Avengers Infinity War (Spoiler-free Review)

            Storytelling on steroids…the phrase best describing this third Avengers entry, released on the 10th anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Never has a movie had a cast of this size (consisting of over 20 superheroes from all of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the warriors of Wakanda), with a story this grand (uniting the storylines of 18 marvel movies), and covering such a large spectrum (battles and story arches ranging from Asgard to Knowhere to earth and well beyond).  To call this film ambitious and gutsy would be an immense understatement. 

            But does the film live up to all the hype?  Is it worth your time (it is 2.5 hours long) and hard-earned dollars (tickets are far from the affordability of the 1990s)?  The short answer:  YES (without hesitation). 

            The Russo Bros. (Anthony and Joe) wowed the world when they directed Captain America:  Winter Soldier; then outdid themselves with the infamous Captain America Civil War.  Lightning has struck a third time with Avengers:  Infinity War. 

            I want to avoid both spoilers as well as any hints of the storyline.  So, I will offer what I can regarding this film:  First, if you are not totally caught up on all the movies, there is a chance you can still enjoy Infinity War (IW).  The key recent movies to watch are Civil War and Thor Ragnarock.  If you have not seen these two films, I believe you will still enjoy IW, though you might have to play catch-up during the first half of the movie. 

            Second, IW is darker than any of the other Marvel offerings.  Make no mistake, the movie is hilarious (James Gunn was brought in to write the dialogue for the Guardians), and you will laugh a lot in this movie…but the film is also very dark.  People are tortured, people die, and there are a few plot-lines which earn the PG-13 rating all by themselves regardless of violence or language.  Call IW the perfect blend of Marvel and DC thematically. 

            Third, due to the darker content and nature of the film, be advised this is not like the other Marvel movies and truly earns (to the limit) its PG-13 rating.  Children under 10 might leave the film with some bad dreams and heavy hearts – depending upon their emotional development and comprehension. 

            Lastly, stay to the end of the credits as there is 1 post-credit scene.  However, if you are not a super-fan of the comics, you might have to google the ending to understand what it all means. 

            Avengers Infinity War is a very well made, well executed film.  It’s large, but avoids losing the audience.  Avengers 4 comes out next year in 2019…here’s hoping the year comes quick. 

The Last Jedi: Disappointments and Defenses

*Warning:  Massive Spoilers in this Article*

            Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi (my review here) has become a much debated and polarizing adventure.  Some praise the bold vision, others retort it does not feel like a Star Wars movie; many applaud the twists and surprises, while others lament the same twists claiming they erase and confuse the preceding storylines.  Why is this film so divisive?  Were the film-making risks worth it?  What motivations led Lucasfilm as a company to take the paths less chosen? 

            Since this will be a longer entry, here’s the order of contents so you can scroll to the section most desired: 

            1) a polarized culture (assessing the polarization in America on a cultural level)

            2) Poe vs Hodo  

            3) Luke’s lack of Saber use 

            4) the Death of Snoke

            5) Rey’s Parents reveal

            6) Yoda vs Obi-Wan

            7) Leia’s use of the Force

 

 

A Polarized Culture

            First, let’s acknowledge a room-sized elephant:  America as a nation has become polarized – politically, morally, ethically, and spiritually. Therefore, it was only a matter of time for such divisiveness to creep into Star Wars fandom.  Roses’ words of wisdom should be heeded by people on all sides:  don’t destroy what you hate, save what you love.  Such an approach will help people to talk with humility rather than rage with arrogance.  

 

Now for the movie itself… 

 

Poe vs Hodo

             Many a comment has been shared about the conflict between fan favorite Poe and Vice Admiral Hodo.  The comment:  if she would just let Poe in on her plan, all the conflict and mistakes could have been avoided.  Reason behind the passion:  Poe is shown as struggling with authority, and the fans want him to be a hero in the right. 

            Why did Hodo not let Poe in on her plan?  To understand Hodo’s lack of explanation one has to think through the mind of the military.  An admiral never has to explain her/himself to a lower-ranking officer.  A soldier is to hear the orders and obey the orders.  Society at large in Western Civilization craves independent thinking and desires to know all around them.  Such is not the case in the military.  In times of war, the leaders make a call and the soldiers must respond in a trustworthy manner without hesitation.  Poe was out of line in his questioning of the Admiral as he struggled with pride, and had to learn how to serve under authority well in order to learn how to lead well. 

 

Luke Not Fighting with a Saber

             It appears Luke lost his green saber when Kylo destroyed the temple.  Being exiled on an island without force crystals meant Luke could not forge a new saber (and he cut himself off from the force, meaning he would be able to construct a saber anyway).  Still, many were disappointed with Luke’s final battle being without a single saber clash against Kylo Ren. 

            Signs of a true master:  not having to fight at all.  For some 1980s nostalgia, look back to the original Karate Kid (parts 1 & 2).  Miyagi was able to beat Kreese without ever lifting his hand.  A master is truly a master when they can make a fool out of their opponent with simplicity.  Luke was able to defeat and make a mockery out of Kylo without even being present – what a true master of the force! 

 

Death of Snoke

            This was one of the biggest surprises of the movie.  Most people expected Snoke to be the big baddie, the Emperor equivalent, the one Luke or Rey would have to defeat in episode 9.  Come to find out, Kylo is the big baddie. 

