Chef: Made in the Image of its Creator

Posted: March 27, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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MV5BMTY5NTYzNTA1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODIwODU1MTE@._V1__SX1394_SY660_Chef (2014), written and directed by Jon Favreau, is one of those charming little films that is virtually destined—predestined, one might say—to get marginalized in a Hollywood industry characterized by big-budgeted, effects-laden, and Oscar-grubbing motion pictures—some of which are very fine films in their own right. On one level, that Chef didn’t shatter box-office records or garner widespread critical or popular acclaim makes sense; it’s a family film but isn’t exactly “family friendly,” and it is thus a difficult film to sell to studios and a broad audience. The appeal—or at least an appeal—of Chef, however, is that Favreau’s enthusiasm permeates the film so that it is almost palpable. Indeed, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he speaks about the film as a sort of passion project:

[T]his was me seizing an opportunity to do something that was completely satisfying for me artistically, and I feel very lucky to have done it. It was really exciting to go back to my roots in independent film and face the challenges that I used to face with time and money – but not having to face the challenges of making a case for my creative vision in a roomful of people who all might have different opinions.[1]

After directing the first two Iron Men movies—Marvel isn’t known for giving directors complete freedom—and several television gigs, he wanted to undertake in Chef a project of personal significance. Given the above quote, it is both unsurprising and deeply interesting that the film itself reflects Favreaus’s desire to express himself as an independent filmmaker, free from the pressures of the studio system; for although Chef is an amalgamation of the road movie and father-son bonding flick, it is ultimately a work that bears the mark of its creator.

Chef Carl Casper (played by Favreau himself) labors away in a restaurant kitchen as the film begins; and, as one expects in a filmMV5BMjA5NjkzMDE4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg0NzEzMTE@._V1__SX1394_SY660_ named Chef, seductive closeups of food, in all of its pre-cooked, cooked, and delicately prepared glory punctuate the opening scenes (and the entire film).[2] Casper prepares a new menu that is bound to impress the famous food critic who will be visiting that night; but the restaurant owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), puts an end to the creativity, telling Casper that he should cook the menu that has kept them afloat and successful for years. “Look, if you bought Stones tickets and Jagger didn’t play Satisfaction, how would you feel? Would you be happy?” Riva asks rhetorically. This time, however, Casper has had enough; and after an episode of public humiliation, he leaves his job at the restaurant, opens his own food truck, and attempts to repair his broken relationship with his son and ex-wife.

The similarities between chef Carl Casper and Favreau are not difficult to discern: both men have grown weary of the pressures to conform to the strict standards of their respective industries and seek another creative outlet. The restaurant, which is a stand-in for the Hollywood studio system, ultimately exists to make a profit; and it therefore ultimately makes certain demands on its chefs—demands that, as Favreau explains, can be burdensome:

I was really excited to do something that was not part of a big committee and a big collaboration. It’s [Chef] about a character in transition in life, a person trying to find his voice and reconnect with his passions. To me that’s the story of many people that I know that are my age.[3]

Ultimately, Chef is less an indictment of the Hollywood system and more of an impassioned ode to creativity wherein Favreau reminds us that, as goes the oft-quoted adage, art reflects life. He has crafted a film the way a master chef prepares a special dish: with love, care, and attention to detail. Chef is very much made in the likeness of its creator, and it offers an interesting meditation on why we value creativity. It testifies that, as human beings, we create things in our image—that bear our mark and our name—precisely because we are created in the image of God.

[Chef is currently streaming on Netflix.]

New Trailer: Tomorrowland

Posted: March 9, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

Check out the latest trailer for Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland.

The Overnighters: by Josh Crabb

Posted: March 5, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

Typically hoMV5BMjE5MDE3NzA0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjM1NzY2MjE@._V1__SX524_SY699_w pastors have been portrayed in movies is not really always favorable. It’s a tough thing to pull off an authentic pastor/priest in a movie or TV (just ask The Walking Dead, who can’t seem to get it right in the comics or TV), and as is often the case, the portrayal is either too simplistic, too insanely over-the-top, or just plain absent. While you don’t need a pastor or clergy member to effectively tell a spiritually significant story, when done well a narrative with a significant clergy presence can be very profound (see Calvary from last year).

