Archive for February, 2012

Even though the Oscars for the 84th Annual Academy Awards have been handed out, there are still some lists to compile. These lists might not be nominees for an Oscar, but there are the beginning of a new series at Reel Thinking.

Every now and then we are going to release our Top 10 lists entitled, Reel Lists (how many ways can we play off of the word reel?). The Academy and Golden Globes compose their lists, and the America’s Film Institute has their Top 100, but we are composing ours, however, ours will be somewhat unique. Yes, we will have the typical top 10 lists, but we will also have the not-so-typical, as well.

Our first Reel List, which will be released on Thursday & Friday, will be a fairly normal list. We are going to look at the Top 10 Musical Scores of films. This year, the well-known composer, John Williams, became the second-most nominated person in the history of the Academy with 47 nominations. He is the most nominated living person (Walt Disney is the all-time most nominated with 59).

All of this to say, for Williams to have 47 nominations, it tells us a great deal about music in movies. Music is vital to movies. We are going to take a more in-depth look at that tomorrow, but for now go ahead and take our poll. Be sure and check back tomorrow for some more thoughts on music and see our first Reel List.

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Not many people have seen Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. Shame on you, mankind.  Maybe you were too lazy to read the subtitles and you missed one of the best movies of last decade. Del Toro has an immense imagination and his monstrous creations are very original and pretty scary (that pale man is freaky/fascinating stuff).

Here is the trailer for the film, go watch it. Now. Afterwards, discussion with spoilers.

The story is set during the time of the Spanish Civil War in 1944. Brutal times, in case you did not know. The plot follows a girl called Ofelia, as she and her pregnant mother move to live her stepfather, a violent and mean captain of the governmental fascist forces. There are rebels living nearby and things do get pretty brutal. Oh ye of faint heart, beware.

The film is achingly beautiful and at times, very, very scary. I will say it again: pale man. Worthy of notice is also the stunning soundtrack with its main lullaby being one for the ages. I want to play that thing on a piano one of these days.

We can draw very interesting parallels and contrasts between the story and the Bible. Of course, Del Toro is not trying to do a Christian movie at all; he nevertheless touches in truths that are eternal and that can be compared to Biblical teachings.

Ofelia, full of fear and uncertainty as she moves to her new home, begins to encounter mysterious, fairy like creatures. As she wanders in the woods she begins to come in touch with magic creatures who tell her about her true nature; that of a princess from another realm who has been living on Earth. Yet, in order to verify if her essence is intact, she needs to complete three tasks before the full moon. The film is rather dubious over whether Ofelia really is a princess and those fantastic beings really exist or if that is simply stuff from her imagination to help her deal with the world.

We who live in this Earth are naturally blind to a higher reality of who we are, who we were made to be and whom we can become. As with Ofelia, we are naturally incapable of seeing who we are; because of the Fall we deny the existence and attributes of the true God, refusing to give him glory (Rm 1:18-25). We deny our place as image of God as we deny his divinity and rule. It is only by external revelation that we are able to truly comprehend our place in the planet and the reality of the spiritual world. While the Faun wants to investigate whether Ofelia’s essence is intact by giving her tasks to accomplish, we know that our essence is corrupt because we have already fallen in our first task. The tasks help us understand fear, greed and even temptation. Let’s leave these to another post.

Ofelia behaves and thinks differently than those around her because she is aware of a reality that is unseen to all the others. Her actions, her goals and her methods make no sense to those who are not aware of what she believes to be true. She marches by another drummer. As believers in Christ, we also live by things which are not seen; we behave based on an old story that dictates the true comprehension of how the world works; and very often people are clueless about why we do the things we do.

In her final task, in order to reach her true kingdom, Ofelia has to shed innocent blood, which she refuses to do – and that decision costs her own blood. In this way she proves herself to be a true queen and is given access to the kingdom. Of course, in our case, no matter how much we would be willing to shed our own blood, it would never be enough precisely because “our essence” is not pure anymore, it is tainted with sin. In this way, the innocent’s blood is inevitable to grant us access to the kingdom and make us into who we were called to be from eternity.  In times of martyrdom, it is important to know that similar to Ofelia, death is not at all simply a bloody painful and miserable end, but the beginning of the true story in which we will reign with Christ.

Snapshots

Posted: February 27, 2012 by jperritt in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

snap·shot – a brief appraisal, summary, or profile.

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

Dr. Suess’ The Lorax – As one boy fights to win the affection of a girl, he must learn the story of the Lorax. Genre – family, kids, comedy; content – mild rude humor.

