IncrediblesSo, my family and I were watching The Incredibles for the 53rd time and I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before.  For those of you who have already seen the film, be patient for just a moment.

TI is about a family of superheroes who fight to save the world.  Mr. Incredible fell in love with Elastigirl and they made a family of supers.  As happy as all of this sounds, they actually have to live in hiding, so to speak.  You see, Mr. Incredible was doing his “thing” saving people and put supers around the world in jeopardy.

While Mr. Incredible was on top of a building, he saw a would-be jumper and dove to save him from his sure death.  While he was saving this suicidal citizen he stopped a bank robbery and saved an elevated train from plummeting to the earth.  However, through all of his heroic acts, he discovered that some of these people did not want to be saved.  Therefore, the supers were sued and forced into hiding because some people just didn’t want to be saved.

The nuance I noticed on this viewing was the name of the individual Mr. Incredible saved – Mr. Sansweet.  This was the one individual that destroyed the supers’ organization.  This was the one individual who brought destruction to a people attempting to save humanity.  This one individual wanted to end his life and his selfishness led to widespread destruction.  His name – Sansweet.  It struck me that the word “sans” means “without”.  Therefore, you could say that his name literally means “Without Sweetness”.  In other words, this guy was without sweetness and worked in such a way to bring destruction.

Mr. Sansweet (without having any prior knowledge of him) wanted to end his life.  Maybe he was in financial trouble?  Maybe he was lonely?  Maybe no one showed him the love every human longs for?  Whatever the case, he decided to jump off of a building with the hopes of ending his life.  When, however, an individual (Mr. Incredible) decides to save his life, it drives Mr. Sansweet to hatred – not love.  He moves forward in a suit that would benefit him financially and bring about difficulty for the supers, as well as, the citizens who have been under their care.

This got me to thinking about humanity’s “Mr. Sansweet”.  There was this beautiful angel named, Lucifer.  He had happiness, unity, joy, but he was still unsatisfied.  Why?  He was self-focused.  Instead of being happy with unimaginable joy, he wanted more.  Therefore, he pursued suicide over joy.  He left the life that was graciously given to him and dove head-first into a suicidal path of destruction.

You see, Satan did not appreciate the love he was lavished.  He did not rest content in the life that was created and granted to him.  Instead he selfishly sought for more.  He was Mr. Sansweet.  In other words, he lacked sweetness.  He lacked love.  He lacked joy and his selfish act brought about a path of destruction ever since his appearance in the garden.

However, Love wouldn’t allow selfishness to have that last word.  Love didn’t stand to the side.  Love didn’t give up.  Love left His throne and made sure selflessness would reign supreme.  Instead of allowing the selfish suicide of “Mr. Sansweet” to reign supreme, Jesus allowed Satan to pursue another form of suicide – the cross.

As John Piper once said, the day Jesus died on the cross was the day Satan committed suicide.  You see, Satan knew he had lost.  Satan knew he had been defeated.  Satan knew that his selfish acts had not brought him life, rather, death.  All of that to say, Satan is our Mr. Sansweet.  He’s not a sweet guy – in fact, he’s pure evil.  However, we have a King who does not allow sin and selfishness to reign.  Instead, he brought a selflessness to this earth and it’s allowed peace and love to dominate this creation that’s filled with Mr. Sansweets like you and me.

Breach-movie-posterI am a huge fan of espionage films. To be more precise, I am a sucker for a particular sub-genre: the spy drama. While Daniel Craig’s Bond movies are enjoyable, and the Bourne trilogy is a personal favorite, my heart is with George Smiley (shame on you if you don’t know who he is) and company. Car chases and brilliantly choreographed fight scenes may be fun, but it’s the intellectual game of cat-and-mouse–counter-espionage, double agents, and things of the like–that really make the genre shine. So, when I sat down to watch Breach, I thought I knew what to expect. However, as I watched and thought, I found the movie confronting me in some very unexpected ways. It made me think about vocation and relationships.