            Why did Kylo eliminate Snoke in 8?  Kylo Ren told Rey to get rid of the past, kill it if you have to, as such is the only way to become who you’re truly meant to be.  Snoke and Luke were all who remained in his past, so killing them was what he thought it would take to achieve his destiny.  Therefore, knowing Snoke’s background is rather irrelevant (from a storytelling point of view), as he is but a macguffin for Kylo. 

 

Rey’s Parents

            Rian Johnson stated in an interview why he chose Rey’s parents to be nobody of any significance.  In short:  to move a character’s arc into a deep and emotional path, their greatest quest must be met with the worst possible answer.  For Luke in Empire Strikes Back, the worst possible answer was for Vader to be his father; in The Last Jedi, the worst possible for answer for Rey was for her parents to be junkies who sold her for booze money.  Such a reveal pushes Rey to find meaning and significance in something other than her lineage and heritage (a introspection everyone has to make at some point in their lives). 

 

Yoda vs Obi-Wan

            Some wonder why Yoda and not Obi-Wan appeared to Luke on the island.  First, there’s the issue of logistics:  Alec Guinness died a long time ago, and Ewan McGreggor’s appearance would be a little weird and distracting (even with makeup).  From a storytelling point of view:  Luke spent more time learning the force from Yoda than Obi-Wan (see both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and notice the content of interaction between Luke, Yoda, and Kenobi).  Therefore, it made most sense for Yoda to give Luke a final kick in the pants. 

 

Leia Poppins (Leia’s use of the Force)

            Part-way into the film, Leia’s ship is attacked, there’s a massive hull breech, and Leia was jettisoned into space…only to force fly (Mary Poppins style) back to her ship.  This one was the weirdest part for me, personally, and took a little reading, thinking, and  second viewing to accept it (though it still stands as a little weird).  Rian Johnson himself explained this controversial decision. 

            To summarize:  Leia was always strong with the force.  In fact, in the book “Star Wars:  from a Certain Point of View,” it I revealed Yoda planned on training Leia to be a Jedi, not Luke in Empire Strikes Back (and was surprised to see Luke).  Second:  Johnson had hear of many stories where people would summon extraordinary strength in times of extreme crisis – like a parent lifting a car which had rolled over their child.  Johnson wanted a similar motif in The Last Jedi concerning Leia, which a time of extreme crisis allowed her to have a force-adrenalin-surge allowing her to temporarily display Luke-level mastery. 

 

 

I do believe this covers the main divisive beats of the film.  If there are other thoughts, concerns, etc., feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be glad to peacefully interact and dialogue.  Harsh and vulgar comments will be removed.  😊 

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoiler-Free Review)

            "Unexpected, yet right."  These words said by Daisy Ridley (Rey) in the behind the scenes featurette properly capture the essence of watching Rian Johnson’s contribution to the Star Wars mythos.  The same can be said concerning Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) famous line, “this is not going to go the way you think.” 

            From months in advance all the way to the final moment of sitting in the theater, my mind flooded with expectations.  What I experienced was something far different than anything I imagined…at least a half-dozen times I was totally taken off guard and completely surprised.  While many things I had hoped for did not come to pass (and will not), The Last Jedi went not only in a totally different direction, it also went above and beyond anything I could have anticipated. 

            Rian Johnson has created a character-driven film.  If you have seen his previous work (Brick, Looper), you will have a glimpse of what to expect.  Even the action scenes are about character development, allowing us to learn more about the people involved than just hoping they achieve their goals.  Johnson also loves to write about how one's passions can become an addiction, resulting in self-sabotage (an element which in beginning to place Rian into the auteur category).  As a result, Episode 8 contains a very dense story with massive arcs, running even deeper than what was offered in any previous Star Wars film (including Empire Strikes Back). 

            Without talking about story, plot points, etc., one of the biggest generic surprises of the film is the humor.  Never have I laughed so hard and so often in a Star Wars movie.  Yes, every episode (including Rogue One) contain humorous moments.  Yet, Last Jedi has some truly comedic scenes…and lots of them.  Johnson was not content with comic relief, he has a true story to tell, and humor is one of his narrators. 

            When watching the Last Jedi (and yes, it should be seen on the big screen, no 3D required), you will experience great battles, new creatures, new milk (yes, you read that right), new ships, new planets, lots of humor, a plethora of surprises, and a fantastic movie-going experience.  I only had 1 complaint about the movie…but that will be saved for another day. 😉

 

MOVIE RATING:  PG-13 violence and intensity (as dark as Episode 5, not as violent as episode 3), brief mild profanity. 

REVIEW RATING:  4.5 out of 5 stars. 

KID FRIENDLINESS:  while the content is safe for kids under 10, the very nature of both the story and emphasis upon character arcs might make it difficult for kids under 10 to really appreciate the film without getting restless/lost. 

Proving Jesus is God (& the Bible as Truth)

“God, give me a sign!” 

This request is often done for one of two reasons:  1) Proof of Existence ~ prove to me You are God;" and/or 2) Comfort/Vow ~ God, if you do “A,” then I will do “B.”  In Matthew 12, when some religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign, Jesus said only a wicked and perverse generation ask for a sign.  In other words, Jesus does not need to defend Himself, He is not campaigning for the role of Messiah, and Jesus does not need out vote.  

Yet, asking "How can someone know Jesus is the only and true way" in a world of hundreds of religions is a valid question.  

