Archive for July, 2013

CurveI was glad that John Perritt recently reviewed one of my favorite Clint Eastwood films, Escape from Alcatraz.  Hopefully, we at Reel Thinking will examine more of Eastwood’s classics through the lens of Scripture, since so many of his characters need serious redemption!  In his most recent film, Trouble with the Curve, the former mayor of Carmel, California yet again plays a crotchety old man–this time a baseball scout named Gus.  Still considered one of the premier scouts for the major leagues, Gus is getting older and his eyes are failing him.  What’s a scout without eyes?  This is one of several new curve balls thrown into his life.

Aptly named, the entire movie is really just a bunch of curve balls.  The new young management of his baseball team wants Gus to retire, setting up a last chance for Gus to prove himself by evaluating a talent in North Carolina.  This reunites him with his estranged only daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), who joins him to be his “eyes”–against his wishes of course.  Mickey has had all sorts of curve balls thrown at her, beginning with the untimely death of her mother and then being essentially abandoned by her father for much of her life.  Johnny (Justin Timberlake), another major character, received the curve ball of sports injury, being forced to the sidelines of baseball as a much-too-young scout.  And the list goes on and on.

Of course, the “surface” story really does feature a young, cocky baseball player who should be a number one draft choice, but he can’t hit the curve ball!  And there’s also a young pitcher who, because he can throw a curve ball, experiences his own miraculous “curve” in his life.  Without spoiling it for you, in many ways this movie is the opposite of a much better baseball movie, Moneyball.  Yet, even though everything resolves a bit to easily in Trouble with the Curve, it’s still worth watching in my book.

So underneath its surface plot, this movie is really all about how people respond to the curve balls “life” throws at them (actually, the very appropriate tag line is “Whatever life throws at you…”).  Again, without giving away the movie, Gus and Mickey and Johnny don’t respond well to their own curve balls for most of the movie.  They experience a whole lot of frustration and failure.  But, after swinging and missing many times, they begin to “see” the curve ball more clearly and hit it.  Even cranky old Gus, who claimed he couldn’t change his ways, has new eyesight for what’s important in life.

As sappy and as all that may sound to you, Trouble with the Curve presents a fairly realistic picture of life in this fallen world.  While we all desire easy pitches right “down the middle” that we can hit out of the park, we too often experience a series of seemingly “unhittable” curves.  In one sense, our responsibility as Christians is simply to keep swinging away!  But, unlike unbelievers, God has given Christians new eyes (by the Spirit) so we can see the curve balls more clearly, understanding how to best “hit” them.  And, to add to the analogy, only Christians understand that the pitcher on the mound throwing those curve balls into our lives is our Sovereign, loving God.  He’s not trying to fool us, hit us, or strike us out.  Instead, His gracious plan is to develop us into the spiritual batters who can respond to difficulty and suffering in a way that glorifies Him and advances His kingdom–and of course, sanctify us in the mean time.

As sinners, we all have trouble with the curve.  Praise God when He enables us to adjust the way we approach that troublesome pitch so we can just swing away with great grace!

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The-Lone-Ranger-Movie-Poster-2013-WallpaperI wanted to like this movie; I really did.  I felt like I went in with the proper mindset.  You know, the one that isn’t expecting a whole lot.  The mindset that understands this movie isn’t going to be an Oscar-contender.  The one that says, “I’m going to suspend some of my normal critiques for the sake of the summer blockbuster.”  However, I just ended up not really caring for this film.

Now, this does not mean I didn’t like the movie at all.  I saw this with some students on our night out at the annual youth conference, RYM.  Several of the students were asking me what I thought as we exited the theater.  For many reasons, this is a hard question to answer.  First off, I don’t like shattering the enjoyment the other students experienced.  When I hear them say they enjoyed it, I don’t want to rob them of that joy by saying it stunk.  Secondly, an argument typically ensues whenever you state you didn’t like a movie and others did.  When I stated that the movie was okay, I was immediately accused of being hyper-critical.  People often make such a connection with a film that they take it as a personal assault if you didn’t like it.  Lastly, this is a hard question to answer, because there are typically some aspects of any film that I enjoy.  Therefore, I cannot simply say that The Lone Ranger was a terrible movie.  So, here are some things I liked, as well as, things I disliked.