Breach tells the true story of Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), an aspiring  FBI agent who is sent undercover to catch suspected agency mole Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). In order to catch Hanssen, O’Neill must leave his current post—the high-profile tracking and monitoring of potential national security threats—and take an ostensibly boring and thankless desk job as Hanssen’s personal assistant. O’Neill is told to send daily reports detailing Hanssen’s activities. And while O’Neill believes this assignment is a hinderance to his professional aspiration of becoming an agent, he does what is asked, typing out meticulous reports day after day. In addition to the low-profile assignment, O’Neill has to put up with Hanssen’s overbearing personality. Later in the film, a weary and bored O’Neill is informed of the true nature of his assignment. He is told that Hanssen is the biggest traitor in U.S. history, and that they are trying to build a case against him. O’Neill works with a renewed vigor. The problem is that the assignment forces him to keep odd hours and be on call all at all times of the day, which creates friction between O’Neill and his wife Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas).  Juliana is frustrated by Eric’s lack of attention, and she fears for his safety. Eric becomes preoccupied and dismissive. The two begin to fight on a regular basis. This marital conflict, I believe, is one thing that makes Breach work as a narrative. We are situated somewhere between Eric and Juliana; we desperately want to see Hanssen captured, but we also want to see the O’Neill’s marriage healed. These central conflicts compel us to think and care about the principal characters.

On a personal level, Breach made me think about my calling as an employee and as a husband. First, Breach made me reflect on the fact that my job is more than a source of income; it is a vocation, a calling from God. In the daily grind and rush, I forget this truth far too often. It is easy to see a job as just another set of tasks to be completed, when it is really an opportunity to bring glory to Christ. When I go to work, I am a reflection of God, who created the cosmos, who is constantly working his sovereign will. The second thing Breach spurred me to reflect on is my calling as a husband. I know that like Eric O’Neill, I have a natural, sinful tendency to get caught up in my work at the expense of my relationship with my wife (and I’m quite sure that I am not alone in this regard). As I sat and watched the conflict between husband and wife unfold in Breach I was reminded of my high calling as a husband–a reminder I need daily. Breach shows that being good at your job is a very good thing, but that doing so to the neglect of your relationships is vanity.

This point is driven home near the film’s end [spoiler alert], where O’Neill is offered a position as an agent. He is told that his wife will learn to adjust. However, O’Neill has seen the danger and is not willing to let his wife play second fiddle; he rejects the offer and resigns.  O’Neill loves his wife more than he does his job. He wants to be a good husband and a good worker. In this, Breach provides at least one instance in which it would not be a bad thing for life to imitate art.

“There is something coming that is out of my control.”

philomena-title-bannerPhilomena tells the story of a woman’s search for her son.  Philomena (Judi Dench) had a child out of wedlock, was forced to live in a convent, and could only see her child for an hour a day, until he was given away to his adopted parents.  The movie is truly heartbreaking in many ways, and the fact that it is true makes it a difficult film to watch.  However, the film is also filled with some humor, thanks to the journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan).  Both Coogan and Dench have a great chemistry in the film.

This is a film I think everyone should watch.  Yes, it does have some language and difficult content, but it also communicates truths about self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and forgiveness everyone would do well to reflect on.  It is a powerful film, to say the least.  And, it definitely was deserving of the Oscar nomination for Best Picture (it lost to 12 Years a Slave).

[There will be spoilers from here on]

Sixsmith is approached by Philomena’s daughter and convinced to write a human interest piece on this story.  Their investigation takes them to the United States with the hopes of finding Philomena’s son, Anthony/Michael.  She knows he would be in his fifties now and Philomena wonders if he’s happy.  Has he had a good life?  Was he loved by his mother and father?  Does he even remember Philomena or Ireland?  These were just some of the questions rolling around in her mind.  Something that bounced around in my mind was this, Even if they do find him, she has still missed his childhood – how tragic.

Sadly, their search leads them to discover that Anthony (adoptive name, Michael) passed away eight years ago.  All of the searching, all of Philomena’s hopes, all of her happy endings seem ruined.

In one of the most powerful scenes in the film, Sixsmith forces his way into see one of the nuns responsible [Sister Hildegarde] for the mother/child separation.  He peppers her with question we would all ask.  He yells at her.  He says all the things we wish we could say to this horrible woman and the tragic events she brought about in Philomena’s life.  I found myself almost cheering Sixsmith along.  However, the Sister retorts that this life is all Philomena’s fault for her sin.  She deserved every bit of what came to her.  She says it is God’s judgment.  What the Sister doesn’t realize is that Philomena is around the corner.

As Philomena comes into view, she doesn’t berate the Sister, rather, she questions Sixsmith.  Sixsmith is puzzled by her lack of anger towards the convent and is curious why she isn’t infuriated.  She then looks at Sister Hildegarde and says the most powerful statement she could make, I forgive you.  And that statement rocked me to my core.

I wanted her to scream at the Sister.  I wanted her to have some wittily, condemning statement that would get the point across, but the truth is - I forgive you – is the most powerful statement one could utter.

