Archive for May, 2015

Weekend Reading Roundup

Posted: May 30, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

photo 3Everything You need to Know About Tomorrowland: Since we’ll be talking about Tomorrowland here on Monday, you might want to check out Oh My Disney’s guide to the film.

• Joshua Crabb lists his “Top 5 Disaster Movies” over at Reel World Theology. Also, be sure to check out the guest post he did for us a while ago.

• In case you didn’t know, which means you didn’t watch Guardians of the Galaxy or Parks and Rec, Chris Pratt is hilarious. Check out these videos of him goofing around on the set of Jurassic World

Jurassic-World-12I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this movie.  Jurassic Park was the first summer blockbuster I remember seeing in the theater, so my 13-year-old self hopes this will be a worthy reboot.  That being said, we pretty much know what to expect from this film.  Screaming.  Running.  One-liners.  CGI.  It will be fun, but there really shouldn’t be too many surprises.

Of course, many will flock to this movie because of the action, suspense, humor and thrills.  I also wonder how many of us will flock to this film to see violence?  This is something I’ve noticed about my heart lately.  Many of the scenes I like from the previous JP films include violence.  Think of it this way, what if no one dies in JW?  Do you think you would still like it?  Now, judging by the trailer (and the picture up top), it’s very safe to conclude there will be numerous fatalities.  But, if the credits rolled and everyone walked off the island unscathed, do you think you’d be a little disappointed?  I think so.

There is part of us that’s intrigued by violence.  The emotions that often accompany violence are suspense and thrills, and these get our hearts racing and give us a certain high.  However, there’s also a darker aspect to our hearts, that longs for violence.  And, with JW maybe we just want to see people eaten by dinosaurs in creative ways?  This doesn’t mean we need to feel guilty or abstain from seeing films like this, but we should be aware of it.  I know it’s all for fun, but depictions of image bearers getting thrashed shouldn’t be taken too lightly.

I hope this doesn’t ruin your trip to see JW – I won’t let it ruin mine when I go.  Just be aware of your heart…it’s deceitful above all else.

Trailer Tuesdays: PIXELS

Posted: May 19, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Trailer Tuesday

So . . . this is a real thing.

Review| Mad Max: Fury Road

Posted: May 15, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

I’ve reviewed Mad Max: Fury Road over at Reel World Theologymm000. Here’s an excerpt:

Just when you thought that Avengers: Age of Ultron was destined to be the most action-packed and relentless film of the blockbuster season, Mad Max: Fury Road comes thundering into theaters. Director George Miller has returned to his beloved franchise after a thirty-year break, and the result is a movie imbued with so much passion and–ahem–fury that it threatens to overwhelm the senses.

by: Ted Turnau [Picture created by: Jason Ramasami]proxy
[Spoiler warning.] Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron came out to mixed reviews. I for one thought it was a worthy follow-up to The Avengers. Full of Whedonesque wit and meta-awareness, but still a solid superhero saga filled with the awesome. And then all of a sudden, Whedon was gone, driven off of Twitter by what can be only called rabid fan disapproval of his spin on Natasha Romanov’s backstory. Though Joss says it ain’t so, there was a brouhaha, and he left. Coincidence? Apparently, having Natasha identify as a “monster” because she had been rendered infertile for the greater good of being an assassin (able to take life, but not create it), and seeking solace and help from a male monster (Bruce Banner), that was just too much for some feminist fans. All this despite the fact that Whedon sees himself as a feminist (Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn’t come out of thin air). Didn’t see it coming, but hindsight, you know. It makes sense. Because Whedon also identifies as atheist and humanist.

You might have noticed the artificially intelligent murderous robot nemesis Ultron never tires of spouting Scripture and Christian references throughout the film. What Whedon did subtly in some of his earlier films (Avengers and Serenity) he just comes out and says in Ultron: ideas of utopia and perfection smack of religious illusion and end up killing humans, destroying flesh and blood humans, flawed, beautiful, doomed humanity. Ultron and the havoc he wreaks are the direct result of a false hope for “heaven” (perfection and eternal existence). There is, as Whedon asserts at the end of a marvelous interview, no hope for humanity except the false hope what we create; we’re doomed. Ultron understands that humanity is flawed and doomed. The only way to achieve lasting perfection is to wipe them out to clear the planet for the next stage in evolution: clones of himself (a reference to the way God makes Christians, perhaps?). Ultron plays God to create utopia, and humanity (almost) dies in the process. The Vision, Tony Stark’s accidental bio-based artificially intelligent being, has a quite different take:

The Vision: Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t be. But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.

