Posts Tagged ‘Saving Private Ryan’

joker-oscarsWell the Oscar winners will be announced in less than a week (this Sunday for those of you who did not know), and I must admit that I’m a little upset with the Academy. I know, I know, I couldn’t imagine having the job they have of selecting a handful of films out of the possible contenders. To put yourself in their shoes, try and pick your favorite film of all time. Or, simply list your top 10 films. It’s not easy, right? You can pick some, but you leave some others out.

Even though there’s a certain level of grace we should give the academy, I’m going to go ahead and state that they really messed up by not – at least – nominating The Dark Knight Rises. I understand that filmmakers created some of the best films our cinemas have seen in recent years, but come on.

Just like everyone knows that Saving Private Ryan should have won Best Picture over Romeo In Love (some of you didn’t even realize that’s the incorrect title, which proves my point), everyone also knows that The Dark Knight should have been nominated in 2008. It would have been considerate of the Academy to at least admit their obvious error, by nominating TDKR.

I know the TDKR has received its fair share of criticism. Many people have pointed to the obvious plot-holes in the film and other minor issues with the story, but that is EXACTLY why TDKR should have been nominated. That is, it actually had a story to critique! When was the last time a comic-book adaptation had a decent story? You never hear people picking apart The Avengers or The Amazing Spider-man, but they’ve elevated their expectations of TDKR because it’s a higher caliber film.

You see, the Academy failed to nominate this film, because they honestly didn’t know what to do with a comic-book-action film that was actually just as good, or better, than many of the other dramas released. The Academy had never seen a superhero portrayed in this way and it caught them off guard. They were ready to admit that it was a good action film, but they were completely blind to the fact that these films have forever changed actions films.

They would also be hard-pressed to name a trilogy that has been complete as this one. My friend James Harleman states, if you didn’t like The Dark Knight Rises, you didn’t like The Dark Knight. These three films possess some of the most consistent, tightly woven story-lines to ever grace the silver screen. And what recognition does Christopher Nolan get? Nothing. What about the fact that Christian Bale actually portrays three characters in every film, any notoriety? Nope. What about the fact that almost every comic-book action film has used the Batman trilogy as a template for super hero movies, does that account for anything? Guess not.

It’s hard to measure the difference these films have already made and will continue to make, but the fact that they have changed filmmaking is worth far more than a golden statue.

What does this have to do with theology? Everything. Anytime someone makes a unique piece of art, and a timeless piece at that, it is something we should take notice of and appreciate. Christopher Nolan obviously has a gift and used many gifted actors and filmmakers to hone his story, but that’s what we should applaud. Any gift we have is a grace. There is a Giver who bestows the gift and the lengths at which we strive to sharpen those gifts, gives glory to the Giver. We don’t need an Academy to tell us that.

killing-them-softly-poster1I guess Brad Pitt likes working with director Andrew Dominik.  This is only their second collaboration (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford being their first), but Dominik has only directed three films.  Plus, Dominik apparently just texted Pitt about the film and he simply replied yes.  Instead of going through agents and his people calling Pitt’s people, he simply went to the source.  I wonder what the intrigue of this film was?  What was it about this story and this director that moved one of Hollywood’s most popular stars to say yes?

Killing Them Softly follows Jackie Cogan, an enforcer who has been sought after to restore normalcy to the Mob.  After two “dumb guys” rob a Mob protected poker game, the criminals turn to the corrupt Cogan to ensure the furthering of corruption.  Using corruption to further corruption makes sense.  Truth is the only thing which causes corruption to cease, therefore, we would agree with the premise of this film.  Corruption breeds corruption.

Artistic Agony

KTS is said to be a film that’s not for the squeamish.  One critic has labeled the film as beautifully brutal.  There’s no doubt that movies dealing with rough content can be beautiful – Saving Private Ryan is just one example.  We know it is important to have faithful portrayals of sin and we must appreciate that to some degree, however, KTS is said to be beautiful because of the artistic style of violence.

Supposedly, Dominik, employs the use of slow-motion to some scenes of violence in the film.  I haven’t seen the film but I’ve read about a slow-motion scene of a bullet passing through the hand and head of an unfortunate criminal.  Beautiful, right?  While I know KTS is a film some Christians have liberty to view, artistic violence is something to be cautious of.  While I understand that slow-motion is beautiful, and there’s no doubt it can be considered art, reveling in the offing of a fellow image-bearer isn’t something we should label as beautiful.

Comedic Corruption

Another aspect of KTS, which should be reflected upon, is the humor which is said to be in the film.  Again, the film follows the Mob, criminals, and enforcers killing and torturing one another.  While I have laughed at my share of dark comedies, this is a gray area Christians must be cautious of.

I understand that humorous instances can happen in everyday life, but let’s be cautious of what we call funny.  Christians must set up parameters of what we laugh at.  I understand that there will still be gray areas for us as Christians, but this film is filled with corruption so let’s give pause to its portrayals of funny.