Philomena helped me see with fresh eyes the power of forgiveness.  It helped me see my self-righteous, judgmental tendencies, like those in the convent.  It helped me see that a lack of forgiveness is an exhausting way to live.  But, most importantly it helped me to see the forgiveness of Christ.  You see, I have committed much more evil against him then the women in the convent.  I am much worse than anything film could ever portray.  But, Christ looks at me and says, I forgive you.  John, you have loved other false gods.  You have sinned agains the Father and nailed me to the cross, but I forgive you.

Philomena is one of those rare films that can leave a lasting impact on its audience.  Like I said, it rebukes, encourages, and shines a light on the power of forgiveness.  Everyone would do well to watch it and see themselves as the self-righteous nuns and Sixsmith in the story.

[This post is spoiler-free. Read without fear.]

Snowpiercer-Movie-Poster-Chris-EvansMany reviewers have praised Snowpiercer precisely because it is a blend of dystopian anti-capitalism political piece and gritty action-thriller; however, if said mixture is composed of two parts pickle juice and one part Kool-Aid, is it really all that tasty? Like the speeding train on which the story unfolds, the movie turns around and around in narrative circles. Here is the rhythm: an action scene is followed by a section of dialogue, which, by the way, is not used to develop characters but to highlight the ostensibly subtle political subtext. In other words, Snowpiercer cannot decide what it wants to be—a piercing, unidealized action film, or a preachy socio-political commentary. There is a tension in this film between sections of Snowpiercer and Snowpreacher; this tension is never resolved, and the film is muddled as a result. The problem with Snowpiercer stems not from its predictability but its repetitiveness—its ceaseless alternation between violence and politics.

As Flannery O’Connor said, a reasonable use of the unreasonable can be a good thing. In this regard, Flannery was a master at practicing what she preached. Snowpiercer, however, is a very violent film (most of the combat is hand-to-hand and ruthlessly brutal) that is not the least bit reasonable in its approach to cinematic butchery. The audience is repeatedly confronted with wave after wave of bloodshed——a violence that neither propels the narrative forward nor knows the power of restraint—as Curtis (Chris Evans) leads his band of proletariat revolutionaries to the front of the train. Snowpiercer continues to supply unnecessary action scenes when none are needed—as if the audience is too daft to understand that the revolution is a bloody affair. In short, the violence is over-the-top, redundant, and little more than a poorly executed attempt to counterbalance the film’s preachiness.

The politics of Snowpiercer are far from subtle; they are very much on-the-nose, in fact. Critics who claim otherwise are, perhaps, blinded by their own political predilections. Nevertheless, the real trouble with Snowpiercer is that it pushes its political agenda at the expense of story. Instead of devoting screen time to character development, Joon-ho Bong (the writer/director) created clunky, unwieldy sections of dialogue in which the characters over-explain the train’s class system and retell the story of how the planet was accidentally frozen in an attempt to combat global warming. Such scenes are replayed in slightly different contexts on multiple occasions—just like the scenes of violence.

The result of the mishmash of gritty Sci-fi action and political critique that is Snowpiercer is a story in which it is very difficult to take interest—an unfortunate state of affairs considering that the movie has some real strengths and a considerable amount of potential. The cinematography is superb; the film’s grim realism is masterfully reinforced by dark visuals. Lower-class characters look so grungy that it is as if the movie was shot using grainy film stock. In this way, it is a strangely (and ironically) beautiful film. In addition, the acting is a real treat. Chris Evans shows that he has some diversity in his acting toolkit, while Tilda Swinton infuses her villainous character with quirky life. Snowpiercer has all the makings of a fine movie, but a captivating story was sacrificed for the sake of an allegedly visionary agenda. Because of this, it fails.

The import of Snowpiercer is that the primary duty of a storyteller—a class to which filmmakers belong—is to tell a captivating, rich, and tightly-wound story[1]. Snowpiercer could have kept its political agenda and still created a good film, if only Joon-ho Bong had put as much care in his narrative and characters as he did his politics. Christians (and Christian filmmakers) should learn from these faults. Unfortunately the major problem with Snowpiercer is the same issue plaguing the Christian film industry: sacrificing good storytelling for the sake of preaching.

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[1] Good storytelling and cultural criticism are not mutually exclusive. However, the latter should serve the former.

This post is a few years old, but decided to run it again because of Monday’s post.

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Hannibal Lecture, Norman Bates, & Darth Vader; three of cinemas greatest villains. According to the American Film Institute, these are the top three greatest villains of all time. The shark from Jaws, the alien from Alien, and the Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also made it in the top twenty.