The Overnighters, on the other hand, is a feature-length documentary from Jesse Moss (Full Battle Rattle, Speedo) that is a non-fiction portrayal of a Midwestern pastor that is one of the best and most significant portrayals of a pastor on-screen that I have ever seen. It focuses on the “Overnighters” ministry to the many people traveling from all over the world to find work in the modern day boomtown of Williston, North Dakota. The ministry is the work of Pastor Jay Reinke and Concrodia Lutheran Church, where he pastors and where many of these hopeful people eat and sleep. The church has responded to the need to house the hundreds of people who don’t have homes yet have jobs or are still looking for jobs.

While it is an immensely inspiring story of a pastor and the church responding to Jesus’ call to care for those in need in their community, this ministry and the people who are ministered to are just one element of a very compelling and layered narrative. Pastor Jay Reinke’s personal story opens and closes the movie and is by far the most captivating storyline that Moss explores. An incredibly gifted and loving man, Pastor Reinke is also an incredibly flawed human, like all of us. Pastor Reinke’s story highlights the passion and the peril of Christian ministry.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2

The ministry to the “Overnighters” is the passionate pursuit of Jay Reinke, and the movie makes no doubt about it. It is evident from an early scene where around the dinner table his wife recounts that when she first met him he had a Native American homeless man living in his basement. He has the gift of hospitality, and that heart of Jay’s is the driving engine behind the ministry to these displaced and homeless men and women (although it is mostly men). Reinke’s passion for the people he ministers to keeps him going when things got difficult. Without a love for people, as Jay shows, there is no way our efforts will be sustainable and last for the long haul.

MV5BMTk2Njc0NjYxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjg3ODg3MjE@._V1__SX524_SY699_A love for people will also foster a passion to see people progress in their discipleship and faith. We echo Paul’s love for the Philippians when he said that to remain with them, “for [their] progress and joy in the faith.” (Philippians 1:25). There are a number of people in the film who have stuck around to continue to help with the Overnighters ministry and it is a joy to see their progress in faith from having none to helping love others. Without this type of passion to see people actually progress in ministering to others, again, our resolve would be lacking.

One particularly poignant portion of the movie is when he is sitting down and talking to a man who clearly has had issues with drugs and alcohol. He describes his life and his pursuit of God but eventually breaks down in tears over the difficulty of following Jesus and having the problems he has. Pastor Reinke hugs him and assures him he is loved and prays with him. Later, he tracks the guy down as he is leaving town to make sure he is doing alright. It is a great moment where we see the passion for people and their progress in the faith in Pastor Reinke’s actual pursuit and follow up of this broken man.

It is Pastor Reinke’s love amidst the brokenness of these people that is the biggest reminder of that our love of others comes from a passion for a person: Jesus Christ. From his prayers to God to his morning singing of the doxology, we see that no ministry can sustain itself without a firm commitment to Christ (Eph 4:15; Col 2:19). I was blown away by the example of Pastor Reinke and Concordia Lutheran Church as well as their firm commitment to Christ through worship, prayer, and Bible Study with the people they were ministering to.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

The first third of the movie is incredibly inspirational in showing the loving and life-shaping impact the Overnighters ministry is having on all of these displaced and hopeless individuals. However, what makes this movie special and what adds lots of humanity is when the cracks and weaknesses of both the ministry and Pastor Reinke’s life start to show amidst the pressure of taking care of people and the outside pressure of those in the city. It shows us that ministry may be and need a passion, but it is also incredibly perilous.

At the halfway point of the movie it becomes abundantly clear that, although this ministry is incredibly beneficial to so many, both the regular congregation of Concordia Lutheran and the community of Williston opposes much of what Pastor Reinke is doing. Reinke stumps both in congregational meetings and at city councils that being a Christian people means caring for those who are homeless and in need, but all the congregation and city can see is the drastic change in their lives. As one church members puts it, “it’s not the “Christian” thing to think, but these people are taking over my plains, my prairie.” These scenes reminds us that no matter how good the work is that we are doing, we will come up against strong opposition from within (the church body) and without (the world).

Not only will we see opposition, but an equally large peril is that in our desire to share Christ with and love others, you will be disliked. One of The Overnighters more difficult scenes is when a long time leader of the Overnighters ministry messes up (his own sin) and is forced by Jay to be done helping and leave in order to keep up the appearance of the ministry. As he leaves he verbally chews out Pastor Reinke and voices his displeasure at his choices and leadership. Whether justified because of our own sin or unjustified because of other people’s sins against us, there are going to be people who, despite your best efforts, will not like you.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18

Lastly, and largely the most gut-punching for a pastor, is that not only will the world dislike you but it can be even more sinister when people like you. When you are liked and adored for your ministry, i.e. have a movie made about it, there is a temptation to buy into that significance and begin to believe the hype and adoration. Many of the choices made in the movie set Pastor Reinke on a path where the Overnighters ministry swallows up his identity, his family, and his life. In his own words, “It’s easy to become a facade, maybe especially when you’re a pastor, but I know for me. The public persona, you can believe that, and the private person becomes something else. And the result is always…pain.”

