passengersPassengers accomplishes something reminiscent of Cast Away and I Am Legend – the need for fellowship.  While audiences felt sympathy for Tom Hanks and Will Smith being secluded on islands – one a tropical island, the other Manhattan island – Passengers increases this feeling on the final frontier.

When we first meet Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) he’s just waking up from hyper-sleep…90 years too soon.  Not only is that just a tad too early, but he’s the only passenger, out of five thousand, who woke up too soon.

As he slowly gets acclimated to life on the spacecraft, Avalon, he quickly realizes he’s all alone.  His terrified reaction to this realization reminds us of the importance for community and fellowship.  Not only is this feeling enhanced when it’s set against the backdrop of the vastness of space, but it’s increased by the understanding that other humans are aboard the Avalon.  This presence of humanity only seems to taunt Jim’s solitude.

Jim gets a glimpse of humanity as he encounters a bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen), only to discover he’s a robot.  To Arthur’s credit, he does a superb job of acting human.  Just one example, Arthur constantly polishes glasses at the bar, even though Jim is the only customer aboard the ship.  When confronted with this truth, Arthur explains that it’s designed to comfort those he’s talking to.  Instead of staring into the eyes of Jim as he shares deep struggles, the distraction offered by polishing the glass comforts the patron.

Arthur even offers some advice to momentarily alleviate Jim’s predicament, “Quit trying to control everything.”  While this could be interpreted as a biblical truth – pointing to rest in God’s sovereignty – it becomes license to indulge.  Jim is all alone, but he has carte blanche access to every restaurant and drink available to Avalon guests.  Arthur’s advice grants reprieve to Jim’s loneliness, but it is short lived.  The emptiness of self-indulgence is on full display as Jim’s party comes crashing down.

The Moral Dilemma

As Jim reaches the end of himself – and the partying he enjoyed – he discovers a passenger that catches his eye.  He learns her name and tracks her down through the ship’s video log.  What begins as curiosity, becomes infatuation.  Jim watches the videos Aurora has left and begins to fall in love with her.  Sitting beside her sleep chamber, watching videos of her – simulating something of a date – Jim realizes his curiosity has only left him in greater misery.  He’s so close to human contact, and yet, so far away.

As he seeks advice from Arthur, he realizes the dilemma he’s created for himself: Wake a woman up too early and ruin the life she desired on another planet or continue to live and eventually die in isolation. One thing is for certain, neither is an appealing conclusion.

Movie-goers with a heartbeat understand this to be a true challenge for Jim.  Perhaps there are many who would claim, I’d never be that selfish.  The filmmakers, however, present such a clear picture of isolation and loneliness, one can’t help but feel Jim’s dilemma. 

One of the most poignant scenes in the film occurs from Jim’s discovery of a spacesuit.  As he sees the headless suit, he beings to embrace it and try to hold the hands of the suit.  For a fleeting second, he’s reminded of what it’s like to embrace another.  It is a powerful illustration of our need for community and displays the inner-wrestlings of Jim’s heart.

The Unintended Truth

This film does such a good job of communicating mankind’s innate desire for community.  Being created in God’s image necessitates community.  As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in perfect community with themselves, humanity is created with this desire for community – it’s hard-wired into us (Gen. 1:26-27).

An equally deep truth, and stronger theme in the film, was seen in Jim’s choosing of Aurora.  On the one hand, we understand that perhaps he was drawn to her beauty and then her personality through the video log, therefore, his choice of passenger is easy to grasp.  On the other hand, why didn’t he choose another man?  A buddy to hang out with?  A guy he could have played basketball or lifted weights with (he does both of those things on the Avalon)?

I was fascinated by the fact that Passengers unintentionally, most likely, illustrated one of the earliest truths of Scripture – It is not good that man should be alone (Gen. 2:18).  Just as Adam spent some time in the Garden of Eden and discovered he did not have a helper fit for him, Jim discovered that he needed – not just another image bearer – but a female.

Jim’s portrayed as a capable man in the film.  He’s a mechanic so he can fix things, he seems to be in good physical shape, he’s athletic, but he’s still incomplete.  He needs a woman.  Yes, another man would offer him community and fellowship he longs for, but there’s something about a female that’s unique.  There’s something she offers that man doesn’t.  The female is an image-bearer that bears the image of God in a manner man doesn’t.

In light of the differences between genders, I must tell viewers that there is some sexual content in the film.  While nothing is explicit, the film illustrates the sexual desires males and females have ingrained into their being.  I want to be sensitive and warn others of this content, and, while nothing is too explicit in this film, I wish they would have toned it down a bit.  At the same time, we are talking about one man and one woman secluded in space for a long time.  While Christian viewers may quickly look upon those scenes with understandable disdain, we also – I would suggest – should recognize the biblical truth of sexuality that’s being communicated onscreen.  I’m not condoning the content, but the truth.