Project X – Three pathetic high school seniors, try to make a name for themselves by throwing a party exploiting sex, drugs, & rock ‘n roll (your rebellious teenager can’t wait to see and reenact this). Genre – comedy, action, idol-feeding; content – sex, drugs, violence, more sex, nudity, more drugs, and drugs.

(guest post by: Brad Davis)

I’m a sucker for inspirational sports movies. I love stories that chronicle the hard work and dedication of underdogs who achieve the impossible. My guess is that I’m not alone. The fact that a majority of men spent a significant part of their childhood playing one sport or another makes these movies the perfect setting to communicate powerful messages to us. As I’ve watched numerous sports dramas throughout my life, I’ve noticed a disturbing personal trend. For some reason, with sports movies, I tend to drop my guard and mindlessly buy whatever the story teller is selling. My ability to personally identify with the characters often causes me to absorb messages from the film that are in stark contrast to the truth of Scripture. Needless to say, this is dangerous.

The focus of this post is the film Rudy, arguably the greatest football movie of all time. If you’re one of the three men over the age of ten who HAVE NOT seen this film, you’re in for a treat. It tells the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, a 5 foot 6, 165 pound kid with dyslexia whose one dream is to play football for Notre Dame. Rudy’s limited size and athleticism, not to mention his learning disability, made this goal virtually impossible to reach. But against all odds, he persevered through every imaginable trial, and by sheer heart, hard work, and determination solidified his (on-screen) character and made his dream a reality.

As the dramatic final scene of the film plays out, the viewer is left with the sense that Rudy has arrived. You feel as though his integrity and character have been permanently cemented through this experience. You envy his accomplishments in spite of insurmountable odds and long to be as he is, seemingly mature and complete, lacking in nothing and prepared for whatever lies ahead in life.

The underdog theme is common in almost all sports dramas, and what can be misleading for Christians is that it appears to be Biblical. After all, overcoming obstacles through hard work is a Christian virtue, right? Aren’t we supposed to persevere and endure trials so that we can be mature and complete (James 1: 2-4)? How does Rudy’s gospel differ from the Gospel of the Bible?

The gospel of Rudy appears to be that Trials + Perseverance = Character & Success. Hard work is the lone vehicle of Rudy’s salvation and is the key ingredient to his character development in the film, but does it work in real life? Can hard work save us? Does it build character? Can it bring us success?

According to the Bible, the answer to each question above is NO. Scripture explicitly warns us against the dangers of trusting in ourselves for salvation, sanctification, and success. Our salvation is a gift from God and not the result of our works (Ephesians 2:8). Our character is also a gift from God as we are ‘credited’ with the righteousness of Christ (Romans 4). While we are commanded to work hard at whatever we do (Col. 3:23), we are also reminded that hard work doesn’t guarantee success. Scripture informs us that this too comes from the Lord (Proverbs 21:31). Rudy’s gospel is the gospel of the world and of the American Dream, but it isn’t the Gospel of the Bible.

So how did Rudy’s gospel work out for him in real life? On one hand, his external life was radically changed by the events portrayed in the film. In addition to having a movie made about him, Rudy went on to become a successful motivational speaker and have numerous awards and scholarships named in his honor. He’s been given keys to various cities and has received honorary doctorate degrees. But unfortunately, the character building formula portrayed in the film was discredited by Rudy’s own actions. In December of 2011, he was charged by the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) in a scheme to deceive investors into buying stock in his sports drink company. He produced a product similar to Gatorade and lied to potential investors about its performance and demand in the market place. Investors were conned into believing the product was on the rise and as a result purchased large amounts of stock in his company. Just before the sham was revealed, Rudy sold his shares of stock and walked away with nearly $11 million dollars, leaving his investors holding an empty bag. Rudy’s gospel failed to equip him with the character we thought he’d developed in the movie. Instead, it gave him popularity and fame that he leveraged to steal from those who trusted him.

It’s easy to demonize Rudy for his deplorable actions, but the truth is, we are no different. Apart from Christ, all of us are despicable human beings capable of much worse if we trust in ourselves for salvation, sanctification, and success. Hard work alone never builds character! It may help us reach goals and achieve some degree of success, but it can never save us. Rudy’s gospel is the exact opposite of the Gospel of the Bible. The beautiful message of the Cross is that our character has already been built for us through the hard work of Jesus Christ. We simply have to cling to it by trusting in Him alone…which ironically, is hard work.

 

Brad Davis is a former missionary at Zhengzhou University in central China, where he taught English for two years.  He was also a public school teacher and currently works in healthcare.  He currently lives in Brandon, MS with his wife Christie and their one-year old son, Hayes.