The grueling realizations made in this documentary force us to confront what we are really worshipping. Every church planter and pastor, really any Christian of any denomination, should watch this movie and discuss it afterwards. When we separate our daily work and especially our ministry from the person of Jesus Christ, it will almost certainly fall apart and result in pain. However, when we connect our passion for people and people’s progress with the person of Jesus Christ, we are assured that he will be with us and will deliver us from temptation and be a shelter from the storm in perilous times.

Go see this movie, if you have not seen it, and make sure to digest it and discuss it with others to enrich this movie going experience. You can watch The Overnighters on Netflix Instant, as well as rent or buy it from major digital providers such as iTunes and Amazon.

Final trailer for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

Posted: March 4, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Action
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Guest Post Tomorrow!

Posted: March 4, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

film stripIt’s a busy season for the writers here at Reel Thinking, and you’ve probably noticed that we haven’t been able to post quite as much as usual. The good news is that we will be featuring an article tomorrow from a guest, Joshua Crabb; so be sure to check back tomorrow! In the meantime, here is a little bit more about Josh:

Josh Crabb is a husband and father of four. Pastor of Adult and Family Discipleship at Appleton Gospel in Appleton, WI and lead planter of Coram Deo Church in Neenah, WI. He is a writer and podcaster for Reel World Theology as well as writing at 13Past1.com. He loves movies and loves talking about them even more. You can get in touch with him on Twitter (@HeyItsThatJosh) or on Letterboxd to talk more about movies.

 

2015 Oscar Picks

Posted: February 19, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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81st Academy Awards¨ Press Kit Images[With the Oscars coming up this Sunday, I thought I’d take some time to share my picks. Before you proceed, however, you’ll want to note a couple of things. First, these are not my predictions of what will win each award, but are instead representative of what I would like to win in its respective category. Second, I have not made a selection for every category—only the “major” ones. Now that the caveats are out of the way, happy reading! Be sure to leave your comments at the end.]

Best Picture: Boyhood

I said elsewhere that it’s “heartbreaking, moving, and provocative—with scope and ambition unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Actor in a Leading Role: Michael Keaton

Honestly, this one is a toss-up between Keaton and Carell.

Actress in a Leading Role: Rosamund Pike

I didn’t see any of the other nominated films.

MV5BMTYzNDc2MDc0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTcwMDQ5MTE@._V1__SX626_SY660_Actor in a Supporting Role: J.K. Simmons

Still, Edward Norton is fantastic in Birdman. Simmons tips the scale because his character is the driving force of Whiplash.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Patricia Arquette

I won’t be sad if Emma Stone pulls it off, though.

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (for Birdman)

Lubezki does a fantastic job executing Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s vision for the film. As always, his use of natural light is impeccable.

Directing: Richard Linklater

Animated Feature Film: How To Train Your Dragon 2

I still can’t believe that The Lego Movie was not nominated.

[So, what are your picks? Did I make a horrible choice? Let me know by commenting below!]

Backcountry Trailer

Posted: February 18, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

MV5BMjA3MjI0NDAxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzk2NDI3MzE@._V1__SX1394_SY676_The Phoenix Project (2015) is a little-known, independent Sci-Fi film shot on a tiny budget by debut director, Tyler Graham Pavey; and as such, it has all the trappings of a film with great potential. Small production companies and the rise of VOD (video on demand) have combined to created a market replete with opportunities for up-and-coming filmmakers, affording them a chance to do with Sci-Fi what the genre does does best: experiment with narrative, form, and style to create truly innovative films that speak to the human condition. One particularly notable example of this is Shane Carruth’s 2004 film, Primer (perhaps one of the most convoluted—in a positive way—and captivating time travel stories ever told through the medium of film), which is clearly the father of and forerunner to Pavey’s Phoenix Project. Both films take place almost exclusively in a singular setting (a garage), and both place a heavy emphasis on jargon-filled dialogue and minimal exposition. What is interesting, then, is that these two films that have so much in common are so starkly different.