As the film approaches its ultimate climax, Jim looks at Aurora and says, “I need your help.”  Jim, a very capable man, needs the woman and, as the film illustrates, Aurora needs Jim.  The man and the woman need one another to accomplish the task before them.  Ultimately, it is one man and one woman that keep civilization aboard the Aurora continuing.  Without the two of them coming together, the entire crew would not survive.

God’s Passengers

While so much of our culture wants to distort Scripture’s view of biblical manhood and womanhood, I feel that Passengers gives viewers a pretty accurate portrayal of what we find in God’s Word.  God created humans to be in fellowship.  God created male and female after his image.  God taught Adam he needed Eve.  Adam recited poetry as he first lays eyes on the beautiful creature he calls ‘woman’.

This side of heaven, our community and fellowship is imperfect.  Sin brings division among males and females, it brings division among races, and sin brings death which ushers in the most painful form of isolation to those left in its wake.

Truth be told, we are all passengers.  In this grand narrative called life, we are reminded that we aren’t the main characters.  The life we’re now living is not ours, but Gods.  He owns all things, even our stories.  While we are significance because we bear his image, we are merely passengers along for the ride.

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[Note: This was originally written at the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but never published.]

Star Wars seems to be everywhere you turn. It’s on the major news outlets – CNN, Fox, & NBC. It’s on endless magazine covers. It was on your children’s Christmas lists (and possibly some adult’s lists as well).   It’s even on theological websites.

The release of Star Wars: Episode 7 was historic and Rogue One continues to reign at the box office. It’s impossible to measure the impact this franchise has had on the cinema. Notable directors and actors state that their initial viewing of this film was a watershed moment in their life. The science fiction genre was not a money-maker at the box office until the release of Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. Thus, all the hype.

Iconic characters like Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, & Han Solo returned to the silver screen for the first time in decades. Even the beloved Millennium Falcon was back in action. While Rogue One gave us a list of new characters, familiar sights and sounds from the previous installments were present. Almost everyone’s back…except for the originator of the aforementioned Star Wars world, George Lucas.

The Original Creator

Last year there was an interview with George Lucas stating that those in charge of The Force Awakens didn’t want to involve him. For those who are unaware, Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise for $4 billion. Box office records show that it was a wise investment.

However, the very man who invented Luke Skywalker (initially called Starkiller), wasn’t even consulted. The man who wrote A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…sat back and wondered what was happening to the galaxy he thought up. George Lucas, who avoided major studio influence on his initial films by funding them with his own money, placed his creation in the hands of another.

Some may dismiss this thought and say, Well, Lucas did sell the rights. After all, why should we feel sorry for a man who’s counting his billions. However, there would be no hype, there would be no Force Awakens or Rogue One, had there been no George Lucas. One could even argue that there would be no Harry Potter, Hunger Games or film adaptation of Lord of the Rings literature had there been no George Lucas.

After the release of Episodes I-III, fans were ready for a change. Most despise these installments of the franchise, so it was clear that there had to be a marked difference with Episode VII and the ensuing Star Wars films. Here’s where I feel sorry for Lucas, however. It’s his story. It’s his world. It’s his cinematic vision. Yet, the movie-goers feel like they own the Star Wars universe. How dare George Lucas take this story in this direction! What was he thinking when he created Jar Jar Binks?! Why in the world did he cast Hayden Christensen as Anikan? So, I feel a bit sorry for all the criticism and down-right anger Lucas has endured from fans.

If it wasn’t for him, we would never have Episodes IV, V, & VI! He created them for movie-goers to enjoy – and enjoy they did. Yet now, we are ready for him to get out of the way and let us enjoy our Star Wars the way that we want it!

Don’t get me wrong, I was envisioning ways Jar Jar could be killed off in each ensuing episode. I was disappointed in all of the previous episodes, but I think in critiquing films sometimes we miss the humanity of the people we’re critiquing. We critique Star Wars as this thing that’s out there and forget there’s an image-bearer attached to it. I really wonder how Lucas feels.

Think about it. You can’t turn a television on right now or get on the Internet without seeing something about Rogue One. You can’t go anywhere without hearing how much critics and fans love this one immensely more than the prequels. Yet, somewhere is George Lucas hearing all this. Somewhere George Lucas must be thinking, I gave fans so much. I gave them Luke, Leia, Obi-Wan, Chewbacca, & Han. I created one of the greatest villains the cinema has ever seen in Darth Vader. I collaborated with John Williams to create a musical score that would transcend time.

