Gotham and the Origin of the Origin Story

Posted: October 24, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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[Editor's Note: We're committed to illuminating film through the lens of Scripture here at Reel Thinking and as such, this post is a bit outside of our usual repertoire. However, we saw fit to discuss Gotham because it has some bearing on and relationship with the movie universe. We will not be discussing TV shows on a regular basis at Reel Thinking.]

A young police officer is called out on a murder investigation. He arrives on the scene, a dark and dingy alleyway, to find that a couple has been murdered. Ignoring his partner, who is more interested in shirking his responsibilities than solving the case, the young officer makes his way over to the only known witness—a young boy, shocked and frightened, named Bruce Wayne. So begins one of the most-anticipated TV shows of the fall: Gotham.

The premise of Gotham is far from unique: a young Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie)—the future Commissioner for Gotham Police Department—arrives in the iconic, crime-riddled city of Gotham and pledges to undo the corruption therein. Adding to this already difficult challenge is the fact that the Gotham P.D. is corrupt. It’s not so much that local gangs have moles in the police department, either; in Gotham, the mafia runs the town and essentially owns the police department. Gordon, of course, is the exception to this rule, and thus his mission is clear from the outset. Moreover, this setup begs an interesting question: will Gotham, in an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience, end up looking like the stereotypical, solve-a-murder-a-week television cop show, or will there be more of an overarching narrative as Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) attempt to find out who killed Bruce’s parents? The answer to the first side of this question, given the overall feel of the show to this point, appears to be no; for the most prominent feature of the first few episodes of Gotham is that it is packed full—too packed some critics have said—of encounters with Batman’s future enemies. The forensics expert at Gotham P.D. is Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), the Riddler. Working as minion in one the city’s most notorious gangs, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), the Penguin, is set up to play a central role in upcoming episodes. Carmine Falcone (John Doman) is the big baddie, and Poison Ivy (Clare Foley) also makes an appearance. Gotham is, then, clearly set up as an origin story show.

Origin stories are not new, and Batman origin stories are far from rare. Everyone knows how Bruce Wayne—the boy who watched his parents die— became Batman. Everyone knows, and yet an estimated 8 million people watched the first episode of Gotham.[1] Why? Why do we still want to see young Bruce’s story? Why are we curious about the rise of Jim Gordon, and why do we enjoy seeing Batman’s enemies before he’s around to fight them? These questions can be answered in a number of ways. One answer is that people love the Batman universe and are, therefore, naturally interested in anything that gives them more of it. There is some truth to this claim, no doubt, but it doesn’t account for the fact that many people who watched the show are probably not Batman fanatics. [2] It could be that people are intrigued with Gotham because it’s usually Batman who gets the spotlight, and so a show focusing on Gordon is unique. Then again, perhaps the marketing team just did a fantastic job selling the show. There is some truth to each of these responses; however, there is, it seems, an much simpler underlying factor that needs to be considered.

People are drawn to origin stories like Gotham because we are obsessed with origins. That is, people want to know how things began—how things got to be the way they are today. Origin stories meet that need; they promise to answer our why questions. In Gotham, we have the promise of getting to see why Jim Gordon is Jim Gordon, Police Commissioner of Gotham Police Department. What shows like this reveal to us, then, is that there is something in our nature—our design—that compels us to search out stories about beginnings in order that we may better understand life (and our role in it). At its most basic level,Gotham reveals and awakens in us an ancient desire—a desire that goes all the way back to, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).


  1. http://insidetv.ew.com/2014/09/23/gotham-ratings/  ↩
  2. For instance, I am Superman fan; and although I like the Caped Crusader, I’m not necessarily among those rushing out to see or read everything Batman.  ↩

Batman v Superman: 4 Reasons to Get Excited

Posted: October 23, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

A couple of weeks ago, John shared some “reasons to hope” in the upcoming Star Wars movie. Now it’s my turn, and this week I want to give you some reasons to get excited about the Batman v Superman film. First, let me start off by saying that I am a huge Superman nerd and was initially very disappointed to hear that it will be a while before we get to see The Man of Steel in another solo movie. I got over it quickly, however; and apprehension soon turned into thrill.