The Music

I’ve written before about how vital the musical score is to the film and I felt that Hans Zimmer did a great job on this film – especially the song entitled ‘Home’.

The Drama

The movie actually started out building up some nice drama and depth to the story that really resonated with me.

The Icon

I forgot just how iconic the Lone Ranger was until they started playing the familiar tune.  Hearing the theme brought back some nostalgia to an iconic hero that was long before my time.

The Law

Although John Reid [Lone Ranger] was portrayed as somewhat close-minded, I appreciated his desire to uphold the law in the face of persecution.

The Cheese

I did not like how incredibly cheesy some of the scenes were.  This can work on some films, but you have to make that decision early on.  When the film started off somewhat dramatic, and even dark at times, you cannot expect the audience to switch back and laugh at a young boy shooting a grape into Tonto’s mouth during a high-speed train chase – CHEESY!

The Widow

I did not like how quickly the widow gets over her husband’s death as she kissed the Lone Ranger, even though they previously loved each other.

The Lone Ranger

I also didn’t like how quickly John Reid transformed into the Lone Ranger.  He went from hating guns and barely being able to fight, to jumping off rooftops on a horse and chasing down the bad guy.  Maybe it was just the fact that he heard the Lone Ranger theme being played?

The Johnny Depp

One can easily see that this entire film was being carried on the shoulders of Johnny Deep.  Gore Verbinski was hopping to recreate a Westernized version of The Pirates of the Caribbean, but it just didn’t work.  The humor wasn’t all that humorous and it makes you wonder if Depp’s charm is wearing off just a bit.

All of this to say, I can understand while people have enjoyed this film, but I can also understand why the majority of critics haven’t.  Even though I appreciated some aspects, one of those being John Reid’s desire to uphold the law, I felt that the overall message of the film opposed that viewpoint.  Reid even exclaims, “If this is the law, than I’d rather be an outlaw.”  And this is what happens.  He changes his name to the Lone Ranger and exacts justice how he sees fit.  As Christians, we love grace, but we must also love the law.  The law is a gracious thing.  The law reveals the character of God and it is the law that is established to restrain evil.  While the law cannot save us, there was One Man who came and upheld every aspect of it to attain salvation for His children – those who love the law and, by His Spirit, strive after obedience to it.

 

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-Poster-HD-WallpaperOkay, I know Star Trek: Into Darkness has been out since May and that makes it ancient in this fast-paced culture, but I just got the chance to see it. This film had all the necessary ingredients for a summer blockbuster: spectacle, intriguing story, great acting, humor, tension, sacrifice and sex (more on that in just a minute).

First off, let me just say that I continue to appreciate the work of J. J. Abrams. He has a knack for cultivating a nuance to the action/sci-fi genre while still bringing a certain level of nostalgia into his pictures. He has consistently accomplished this in his films and television series – Super 8 being a prime example. All of this to say, I am very hopeful with his forthcoming Star Wars films.

Back to Star Trek, it was such a satisfying film. The visuals were very impressive – everything from the exterior and interior design of the various spacecrafts, to the futuristic details of San Francisco and London. [Side Note: San Fran gets abused this summer. Alcatraz is destroyed in this film and The Golden Gate Bridge is demolished in Pacific Rim.]. The creativity, however, does not solely reside in the visuals but the various scenarios the characters find themselves in. One of the highlights is Captain Kirk and Khan’s outer-space-free-fall to board their “enemies” ship. The human minds which cultivated that idea from a sheet of paper to the illuminated silhouette on the silver screen explicitly points Christians to our amazingly, creative God.

This entire film would simply be shallow spectacle, however, were it not for the acting. An area the cinema has definitely refined has been the level of acting that frequents this genre. Acting and story were typically sacrificed some years back, but now they are just as central to the special effects. The ensemble cast that comprises the U.S.S. Enterprise is as well-developed as their acting. Not to mention the twists that add a deeper level of drama for the audience/characters.