What is the man, George Lucas thinking about all this?

It was this thought that got me thinking about the human condition. We are so selfish. We are so spoiled. We are so self-centered. Everything is about us and for us. We wake up looking in the mirror at a god we can’t wait to serve. Everything revolves around the person we see in the mirror and it better serve us.

The True Creator

As much as I appreciate George Lucas’ work, I am not imparting god-like status to him. Yet, he is a “creator” that has now witnessed his “creatures” rebelling against him. He did a great deal for those who are a fan of his Star Wars universe. They loved and worshipped him and now they’ve rebelled. There are definite parallels here to fallen mankind.

The true Creator gives and gives so much to this fallen race. In the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve anything they could want or imagine.   Yet, Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator. The One who gave them the very hands that reached for the forbidden fruit wasn’t enough. The One who blessed them with the very taste buds that tasted the fruit witnessed those bestowed gifts being abused.

The Creator of all these great graces witnesses his creatures’ disdain towards those graces on a daily basis. We complain about the weather. We’re dissatisfied with our job. The body we see in the mirror isn’t what we want it to be. We take the creation that was graciously given to us and complain. It’s not what we think it should be. In short, we think we deserve better.

This parallel breaks down, however, in terms of ownership. Lucas is the creator of Star Wars, but he sold the ownership. Part of his reasoning is that he wants this story to go on after he’s gone – he’s not eternal.

For the Christian, we have a Creator who is eternal and will not leave or forsake his creatures because of their rebellion, no matter how much they complain. This Creator did not sell his rights to his creation, rather he entered into it in order to ensure this rebellious race could enjoy life everlasting. And, we can rest assured that the next chapter in that installment won’t be a disappointment…especially if Jar Jar isn’t there.

 

Rogue One: Because We Deserve It (spoiler free)

Posted: December 22, 2016 by jperritt in Uncategorized

rogueone_onesheeta_1000_309ed8f6I wasn’t too excited about this film. To be more accurate, I was initially excited about this film, but I didn’t carry the excitement into the theater that I had with The Force Awakens. Some of that is due in part to that fact that I intentionally avoided any trailers or discussion about Rogue One. All of that to say, I wasn’t overly-excited about the latest installment in the Star Wars canon.

About halfway through the film, however, I became convinced that this movie is worthy of the cinematic world it’s a part of. I was changed from the skeptic who thought the filmmakers were just exploiting the Star Wars name, to a firm believer that this was a well-made film on many levels.

That being said, I listened to two other film critics on a podcast tear this film to pieces (that’s why they call them critics, right?). While I value the opinions of these cinephiles, who are often insightful, I couldn’t help but be a little put-off by their criticism. And, it was not simply due to the fact that I want to be right in my assessment of Rogue One.

I think I found the critiques off-putting because I sense some entitlement in our movie critiques, at times. Let me explain.

Subduing Cinema

When we think back to the creation mandate (Gen. 1:28) and the orders mankind receives to subdue the earth, we realize a lot of things. First and foremost, God is in charge because he is Creator. Second, mankind has a responsibility before God to care for the earth. Subdue does not mean “dominate” creation, rather we are to care for it. Tim Keller says that in the word “subdue” we see that the earth – even before sin entered – needed humans to care for it.[1]

All of that to say, mankind must subdue creation and movies are a part of that creation. Part of subduing cinema, is seen by filmmakers honing their finished product that makes it’s way onto the screen. For the Christian filmmakers, they must strive to produce a good film by subduing their product. This is where critique is important. The potential flaws of a film should be addressed so we can move forward and provide a better product.

And, while I think criticism is a needed element of the creation mandate, at times, there seems to be a fine-line between criticism and entitlement. Entitlement is saying, “I deserve a better product. You owe me the expectations I’ve attached to this film.” That is, we’ve become dissatisfied with the finished product because they don’t meet every criterion we attach to them. The root of many criticisms could possibly be traced back to a sense of entitlement.

Yes, Star Wars: Rogue One wasn’t a perfect film, but no film is. Of course it won’t be nominated for Best Picture, but it wasn’t trying to be. It seems that there are those critics who want to shove Rogue One into the cookie-cutter-hipster-art-house film and talk about it on a level it never aspired to. In some ways I just want to say, “Just watch the movie and enjoy it.”

Here are several thoughts to critique the critiquers and help you enjoy Rogue One.