     Before Jesus was ever born, the Old Testament was written.  Actually, the Old Testament (OT for short) was written from over a thousands years before Jesus was born up to about 400 years prior.  While some speculate over the accuracy of the dates of authorship, what is 100% known is that the OT was fully written, assembled, widely circulated, and then translated into Greek around 250 years before Jesus' birth (and the Greek translation of the OT was titled the Septuagint).  

     Over 200 years before Jesus was ever born, there were over 300 prophecies predicting the Messiah.  Here's a short list: 

                   1) Gen. 3:15 – come from the seed of woman

                   2) Gen. 9:26-27 – come from the line of Shem

                   3) Gen. 12:3 – be a descendant of Abraham

                   4) Gen. 26:2-5 – come from the line of Isaac

                   5) Num. 24:17-19 – Descendant of Jacob

                   6) Gen. 49:10 - and from the tribe of Judah  

                   7) 2 Sam. 7:12 – from the house of David

                   8) Micah 5:2 – born in Bethlehem 

                   9) Ps. 2:7-8 – Messiah will be crucified

                  10) Is 53 – He will be despised, rejected, killed, and bare the sins of the world 

                   11) Ps. 41:9 – Messiah will be betrayed by a friend

                   12) Zech. 11:10-13 – betrayed for 30 (not 29) pieces of silver (not gold)

                   13) Zech. 11:13 – pieces of silver thrown (not placed) onto the temple floor

                   14) Zech. 11:13 – silver used to buy a field 

                   15) Is. 53:9 – buried in a rich man’s tomb. 

                   16) Is. 25:8 – will rise from the dead 

                   17) Ps. 68:18 – will ascend

                   18) Ps. 110:1 – will be seated at the right hand of the Father  

     Taking just 8 of these prophecies:  the odds of any 1 person fulfilling just 8 of these prophecies is 1 in 100 Quadrillion (that's a 10 to the 17th power, or a 10 followed by 17 zeros).  Josh McDowell's team came up with a word picture to help understand what this statistic means:  If you took the state of Texas, covered it from border to border with silver dollars staked 2 feet deep; took just 1 silver dollar and marked it, threw it back into the pile, took a bulldozer to mix the dollars all up and reorganized the pile; then took a man, blind-folded him, and had him wade through the state of Texas.  Afterwards, he randomly stopped, randomly picked up one silver dollar; the odds of him picking that one marked dollar is the same odds of 1 person fulfilling 8 of the OT prophecies.  Jesus fulfilled not just 8...not 50...not 100...but over 300 prophecies.  If 8 is near statistically impossible, then fulfilling over 300 would require Divine intervention/planning/intention.  

     Messianic Prophecies are merely one out of several dozen ways we know Jesus is the true Messiah, and the one and only Holy and Righteous One.  

Who is Responsible for the Secularization of American Youth?

            Are colleges to blame for the loss of religious beliefs in American young adults of today?  While many would say “yes” without hesitation, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released a study stating a solid “no” (though they admit colleges are not helping, either).  While the study might appear to be a political attempt to take colleges off the hook, the data of the research hints at a more likely cause for the secularization of American young adults. 

            Since 1986, the number of youth entering college who professed no religious affiliation whatsoever rose threefold (from 10% to 31%).  What this means is more students are entering college without religion.  Today, 38% reject their faith during college, while in the 1980s, 63% rejected their faith while in college (or shortly afterward).  The climate has dramatically changed, and one of the key causes appears to be the home/parents.  Even in the average Christian home, church was usually a Sunday activity with no real obvious impact on everyday living. 

            Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Ephesians 4-6 states discipleship is to begin in the home.  It is the responsibility of the parents to intentionally teach their children Scripture, and to actively display how Jesus is relevant and present in the world today.  The data shows many in the church is struggling with this very core issue.  Hopefully, by starting individually, we can begin to make a change. 

“Proclaim Jesus, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” – Col 1:28 

 

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/college-professors-arent-killing-religion/

https://www.prri.org 

 

Got Questions (07/30/2017)

Question from July 30 Sermon: 

            Was Jesus intentionally avoiding luxuries because they could have been a hindrance to the disciples’ focus? 

Two issues come up with this question.  First is the issue of intention.  While Jesus did emphasize the lack of luxury in His ministry/life, the lack of luxury was not simply a mere choice but one of necessity/circumstance.  Jesus was not born in a wealthy home, and did not work a high-profile job in His early years.  Being born into a carpenter’s home, the work done to sustain the family was one of wood and stone (yes, stone was a big part of carpenter’s work back then).  Once Jesus left home to begin His ministry-proper leading to the cross, luxuries were simply not an option (were not available). 

However, being God, and thus omnipotent, Jesus could have purposely pursued luxuries or even could have created luxuries (yet, in both cases, did not).  Therefore, the issue of luxuries also does include intention; Jesus intentionally did not seek out luxuries.  While luxuries could possibly be a distraction to the disciples, the real focus was upon Jesus’ role and mission.  In the NIV, Phil. 2:6 reads, “[Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”  In other words, Divinity is not an excuse to be a grasping-type of person.  Jesus came to sacrifice Himself so others might flourish, not vice-versa (to sacrifice others to help oneself flourish would make Jesus a casino-god, rather than the true sacrificial God).   

In short (too late?), Jesus did not (and would not) pursue luxuries – not because they were bad or a distraction, but instead because 1) He was poor, making such things unavailable, and 2) such a pursuit would go against His humble nature.  Luxuries are not wrong and bad, but to make luxuries one’s goal, motivation, pursuit, and source of comfort goes against humbleness and turns something good into an idol. 