Sacrificial Love

The theme of sacrifice throughout this film [spoilers]. In fact, the verse that continually came to mind was, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” [John 15:13]. This film constantly portrayed characters willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of another. Spock does so in the opening scene, Bones is willing to explode for Carol’s sake, and Kirk willingly pursues death to save his entire crew.

Obviously the greatest example we have of this is Jesus Christ, which makes various portrayals something that should be applauded because they point us to the greater sacrifice.

Summer Sensuality

And of course, no Hollywood film would be complete without exploiting the human body. This is one aspect of the first Star Trek film, as well as, this one that bothers me. There is one completely unnecessary scene that hints at sensuality and a second scene that shows a women undressing.

Two thoughts come to mind when addressing sex making its way into almost every film – one negative and one positive. Negatively, this shows how uncreative Hollywood can be. I was, earlier, praising Abrams for his creativity, but the only thing creative about showing a woman undressing is how a filmmaker creates a scenario where that becomes a possibility in a space-action movie. This is simply cheap, exploitation employed to sale tickets.

Positively, although Hollywood and filmmakers put cheap sensuality in most of their films, they are drawing from a deeper truth that should be appreciated. That truth? Sex is powerful. Why is it powerful? Because God designed it to be. As we know, human sexuality is designed to draw a man and a women together in marriage. However, when it’s exploited from that context, it is still powerful, but it is being abused by its misuse of power.

Concluding Thoughts

Star Trek: Into Darkness is currently the highest-rated summer blockbuster this year (putting it above Man of Steel and Iron Man 3!), and I think it is well-deserved. It is really everything you are looking for in a summer movie. Even though there is an abuse of power, there is still truth that is being highlighted. And, let’s not forget the theme of sacrificial love that’s throughout. While Hollywood will continue to exploit powerful truths, let us not forget we worship a God whose hands are not tied. He is reigning and ruling over every filmmaker and every truth, no matter how much we try to exploit it, will ultimately bring him glory.

Escape From Alcatraz PosterAs I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I watched Bottle Shock because we are planning a trip to Napa, CA, and the film highlights some of those wineries. Well, on this anniversary trip we also plan to go to San Francisco and possibly visit Alcatraz. Therefore, I decided we should watch Escape from Alcatraz.

It truly is a timeless film that follows the true story of Frank Morris [Clint Eastwood] and his attempted escape from the famous prison known as ‘The Rock’. It is amazing to see the level of creativity the prisoners displayed in this escape attempt. Wielding metal in a prion cell, making paper mache heads, and life jackets out of raincoats. Most of this would seem too unbelievable were it not a true story. Not to mention the fact that the television show, Mythbusters, recreated the escape and proved that all of this could be possible.

While there are many aspects of the film that are fascinating, one interesting aspect to me is how the movie portrays good and evil. The hero of the film is Frank Morris. This is the same Frank Morris who is a prisoner for breaking the law. And, the same Frank Morris who has already broken out of other prisons. He’s the hero…

Who are the villains of the film? The warden (who is never named, although he is portraying Warden Blackwell, but the film didn’t want to mention his name to avoid legal trouble) and the guards. That is, the villains are the law keepers. The villains are the men who are upholding the law and haven’t done anything deserving of imprisonment.

To me, this is somewhat strange. I found it strange that I was pulling for Morris and his friends to break out of prison! And I was pulling for them, because that is the way the movie is designed. The tense music is played when the guards are getting closer to foiling their scheme. The audience breathes a sigh of relief as the warden leaves Morris’ cell without discovering the hole he’s dug.

Why!? Why was I not hoping they would get busted? Why was I not upset that the guards didn’t catch the crooks? Well, it was partly due to the fact that the warden was a pretty despicable character. Just consider what he did to the character of Doc! Taking away his painting privileges?! How could he do that to the old man from Home Alone!!? And if that weren’t enough, he caused sweet ‘ol Litmus to have a heart attack.