(Rudy agreed to settle the charges against him by paying $384,000. By doing so, he neither admitted to nor denied the allegations. For more information and to read the main article referenced in this post, click here.) http://www.observer.com/2011/12/rudy-ruettiger-busted-12162011/

Brad Davis to guest post

Posted: February 23, 2012 by jperritt in Uncategorized

As most of you know, we have been privileged to host many distinguished guest bloggers at Reel Thinking. We have had published authors & screenwriters and even a professional actor. So, who is Brad Davis? Well, he’s a lot like you. That is, he is simply a reader of this site.

Now, Brad is a uniquely gifted individual who is created in God’s image, but he isn’t like some of the other guest bloggers we’ve had. He is a friend of mine who attends the same church that I do (Pear Orchard Pres.) and approached me about doing a post on the movie Rudy. As he explained the direction he wanted to take, I asked if he would be willing to write something for the RT community. He humbly accepted and his post will run tomorrow.

Brad’s post was very encouraging to me for a number of reasons. First, it is very well written. Second, he has some excellent biblical parallels that should resonate with you. However, what was most encouraging was that he was thinking biblically about movies. We at RT are not taking credit for this thinking, but this is the exact thinking we hope to foster through the site.

All of that being said, we would love to have some of our regular readers (YOU!) submit guest posts to encourage this type of thinking. Therefore, if you have a movie you love, go ahead and jot down some thoughts and see if your post finds its way on Reel Thinking. However, since we haven’t sent an open invite to our dozens and dozens of readers (only slight sarcasm), we have no idea if we will get 1 submission or 1,000. Please be sure and check out our guidelines below, see if you can live with them, and send your post in.

All submissions must…

  • Adhere to our statement of faith.
  • Realize that it may take us months to reply (we have day-jobs & families).
  • Realize that we may not be able to read your post.
  • Understand that writing may not be your gift.
  • Make your post 500-1000 words.
  • Discuss the film AND theology.
  • Submit your post to: reelthinking@gmail.com
  • Tell us your favorite movie.

Please know that we may make some minor edits to your post, but we will receive consent from you beforehand.

We are excited to add another guest blogger to our list at Reel Thinking – Brad Davis.  He has come up with a very interesting post on a well-known sports film.  Be sure to come back tomorrow to see who Brad is and which of the below films he’s blogging on.  Until then, let us hear from you, what’s your favorite sports film?  If yours isn’t on the list below, add it in the comments section.

The Artist

Posted: February 21, 2012 by jperritt in Uncategorized

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Emilio, one of the bloggers on this site, uses a term I have come to employ when referencing certain films – Oscar bait. I don’t think he coined the term, but it is used in reference to those films that are really hoping for an Oscar. Those films are typically period-pieces, use actors with accents, and fall in the genre of drama.

When I first saw the trailer for The Artist, Oscar bait came to mind. It appeared that the filmmakers were trying too hard on this film and Hollywood was surely going to take the bait. However, I did see the film and was impressed. I’m not saying that I’m the litmus test for Hollywood gold, I’m merely saying…I was impressed. And since the Oscars are just around the corner, I figured I would share some thoughts on it.

The acting by Jean Dujardin was excellent! It really made me appreciate how precise the facial expressions of actors in silent films had to be. Their faces greatly assisted in telling the story. I’ve also appreciated directors who can tell a story by merely what is on-screen (Alfred Hitchcock was a master of this) and this film does that exceptionally well. The Artist also helped me appreciate where the craft of film has been taken. As the film begins, one has to settle into the idea of no dialogue…none. It is somewhat awkward, but intriguing. Although it was well-done, it does make movie-goers appreciate talkies.

The story follows George Valentin (Dujardin), the star of silent films. However, with the genesis of talking pictures, he wonders if his career will soon be over. The movie follows his highly successful career and his struggle to stay on top even after the inception of this new style of filmmaking.

One thing that struck me about this film was Valentin’s obsession with his image. The audience loved him and he enthusiastically agreed. Every time he would walk down the stairs to his house, he would pause at a near life-sized portrait of himself and admire it. It’s interesting to see that the one character who didn’t admire him was his wife. She is the first one we see who not only isn’t infatuated with him, but loathes him. Her body language and coldness communicate this, but she literally defaces his image on various magazines & newspapers. She often creates a George Valentin with mustache and glasses.

She is the first character that really allows us to see this man’s idol worship. Of course, we can pick up on this in the opening scene, but she gives us some foreshadowing of what’s in store for Valentine.