In addition, those of you who follow movie news at all are aware that as plot points, casting rumors, and leaked footage have emerged, skeptics have been increasingly vocal. One of the perennial issues with superhero movies is that studios must appeal to a massive audience, while also trying to satisfy some of the comic book fans—of which I am included—who know and love these characters in mediums other than film. Ultimately, though, the purpose of these films is to make money (a lot of it); and as a result, the diehard fans will never be satisfied with every decision a director or producer makes. Some have ardently opposed the casting of Ben Affleck (more on that later); others have complained that the film will be surfeited with characters—friend and foe alike (a valid concern, in my estimation). That being said, there are several reasons that I’m really, really excited about this movie … and I think you should be too.

BATMAN v SUPERMAN

Sometimes the title tells you all you need to know. We get to see Batman and Superman fight! Knowing that Superman is the best—and would win that battle every time (I’m looking at you, Frank Miller)—doesn’t lessen the anticipation at all. It’s one thing to see this in a graphic novel or in a DC animated film; but to see it on the big screen, with director Zack Snyder at the helm, is a whole new ballgame.

Yet another of the manifold reasons people will flock to theaters to see The Dark Knight face off against Supes is that we are somehow attracted to cinematic spectacle that helps us feel our own smallness. We all need to be reminded that “we are but dust” (Psalms103:14), and at their best, massive action scenes can remind us of this truth. The Batman/Superman fight can remind us that we are very weak.

On the other hand, it just looks like a lot of fun, and it is important to remember that God is not opposed to fun.

BEN AFFLECK AS BATMAN

No, I didn’t make a mistake; this really is a reason to get excited. I know that we all like to think we can do a much better job than the people who get paid to make casting decisions, but let’s put all the outrage on hold until we’ve seen the performance. Remember, people weren’t all that excited about Heath Ledger being cast as the joker in The Dark Knight either. And not only is Affleck a Batman fan, he’s also a terribly underrated actor. His work in Gone Girl should have erased any doubts about his acting chops.

RELEASE DATE

The fact that this film has a 2016 release date is another reason for great anticipation. Let me explain. A long countdown means that Zack Snyder and company have ample time to get it right and give us the movie we want to see. There will likely be advance screenings, cuts and recuts, and hours upon hours of editing—all in an effort to make the the best (read: most profitable) film possible. Basically, we can have faith that the filmmakers—from now until 2016—will be doing everything within their power to make the year-plus wait worthwhile.

DAWN OF JUSTICE

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will actually be a part of the larger DC Universe. The film’s subtitle is DC’s promise that they are paving the way for the Justice League movie, which is slated to release in 2017. Yeah, the gauntlet has been thrown down, and Marvel finally has some competition!

This sort of world-building is a timely indication that—no matter what the postmoderns say—metanarratives aren’t dead. And finally, we should all get excited about Batman v Superman because you can rest assured that, in the end, they will join together in the fight for justice; for that is the mark of a true superhero

Wednesday’s Weekday Poll

Posted: October 22, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized, Wednesday's Weekend Poll
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We’ll be featuring some Batman themed posts later this week, so here’s our question for you:

 

In case you missed it last week.

12_Years_A_Slave_PosterArtI’m very hesitant to write about such a sensitive historical event.  Prior to watching this film, I had told myself that I wouldn’t be doing a post on this.  In many ways, writing eloquently about a topic such as slavery is something outside of my gifting.  However, instead of writing in-depth about the film, I thought I would simply highlight a few themes that struck me while watching.  12 Years a Slave falls into the category of movies everyone should watch.  Below are a few reasons why:

Depravity

If this movie teaches us anything, it is the depravity of mankind.  My wife and I couldn’t help but ask, Were people really that wicked?  We both know our theology and we believe in the the doctrine of original sin, but how could people be that cruel?  How could people treat fellow image bearers in such a wicked way?  This movie displays the depths of wickedness we are all capable of.  It shows the dark, evil that lurks in all of our hearts.  It should humble us all to know that we are capable of those same sins.