The Acting

I don’t want to name names, but some of the actors in the previous installments of the Star Wars franchise weren’t the best. While the Star Wars prequels were horrific in the acting category, even the originals had some bland acting at times – that cannot be said of Rogue One. In fact, there was a scene between Jyn (Felicity Jones) and Cassian (Diego Luna) that was exceptional. While I was watching the scene I had the thought, “This caliber of acting has been absent in most Star Wars films.” It seems that some critics are overlooking this praise-worthy component of the film.

The Genre

Genre is an important factor when critiquing films. That is to say, when you’re walking into a science-fiction film like Rogue One, you must remind yourself, “This is a sci-fi film…not a comedy…not a drama…not a chick-flick.” Without a doubt, there will be elements of drama and comedy mixed in, but you must put both of those under the umbrella of ‘Sci-Fi’. Again, this film isn’t seeking to be an Oscar contender, so filter the acting and drama through the lens of sci-fi. That being said, the drama and acting of Rogue One are on par with other films that do seek to be Oscar contenders.

The Special Effects

The visuals of Rogue One are absolutely outstanding. Drop this film in the middle of the 1970s and people’s minds would explode like the Death Star. Humanity has been so bombarded by CGI in films that we’ve become the spoiled child on Christmas day wanting “The red truck! Not the green one!!!” Voicing disappointment over the special effects in most movies is definitely a first-world problem.

There have been those that critiqued certain CGI’d characters from the original Star Wars films who find their way into Rogue One. While I may concede their point on it being a little distracting, Christians should be amazed at the technology. The fact that filmmakers can now recreate humans (!!!) from a film that debuted in the 70s is phenomenal (and a little scary). Don’t lose the wonder of your Creator through the advancements in technology we find in films. Our entitled attitude can make us lose sight of this.

Life is Broken

This world is tainted with sin and that sin will find its way onto the silver screen. Not only will movies exploit sin, but every brand-spankin-new movie hits the screen…broken. No movie will ever be whole. The finished product could always be improved. Not only do we view movies that are broken and imperfect, but the movie-goers are also broken sinners living in a world that’s broken and often heart-wrenching.

While visuals of TIE fighters and X-wings move across the screen, millions of humans will never sit in a theater because they’re level of poverty scarcely provides a bowl of rice for the day. Theater-goers are flocking to the theaters with the cancer of their loved-one playing in the background of their minds. Racism, sex-trafficking, abortion, and suicide are daily occurrences in the broken world we live in. And, while that is the case, we can still go to the movies. The movie theater, in a tangible sense, is a refuge from this broken world. While pain, suffering, and sorrow are never far from us, we can escape to a world of entertainment.

Many years ago Peter Jackson spoke on this notion of escapism in the world of the cinema, and I think this aspect of movies is a grace from God. While it is important to think critically of film and highlight flaws at times, sometimes we need to just sit back and partake of the wonder that’s before us. We need to be amazed that a story like Rogue One can be scripted, acted out, filmed, and be sitting at the local theater waiting to serve us and give us enjoyment for two hours.

Sometimes it might be a good idea for Christians to savor the refuge offered by the cinema knowing it is merely a foretaste of the refuge to come.

[1]Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor.

God’s Not Dead 2 – A Friendly Critique

Posted: April 11, 2016 by jperritt in Uncategorized

GodsNotDead2Poster
This past weekend, much of the southern region of the US was hit with pretty severe storms – some even had tornadic activity. A retreat center near Jackson, MS, sustained substantial damage. This resulted in multiple churches coming up with a “Plan B” for a retreat that was slatted there. As you’ve probably figured, we were one of the churches impacted by the closing of the retreat center.

Scripture tends to equate wisdom with reflection and moments of solitude, but sometimes God’s providence requires haste. In this case, our youth staff did what many assume youth workers do – scramble and throw things together last minute. We, no doubt, worked fast, but we also included our youth team – comprised of multiple adults – to add some extra wisdom to our efforts.

Working with only a few hours, we decided to take our students to pizza, dessert and a movie for Friday night. In many ways this seems like an easy solution, but picking a movie that multiple families and students agree upon is close to impossible (I’ve written about that here). The easiest choice for us was the film, God’s Not Dead 2. I say easiest, simply because I knew there was no “bad language”[1], violence, or sex.

The irony of making this decision comes from the fact that I have been somewhat of a critic of the “faith-based genre” of movies. One of my major critiques of these movies – apart from their typical poor artistic value – has been the poor theology they often communicate. To me, this is much more offensive than other content that could be present. However, I instructed our students that we were going to watch this movie in order to discuss it and possibly critique it. I told our students we could praise certain elements of the film and disagree with other elements.

I understand that critiquing “Christian movies” is becoming just as much of a cliché as many of the kitschy content found in the films themselves (More on that here). While this article will critique come of those elements, the aim of this article is the discipleship of the next generation of our church. How are we to train teenagers to view, analyze, criticize, and appreciate faith-based films with a discerning mind?