 

Cars 3 (film review)

            As with every sequel, comparisons are made to the original film which launched the franchise.  Thus, the question on people’s minds tend to be “is Cars 3 as good as part 1?”  To which I would offer this simple reply:  yes and no. 

            The first Cars film by Pixar was a retelling of a classic tale:  city boy gets trapped in the country to discover grass roots have value which apply to the modern technological world.  Call it a cartoon version of Doc Hollywood.  Yet, the character arc of Lightning McQueen was very solid with a full swing:  from arrogant to compassionate, from selfish to sacrificial. 

            In Cars 3, the character arcs are more subtle and less dynamic – resulting in a little less emotional storytelling.  Yet, Cars 3 is less Doc Hollywood and more Rocky 4:  placing new technology directly against the old fashioned. Pixar, being the geniuses they are, also add a great twist to this age-old tale of old vs new by embracing and balancing both.  In so doing, Cars 3 may be less emotional than 1, but has a more full story than the two predecessors. 

            The 3D is basically irrelevant to this film, so don’t bother paying the extra bucks.  That being said, the 3D does have this to offer:  because it is so simple, if you’re one who tends to get tired or get headaches from 3D, this one shouldn’t place such a strain on your senses as other films might. 

            Cars 3 is a great film.  The animation is solid (though not a as creative as Inside Out or Wall-E), and the story is fantastic (though not as emotionally vibrant as Toy Story 3).  Cars 3 may not be Pixar’s best offering, but a very solid and worthy one none-the-less.  I give it 4 out of five stars.  As for family friendly, Cars 3 G rating is not pushed in any way, so it has a perfect A+ for all ages (though some will find McQueen’s crash to be very intense). 

Finicky Growth

            Read over Exodus 3:1-8. 

            In this passage, Moses chose to go to the bush; he chose to listen to it, and chose to reject what he was told.  In life, we grow one decision at a time.  Growth is not a single, once-and-for-all commitment; growth encompasses decisions over a lifetime. 

            Since growth is a product of individual decisions made every day, growth will never look the same among two people; growth looks different for each of us.  Many mistakenly believe growth should look like a single straight line going ever upward.  Even though people may say life has ups and downs, more rollercoaster than linear progression, still, ultimately, people view growth as something which should be linear (and going up).  In actuality, growth does not go up, it goes forward.  Years can pass, and despite growing times, we might find ourselves not too different from yesteryear.  Christians often feel guilty about this, and struggle with the reality of struggling. 

            Growth is a finicky thing.  If we’re honest, it fluctuates.  Perhaps it might be helpful to view growth in such a manner:  wake up each day planning to give God a commitment level of 60%.  I know, you expected me to say 100%.  However, 100% is perfection, and we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, discouragement, and depression.  So, plan on 60%.  Allow me to illustrate:  some mornings, one wakes up at 73%.  They go to work and their commitment to God goes down to 45%.  They get a pay raise and it shoots up to 92%.  They get home, have a fight with their spouse, and it goes down to 9%.  Then they watch Star Wars and it goes up to 80% (just kidding…or am I?).  Overall, commitment and growth may average around 50 or 60%.  Sure, one strives for 100, wants to give 100, wish they could give 100, but life is not so simple.  This leaves us with a 4th and final growth piece… 

            Growth requires long-term objectives.  God has long-term objectives (His fully established Kingdom is coming, but has not been ushered in full yet).  Likewise, we too should live our lives with long-term objectives.  Sure, our growth and commitment to God will fluctuate and be a finicky thing, but our goal is not just for today…it’s for a Kingdom yet to come. 

Ghost in the Shell (Film Review)

Overall Grade:  D                                                     Family Friendly Grade:  D- 

            I’ll just get right to the point:  Ghost in the Shell is one of the most boring movies I have seen in many a year.  It is almost as if the movie was made to get a glimpse at Scarlett Johansson (who plays Major) with as little clothing as possible.  Afterward, when it was discovered there was no character development, no emotion, and zero suspense (and the story was summed up in the first 5 minutes), perhaps someone decided the action had to be stylized and cool…so they mimicked The Matrix and 300 by making every action shot done in slow motion.  What happens when every action scene is in slow motion?  It…be…comes…very…slow… 

            For whatever reason the writers (Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger) decided to change the main character from a major in the police force to a runaway teenager, yet kept her name Major as well as the ability for tactical training.  As a teen she was Japanese, but as a cyborg she’s Caucasian American, leading many to cry foul and throw around terms such as ‘whitewashing.’  Regardless of any racial issues, I guess one should not have high expectations from the director (Rupert Sanders) since his only major film experience was Snow White and the Huntsman – which in itself was not a disaster, but also was a major miss (pun intended) from being good. 

            At least the special effects for the robotics were well done. Atmospherically speaking, it seemed like someone was trying to create a demon child from crossing The 5th Element and Blade Runner (my apologies to Luc Besson and Ridley Scott for the comparison). 

            It’s my personal recommendation to skip seeing Ghost in the Shell in the theater – after all, there’s many better films coming out this month (and in the months to come) more worthy of your hard-earned dollars. 

Power Rangers (Film Review)

Overall Grade:  B                Kid Friendly Grade:  D+

            Go Go Power Rangers!  4 simple words which sent the theater cheering and applauding.  Such is the case with Lionsgate’s new offering, Power Rangers directed by Dean Israelite (who directed Project Almanac in 2015)…it is a film with many nods to the original series. 