Freedom

In a conversation between Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Bass (Brad Pitt), I was reminded about the gift of my freedom.  Bass makes the statement that his freedom is “everything to him” and remarks of his taking for granted being able to walk off the plantation at any time.  This too, made me realize how often I take my freedom for granted.  To be honest, I rarely give a passing thought to the cost of my freedom and the luxuries my freedom offers me.  This film gave me a small glimpse into the blessings I’m afforded every day.

Hatred

If this movie doesn’t move you towards hatred, I don’t know what will.  Of course Scripture commands us to be angry (Eph. 4:26), but we are to guard towards sinful anger.  This movie caused me to feel anger towards racism, slavery, wickedness, but I had to be cautious not to hate white people, in general.  Movies like this – if we’re not careful – can stir up feelings of hatred over past sins.  While I’m baffled by the blind racial hatred by our previous culture, I was reminded to guard myself against hating those responsible.  Rather, I’m forced to think about the blind-spots of our current culture?  What sins will the next generation hate us for?  How are similar sins currently being manifested?

Enslavement

This film also helped me to grasp a deep theological truth.  Towards the end of the film, the proper authorities show up presenting Solomon’s freedom papers to his slave master – Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender – btw, phenomenal performance by Fassbender!).  As Epps views these authorities taking his “property”, he becomes furious.  He screams, he threatens, his rage spews through his words and actions, but he can do nothing to Solomon.  In fact, Solomon is told, Pay no attention to that man.

As Christians, we too were enslaved.  We had a hard master who still screams at us, mistreats us, and makes us live in constant misery.  However, the truth is, we have One who calls us out of slavery and tells us to pay no attention to that man.  All the devil can do is threaten and disrupt our peace.  While that causes us misery each and every day, we no longer belong to that master.  We have a master whose yoke is easy and burden is light. (Matt. 11:30).

While I don’t think it was my best picture, it was deserving of the Best Picture – well acted and executed by the filmmakers.  As I said, this is a film every Christian needs to watch.  Some may protest that due to the rough content, but I find movies like this helpful to watch.  Helpful for the reasons listed above, but also helpful to assault the idols of comfort and ease in my heart.  So, rent 12 Years a Slave and be thankful for your freedom, and think of ways in which you can stand against injustice in our current culture.

Weekend Reading Roundup

Posted: October 18, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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photo 3Warner Bros. announces 10 DC movies, including ‘Wonder Woman,’ ‘Green Lantern,’ and two ‘Justice League’ films: Catch up on WB’s big announcement, and let us know which film you’re most excited about by commenting.

A Statement on Movies for Youth Groups: “We also view the incarnation as instructional, because we have a Savior who entered a sinful world, not one who avoided it. Applying this to movies, we need to enter into stories of a broken world. Just as scripture does not shy away from depictions of sin, we too, need to watch movies that give accurate portrayals of life in a sinful world.”

Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media, and Entertainment: Check out this helpful review of a book that will likely be of interest to Reel Thinking readers.

Why We Go to the Movies: Film and Community: “We were—if only for two short hours—a part of a vibrant and enthusiastic community. Every quote spoken, every glow stick raised served as a reminder that we were part of something bigger than ourselves, while simultaneously uniting us around a shared goal—the desire to (dare I say) fellowship with others in watching, a testimony to our common humanity.”

Snapshots

Posted: October 17, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Snapshots

This Friday we hope to provide our readers with snapshots of films being released for the upcoming weekend. This will be a brief summary of films that will assist our readers in the area of discernment. Instead of searching other sites and reading lengthy articles, it’s our hope to provide a concise list of all the films of the weekend in one consolidated post. If you wonder why we don’t list the MPAA ratings, please click here. Sound off in the comments, letting us know what you’ll be seeing this weekend.