What is it about these villains that make them better than the average villain? Why is it when we think of Darth Vader, for example, that we think, Yes! He’s an awesome villain. For starters, he’s got the force, his outfit is pretty cool, and his voice/breathing has left a lasting impression on culture (thanks James Earl Jones). But, he also crushes a man’s neck in Episode IV, as well as, cutting off several other character’s breathing, ending their life. Is that good? Does that make him awesome?

We at Reel Thinking, recently composed a list of the top villains/henchmen in the James Bond franchise. It got me thinking, should we really cheer for the bad guys? What criteria do we use to judge whether or not a villain is a ‘good’ villain? Or, is it okay to like the villain in some cases?

According to AFI’s criteria, they state,

For voting purposes, a “villain” was defined as a character(s) whose wickedness of mind, selfishness of character and will to power are sometimes masked by beauty and nobility, while others may rage unmasked. They can be horribly evil or grandiosely funny, but are ultimately tragic.*

This is a carefully crafted definition, but ultimately it’s praising crafty, wickedness or, simply, in-your-face evil. Let’s consider each of these in turn.

Craftiness

The AFI definition states that the wickedness and evil is sometimes masked by beauty and nobility; i.e. craftiness. When I hear the word ‘crafty’, I think of Satan. In Genesis 3:1 we read that the serpent was more crafty than all the other animals. The serpent was wicked, yet there was something attractive about him. His evil wasn’t repulsive or Adam and Eve would have run in the other direction. His wickedness had an appeal, or beauty if you will, that made Adam and Eve run to him, resulting in the Fall of mankind. Therefore, we can say that evil sometimes possesses a certain level of beauty and appeal.

In-Your-Face-Evil

Some of the villains on the AFI list are those who rage unmasked or are considered horribly evil. Villains like Freddy Krueger, the shark from Jaws, and Terminator from The Terminator. We wouldn’t say that these villains possess a lot of beauty. I know a shark is part of God’s creation, so we can say they possess a certain level of beauty. However, if you were swimming in open water and you spotted a great white racing towards you, I doubt you would think – What beauty that creature possesses!

Some of the villains on the silver screen are pure evil. What is it about those villains that leave a lasting impression? They possess a certain level of power, justice, and wrath we appreciate.

Even though they may use those attributes in a dishonoring way, the attributes, in and of themselves, are godly. We know God as all-powerful, or omnipotent. He is just. And because of his holiness, justice and love, he is wrath too. All of these attributes, however, are only used in a beautiful way that makes his glory known.

Therefore, I think we can appreciate villains. We must be cautious in cheering for the bad guy or taking pleasure in these godly attributes being employed in a villainous manner. However, these attributes, pre-perversion, can help us better understand our mighty God.

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*http://www.afi.com/100Years/handv.aspx

Trailer Tuesdays: Foxcatcher

Posted: July 8, 2014 by jperritt in Drama
Tags: , ,

“I’m going to give you everything I have.”

star-wars-one-sheet-style-aWhat could possibly be said about this movie?  It’s a classic?  It changed my life?  It’s the greatest movie ever?  All of those things are nonetheless true about George Lucas’s ground-breaking, trail-blazingin, sci-fi classic, but there was something truly special about watching it again this past weekend.  Let me back up a bit…

I grew up on Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  I had these movies memorized and, as far as I knew, these were the only series of movies that existed.  When I was younger I would dress up like Indiana Jones and I would quote these films to my fellow classmates on the playground…which explains why I didn’t have any friends (not true).  However, I remember (on more than one occasion) waking up my parents at night because I was traumatized by the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark - what kid witnessing Nazis melting wouldn’t?  All of this to say, I was a big fan of these series of films.

Therefore, showing any of these films to my children was going to be a momentous occasion.  My oldest children are 7 and 4, and they have asked a good bit about Star Wars.  We’ve checked out some SW books at the library and they have some cousins that are pretty obsessed (in a healthy way) with the SW franchise.  While I felt that they were too young for the Indiana Jones franchise (remember the melting Nazis), I felt that they could handle the adventures of Luke and Han with my edits (earmuffs) along the way.  And, since there were so many classic films on TV for the Fourth of July, I thought we would have our own classic celebration in the Perritt household.

So, the iconic title and John Williams’ score exploded on the small screen in our living room and my children will never be the same.  We cheered, we clapped, we were excited to see Darth Vader, as well as, the good guys appear in a story that continues to prove itself as a classic.  All of that to say, it was special.

I enjoyed Sarah holding on to my arm with concern for the rebel alliance.  I loved seeing Samuel smile to see storm troopers and Darth for the first time (not sure if I should be concerned that he likes the bad guys…I like them too).  What was really unique about this experience of Lucas’ classic was that I sort of experienced it for the first time again.