Christians Disagree

At the most basic level, I simply wanted our students to understand that there’s disagreement among Christians on these movies. I assume many of our students might not even realize that disagreement on faith-based movies is even taking place in the Christian community. One doesn’t have to spend much time searching the Internet to find Christians praising and bashing these movies.

Most likely, there are two groups of teenagers in your youth ministry – those who love these films and those who hate these films, but feel guilty about hating them. For the second group, they would much rather see Captain America: Civil War, but feel guilty that they desire to see a “secular” film over a “Christian” one. They think being a Christian means that they need to like GND2, so they inwardly feel guilty that they don’t really like it all that much. Then, when #TeamCap hits the silver screen they feel guilty for enjoying that movie more than a film like GND2.

Our students need to know that it’s okay to dislike a movie like this. Just like it’s okay to like a movie like this. I know there are plenty in Christian circles who would protest for saying we could even like a movie like GND2, but, as I found out, there are elements in the movie we can celebrate. Don’t misunderstand me, there is critique that is needed – which is simply an element of being a discerning viewer – but Christians, of all people, should know that if God’s common grace is seen in films like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; surely God’s grace is powerful enough to shine through a movie like GND2.

Critique is Part of Our Humanity

In the second place, I wanted our students to understand that critiquing a movie is an aspect of watching any film. In my experience, Christians have acted quite defensively towards me when I’ve criticized the theology of films like Facing the Giants and War Room. As far as I could discern, the rebuke to my criticism seemed to imply that these films were above critique. How dare you speak negatively towards a “Christian movie”?!, seemed to be the mindset of this group.

Our students must realize that humanity is not above critique, because we are fallen. All art – as beautiful as it may be – is imperfect, this side of heaven. Christian movies are not above critique, just as an Oscar-winning film like The Revenant.

I truly enjoyed the very dark, and gritty film, The Revenant, however, director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, seemed to take just a bit of artistic liberty in places where it was unnecessary and could have been 20 minutes shorter. Not to mention that I felt that this wasn’t Leonardo Dicaprio’s best performance. It was a very physical performance for him, but I’m still unsure of it being Oscar-worthy (just for the record, I also think he was robbed in other films).

Point being, I can critique an Oscar-winning film, which is praised by Hollywood (and rightly so, I might add); therefore, Christians must not get too defensive over other Christians offering criticism of faith-based films. Our students need to develop a critical eye towards film instead of mindlessly sitting in a dark theater with a disengaged brain God expects them to steward.

Portrayal of Atheists

                  The major critique of GND2 – which others have pointed out – is its portrayal of atheists. To put it bluntly, they are villainized on the screen. They are portrayed as cold, harsh, unloving humans filled with hate. Even the countenances of some are instructive to the viewer of which side they are on before they even open their mouths.

As I told our students, I know some very nice unbelievers, just like I know some pretty unkind believers. We must be cautious of stereotyping people based on their beliefs. My question to our students was, Do you think an atheist would walk away from this movie with a different perspective? As I said, God can use whatever means he desires to bring a child of darkness into light, but I strongly doubt that a true atheist would walk away from this movie questioning their beliefs. In all likelihood, they would leave the theater even more ingrained in their own beliefs as well as the stereotypes they hold towards Christians.

Timidity 

I had great pause over this discipleship opportunity. To be honest, I was a bit fearful to take a group of students to a movie like this with the possibility of criticism. Would I offend one of my parents? Anger one of my students? Cause division? However, the driving force that fueled my passion for this exercise was 1 Timothy 4:16a, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Teenagers need to know that they always carry their theology with them. Life and theology are wed together and must not part. Their theology must inform their watching of movies, listening of music, clothes they wear, words they speak, and tone of their criticism.

I was timid to take on this practice, but the cost of avoiding it seemed too great. In her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield gives Christians some helpful critique to bring this discussion to a close:

Christians always seemed like bad thinkers to me.  It seemed that they could maintain their worldview only because they were sheltered from the world’s real problems…Christians always seemed like bad readers to me, too.  They appeared to use the Bible in a way that Marxists would call “vulgar” – that is, common, or in order to bring the Bible into a conversation to stop the conversation, not deepen it…It seemed to me that the only people who could genuinely be satisfied with this level of reading or thinking, were people who didn’t really read or think very much – about life or culture or anything.[2]


[1] I put bad language in quotes, because I’m using the term bad language in the way many Christians think; i.e., profanity. Even though there was language including gossip, judgment and self-righteousness in GND2 – language that’s equally offensive to God – at least they didn’t use profanity.