Ultron: They’re doomed

The Vision: Yes… but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It is a privilege to be among them.

Ultron: You’re unbearably naive.

The Vision: Well… I was born yesterday.

The Vision treasures humans precisely because we’re screwed up and doomed to extinction. For Whedon, humans are an autumnal race, a sunset species, all the more beautiful because we are dying. That really is the best he can offer in an atheist universe where extinction, war, and deep disfigurement are the order of the day: compassion for the dying and deformed (cf. George R. R. Martin’s affection for “cripples and bastards and broken things”). Any attempt at a utopia that would perfect us will backfire and destroy fragile humanity, creating unspeakable evil in the process. In Serenity, the corporation Blue Sun tried to create a perfect, violence-free society on the planet Miranda. The pacifying drug ended up killing the vast majority of the population (they became so passive they lost the will to live). But a small percentage became the ravenous cannibals known as the Reavers who unleashed terror on the galaxy. For Whedon, it always turns out this way with utopias, whether fascist, communist, Christian or Darwinian. The logic of utopia leads Ultron where utopias always lead: the extinction of the flawed, the imperfect, the doomed.

Which brings us back to Natasha Romanov and the rabid feminist criticism of her storyline. What the haters failed to see is that Natasha herself exemplifies exactly the kind of humanity that Whedon so treasures: flawed, imperfect, doomed. She bears “grace in her failings,” beauty in her disfigurement. And the only response for humans who find themselves flawed and doomed is to find help and solace in each other. Community doesn’t ultimately fix things, but it is a way of facing hopelessness together, and there’s some comfort there. The haters, in effect, want perfection: Natasha as a strong, independent woman who is able to overcome in and of herself, an Uber-Mädchen, a female Ultron, the Strong Woman with no weaknesses she can’t handle. In this, they are gunning for utopia, a New Puritan shame culture where ideological deviations (such as admissions of feeling like a monster and other weaknesses by females) have no place and must be made extinct with an Ultronesque relish.

What I so love about Joss Whedon is that he has too much insight into the human condition to fall for such traps. We cannot just wish away the fact that underneath it all, we’re doomed monsters, simultaneously full of beauty and death. What I wish he could understand is that God is not looking for a surgically pristine utopia that would end us. God is not The Sky-Bully, a mean-spirited jerk who uses violence to achieve his vision of perfection. God embraced flawed humanity by succumbing to its inherent violence and monstrosity because he treasures this screwed up, doomed race. And by virtue of his succumbing to our violence, we’re no longer doomed, because God loves and saves screw-ups like you and me. In Christ, humans can become (to invert the Vision’s phrase) “the beautiful things which last.” I only wish more churches and Christians operated along the “flawed but redeemed” script rather than the “gunning for utopia” script. But then again, what can you expect from a bunch of redeemed screw-ups?

I believe that Joss Whedon is one of the most attractive (and hence, influential) atheists on the planet. He does away with the cold callousness and shrill histrionics of Richard Dawkins and co. and replaces it with something warmer aesthetically, gentler, more emotionally approachable, like the atheism of Alain de Botton. And he adds awesome superheroes. But even he can’t outrun the New Puritan shame culture of the Internet. Strange days indeed. Atheist humanists assemble.

Reel Thinking thanks Ted Turnau for the post and Jason Ramasami for the pic!

MPW-77406I was recently afforded the opportunity to introduce William Friedkin’s The French Connection at my local Alamo Drafthouse theater, and I’d like to share a little of what I said that evening about how the film strives for a certain sense of realism.

Friedkin describes his shooting style for The French Connection as ‘induced documentary.’ This basically means that he used various cinematic techniques to imbue the film with a sense of gritty realism that wasn’t prevalent in police procedurals up to that point in time. He accomplished this stylistic feat in a number of ways. First, he used a lot of handheld camera work in The French Connection to make you feel like you are on the streets with Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Russo (Roy Scheider). Additionally, Friedkin “often had actors rehearse scenes without the crew being present; thus, a cameraman would not know exactly where the actors would be while shooting and would have to adjust and improvise like a television news crew covering an unpredictable live event.” [1] Listen to Friedkin describe the process in his own words in the video below.


By using these formal elements to bring a documentary style to The French Connection, Friedkin, in essence, paved the way for our modern predilection for gritty dramas and “found footage” films. Without this 1971 classic, cinema wouldn’t be the same.

Now I want to hear from you. What are some of your favorite movies that strive for a similar sort of realism? Why do you think these films are so popular right now? Sound off in the comments below!