Fury is a WWII film about a tank unit that must carry out a secret mission in Nazi Germany.

Genre: Action/Drama

Content: Intense war violence and language 

 

The Best of Me  is the latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. It will likely be just like its predecessors, and it won’t be all that surprising if one of the protagonists dies at the end.

Genre: Romance

Content: Bad acting, sexuality, violence, and langage

 

• The Book of Life is an animated tale, rooted in Mexican culture, about a young man who is transported to a magical land and must overcome many obstacles to win the heart of the girl he loves.

Genre: Fantasy/Children

Content: Action sequences, crude humor

I recently had the opportunity to attend a special event at a local movie theater—a Back to the Future Quote-Along. Since I wrote on Back to the Future not too long ago here at Reel Thinking, that’s not what I want to do with this post.[1] Instead, I want to focus on the event itself (the quote-along), drawing out some observations about cinema’s ability to create a sort of community and, thus, a communal viewing experience.
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My wife and I, along with a couple of friends, packed into a crowded theater on a Saturday night, eager to watch—for the umpteenth time—Robert Zemeckis’ time-travel classic. On our way in, we were instructed to stop by a booth and get props for the screening (see picture). We each grabbed a glow stick, a scratch-and-sniff card, a “save the clock tower” flyer, and a miniature skateboard. Before the movie started, an emcee made his way to the front of the theater to explain the rules of the game. “This is an interactive experience,” he told us; “wave your glow sticks when the DeLorean hits 88 miles per hour.” Holding up the clock tower flyer as an example, he instructed us to do likewise every time Marty was asked to give money to save the clock tower. The scratch-and-sniff cards should be ceremonially scratched and sniffed at appropriate times throughout the films; smells will correspond to what is shown on screen. When Marty rides around town on his skateboard, we could perform tricks with our miniaturized versions. Then, having explained the proper use of the props, our host told us how the quoting would work. At various times, words would appear on the screen, karaoke style, telling us when to quote and what to say. “Don’t you dare say the lines early and ruin the experience for every one else,” he warned, “and enjoy the Back to the Future!” The show began, amid scattered cheers throughout the crowd.

It was one of the most lively times of movie-watching I’ve ever experienced. Laughter was abundant. We waived our glow sticks with fervor, and jovially exclaimed, “Great Scott!” along with Dr. Emmet Brown; clock tower flyers were hoisted in the air. The scratch-and-sniff cards provided us with some pleasant (and some unpleasant) smells to enhance our viewing experience. We cheered when George McFly finally stands up to Biff, delivering the knockout blow. We quoted, and quoted, and quoted. Sometimes we even quoted things that didn’t appear on the screen in karaoke text. It was undeniably geeky … and a lot of fun.

A few days after the fact, I thought about the event and was struck by a lingering, persistent question: Why? Why did a room full of people pay to go see a movie they can buy—or rent for even less money? I own the entire trilogy on Blu-ray and can quote the entire first movie in the comfort of my living room; so why was I excited to go see it in theaters? Why did a bunch of allegedly sane adults wave glowing sticks in the air to cheer on a car in a Hollywood movie? Well, I think the answer can be encapsulated in a single word: community. [2]

In short, we all packed into that crowded theater that night because we really, really like Back to the Future, and we wanted to see it with others who feel the same way. We wanted the community experience that the quote-along promised to provide. We were—if only for two short hours—a part of a vibrant and enthusiastic community. Every quote spoken, every glow stick raised served as a reminder that we were part of something bigger than ourselves, while simultaneously uniting us around a shared goal—the desire to (dare I say) fellowship with others in watching, a testimony to our common humanity. This language is hopefully familiar to Christian readers, for we are united in the crucified and resurrected God-man. United as a church, we proclaim our Lord’s death in the taking of the sacraments. And in His amazing and mysterious world, something as simple as a night at the movies can remind us that we were created for relationship.