[2]Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. (Crown & Covenant Publications: 2014) pg. 4.

81st Academy Awards¨ Press Kit ImagesMost of us are familiar with the story of Aaron creating a golden calf for the people of Israel to worship. Aaron apparently made the calf by mistake – “I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf'” [Ex. 32:24]. Hollywood, however, has taken Arron’s lead and forged a golden statue of their own and given it the name ‘Oscar’. This little golden statue represents joy, sorrow, jealousy, anger, covetousness, and just about any emotion imaginable for Hollywood stars and starlets.

Even though I can’t remember the article or publication, I can remember reading Matt Damon’s reflections on his Oscar aspirations. He took a role in Courage Under Fire, which required him to lose a great deal of weight. Without the assistance of a personal trainer (he didn’t have extra cash because he wasn’t the powerhouse he is now), the pounds began to come off. He successfully lost a significant amount of weight, but the film and his acting didn’t get the recognition he hoped for. Plus, he saw a doctor after all the weight loss and he was informed that this rapid decrease in weight almost cost him his life.

It wasn’t until many years later that Damon won an Oscar for Screenplay in his 1997 Best Picture nominated film, Good Will Hunting. Even though I cannot recall his exact words, Damon states that his name was called out, he went onstage, received his little golden man and thought, Is this it? Is this what I’ve been longing for? Is this little golden statue what I almost gave my life for?

I don’t think Matt Damon is a Christian, but I honestly don’t know enough about his personal life to say one way or the other. However, he is illustrating the idolatry that we know is present in each of our hearts. Even though we may not be longing for an Oscar, we have our lists of little golden men. Maybe they come in the form of a new car, a bigger salary, a slimmer waistline, more vacations, or [fill-in-the-blank]. I’m not picking on Damon, because I really enjoy his films and he is like the rest of humanity. Plus, I’m glad that he saw the emptiness of his idol and I pray that he follows after the only One who is able to fill the void in his heart.

In just a few more days, many more golden statues will be passed out to Hollywood hopefuls. Maybe you’ll be cheering alongside these actors, actresses, and filmmakers with a similar desire for them to win. Maybe you won’t even tune in to see who takes home the prize.

Whether or not you care I think it is an important event for Christians to take note of, because it is a window into the heart of our culture. Whether we like to admit it or not, Hollywood wields a great deal of power. Actors and actresses have influence. And, on Oscar night, we get to see which films they think are noteworthy. They let us in on what they consider to be worthy art. We so often want to know what messages are being communicated through film and what truths resonate with this culture. Well, Oscar night takes much of what Hollywood holds dear to their heart and displays if for all to survey.

So go ahead and tune into the Oscars with a watchful eye. Learn a little bit about the culture we live in. And, see if it grants you greater opportunities to bring the Truth to bear in this, often, dark sphere of our culture.

Star Wars: A Spoiler-Free Reaction

Posted: December 18, 2015 by jperritt in Uncategorized

Star-Wars-7-The-Force-Awakens-Sith-Lightsaber-PhotoWell, I can’t believe I actually saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night. Part of me feels like it didn’t really happen. The nerds were out in full-force last night and I was one of them. It really was a great experience and a great movie. Everyone screamed and applauded at the credits, they applauded at the entrances of notable characters (and spaceships…wink, wink), and there were more than a few gasps. It was a worthy film to be added to the Star Wars cannon.

I must say, however, that a particular group of guys behind me almost ruined my experience. They were hyperventilating in a few parts – I’m not making this up! Screaming and hyperventilating. I didn’t know if Kylo Ren’s powers were having some sort of effect on them…they finally settled down…a little.

I think the best compliment I can give SW7 is that it felt like Star Wars. I remember when I saw Episode I in the theater, it felt like a different movie. There were elements that felt similar, but overall it just seemed like a totally different movie franchise. SW7, however, seemed to fit with episodes IV-VI.  It fits pretty seamlessly with the original series. Without a doubt, this one was far more updated – special effects, etc. But, J.J. Abrams did an excellent job of not overdoing it. The effects weren’t too much and the action wasn’t too much either.

Think about it, by 2015 most of us have seen various spaceships don the silver screen. We’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy and over-the-top action films with insane stunts. Abrams held back on some of that. Even his Star Trek reboots had modernized action, but he didn’t over-do it with SW7. Yes, there was plenty of excitement and plenty of updated action sequences, but he held back in order to make this film fit with the other three – that’s good directing.

I do think there will be a newer generation that isn’t as enthralled by this film, because they’ve been spoiled on CGI and insane-action. In all seriousness, if you don’t enjoy this movie it’s because you’re spoiled. (Or, either you’re not a fan of sci-fi which means you shouldn’t even be watching this film.)