Personally, I really like Brad Pitt’s acting and I know Andrew Dominik is a talented director.  We must appreciate good stories, quality acting, and excellent cinematography, like that of KTS.  Even though Christians have liberty to watch such films, we still must be cautious of certain aspects and, at least, reflect on these aspects that possibly contradict our Christianity.  Christian liberty does not give us the right to disengage our minds and refuse to wrestle with the gray areas this film most assuredly presents.

Just some thoughts as you possibly head to the theater this weekend.

There are certain films I’ve seen in my life, and while I’m watching them, I realize I’m watching something different. Something that, most likely, will be timeless. I remember watching the films Braveheart, The Matrix, Saving Private Ryan, & The Lord of the Rings, and thinking, “This film is unique. I haven’t seen anything quite like it.” I understand that many action films use similar sequences to The Matrix, but when it came out nothing had been quite like it. When I first saw it, I echoed the words of Keanu Reeves, “Whoa.” Saving Priavate Ryan, likewise, changed war films forever.

Regardless of what you think about any of these movies, they are timeless. They are considered to be classics and will, most likely, remain that way for quite some time.

When discussing the timelessness of films, we typically don’t think about summer blockbusters. Try and name a few blockbusters that came out just last summer. It can be slightly difficult. What about summer 2010? Can you name any blockbusters? Films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Captain America: The First Avengers, Super 8, & Cowboys and Aliens were all the hype last summer…until they came out (one was enjoyable). Chances are, none of those films will live on to be a timeless film.

Ridley Scott, however, may change things this summer. Many of you know that his sci-fi,action,horror, Prometheus, comes out today. There has been a great deal of buzz surrounding this film for quite some time. Is it a prequel to the Aliens franchise? Is it a sequel to the Aliens franchise? Does it have anything to do with the Aliens franchise? While it has been revealed that there will be overlap with the Alien films, it has not been revealed exactly how much overlap there will be.

Pushing all that talk to the side, critics and fans alike, are just excited to see Scott return to a genre he helped define. Although the science fiction genre doesn’t typically supply many timeless films, Scott created two that are on the top of most everyone’s lists – Blade Runner and Alien. These films remain classics and have been a blueprint for the genre.

Therefore, the question is, Will Scott do it again? Will Prometheus join the list of timeless sci-fi films? That is yet to be determined, but one thing we do know is that it will be a challenge, even for a seasoned filmmaker like Scott. If this were Michael Bay no one would be having this discussion, but the bar for Ridley Scott is high. Before the film even received much press, the fact that his name was attached to a sci-fi project garnered enough attention. The pressure is on.

What is it about this notion of timelessness? Should films strive to be timeless or not? Is it okay to make a film that will be enjoyable as a summer blockbuster? Is there anything wrong with knowingly making a film that will be forgotten? What is it about films that remain timeless? How is a film remembered for so long? How does a film resonate across generations? What truth do certain films convey that allow them to connect with audiences for such a long time?

This was the only poster clean enough to show on our site

Here we go again. Not too long ago I wrote some strong posts against A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas [post 2] and American Reunion [post 2]. While wanting to remain sensitive to the issue of Christian liberty, I felt there was no reason a Christian should watch or support those films. Today I’m taking a similar stance against the movie, Piranha 3DD. You probably don’t need a blog post to tell you why a Christian shouldn’t watch this film, but, we at Reel Thinking, might need to explain why we would encourage such a strong stance against this film. Plus, it seems that some Christians would view a film like this and simply ‘laugh’ at the possible dangers that are contained in it.

To me, films like this are the ‘gateway drug’ to pornography. Don’t get me wrong, this film is explicitly pornographic, there’s no way around it (just look at the title). However, I say it is the gateway drug to porn, because their plot isn’t entirely centered on porn. Piranha 3DD has various subplots going on – mutant piranhas eating people at a water park – but they have other aspects of the plot that prove to be pornographic; i.e., lifeguards who are strippers. Even though the film is blatantly pornographic to some, the filmmakers mask it in It’s a horror film about piranhas attacking people. Therefore, guys feel less shame in saying they’re going to see P3DD at the theater, but the film still feeds the pornographic desire they have; i.e., gateway drug to porn.

Not only does this film exploit sex, it also contains over-the-top-gore and worships it, which is sinful. There is no doubt that sometimes a movie requires violence. For example, Saving Private Ryan must be violent in order to accurately capture the horrors of war, but P3DD is taking the horrific realities of violence and exploiting them.

We talked about the foolish producers of Harold & Kumar exploiting God’s creation of sex, and now we have the equally dumb creators of P3DD exploiting violence…and sex. The truth is, violence is real. Sometimes violence is needed, sometimes violence happens accidentally, and since we live in a fallen creation, violence will always be a result of the world we live in. But to take that truth and worship it, is disgusting.