You see, the filmmakers took a true story but told it from the standpoint of the villains being the heroes and visa versa. I wonder why they chose to do this? Why not paint the crooks in a negative light and the law-keepers in a positive light? There could be a few reasons.

First, maybe they thought if they told it from the standpoint of the criminals being the bad guys, the audience would feel disappointed with the ending. I mean, we can’t have the bad guys winning, right? Secondly, maybe they simply wanted to highlight some of the abuses that take place in prisons. Who knows, maybe the warden was an unlikable guy and maybe the guards did have a bad reputation. The prison was closed down a year after this escape, and maybe it was due in part to a flawed system. Lastly, maybe the filmmakers were telling the story from a perspective we could identify with. Let’s be honest, who is guilty and who is innocent? Yes there are those who do harsher crimes and end up in prison, but at the last day we are all guilty. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.” [John 8:7].

Maybe we are all pulling for Frank Morris, because we are the villain. We are the ones who are criminals and we are the ones who should remain locked-up forever. However, there was One who did break us out of this eternal imprisonment and he did it, not by breaking the law, but by perfectly keeping it.

bottle-shock-movie-poster-2008-1020442676Bottle Shock was a film that didn’t receive all that much attention. Chances are many of you haven’t even heard of it. I had seen previews for it a while back and thought it looked pretty interesting, but never got around to it. The reason we decided to recently watch it, was because my wife and I are planning a trip to Napa to celebrate for our anniversary. And this film, as you may know, explores the true story of the 1976 blind wine tasting of Paris.

The world saw Paris as the premier winemakers and laughed at the feeble attempts of the Americans. A man from Great Britain, Steven Spurrier, decides to explore Napa Valley, and the surrounding areas, to see if these “hicks” can actually make some decent wine.

I’ve always been a fan of Alan Rickman and he plays the snobby Spurrier really well. Bill Pullman also plays the owner of the Chateau Montelena, Jim Barrett, and does a good job at his character, as well as, his son, Bo Barrett played by Chris Pine.

There were some scenes that bothered us. For example, the love some of the characters throw around is pretty ridiculous. The film, however, is set in the 70’s when “free love” was a pretty popular cultural phenomena, so I guess the film could be labeled as accurate.

Even though some of the love and dialogue of the film was a bit cheesy, it was really enjoyable. I’m not sure how accurate the movie is, but I found the story interesting. One aspect of the film, which I will focus on today, is the notion of perfection. The French knew they were the perfect winemakers. No one else could rival their craft, however, that didn’t keep Americans from attempting to make premier wines.

As Spurrier travels to the US to laugh at their attempts, he is shocked to find out that Napa’s wines are excellent. I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s just say he’s impressed enough to bring some samples back to the UK and invite some US wineries to compete.

There is a point in the film where Spurrier comes to the realization that Paris is not the sole provider of great wine. And, he goes on to say something to the effect of, “Now we are opening this idea up to the whole world.” In essence he’s saying, Now anyone can compete and attempt to make good wine. In a sense, they are stealing the ownership of wine from Paris.

What’s interesting to me is how this idea of perfection manifests itself in various ways. There are people who love to assert that their football team is the best. Others want to say that their school is the best (in America these lines of distinction aren’t all that distinct). People want to assert who has “the best” bar-b-que, whose doctor is the best, etc. We all have this notion of “the best” because of the fact that we were created perfect.

We were designed with perfection in our blood, so it is hard for us to cease looking for its remnants in other places. And it is equally hard for us when these various “bests” end up failing us – whether that’s our sports team, our friends, our food, or our wine.  It is good, however, when these things do fail us.  Even though we fell from grace and are tarnished with sin, there is still this underlying notion of perfection we grasp. And even though we get earthly tastes of it from time-to-time, we still long for that day of redemption when our sinful imperfections fade away and the unfading garment of perfect righteousness clothes us for all eternity.  Then we can each boast in our best on the basis of Another.