Scripture teaches us that God does not share the throne with anyone. He is the only one deserving of glory and when that glory is given to an idol, God gets jealous (Ex. 20:5). However, we find in Scripture that God does give us over to our idols, at times (Romans 1). In the case of The Artist, Valentine is given over to his self-worship. In essence God is saying to Valentine, “If you want to worship yourself as god, go ahead and see where that gets you.”

As we see from the film, Valentine is worshipped like a god, but since he’s a false god, this is short-lived. Talkies end up taking off and Valentine plummets into a life of poverty and shame. Embarrassment and depravity cling to this once glorious star.

Even though Valentine experiences brokenness, we get a hint of redemption as it appears that Valentine will be restored to his throne. Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), has been one who stuck by Valentine in his days of trouble, and gets him a role that promises him the fame he once owned. However, after they dance their amazing tap number, we hear dialogue for the first time in the film. The director asks Valentine if he would be willing to do another take and he replies, “With pleasure.”

What is this communicating? It is open for interpretation, but just maybe Valentine has learned his lesson. He worshipped his image, which was silent. Now, however, he appears in a tap number, which has sound, and he’s been humbled. Has he let go of that old image? Is he embracing a new image of himself? Or will he worship the True God whose image we bear?

Snapshots

Posted: February 20, 2012 by jperritt in Snapshots

snap·shot – a brief appraisal, summary, or profile.

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

Act of Valor – Navy SEALs attempt to save a kidnapped CIA agent. Genre – drama, action, thriller; content – violence, language.

Wanderlust – A couple retreats to a nudist colony, so Hollywood can make a film that has sexual content and graphic nudity. Genre – comedy; content – see synopsis.

Gone – An abducted girl, seeks out her former abductor when she believes he is hunting down her friend. Genre – thriller, suspense, drama; content – sexual content, language, violence.

Good Deeds – It’s a mystery to me as to how Tyler Perry continues to make movies, but this one is about a businessman who falls in love with a janitor. Genre – drama, romance; content – some language, sensuality.

Ghost Rider 2: Fighting the Devil

Posted: February 17, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Tags: , , ,

Spoiler alert!! At the end of the first installment of Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is actually released from his curse of bringing evildoers to hell as the devil’s bounty hunter. But Blaze angers the devil (also known as Mephistopheles) by taking full ownership of the demonic curse, committing himself to use it instead to fight the devil! Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance continues his crusade against the devil, as Blaze attempts to protect a young boy from being made into the anti-christ by Mephistopheles. If successful, Blaze may be able to be free from his Ghost Rider curse forever!

So, Christian, what do we do with stories like this? Much of the general population only reaffirms their belief that the devil is totally make-believe when they watch these sorts of movies. Unfortunately, even many Christians can hold a cognitive belief in Satan, but really not think much about his very real work in this world. In order to hold the right view of Satan, we don’t need a movie like Ghost Rider at all–we need the Word of God. Scripture tells us that the devil schemes against God’s people (Eph. 6:11); that he is a roaring lion, our adversary, seeking to destroy us (I Peter 5:8); and, that he has been sinning from the beginning (I John 3:8). The devil is a real being that has always hated God’s people!

What the Ghost Rider movies remind us is that there really is such a thing as a devil and spiritual warfare. People are regularly attacked by the devil and his minions. The name Mephistopheles (used in German Faustian lore for centuries as another name for the devil) is actually a combination of two words which mean “destroyer” and “liar.” But the question is, what does spiritual warfare look like? It clearly doesn’t involve being turned into some fiery skeleton who fights demons with fire and brimstone. And, unlike Johnny Blaze, none of us are on an individual crusade to save the world from the anti-christ.

The truth about spiritual warfare begins with the gospel reality spoken of in I John 3:8, “Christ has come to destroy the works of the devil.” The perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought the true death blow to the devil. As was prophesied in Genesis 3:15, the devil bruised the “heel” of Christ, but Jesus has crushed the serpent’s head. For all of His life on earth, Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil, freed people from demonic possession and oppression, and regularly demonstrated His lordship over demonic powers. Our success in battling the devil begins with the finished work of Christ!

The second essential truth related to fighting the devil is God’s perfect sovereignty over all creation. As we learn so concretely in the Book of Job, the LORD has Satan on a “divine leash.” The devil cannot do anything against God’s people unless God allows it. Movies like Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider 2 typically have no reference to God–it’s just humans fighting alone against the demonic. God doesn’t really figure into the formula. So it makes the devil look to be much more powerful than he really is, ruling and terrorizing a God-less world. But the good news is that God is in total control of His entire universe, including the activities of the devil.