At every moment of concern for the good guys, or each victory of Luke and Han over the villains, I would watch my children witness it without prior knowledge.  I loved waiting in eager anticipation with Sarah, I applauded with Samuel as the Millennium Falcon dominated starships twice its speed.  To put it simply, I shared in a timeless piece of art with my children.

Why is that such a joy?  Why has SW hung on for so long?  Why do countless adults and children still turn to this story for pleasure?  Well, there are many elements we could point to.  Good vs. Evil.  Darth vs. Obi-Wan.  Luke vs. Han.  Whatever it is, this film will continue to live on from generation to generation.  And, I guess the only reason I’m turning this into a post is simply to highlight God’s grace.  I know I could make some parallels, but I just want to be thankful.  God doesn’t owe us anything.  Yes, the gift of his Son is paramount to all gifts.  But, a dimly-lit living room playing a classic sci-fi film with my kids is pretty good too.

World_War_Z_posterGenerally speaking, I don’t enjoy zombie movies. They’re just not my thing. I was shocked to discover that I had a desire to see World War Z; and while I still can’t explain my desire, I can offer a word of encouragement to those weighing the merits of watching it: it’s not a zombie movie per se. World War Z, while having its fair share of frightening moments, is more at home in the disaster/adventure genre. As a result, I enjoyed the movie more that I thought I would. It turned out that as I was watching, World War Z I had another surprise in store: it reminded me of the Old Testament book of Obadiah. Let me explain. One of the main themes of Obadiah is pride, and one way in which World War Z succeeds is in its accurate depiction of the pride of humanity. In order to illustrate this point, let me give a very brief overview of Obadiah before turning to World War Z. We’ll see that the two are not as unrelated as it seems.

Obadiah—the shortest book in the Old Testament—is essentially an oracle against Edom in which God promises to judge Edom for its pride (Obadiah 1:3). In Obadiah we see that the Edomites were prideful because of the supposed safety of their capital city (1:3), which was nestled in the high sandstone cliffs indigenous to the region. Their city could only be entered by one narrow pathway surrounded by cliffs. The city itself was built into the walls of the cliffs. Easily defended and heavily fortified Edom was thought to be impregnable. The strength and safety of their city led the Edomites to become prideful—to scoff at the idea that they could be defeated. “Who will bring me down to the ground?”(1:3) was their anthem of pride; and the pride of the Edomites is very similar to the pride of the people in World War Z.

World War Z showcases an Edom-esque sort of God-hating pride. We follow Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) around the world—from location to location—only to see safe places overrun and prideful people humbled. First, we are brought to a high-rise apartment complex in Newark where Gerry and his family take shelter with another family. The Lane family is soon evacuated, and the family that stayed behind—minus one young boy who followed Gerry out of the building—is killed by the zombies. Like the citizens of Edom, they were certain that their home could save them from impending doom. Gerry is later persuaded to accompany a virologist and a team of Navy Seals to a military base in South Korea to find the inception point of the zombie virus. However, the team is attacked; and Gerry is forced to flee—but not before he realizes that he must go to Jerusalem to find answers. Gerry arrives at  Jerusalem to find that the city has been turned into a massive fort, complete with massively tall walls that keep the zombies out of the city. The citizens and refugees of Jerusalem are so confident they are safe that they begin to sing a song of celebration. Attracted by the raucous singing, the zombies rush toward the wall, forming an undead ladder of sorts, and breach the city. The people’s pride leads to their downfall—just like in Obadiah. Gerry subsequently finds himself on a commercial airliner. He thinks he is safe, but (surprise) there is a zombie on board. The plane crashes, and Gerry barely survives. Yet again, the pride of the people in World War Z is strangely similar to the pride of the Edomites.

WORLD WAR Z

So, what hath World War Z to do with Obadiah? Quite a bit, actually. The truth which World War Z highlights is that humans are fundamentally prideful. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, testifies to this reality as well. Left to our own devices, we would forget God and take comfort in the counterfeit safety our nation or our home provides. Without Christ our only hope is that we are evolved enough to handle whatever nature throws our way. World War Z  and Obadiah bothshow that to be prideful is to be supremely foolish. In the end, even though it offers a counter-narrative to the modern humanistic notion that humans are basically good, World War Z fails to convince me that I need more zombie movies in my life.

Trailer Tuesday: The Judge

Posted: July 1, 2014 by jperritt in Drama
Tags: , ,

“Innocent people can’t afford me.”