The Phoenix Project begins in media res, with a team of four men assembled to work on a project referred to as Phoenix. In many ways, the first thirty minutes of the film are the most interesting, as we learn about the characters and their unified purpose. And one way The Phoenix Project succeeds is by showing more than telling. Pavey makes us sit patiently and observe in order to learn that Perry (Corey Rieger), Devin (Andrew Simpson), Ampersand (David Pesta), and Carter (Orson Ossman) are working on a project that will bring the dead back to life. One of the more fascinating—or maddening, depending on your viewpoint—aspects of The Phoenix Project is that it, like the aforementioned Primer, does not even attempt to explain the “science” behind the endeavor. Whiteboards are filled with endless equations and formulas that are most likely gibberish to those who don’t have advanced degrees in requisite fields, and the film’s sparse dialogue is interspersed and charged with highly technical language. The majority of screen time is thusly devoted to the team’s attempt to get this elaborate machine they have built to work on live subjects. They begin by conducting tests on small animals, such as insects, and then move on to mammals, mice and rabbits; and when they discover—after numerous delays and complications— that their machine actually works, the next question is to whether they should run a test using a human subject.

MV5BMTgwNjY5MDkzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTAxMTcyMQ@@._V1__SX1394_SY676_While it all sounds very interesting and promises to be thought-provoking and suspenseful, the most noticeable problem with The Phoenix Project—as is often the case when a film has this sort of symbiotic relationship with its predecessor—is that it fails to delight, captivate, entertain, and illuminate where Carruth’s Primer succeeds. Whereas the latter is able to be jargon-laden, vague, and character-driven in way that appeals to both hard-core Sci-Fi aficionados and a more general audience, the former has the same end-goals in mind but achieves none of them. The film’s attempts to generate interesting conflict among the characters falls flat, and the narrative itself is devoid of any meaningful progression. Moreover, the score of The Phoenix Project has a hokey, daytime soap opera feel that works against its otherwise somber, serious tone.

The real tragedy is that Pavey’s debut film builds toward a provocative and worthwhile theme— that humans are much more than biological organisms or highly advanced animals (the film even hints at the existence of soul or some sort of transcendence)— but it fails to deliver on a formal level. Earlier I invoked the notion of Primer as a forerunner to The Phoenix Project. In reality, this language falls short, for forerunner imagery conjures up ideas of the hairy, wild, camel-hair clad, locust-eating, John the Baptist, who proclaimed the coming Messiah. The purpose of a forerunner is to point to something greater than oneself, and so the unfortunate thing about The Phoenix Project is that all it ever does is remind us of how good Primer is; it merely points back to its forerunner and fails to build on the foundation that has been laid.

 

[Note: This is being re-posted to foster thoughts on the pornographic film, Fifty Shades of Grey]

Since American Reunion makes the eighth installment of the sex-worshiping franchise, American Pie, we have compiled 8 reasons Christians shouldn’t watch it. Yesterday, we posted the first four, below we have the remaining four.

Sex is Idolized

The first American Pie was all about losing one’s virginity on prom night. That was the god of the four main characters. In one scene, the character actually prays that God would allow him to fornicate with a girl. Sex is still the false god of this newest installment. Sex is a good thing, but when it becomes the thing it’s idolatry. This is the first and greatest commandment. Love God first, not sex. This film feeds THE lie of this culture, that lie? “Sex is the greatest thing.” Sex is a good thing, but God is the greatest in all creation.

Lust & Pornography

One would be hard-pressed to find any film that didn’t cause you to lust, whether it was for food or possessions or sex, however, lust is a sin (Prov. 6:25, Job 31:1, Matt. 5:25, Col. 3:5). And if I were a betting man, there is no way you could make it through an American Pie film without lusting. The entire franchise is designed to make you lust. I’m surprised they don’t give you a money-back guarantee if you don’t. The bottom line is, this film was created to make you sin. While we are on the subject of lust, let’s just go ahead and call this a pornographic film. Compared to more raunchy films this could be considered a “soft” porn, yet it is porn nonetheless. Even though this film will not be as explicit as some porn, there are plenty of pornographic elements contained in the film. Pornography is clearly sin and is one of the most powerful addictions in our culture. Even though this film will have less graphic content, it will lead to more explicit content because porn can never satisfy. It destroys marriages, spouses, & children – it is not funny. Why take the chance of indulging in something that could be your end, and laugh at something that ruins so many lives?