Story

             In short, 5 individuals (Dacre Montgomery plays the Red Ranger, RJ Cyler plays the Blue Ranger, Naomi Scott playes the Pink Ranger, Ludi Lin plays the Black Ranger, and Becky G plays the Yellow Ranger) coincidentally end up in the same mine/quarry, and discover 5 coins/medallions which enables them to become the Power Rangers, guardians who protect the life crystal (the source of life upon the planet it inhabits) hidden below earth’s surface from the evil Rita Repulsa (played by Elizabeth Banks). 

2 Surprises

            The first surprise:  the movie didn’t suck.  I’ll be honest, I went into the movie with some skepticism (ok, maybe a lot of skepticism).  I was born well before the Power Ranger generation, and thus did not watch much of the original show (though I did catch an episode here and there during my college years).  When I heard a new movie was being made, my first impression was:  oh, no…seriously?!  Where have the original ideas gone?!  Nevertheless, I found myself laughing, intrigued, and overall enjoying the film from start to finish. 

            Elizabeth Banks does a good Rita.  Sure, she’s not as extreme as Barbara Goodson in the original series (1993-1999), but still appropriately caricaturistic/over-dramatic nonetheless.  Each Ranger offers their own basic story arcs which were neither impressive nor very deep, but good enough for the scope of the film.  Humor was well spaced and decently executed, special effects were no Jurassic World but they were competently crafted, and both the ending and post-credit scene were thoroughly pleasing. 

            The second surprise:  the movie is not kid friendly, and earns its PG-13 rating by including moderate levels of profanity, partial nudity, sexual innuendos (including masturbation and lesbian molestation references), along with normal superhero violence.  Despite all the adult-oriented features, the part which most struck me was the glorification of disrespecting authority.  While there are times in life to stand up against evil regimes, the cases in Power Rangers were about praising the disrespecting of parents, police, and the school system.  3 of the Rangers first met in detention, 3 were wanted by police (1 with a home-arrest anklet), the group – without permission – ‘accommodated’ and totaled a parent’s vehicle on more than one occasion, and the list goes on. 

            Power Rangers is a movie seemingly made for the original audience, most of whom are over the age of 23, and not their 10 year or younger kids.  While some may retort pointing out Ranger’s PG-13 rating, many may assume (like I did) the rating to be PG-13 like Star Wars or Iron Man or Lord of the Rings, which are rated based on action and violence alone, and contain near-zero profanity and zero sexual references.  Such is not the case with Power Rangers. 

End Result

            Overall I give the film a B grade.  When analyzing the movie as a parent, I give Power Rangers a kid friendly grade of D+ and recommend leaving the younger kiddos home with a babysitter, and treat Power Rangers as a fun date night. 

 

Shack-ing up with Hollywood

            Peas and carrots, peanut-butter and chocolate, Abbott and Costello…many times the merging of unique things ends up with something better than any one item solo.  Sometimes, such combinations are not as appealing (I’ll let your mind explore this one).  One combination on the rise is the merging of Christianity and Hollywood:  aka, Christian cinema.  Some are low budget – or even independent – productions like Fireproof, while others amass large production value such as The Passion of the Christ.  In between these budgets falls the current book-turned movie “the Shack,” which has turned up the controversy grinder (and is far from being alone regarding this feat). 

            This leads to the question:  how should one respond when a Christian-based film is made?  Does the response change should the film fall below expectations?  Should one approach said movie with pickiness, or is a level of tolerating imperfections (or errors) appropriate? 

            To begin such a difficult discussion, allow me to offer one quick observation:  the moment society depends upon Hollywood for theological insight and understanding, we are all in trouble.  Rather than using a film to help us interpret the Bible, we should use the Bible to interpret film. 

            Whether watching the Shack, Mel Gibson’s Passion sequel The Resurrection, or any other film (say, Star Wars VIII:  The Last Jedi), a Christian should take similar approaches.  After the viewing of a movie, ask some basic questions:  What does the movie say is to be valued?  What is wrong with our world, and what is the proposed solution?  Would the Bible agree or disagree with the movie’s answers?  What in the film would the Bible agree with?  What in the film does the Bible disagree with?  In the areas of disagreement, what does the Bible say is more accurate/appropriate? 

            Using this approach, a Christian will be able to have better understanding of both the Bible and God (including His expectations regarding His creation).  Each person should approach every movie (and every book for that matter) with critical thinking skills.  Rather than complain, bicker, and boycott, perhaps a better response would be to contemplate, reflect, and discuss.  Perhaps together, we can all grow closer to our Creator, Savior, and King. 

Cosmos vs Creation Science

On Monday, March 31st 2014, Neil deGrasse claimed he debunked Biblical creation via analysis of the speed of light.  In this 4th episode of ‘Cosmos:  A Space Time Odyssey,” the argument was postulated stating there are multiple nebulas (like the Crab Nebula) which are at or over 6500 lightyears away.  Should Biblical creation be accurate, and the earth would be around 6-7000 years old, then there would be no way for such nebulas to be visible as the light would not have reached human visibility. 

Whenever one deals with issues regarding the origins of humanity, because the event cannot be retested, repeated, and observed, every person entering into the conversation arrives with presuppositions.  Some join the origins arena with the presupposition there is a God, while others appear with the presupposition there is no God.  Due to the presuppositions, one has to be honest with themselves by admitting the lack of true objectivity. 