  1. I will, however, talk about the movie as if you have seen it. If you haven’t, you truly must see it soon.  ↩
  2. In truth, there is a multiplicity of ways in which we can approach this question. I am not saying that the need for community is the only reason that people go to special events like quote-alongs. I maintain, however, that the claims presented herein are applicable—on some level—to the majority of spectators.  ↩

Wednesday’s Weekday Poll

Posted: October 15, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized, Wednesday's Weekend Poll
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I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re Brad Bird fans here at Reel Thinking. What is your favorite Brad Bird movie? Let us know by voting in our poll. 

Picking a Youth Group Movie

Posted: October 15, 2014 by jperritt in Uncategorized
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[Note: I posted this a while back, but thought it'd be appropriate to post again in light of our youth retreat this weekend.]

In case you’ve never read my bio under our ‘Who We Are’ tab, I am a youth pastor at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church. One defining characteristic of the ministry I have attempted to establish is solid teaching/doctrine/theology being primary to, more fun. I know these students need the saving power of the gospel, not whip cream on their face. I know the Word of God is the only thing that can change their heart, not more entertainment that makes the church ‘fun’.

That being said, we still have a lot of fun in this youth group. We still have time for fun and games, but we don’t sacrifice the teaching of the gospel to do so. And, one of those common events we regularly do as a youth group is hosting a movie night.

Whether we go to the movie theater or rent a movie off Apple TV and watch it in the youth room, a night like this fits straight into our philosophy of ministry. A movie night provides a unique context for fellowship that can deepen relationships with students, the church, the staff, and, ultimately, Jesus Christ. We know God uses, seemingly, fun events to accomplish eternal purposes.

The biggest difficulty with youth movie nights? Picking a movie.

G-rated is always the safe way to go, because those films were created pre-fall and have been preserved for moments with the family. However, we know G-rated doesn’t fly too well for teens. If you announce a youth movie night and state that the movie is rated ‘G’ you can go ahead and plan on ordering one pizza (medium size/thin crust), because it’s going to be a small turnout.

On the other hand, you announce that you’re hosting a movie night with an R-rated film and the room is probably going to be just as empty. Parents won’t allow their teens to watch an R-rated film, your phone will be ringing off the hook with concern, and the Session will probably be scheduling a meeting with you soon.

That leaves you with three choices: PG, PG-13, or canceling the movie night. The thing about PG movies is that most of them are cartoons. But, if you announce you are watching a cartoon to the youth group, most students won’t come to that either. Especially if they’re junior high. They typically aren’t secure enough to admit that they like cartoons. Somewhere in high school, you realize that you can like cartoons again, but in junior high you’re fighting to be older and a cartoon doesn’t seem to support that. Therefore, PG is pretty much out because that leaves you with only cartoons or cheesy films that no one typically watches (Pixar is an exception here).

Which brings us to PG-13. These are appealing to teens, because they typically have enough sin in them to entice their rebellious heart, however, the parents are on alert. If it’s an action movie you typically have to worry about violence. If it’s a comedy you pretty much have to worry about everything you do in an R-rated movie, the only exception is the content is now implied. If it’s a rom-com, you just have to worry about idolatrous thoughts of love and marriage being fed to your teens.

Therefore, it’s easy to see that it is almost impossible to pick a movie for a youth group. What the parents like the students hate, and what the students like the parents hate. It’s a challenge. However, here are some thoughts for parents, teenagers, and youth workers:

  • We live in a sinful world, so our movies won’t be sinless.
  • Try to not place too much emphasis on the movies’ rating (I’ve written a lot on that here.)
  • Consider the manner in which the content is being communicated.
  • Take time to communicate which film is being viewed and why.
  • Train students to think during the film and not just consume it.
  • See film as a form of general revelation [Ps. 19; Rom. 1].
  • Know that corruption comes from within [Mark 7:14-23].
  • See the fellowship that is fostered through a movie night.
  • See the church as a safe place to view questionable content and discuss it.
  • See the Creator behind the creation and thank him for the gift of film.