I also thought the story and new characters were intriguing. From the opening credits of SW7 the story grabs you. Again, there were some gasps as people read the context of Episode 7. I love how secretive this film has been – I can’t believe they’ve maintained to keep a tight lid on things.

The new characters in the film meshed well with the old. I was pretty impressed with Harrison Ford being able to channel his inner-Han at age 73. I couldn’t imagine how hard that would be for an actor to portray a character they created some 40-years prior. Yet, Ford spoke dialogue, had mannerisms, and even facial expressions that reminded me of Han – my childhood hero (second to Indiana Jones).

So, these are just a few initial, spoiler-free reactions to the movie. It really was enjoyable and maintained continuity with the previous films. Don’t go in thinking you’re going to see a Best Picture nomination, just go in expecting to have fun. As I emphasized grace yesterday, be sure to enjoy that aspect. Going to see a movie like this is historic, so it’s a special experience to say the least. And, it’s an experience that reminds us of God’s grace on his children. God gives and gives so much to his creation. He doesn’t owe us a thing, but he gives us fun experiences like visiting a galaxy far, far away….

Star Wars…Finally!!!

Posted: December 16, 2015 by jperritt in Uncategorized

MV5BMjM4MjI2MDMwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODI2MDgzMzE@._V1__SX1394_SY676_Hello…hello…is this thing on?

So, it’s been months since we’ve posted anything at Reel Thinking.  Sorry about that, but life gets sort of busy. However, if there’s anything that will motivate us at RT to knock some dust of the keyboard and write a new post, it’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens (That opens tomorrow, by the way).

In some ways it seems like the first teaser trailer dropped to the Internet just yesterday. I can remember that I found a quiet spot at my in-laws house to sneak off and watch that uninterrupted over Thanksgiving holidays.  My eyes were amazed at the re-imagined Star Wars universe J.J. Abrams had created.  I can’t wait to see the finished product tomorrow night.

To be honest, I’m bit sad.  I’m not on the verge of tears or anything, but the hype we’ve been enjoying over the past year is about to be over.  It’s sort of like going on a long trip.  Part of the fun of the trip is the anticipation of it.  Living the trip is great, but imagining the trip and anticipating it has its own special feeling.  Tomorrow around 9:30ish that feeling will be over.  My eyes will have seen it.  My ears will have heard light-sabers colliding and blasters firing.  Right now, I haven’t allowed my mind to anticipate too much of the story, but tomorrow it will be realized.

Now of course I plan on seeing the movie twice…possibly three…times in the theater.  So, the story of The Force Awakens will continue to be told on the silver screen and small screen for years to come.  I guess I’m simply trying to say that tomorrow is a unique and special moment for the cinema.  Star Wars!!! A film that’s impossible to grasp its impact on the cinematic world is revisiting screens this weekend.

The fact that I’m going with my father says a lot.  Star Wars is a film that’s united generations in their excitement.  My son turns 6 on December 18 and I plan to take him to see it (I tried to convince him that I got Star Wars made for his birthday…he’s too smart).  Three generations of Perritts viewing SW.

I’m excited to see it.  I’m excited to see it with my father.  I’m excited to see it with my oldest two children.  It may only be a movie, but it’s something special we don’t need to downplay.  It’s an experience that’s global and rarely comes around.

Anyway, there’s not to much to this post other than sharing my excitement (I may share a bit more after viewing, so check back).  I figured that I “owned” a film blog, so I might as well discuss one of the most historic films released.  As Christians we do need to recognize these moments as graces from God.  We sinned against him, yet God still blesses his children with enjoyable moments this side of Heaven. He’s a gracious Father and movies are one of the many blessings that illustrate that.

Trailer Tuesday: The Jungle Book

Posted: September 15, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

Check out the new trailer for Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book

Gut Reaction: A Spoiler-Free Interview on THE VISIT

Posted: September 11, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

MV5BMTg3OTM2OTc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjMxNDM0NTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_Last night I attended the premiere screening of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit. Today, John and I sat down (at our keyboards) for a spoiler-free interview on my gut reaction to the film. I’ll be writing a more thorough review for Reel World Theology soon, so stay tuned over there for further developments.

 

John Perritt: First off, what’s your favorite Shyamalan film?

 

Blaine Grimes: I’m really terrible at naming my favorite films, but I’m gonna have to go with Unbreakable. It’s a really smart take on the superhero movie.

 

JP: What’s your initial impression of The Visit? What did you like? What did you hate?

