

Two Lovers tells the story of a heart-broken man, Lenard Creditor (Joaquin Phoenix).  Lenard suffers from depression after his fiancé left him.  He now lives with his parents and works at his father’s dry cleaning business.  With little prospects in sight, he comes across Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw) and Michelle Rausch (Gwenyth Paltro) within a day of each other.  He is drawn to both of them, providing Lenard (and the viewer) with a difficult decision.  That is, until you get to know them.

The film accurately portrays the complexities of relationships.  Not so much through cliches of your typical rom-com fare, but by getting down to a heart-level.  It accurately displays the brokenness present in every human heart.  It accurately displays the truth that we all display a facade of tidiness towards those we meet in order to conceal the depths of depravity below the surface.

In a sense, Two Lovers is your anti-romantic comedy.  It wars against the cliched one-liners the male fires away at the female.  While those lines are fired away in Two Lovers, they often come out awkwardly and fall on deaf ears.  Not only are the lines not received well, but relationships aren’t sanitized, cookie-cutter style either.  There are deep problems of drug addiction and past sins, that display a difficulty in relationships that aren’t a quick fix.

Not only does the film capture the complexities of relationships, it also captures the deep need for them.  As Tripp and Lane explain in their book, we were made for relationships.  Being created in the image of a triune God – who is in perfect relationship with himself – we don’t have a choice but to be in relationship. Sharing in fellowship with other individuals is something that’s in our DNA.  Sin, however, doesn’t make this relating all that easy, but it doesn’t keep it from being a human necessity either.

Two Lovers is a messy film.  It has content that will bother some Christians (utilize the fast-foward).  That being said, its display of sin wreaking havoc in individual’s lives, as well as, the need for humans to be in relationship with others, gives a realism that’s often cleaned up before its portrayal on the big screen.  I think a film like this proves that we want redemption.  We don’t like messy stories.  We often want stories that are cleaned up and have a happy ending.  And while you can say there is a happy ending in Two Lovers, the rocky path on the way there will prove too bumpy for most.

Big Hero 6: Spoiler-Free Thoughts

Posted: November 13, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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MV5BMjI4MTIzODU2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjE0NDAwMjE@._V1__SX1392_SY676_Earning an impressive $56.2 million on its opening weekend, Disney’s Big Hero 6 outgrossed Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Interstellar.[1] The fact that family-friendly films are typically more successful at the box office than those aimed at an adult audience aside, these box office results are an indication that Disney has done something very special in their latest film. Based on a series of Marvel comics by the same name, Big Hero 6 is in many ways a superhero film for kids. And like its live-action counterparts, it boasts wonderfully fun fight scenes that will assuredly have your young ones begging for action figures. What sets it apart from other superhero movies, however, is that it is more than a highly-charged, action-driven animated film attempting to ride in on the back of Marvel’s hugely successful Guardians of the Galaxy. Big Hero 6, beneath all the action and comedy, is heartfelt and moving at its center—a pleasantly surprising combination of wit, spectacle, and emotion.

Set in the fictional city of San Fransokyo, Hero 6 introduces us to boy-genius Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter). Hiro has a talent for building robots and a penchant for using them to win money in illegal robo-battles, but his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), is constantly urging him to enroll in a prestigious robotics school. When Hiro finally decides to give up his life of crime and apply to the school, an unforeseen catastrophe (no spoilers here) causes everything to unravel. Now, Hiro and his four friends must band together to set everything right and uncover the truth behind an emerging mystery. Joining them on this quest is the lovable and squishy, Baymax (Scott Adsit), a robot invented by Tadashi to function as a personal healthcare assistant. Together they form the Big Hero 6.

The film is, then, an origin story wherein the characters themselves are more interesting than their superhero alter-egos. Far too many comic book films are predicated upon the extraordinary exceptionalism of their heroes, thus making the real world seem dull and boring to people who can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, or shoot webs out of their wrists, or turn big and green when they’re angry. Big Hero 6, on the other hand, is unique in that it celebrates, embraces, and rejoices in the mundane and ordinary—which is actually shown to be quite fantastic in its own right. Hiro and his friends, GoGo, Fred, Honey Lemon, and Wasabi don’t have any special powers or magical abilities; they’re basically nerds who are really good at problem solving and building robots (and Baymax is more of a slow and portly nurse than a superhero—at least at first). The group transforms Baymax into an armor-plated fighting machine, and they even transform themselves; but they discover that their intelligence, perseverance, and friendship with each other are their most valuable assets. It’s also worth mentioning that the motivations for creating this unlikely crime-fighting league have their basis in real human experiences—pain, sadness, and the desire to see justice done. Furthermore, Big Hero 6 provides an insightful look into the search for revenge—and its ultimate inability to satisfy; but, alas, it is difficult to speak more of this without spoiling. It is precisely this unwavering commitment to a character-driven, human-centered story that makes it so enjoyable to sit back and enjoy the action when it arrives—and arrive it does.