Now onto lightyears and creation.  When God made Adam, Adam was an adult.  When God made Eve, Adam did not have to change her diapers as she too was an adult.  When God made trees, He did not have to wait 20 years for the tree to take root and grow into maturity and produce fruit.  When God made the fish, the birds, the grass…in every instance creation was made in a mature state.  The same goes with light.  When God made the stars, He did not have to wait for the light to travel the multiple lightyears before being visible…maturity existed for the light as well. 

Another way of wording this would be:  when God created, He created with age already in place.  This would explain why so many look upon the earth and they see a very aged earth.  This is how God worked.  Jesus worked in a similar fashion in the New Testament.  When Jesus turned water into wine, the wine was described as the best wine…meaning Jesus made wine that had age already in place.  When Jesus gave sight to a blind person, that person did not have to learn how to interpret sight (just as the lame did not have to wait for their muscles to strengthen for them to walk).  Jesus healed with aged knowledge already in place. 

So to answer deGrasse, yes the Earth can be 6-7,000 years old and simultaneously have light visible from objects over 7,000 lightyears away.  

Best/Worse Movies of 2016

            2016 was filled with a plethora of movies ranging from historical dramas to science fiction extravaganzas.  As with every year, cineplexes across the country are filled with box office smashes (like Finding Dory and Deadpool) as well as box office duds (Warcraft and Ben-Hur).  Regardless of how much or little a movie makes, box office receipts are not the tell-all in the quality of a film; some movies have so much hype they make money even though they are a mediocre movie at best, and some movies go through the theaters unnoticed despite being a fantastic piece of work. 

            Below are my personal reflections on the best and worse Hollywood had to offer throughout the year of 2016.  Feel free to share your thoughts (whether in agreement or disagreement) as we cheer and jeer the cinema of yesteryear. 

 

My Top Films of 2016: 

            5) The BFG.  Steven Spielberg made a classic film with the adaptation of Dahl’s children’s classic.  Sadly, the movie failed at the box office.  My guess:  the movie was made 15 years too late, and the children generation of today do not have the patience to appreciate the style of storytelling BFG had to offer (the pace was a crawl compared to the ADD Secret Life of Pets).  Nevertheless, I took my 5 year old to see it, and she sat in the theater, eyes as wide as they could go, and gasped with utter surprise and amazement at the visuals of this fantastic film.  Don’t pass this overlooked treasure! 

            4) Zootopia.  Disney has had a bang of a year, financially and artistically.  Zootopia was as close to Pixar as any toon has ever been (this film even, in my opinion, surpassed Pixar’s Finding Dory).  Littered with puns galore along with a message of misunderstanding and prejudices, Zootopia is a great adventure upon which to embark. 

            3) Hacksaw Ridge.  Mel Gibson may have done some bad things in real life, but when he gets behind the camera, he shines as one of the best directors in the business.  Hacksaw Ridge is a phenomenal work, one which I hope gets nods in the Academy Awards in 2017 (picture, director, and actor for Andrew Garfield who gave the performance of a lifetime).  Ridge is a film about finding purpose and direction amidst the chaos of life both literally in war and metaphorically in life. 

            First place is a tie.  I don’t think I have ever given a tie before (and I’ve been doing these lists for over 15 years).  The tie is between Captain America: Civil War and Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story.  Part of me wants to give the edge to the Captain, because I am a super geek of Star Wars, so for any film to match the galaxy far far away really says something about its quality!  In Civil War, the airport sequence alone is enough to place the film in the best of action textbooks of all time, while Rogue One shows new artistic directions are not only allowed but appreciated in the Star Wars cinematic universe.  I hope 2017 brings us such high quality adventures (anticipating greatly Episode VIII and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2). 

 

 

WORSE Films of 2016

            5) The Boss.  Melissa McCarthy can be very funny (see the Heat and Spy), but sometimes she really falls flat (like with Identity Thief).  The Boss was far from humorous, and really tried to make unlikeable people be likeably funny, which just doesn’t work.  If someone is unlikeable, bad things happening to them is funny (like in Home Alone), but not the other way around.  Sure, the film tried to get us to like her, but in the end it was too little too late. 

            4) Angry Birds the Movie.  I like the game, but was totally bored with the movie.  You know a comedy failed when there’s a pause for laughter, but no one is laughing, leaving the room with an awkward silence.   Randomness for the sake of being random is not the same as being creatively clever.  Too many cartoons make this mistake (see Storks, Norm of the North, and other animated failures of 2016). 

            3) Batman vs Superman.  It made a lot of money, but receipts do not equal quality.  Where BvS struggled was in regards to the execution.  If a story of this nature is going to be great, it has to be like a roller coaster:  dark and heavy one moment, light and lighter another, allowing for an emotional climactic catharsis towards the end.  BvS was a plateau:  it stayed dark and heavy and never allowed for release or relaxation.  This results in a climax that is dull and uncathartic.  Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a great example of the rollercoaster required for movies. 

            2) Pride, Prejudice, & Zombies.  I love it when new twists and experiments are made with timeless classics.  Bride and Prejudice remains one of my favorites from this particular novel.  Being a zombie fan (and hoping for a decent sequel for Zombieland), I had high hopes with this adaptation.  I was sadly disappointed.  It took me three DVD viewing attempts to get to the end, just to discover it wasn’t worth it.  This genre mash-up was really a mess-up, and probably destroyed any chances of another (hopefully higher quality) attempt anytime in the near future. 