 

BG: I really disliked The Visit. I think it is definitely one of his weaker films, which is sad; I really wanted it to be good. There are a couple of elements that work really well in the film, though. First, Ed Oxenbould is fantastic. His character is hilarious, and the film’s best moments happen when he is on screen. Second, there are parts of this film that are genuinely spooky, but it’s really difficult to talk about those without spoiling. So I’ll leave it there for now.

I think the main problem with The Visit is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It tries to be a comedy-horror-melodrama, but these elements never mesh together in an effective way. There are also several dangling plot devices that are quite annoying.

 

JP: Could you tell you were watching a Shyamalan film? Were many of his previous stylistic/thematic elements present?

 

BG: Well, this certainly isn’t his first terrible film; so some of his recurring issues made an appearance. For instance, I think The Visit lacks some of the Hitchcockian subtlety of his better films. On the other hand, he’s still exploring some of his favorite themes here: family, forgiveness, loss, and grief.

 

JP: How did it differ from his other work?

 

BG: The main way it differs is that I’ve never seen him intentionally play with comedy to this extent. I mean, The Happening is a hilarious movie, but it’s not intended as such. The Visit has some real laugh-out-loud moments. I also think it’s different from his previous work in that I’ve never seen one of his films that is so tonally confused (see earlier question).

 

JP: How would you “fix” the film?

 

BG: That’s a hard question to answer without giving too much away, but I’ll take a stab at it. Really, not much happens in the film. The build is lackluster, and the so-called twist isn’t much of one. I think Shyamalan is trying to play with the idea that normal, everyday life can be frightening, but the bodily humor that is so prevalent throughout the film is a hindrance as far as that goes.

 

JP: Do you think The Visit will help or hurt Shyamalan’s career?

 

BG: Well, there are two parts to my answer. In the short-term, I actually think this film will be fairly successful. I think it’ll find its target audience, and it will probably do quite well at the box office. This will likely lead to more movie deals for Shyamalan. As far as the long-term goes, that remains to be seen; but I will be very surprised if it’s looked upon favorably in the distant future.

 

 

 

 

MV5BMTg3OTM2OTc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjMxNDM0NTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_M. Night Shyamalan returns to the big screen this week with the found-footage creeper, The Visit; and one question looms large: will The Visit resurrect Shyamalan’s once-promising career? While I suppose that only time will tell, I am—in the meantime—more curious about how Shyamalan’s latest effort will fit into his horror canon that, I contend, embodies its creator’s search for the spiritual and transcendent. Shyamalan is, after all, known for his cameos in his films. And while some chalk this up to the director’s desire to solidify his oft-spoken-of comparisons to Hitchcock (and there may be a certain degree of truth to this claim), I tend to think that there is a sense in which Shyamalan appears in his films precisely because they are already about him, a creative outpouring of his deeply personal investigation of the spiritual and metaphysical realm.

Shyamalan’s horror breakthrough came in 1999 with The Sixth Sense. His remarkable display of cinematic restraint, his refusal to immediately satiate our desires to see the spirits that haunt Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) , made manifest his understanding of the Hitchcokian principle that what is unseen is often more terrifying than the visible. At its core, however, The Sixth Sense is a film obsessed with finding comfort in the fact that loved ones have a life after death.

Signs (2002), which masquerades as an alien-invasion flick, is all about Graham Hess’s (Mel Gibson) crisis of faith that comes about as a result of his wife’s untimely death. It grapples with issues of belief and unbelief in a markedly earnest manner that is so often missing from so-called faith-based films.

The Village (2004) is set in cultic/religious community and explores one woman’s faith and courage in the face of the Hawthornesque deception perpetrated by the town’s leaders. More recently, Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines television show (which was quite good until its disastrous final episode) carries with it an implicit critique of organized religion and a Calvinistic understanding of God. Given the religious nature of Shyamalan’s entires into the genre thus far, it seems reasonable to assume, therefore, that his latest film will revisit (pun intended) many of these themes.

On a larger scale, however, Shyamalan’s cinema shows that Horror is an intrinsically spiritual genre that reveals our deepest fears and longings. Some horror films—slasher flicks, for instance, which have often been read as a conservative reaction to the metaphysical implications of premarital sex—prefer to explore spiritual themes and motifs in a (thinly) veiled manner, while others (see It Follows) are more content to let their inherent religiosity bubble to the surface.[1] The films of M. Night Shyamalan are, in my opinion, firmly grounded in the latter category; and Christians would do well to pay attention.


  1. This statement is somewhat reductionistic. I recognize that horror films are not a monolith, and my goal here isn’t to create a classification system for the genre. My aim here is to illustrate my earlier point about the spiritual nature of horror films.  ↩