Masturbation is Okay

The combination of lust and porn will bring us here. In the previews Jim (Biggs) exclaims that he doesn’t have much sex now that he’s married, therefore, he decides to “please” himself. However, his 4 to 5 year-old son walks in and catches his father masturbating to pornography – again, all played for laughs. This is wrong on so many levels, but let me just take one. God created sex to bind two people together, once married. Jim’s character is idolizing sex to such a degree that his own pleasure is more important than his union with his wife. Instead of drawing towards his wife, he is committing adultery with strangers on his computer screen…in front of his son. Hilarious…right?

One Final Thought

If you are still persistent and say, “As a Christian, I think I can watch this film.” My question for you is, “Will you be embarrassed?” If you were to go to the cinema and see this film and run into someone you know – parents, girlfriend or boyfriend, pastor, or grandparents – and they knew you saw this film, would it bother you? Chances are that it would. And if it would, that means there’s a certain level of shame and guilt attached to it. I would say that there is a certain level of guilt and shame attached to this film, because of the above mentioned reasons. If you say, ‘I won’t be embarrassed.” You should be.

Use great caution in possibly indulging these areas of sin for some cheap laughs. Christians have much freedom, because of our beautiful Savior Jesus Christ, but that does not give us license to let grace abound. Let me close with God’s Word in Romans 6:1-4:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

 

[Note: This is being re-posted to foster thoughts about the pornographic film, Fifty Shades of Grey]

As mentioned before, Reel Thinking, wants to be cautious about its approval or disapproval of any film. We are aware of Christian liberty and understand what’s offensive to some, might not be offensive to others. However, there are times we will speak more bluntly, and American Reunion certainly gives reason to.

It’s interesting to note that the last time I spoke strongly against a film was A Very Harold & Kumar Mockery of Christ….or something like that, I can’t remember the exact title. And, American Reunion has some of the same writers involved. Adam Herz & Jon Hurwitz have been responsible for such classics like Harold and Kumar 1 & 2 and American Pie 1-7 (I’m not exaggerating; Reunion makes the 8th installment of the franchise). So one must not be Det. Columbo to figure out that Herz & Hurwitz have an agenda for sex in their films.

Now we want to be cautious of not sounding hypocritical or judgmental toward those involved in this film, or even those who really want to see this film. With a certain level of guilt and shame, I admit that I saw the first American Pie in the theaters and today I wish I wouldn’t.

All of that being said, Christians would be hard-pressed to give reasons why they should subject themselves to a film like AR. If you simply say you want to see it because it’s funny, I can think of some more wholesome ways to enjoy a good laugh. Plus, should we be laughing at the jokes AR are telling? I’ve thought of eight reasons why Christians, or anyone for that matter, shouldn’t go see this film. Since it’s the eighth installment of the franchise, I figured this would be fitting. I will post four today and the remaining four tomorrow, so be sure to read all my reasons before you say I’m an out-of-touch-culture-hating-Christian.

The Content

Let’s begin with the obvious. The film contains crude sexual content throughout, nudity, language, brief drug use and teen drinking. And I think it’s safe to say, none of these will be presented in a redeeming way. In actuality, all of this will be glorifying the sinful depravity of man. I would say, that there are times when this content could be okay to accurately tell a certain story, but not when it’s making light of it or glorifying it.

Adultery

Remember, I haven’t seen the film, and won’t be seeing it, so I’m going off of the previews. The character of Stifler (Sean William Scott) encourages Jim (Jason Biggs) to have sex with a certain girl. When Jim tells Stifler he’s married, he makes another crude remark encouraging the pursuit of adultery. Last I checked, adultery is not only a sin listed in the Bible, but it also wrecks the lives of the spouses and children involved, therefore, it shouldn’t be a punchline Christians should laugh at.

Marriage is Mocked

Now maybe the film teaches a moral at the end about marriage and family, but you have to wade through a lot of garbage to get there. On the other hand, at least one scene from the previews implies that life is over once married. This may seem like a ‘Lighten-up-John’ comment, but let’s not be too quick to dismiss. Marriage is instituted by God, therefore, Satan and the world hates it. We live in a world with an insane divorce rate, so should we take lightly a film that mocks it? The world is buying this lie, let’s not propagate it by laughing along with them.

Fornication is Funny

This film sees sex outside of marriage as funny. Period. Sleep around, sleep with many different people, laugh about sleeping around, etc. Let’s get back to some basics. God made sex as good. He made it to bind two people together. Sleeping with many different partners tears people apart – spiritually, mentally, & emotionally speaking. I know plenty of people who slept around and they carry difficult baggage with them throughout life. Fornication is not funny, ask the people who have done it.