            1) Miracles from Heaven.  Yes, I am a Christian who enjoys a good faith-based movie (like Hacksaw Ridge).  However, usually faith-based films are poorly acted with mediocre writing, and end up being a movie version of a sermon rather than a real story with real adventure.  Miracles from Heaven was a story, so I was excited going into the film.  What I got was one of the worse movie experiences I have had in years…yes, years.  Where was the failure?  First came the marketing:  the trailers told the entire film.  If you have seen the commercial, you have seen the film; yet the movie tries to surprise you unsuccessfully.  Second, all of the failures of Batman vs Superman were done to the extreme in this film.  Miracles seemed more sadistic than the Passion of the Christ.  If you want to watch a child and family suffer for 1.5 hours, just to get relief in the last 2 minutes, then this film is for you.  Me, it was not worth the pain. 

 

Granted, I did not see every film which came out.  There were other good films which were made (like Deadpool, Hail Caesar!, and the Jungle Book was surprisingly better than expected), and there were other duds (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Deepwater Horizon, and Storks are worth avoiding as well).   What were some of your favorites?  What were some you would advise avoiding?  

Starting 2017 with Forgiveness

            Allow me to get straight to the point:  there is a lot of anger throughout our country. 

            If there is going to be healing and restoration, there will need to be forgiveness (after all, forgiveness can be best defined as ‘lowering one’s anger toward someone/thing’).  Where does one start in the process of forgiveness? 

 

Step #1:  Valuing

            This is not forgiveness, it is not saying “I love the person” or even “I like the person.”  This beginning stage is simply saying that the individual who hurt us has value as a human being.  If nothing else, every person is made in the image of God, God loves them, Jesus died for them, therefore they have value. 

 

Step #2:  Canceling Demands.

            In this stage, one must recognize that changing the unchangeable past is impossible.  If someone stole something from you, even if they give it back, there is still the broken trust, the feelings of betrayal and violation.  The past cannot be changed.  While restitution can happen, it still does not change what took place.  In this stage, we cancel the demand that the other person right the wrong they’ve done. 

 

Step #3:  Trusting.

            There is a difference between forgiveness and trust.  First, trust is an investment, one that has risk attached to it.  Second, trust does not wait for one to produce “good will;” after all, God didn't.  Third, trust can be built in small steps:  starting with “I'm willing to talk to you,” or at least say “hi” and wave with all of my fingers extended.  Simply talking to someone is trusting them (albeit small trust), because we are trusting they will say something back in a friendly, dignified, respectful manner. 

            Trust starts small and then advances to the point of no longer questioning the other person's motives (a more complete and deeper trust). 

 

Step #4:  Opening.

            This stage (and in my opinion is the hardest stage) is about dropping the iron-clad guarantee of the other's person's future behavior.  In other words, one gives the other person the freedom to fail again.  This is what is being given in forgiving.

            This stage is also more risky, because it also says, “I'm willing to be put into a position where you could hurt me again.  I hope you don’t, but I’m opening myself to it.” 

What makes this stage hard is that usually we want a guarantee of the other person’s behavior.         However, we are all free to think, feel, and do as we want, so we cannot have a guarantee of another person’s future behavior…therefore don’t demand it.  Thankfully, God didn’t demand it from us (I’ll only send Jesus to die on the cross as long as you give me a guarantee you’ll never sin again). 

Step #5:  Celebrating.

            Once stages 1-4 have been reached and completed in full, the relationship between two people can be considered restored and one can celebrate the reconciliation.  The re-found/reborn relationship is the celebration. 

            We are all broken…every person, regardless of their demographic, is broken (no one is perfect, therefore we all fail; everyone has shattered dreams; and everyone has alienated someone else whether by accident or by intention, etc.).  If we are going to be able to move forward with peace, harmony, and dignity, let’s start with forgiving…forgiving those who have hurt us, systems which have let us down, anyone who has offended us, and anyone (or any entity) toward which we have anger.  Let’s start the new year with healing and restoration instead of bitterness and hate.  

Geek Theory (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

            Reader beware:  I’m about to get my geek on. 

            Many critics, analysts, and other geeks have done an intriguing job at speculating how Rogue One impacts (and even changes) the entire Star Wars saga.  Various observations about the lack of the opening text crawl, music performed without John Williams, Rogue One neither being about nor centered around a Skywalker, etc. circle the web in a continuous stream.  I would like to offer a unique and humble theory into the pile…a fun musing about how Rogue One may have set up for a great story arc in Episode 8; in short, my theory is Rogue One paves the path for the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke (played by Andy Serkis). 

            After a second viewing of Rogue One, I noticed two small tidbits I threw aside in my mind upon first viewing (after all, my brain had a lot to take in the first time around).  Chirrut Îmwe, played by Donnie Yen, was a blind monk discovered in a marketplace by Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones).  This blind monk is heard calling out, “may the force of others be with you; may the force of others be with you.”  Notice the added word ‘others’ and not the classic “may the force be with you.”   Who are these “others?”  The answer is given shortly thereafter as Jyn inquired of his identity.  Chirrut was called a “guardian of the Whills,” a group charged with protecting the Kyber Crystals (like those found at the Jedah temple). 

            Who are the Whills?  They are an ancient, mysterious alien race who are deeply connected with the force (they also keep a journal, which was mentioned in the Star Wars Episode III novel).  George Lucas originally intended the saga to be their narrative, hence the beginning line “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”  Star Wars was the Whills’ story being told to others.  Due to fearing this concept being too ‘out there’ for people to accept, he cut the Whills from the script of Episode IV, and took out the word “others” leaving only “may the force be with you.” 