Finally, according to Ephesians 6, the Christian is equipped with the armor of God to do battle against the devil’s schemes. We have spiritual weapons at our disposal–faith, truth, righteousness, the gospel, the Word of God, prayer, etc. Johnny Blaze has none of these weapons to fight the devil. He is totally on his own with his fiery motorcycle and chain. The Christian is never alone; he has the weaponry of the Spirit. The Christian has the strength of Christ Jesus. As we depend more and more on the grace of God, our strength is renewed each day to deal with the attacks of the devil. And, as our mind is renewed by the Spirit, we can defend our minds against his lies and schemes.

So as exciting as it may seem to be the Ghost Rider, and spit fire at the devil–our spiritual warfare is much more effective. Thanks to the completed work of Jesus, our adversary the devil is already doomed. As the people of God, our warfare against Satan is under the command of Jesus Christ, the lover of our soul. We have nothing to fear and we will never be ultimately defeated. As soldiers of the army of God, we rest in the fact of our everlasting victory and Satan’s complete and utter destruction!

Ghost Rider 2: Who owns your soul?

Posted: February 16, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Tags: , , ,

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Yes, it’s true, I am a huge Nicolas Cage fan.  I will pretty much see any movie he stars in, no matter how terrible it is.  And, yes, I know that Cage has probably never turned down a screenplay he’s read! Even more pathetic is the fact that I will watch many of his movies over and over again (especially National Treasure, Con-Air, and The Rock, to name just a few). To me, Cage’s films epitomize the old-school mindless “popcorn” matinee genre.

So, yes, I even saw the first Ghost Rider movie (several times, actually).  It also helped that the movie was based on a comic book–hard to turn that down! As you can guess, it received terrible reviews as corny, silly, and downright idiotic. That may be fairly accurate; but that movie, and it’s sequel, certainly provide great discussion fodder for Christians. How can it not, since the whole plot of the series centers on a deal with the devil!

In case you missed the original Ghost Rider, let me summarize it for you (warning: spoilers from here on out). Johnny Blaze (Cage) is the son of motorcycle stuntman Barton Blaze. When Barton finds out he has terminal cancer, Johnny chooses to sell his soul to Mephistopheles (the devil) to save his dad. But the devil deceives Johnny and Barton dies in a motorcycle stunt.  In his grief, Johnny leaves the carnival, his family, and his girlfriend, pursuing a death-defying career of stuntriding.  Later, the devil meets Johnny again, proposing to release his soul if he will become his “Ghost Rider” and defeat his demonic son, Blackheart, who wants to produce all hell on earth. In the new Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Johnny continues to battle the devil who is now trying to take human form. Blaze still carries the “curse” of the Ghost Rider, but he attempts to use it against the devil instead of for him (more on this subject in the next post).

Stories about people selling their souls to the devil have been a part of Christian folklore for centuries. Faust, in the 16th century, most famously developed the idea of a person’s ability to exchange his soul for power, youth, wealth, or knowledge.  This plotline has become known in literature as a “Faustian bargain.”  In many of the stories, including Ghost Rider, the person who sells his soul finds a way to trick the devil and get out of the pact (typically on a technicality!).

Now you may scoff at the whole idea of selling one’s soul to the devil. But think with me for a moment about the real problem with this fantastical idea: the humanistic premise that WE own our souls in the first place!  Where the devil has deceived people throughout the ages is with the lie that we own ourselves.  Grounded in that lie, we end up believing that life is just a matter of whom WE choose to GIVE our soul to!  We are just free agents, dealing our souls to whomever makes us the best offer. So, if the devil offers more, we take it!

But the truth according to God’s Word is that our souls are condemned to hell from birth, due to Adam’s sin. We have souls that are absolutely dead to God–by nature we are “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Our souls are enslaved to sin, held captive in darkness, and subject to God’s holy anger.  So to think that people are just “neutral” players who are free to either give their soul to Satan or to God totally ignores the Biblical view of humanity.

So the real devil’s goal is not to make a deal with you for your soul.  Instead, he thinks he is powerful enough to keep you from having your soul freed by the grace of God!  The devil seeks to keep you dead in your sins, entrapped in the world of darkness. And, yes, he does this by tempting and seducing people by the false promises of power, pleasure, wealth, and knowledge.  He strives to convince people that the only way to profit is to let him “keep” their souls.

These silly movies can and should force us back to the Bible to learn the truth of God, Satan, and our souls.  Jesus Himself  gives us a strong dose of reality in Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”  If only Johnny Blaze knew the immense worth of Jesue Christ!