  1. From The French Connection Filmmakers Signature Series, William Friedkin Blu-Ray insert.  ↩

(Throwback) Trailer Tuesday: The Iron Giant

Posted: May 12, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

In anticipation of the release of Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland (May 22), I thought I’d post the trailer for his feature film debut, The Iron Giant. It’s a wonderful film, and it might be getting a theatrical re-release. Check it out below.

A Brief Defense of Man of Steel

Posted: May 1, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

Man-of-Steel-poster2-610x904Unless you’ve been off the internet for the past week, you’ve probably seen the debut trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I’ve watched the trailer (multiple times);  and the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Zack Snyder and company did a very good job of setting up BvS in the 2013 Man of Steel. In fact, the trailer has made me think a lot about BvS’s predecessor; and in light of the recent buzz, I would like to take a look back at Man of Steel—a film that received a good deal of criticism—and offer a brief defense.

Soon after its premiere, people rushed to the blogosphere to denounce Zack Snyder’s approach to Superman: the film was too dark, too serious; it was too dry; the suit wasn’t right—the blue and red too subdued. The majority of the complaints, however, centered around the film’s third act and contended that Henry Cavill’s Superman destroyed so much of Metropolis and Smallville, consequently taking the lives of numerous innocent bystanders, that he was a disgrace to the uniform. “Superman would do whatever it takes to keep people from getting hurt,” they said. Some even went so far as to estimate the actual cost of the damage done in the film. What I want to briefly argue, however, is that it is precisely these aforementioned issues that make Man of Steel both an excellent origin story and a smart setup of BvS.

Yes, Superman causes a lot of damage in Man of Steel, and I admit that Snyder’s team probably had a little too much fun with destruction and chaos in the film. That being said, there is one important thing that I think most critics of these aspects of the film overlook: Man of Steel is, first and foremost, an origin story—and one that aspires to some semblance of realism. As an origin story, a large portion of the film is devoted to showing how Clark grew up and lived most of his life as a boy from Kansas—not as the titular superhero. He avoids school fights and uses his powers sparingly in his early years. In fact, by the time the infamous third act rolls around, Clark has only been the Superman for a day or so. This means that he’s not an experienced fighter (in this world superheroes aren’t born knowing martial arts), and he doesn’t have much experience saving the world; but he finds himself pitted against one of the greatest military leaders in the universe, General Zod (Michael Shannon). In other words, Zod is at an advantage. He gets to choose the battlefield and decides that he will build a new Krypton on Earth. Superman can’t take the battle to the moon or another planet because Zod has decided to destroy Superman’s home world. Of course there will be destruction, and lives will inevitably be lost.

Now, does the fact that Zod chose earth as his battlefield mean that Superman had to throw his enemies though power plants andMV5BMTc0NjcxNDQ3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjI4NTkxNg@@._V1__SX1394_SY660_ buildings? Did he have to drag Zod’s head through a building as they fought midair? No, he didn’t. And that’s the wonderful thing about Zack Snyder’s approach to this iconic superhero: he is human. He makes mistakes—costly ones. His aforementioned inexperience as a fighter shows itself in Man of Steel. What all of this means is that Snyder succeeded in giving his audiences a grittier, more realistic take on the world’s most famous and greatest superhero. You may not like that approach (and it’s fine if you don’t), but that doesn’t make Man of Steel a failure. I even think that this movie will make even more sense once we see Batman v Superman.

Superman’s failures and mistakes in Man of Steel provided the canvas on which  BvS will unfold. He saved the world in Man of Steel, and many people worship him in BvS as a result. That Superman destroyed a large portion of Metropolis explains why some people are so angry with and afraid of him in BvS. The crowd’s angry chants of “go home!” in the newly-released trailer reinforce this notion. And now an older Bruce Wayne will be able to look down on Superman and dismiss him as young, inexperienced, and possibly dangerous. This kind of world-building would not be possible were it not for Man of Steel.

I love being able to talk about movies in this way. Part of that is because I’m a hopeless nerd; the other part is that as a Christian I have a special love for stories—especially the old, old one. When I dig into a film like I have here, I don’t do it to be tedious, but because I rejoice that God reveals Himself in His creation by giving the ability to tell stories and build worlds and enjoy seeing them told and built. By delighting in these gifts, I love the Giver.

That being said, what did you think of Man of Steel? Did you like it? Was the destruction too much? Is my explanation all wrong? I’d like to hear from you. Comment below.