The first bloodshed that ever occurred in the history of the world was in God’s gracious covering of Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Gen. 3:21). Genesis tells us that God covered Adam and Eve in animal skins, implying that an animal had to die. It was our first parent’s sin that caused bloodshed – violence. Therefore, it is easy for us to see that sin caused violence. Sin requires bloodshed. There will be no bloodshed in the new heavens and the new earth, so to take a result of the fall and worship it as the creators of P3DD do is sick.

Not only do they worship violence, but they do it in a somewhat humorous way. If you look this film up, its genre is horror, comedy, thriller. They have horrific depictions of piranhas eating humans and they attempt to add humor to a distortion of creation…not funny. Christians must be striving to keep violence and blood in their proper place. These are sobering realities of the fall, but when those lines begin to be blurred as humorous, that is a dangerous lie being communicated.

The Three Stooges might have been the first to depict violence as humorous, but there is a significant difference between a face getting ripped off (this happened in the first Piranha) and a kick to the shin (see Stooges).

Besides the bad acting, story line, and waste of time this film would be, add to that, the graphic nudity/sex and the graphic violence, and I think Christians would be hard-pressed to give a good reason they should see a film like this. Remember, we are creatures created in the image of God, should we really watch (and possibly laugh at) a film that exploits those image-barers with depictions of violence and sex?

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.

Amoral, moralistic, and biblical film reviewing | Marvin Olasky

I watched Saving Private Ryan recently, and was impressed with it all over again. This DVD viewing, though, reminded me of a firefight sparked by WORLD’s review of the film (Aug. 8, 1998) when it was playing in theaters.

Many letters that we printed took WORLD to task for praising a film that contained graphic violence. They forced me to think about what Christian film reviewers should do, if they share with me the fundamental assumption that Christians should not live in a cultural ghetto, and should develop points of contact with the non-Christians who surround us.

I respect Christians who want to isolate themselves from the world, but my models are Daniel and Paul, both of whom displayed knowledge of the pagan poetry and theology that surrounded them. Within that context, I’d suggest that reviews have three functions. They should help readers decide whether to see something that sounds appealing. They should give readers some sense of the pictures that are dancing through the heads of our fellow citizens. They should summarize and biblically critique the worldviews of our key cultural teachers.

The triple task makes the reviewer’s job hard. He has to be both a regent (standing in for readers as their eyes and ears) and a teacher. He needs the discernment to bring out theological implications and the lightheartedness to enjoy movies that aren’t theological treatises. He needs the ability to look at what other people see but then see it more deeply through adept use of a biblical lens.

Along with the triple task, a Christian reviewer should understand a triple distinction: amoral, moralistic, and biblical. Many reviewers today are amoral, worshipping sensation for sensation’s sake, reveling in slow-motion murder and fast-talking obscenity, not even paying attention to whether films and programs glorify evil. That’s sub-Christian reviewing.

A second group of reviewers are moralistic: They appropriately attack the amoral but then push smiley-faced films that preach faith in man’s natural goodness. These reviewers criticize amoral destruction but don’t note how the subtle sapping of moralism can be even more effective in keeping us from seeing our need for God’s grace. They roll over for smarmy products designated as “uplifting”-but uplift apart from Christ is idolatry.

Christian reviewers should be neither amoral nor moralistic. They should be Bible-centered in their search for films that help us to comprehend evil and the need to fight it. Christians disagree on the extent to which films need to depict man’s depravity and sin’s consequences, but truthful films often are not nice, just as Christianity is not a nice religion: Priests used hyssop to spray the blood of sacrifices on the people in Moses’ time, and Christ had to shed his blood, not just preach, to pay for our sin.

The hard reality of biblical faith distinguishes it from the spongecake of theological liberalism. And that brings me back to Saving Private Ryan, a powerful film that starts with a bloody D-Day. Some of the violence is so intense that lots of people will want to skip it. And yet, the showing of violence in a world filled with evil is not evil itself, as long as it does not make killing people look like fun – and this film makes it look appropriately horrible.

Further: the theology suggested at the end of the film can open up good discussion. One dying soldier’s last words to the man whose life he and others saved, at great cost, are “Earn this. Earn it.” Then we fast-forward half a century: The man who was saved, now old, is in a cemetery, hobbling to a cross that commemorates his savior. The old man fights back tears to say, “I lived my life the best I could. I hope that was enough.”

That’s the question: Has the old man “earned it”? He turns to his wife and pleads, “Tell me I’m a good man.” His wife says, “You are”-and we see his children and grandchildren behind him. The gospel according to director Stephen Spielberg is evident: We can pay for the life that’s been given us by our good works-although we’re never sure if we’ve done enough.

That’s provocative in itself, and even more important is the shadow lurking at the end of Saving Private Ryan: the mystery of grace offered by a man dying for us. Maybe some of us can discuss with non-Christian moviegoers how Christianity alone brings into harmonious tension the earning and the gift.