MV5BMTY2OTc2OTY0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODI4NjMwMDE@._V1__SX1392_SY676_Yet even as it thrills and charms, Big Hero 6 never strays far from the authentic emotional depth in which it is grounded. One particularly magical moment occurs as Hiro prepares Baymax for his first flight. Locking himself into specially designed places on Baymax’s armor-covered back, the duo rockets into the sky (the animation here is truly spectacular). After skimming the waters, performing aerobatic feats of fancy, and soaring high above the city of San Fransokyo, they finally come to rest atop a blimp floating high above a suspension bridge and linger over the setting sun, its bright rays transforming the sky into a palate of burning red and pink hues. What kind of film is this that, in the midst of all its technological revelry, encourages us to become enchanted with the world we inhabit?

In Big Hero 6, Disney has found that wonderful balance of lightheartedness, charm, emotional depth, and insight into the human condition that has made Pixar a household name. They’ve created a film that—deliberately or not—explores and grapples with the idea that we exist for something greater than ourselves.

Josh Larsen shared some thought-provoking insights on Interstellar and a theology of Imax over at Think Christian today:

Interstellar left me wanting in many respects, but the movie does come through in one big way. Very big. The use oInterf larg-screen Imax imagery not only nearly saves the picture, it also reveals some of the theological implications at the heart of this particular piece of movie technology.

Co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises), Interstellar includes sequences and individual shots that were captured with Imax cameras, allowing them to be projected, in full, onto gargantuan screens. (The theater at Chicago’s Navy Pier, where I saw Interstellar, has a screen measuring 60 feet tall by 86 feet wide.) And so this story – about an astronaut (Matthew McConaughey) sent through a wormhole to find a new world for the people of a dying Earth – gets an appropriately sized canvas.

Click the above link to read his piece in its entirety, and be sure to check back with us tomorrow for some spoiler-free thoughts on Big Hero 6.

 

 

Quote  —  Posted: November 12, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

Take a look at this new trailer. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Video  —  Posted: November 11, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

Cinema and the Sabbath: part 1

Posted: November 10, 2014 by jperritt in Uncategorized
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Remember-Sabbath1[This post might rub some readers the wrong way, but that's not its intent.  In all seriousness, this is something I'm wanting to think "out loud" about and learn from discussion.  So please, kindly respond with your thoughts in the comment section.]


An issue that seems to be continually on my mind is the Sabbath.  Sadly, I feel that the idea of sanctifying the Lord’s Day is something more Christians don’t seem to care about.  There are those Christians who would be on the Pharisaical side of the discussion, but then there are those who would lean toward an antinomian end of the spectrum, as well.  While I don’t want to try and earn my righteousness by following man-made laws, I also don’t want to ignore the Law that God gave his followers. (i)  Therefore, by God’s grace, I want to strive to know how I can best honor him on a day he set apart for his people.

So, here’s my question: Is watching a movie the night before the Lord’s Day worship a bad practice for Christians?

Let me say from the beginning that I think, doing almost anything, that keeps you up late to ensure you’re tired for worship the next day is a bad practice.  Whether it’s going to a party, watching television, attending a football game, reading a book, etc. – if you stay up late and you’re weary for worship, why go?  As Christians, we need to be as proactive as possible to ensure our worship honors the Lord.  This not only involves going to bed at a decent hour, it also involves – and this would be primary – preparing our heart, which gets to my question.

Let me go ahead and state that I don’t want to bind anyone’s conscience on this issue.  Therefore, if your conscience is free to watch whatever you like (within discernible biblical wisdom) the night before Lord’s Day worship, then that’s between you and the Lord.  However, what I have found to be true in my life, is that I often reflect on a film the following morning.  And, while I feel free before the Lord to watch certain films, there are films I don’t want to be reflecting on during worship.

There may be some who object to this and say, If you don’t want to reflect on these films in worship, why would you want to reflect on them at all?  This is a valid question, and I would simply say that I want to strive, by the Spirit, to keep my mind whole-heartedly devoted to the Lord and not reflect on much other than my sin and my Savior in worship.  In other words, I don’t want the Lord’s Day worship to be hindered by reflection on a temporal movie.

I also understand that there are some movies that stay with us a bit longer, so reflection on a film still might take place during worship even if there’s a day in between viewing.  Let me go ahead and state that there are also endless thoughts of movies from our childhood that may pop into our heads while sitting in worship.  Therefore, there’s no sure-fire practice to guard our broken minds from being distracted on the Lord’s Day worship.