            Rogue One sneaks the Whills into the Star Wars universe.  In a ScreenRant interview with Donnie Yen, it is revealed there are long-term plans for the Guardians of the Whills, and how he could neither talk about the Whills, the Guardians, nor any reasons why his character was blind. 

            Now for my theory…I am thinking the Supreme Leader Snoke is a renegade Whill, seeking to be the ultimate Shaman of the force.  The authors of the new stories have been very specific and adamant how Snoke is not Darth Plageius, not a Sith, and how he is a new character in the Star Wars movie universe.  In addition, before the script for Episode 8 was finalized, the Rogue One script was already developed and ready to film, allowing this story arc of the Whills to be intentionally used for later use in Episode 8 (directed and written by Rian Johnson). 

            If, indeed, Supreme Leader Snoke is of the Whills aiming to be the ultimate Shaman (the holiest, and most powerful users of the force), it will take both Luke and Rey to take him down! 

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to comment below…  

 

SOURCES (beyond the direct viewing of the related movies and/or novels):    

1) ScreenRant:  http://screenrant.com/how-rogue-one-changed-star-wars-forever/?view=all

2) Movie Pilot:  https://moviepilot.com/p/how-rogue-one-introduces-the-guardians-of-the-whills/4170161

3) WookieePedia:  http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Ancient_Order_of_the_Whills  

Rogue One (Review)

            Let’s get the obvious out of the way up front:  Rogue One is not as good as the Force Awakens (TFA).  How could it be?  TFA was the first time Han Solo was in a movie in 30 years, and over a decade had passed since the Revenge of the Sith; so there was a lot of pent up anticipation for TFA (an eagerness Rogue One lacks).  Having stated the obvious, how does Rogue One measure up regarding the Star Wars mythos? 

 

THE GOOD: 

            1) Rogue One had a unique feel:  kind of like an odd hybrid of Empire Strikes Back and Saving Private Ryan.  Rogue One is dark, gritty, and very action packed.  Yes, every Star Wars film had action scenes, but Rogue One was an action movie in genre, which means a shift in focus, intention, and pacing. 

            2) Director Gareth Edwards and his writing team (John Knoll, Tony Gilroy, et. al) found created a truly engaging, interesting, and relevant story gleaned from the opening crawl of Episode 4. 

            3) K-2SO:  this droid was a scene stealer in every moment he appeared.  Serving as the much needed comic relief, K-2SO possessed the attitude of R2-D2, the wit of C-3PO, and the likeability of BB-8. 

            4) Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen) was a guardian Monk who was not a Jedi, but still very much in tune with the force.  Though blind, the force gave him sight with a hint of foresight – and he kicks butt in battle! 

            5) Star Wars Mythos tie-ins.  One of the strongest elements of Rogue One is how it links and ties into the Star Wars universe, as well as connects beautifully with A New Hope.  I would love to explore this in detail, but such a discourse would result in spoilers.  Just know you will see a few familiar as well as a couple of obscure characters and plot points from previous Star Wars films.  Yet, Edwards kept them to a limit so as to allow Rogue to stand on its own two feet. 

 

THE ROUGH: 

            1) Music.  While Michael Giacchino is a great composer (see Zootopia, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Lost), his take on the score is so different from the great John Williams it became a noticeable distraction.  Here’s hoping a second viewing of the film rectifies the problem. 

            2) The opening 10 minutes.  Within 10 minutes we get to visit 5 planets, with some of the same characters on multiple planets throughout different periods of time.  Due to the lack of story and narration describing when, how, and why, this became difficult to follow (call it too much too quick with little to no context).  Since 50% of commercial footage was not even in the final film, here’s hoping there will be some deleted scenes (possibly removed for pacing) which will help fill in the rough gaps. 

            3) Saw Gerrera (played by Forrest Whitaker) was ultimately under-utilized.  It was almost as if he existed as only a macguffen – a story device to move the plot and characters from point A to point B – yet had no real contribution to the story itself.  He was a fascinating character, deeply enriched in the animated series Star Wars Rebels, yet was merely a blip on the Rogue One radar. 

            4) Overall there was a lack of character development across the spectrum of Rogue One.  Each person, including Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) lacked in enough development for the audience to truly become fully emotionally engaged in their story-line conclusion. 


THE FINAL: 

            Rogue One is a great film.  It rises well above episodes 1-3, but falls a little short of episodes 4-7.  While not a perfect film, it is a great film.  Gareth Edwards took his past experiences (see Godzilla and Monsters), and brought about an intriguing and fascinating story from one of the most unlikely of places. 

            Do not underestimate the PG-13 rating.  While the film contains zero profanity and zero sexuality, it’s violence and thematic elements rivals the intensity of James Cameron’s Titanic (the heavier, more emotional scenes like the old couple holding each other in bed as the water rushes in, or the mom reading to her kids so they are asleep when the water surrounds them).  In other words, some of the thematic elements in Rogue One may not be suitable for children under 13.  Edwards and company have stated as such, and their words should not be taken lightly.  After all, Rogue One is a war film first, Star Wars film second:  it is a genre piece within the Star Wars universe, and not strictly a Star Wars – serial space opera – film. 

            I recommend seeing it in 2D vs 3D.  While some of the ending scenes contained fantastic 3D, overall nothing is gained from such a viewing.  I give Rogue One 3 out of 4 stars.