Here’s what I do know: it doesn’t help my mind on Sunday mornings to watch a movie the night before.  You see, whenever discussions like this begin we often quickly dismiss them and attempt to assert our Christian liberty.  As I said, I don’t intend to assault your liberty or assert a pharisaical practice in your Christian walk.  All I can say is what I know to be true of my heart.  But, what I do know about my heart – and yours as well – is that our hearts are distracted.

However, our hearts are more than distracted, our hearts are at war.  Our hearts are at war with our flesh, the world, and the Devil.  This is always true, but I would say it’s especially true as we walk in the doors of God’s sanctuary.  Therefore, I don’t want to give my flesh something it can use against me the following day.

While I have more thoughts on this matter, I will end the matter for today.  These are thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head, so I figured I’d allow them to bounce around on the web for a while, and hopefully in your mind as well.  You’re welcome.


i – I also understand that there are many discerning believers that interpret the Sabbath day in a number of different ways.  For more on this, check out Perspectives on the Sabbath by: Christopher John Danato.

Weekend Reading Roundup

Posted: November 8, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Weekend Reading Roundup
  • Movie Titles with One Letter Removed [Readers may find some content offensive.]: We’ve all heard of Harry Potter, but few know about “Harry Otter,” where “a young boy finds out who, and what, he is.”
  • Honey I Shrunk the Kids . . . Literally and Figuratively: “The primary distractions come from the screens we carry around in our pockets and purse.  And, when we’re not carrying them, we’re passing them off to our children to distract them for a moment’s peace.  Bluntly put, we are masters at shrinking each other”
  • Fury and the Horrors of War: “A testimony to Ayer’s skill as a filmmaker and writer, Fury avoids the two most common pitfalls of war films, the first of which is a tendency to present a cardboard cutout depiction of American soldiers as flawless supermen, while the second—and opposite—is to thinly disguise an anti-American political diatribe as a feature film.”

Video  —  Posted: November 7, 2014 by jperritt in Uncategorized

Fury and the Horrors of War

Posted: November 6, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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MV5BMjA4MDU0NTUyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQxMzY4MjE@._V1__SX1394_SY676_Fury opens with a long shot of a soldier on horseback slowly riding toward the camera, amid a foggy and desolate landscape. After holding this shot for an uncomfortable amount of time, the rider mercifully changes directions, veering off to the left and thus prompting the camera to track along with him. This evolving shot slowly reveals a battlefield strewn with destroyed tanks. We watch—still in a long shot— as the unidentifiable solider rides through the rubble, surveying the damage. A man quickly emerges from a nearby tank, tackles the soldier off his horse, and begins to assault him. Complementing this sudden appearance is the accompanying quick cut to a closeup of this hand-to-hand combat. The two men struggle, but the attacker deals a fatal blow when he stabs his victim in the head. Welcome to Fury.

The film, a WWII action/drama set in 1945, follows an American tank crew making a final push for victory in Germany. Sent on a mission to rescue American soldiers behind enemy lines, they encounter trouble as they are forced to face the more advanced German tanks. Leading the war-weary Fury crew is the attacker from the aforementioned opening scene, the battle-hardened Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). Manning the Fury’s cannon is Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), who is respected by everyone and (as his nickname suggests) is characterized by his devout Christian faith. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is the rookie transferred from a non-combat position who stands in contrast to the experienced duo of Gordo Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal). With a plot that reads like a generic sort of war film that we’ve seen a million times, the real magic of Fury is that it is, in reality, a thoughtful and artful addition to the genre.

In many ways, the film’s opening scene, in its dramatic use of the closeup, is a microcosm of the film as whole. Fury is a brutal, personal, and intimate meditation on war—albeit in a completely different sense than, say, Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. Director David Ayer puts the audience inside the tank named Fury, which then becomes the perfect vehicle for exploring the themes of the horrors of war, the nature of man, and the meaning of valor. Most of the shots in this film are tight closeups that encourage the viewer to identify and sympathize with the protagonists. The sound, which often emanates from a character’s perspective, also helps solidify this kind of intimate viewing experience. In other words, Fury is character-driven in a way that challenges the conventional function of violence in the war movie. While there is certainly an element of the standard violence for spectacle’s sake here, Ayers seems unusually determined to make the audience see the ugliness of war and death.

A testimony to Ayer’s skill as a filmmaker and writer, Fury avoids the two most common pitfalls of war films, the first of which is a tendency to present a cardboard cutout depiction of American soldiers as flawless supermen, while the second—and opposite—is to thinly disguise an anti-American political diatribe as a feature film. It makes for a grueling 2 hours and 15 minutes, and—as much as any film in recent memory—it makes you long for a day when there will be only peace and no war.