Sunday, November 28, 2010

Movie Review: The Narnia Code

This documentary by Michael Ward purports to be about the secrets of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, but the majority of the film is a biography about the life of C.S. Lewis. After losing his parents at an early age, Lewis grew up in a foster home.  He was an atheist, and an educated man who attended Oxford.   One of his intellectual acquaintances (and influences in his life) was J.R.R. Tolkien,who eventually led Lewis to Christianity.

Much of the symbolism utilized in the Narnia movies has to do with the planets.  Studying the planets was the science of the times.  For example, in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" the snow symbolizes Saturn, and Christmas symbolizes Jupiter.  In "Prince Caspian", the trees and vegetation waking up, like spring, symbolizes Mars.   Even the month of March, when spring begins, was named after Mars.  

Lewis' studying of the planets and use of them as symbolism in his writing ties in with his Christianity, in particular, his favorite Psalm 19.  "The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech."

Whether you're a fan of the Narnia books or the works of C.S. Lewis, you will find this documentary insightful and informative.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tangled (2010)

Should I see it?

Short Review: One of the joys of being a father of a small girl is the privilege of indulging her girly side: attending her tea parties, complementing her when she wears a new outfit and taking her to see fun, light feminine films like this one.

Disney, the once monopolistic empire of animation, has fallen under the shadow of Pixar over the past couple of decades.  While Disney as a corporation controls Pixar, the Disney brand still suffers from the comparison.  While Disney has produced some more conventional looking films like Bolt and Meet the Robinsons, the productions made to replicate their majestic, classic works such as Bambi, Snow White, Cinderella and Pinocchio have been faded, forgettable efforts such as Mulan, Lilo and Stich.

With this adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Rapunzel, it appears Disney is attempting once again to recreate the success of their early 1990's revival (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King).  While this won't most likely have the lasting power of The Lion King or The Little Mermaid, this is still a wonderful, enjoyable movie.

I should stop and alert you that this does not follow the actual fairy tale.  Rapunzel is a German tale and my Kraut brethren have a tendency to pump their stories with plenty of unpleasant details.  If you don't recall how the actual story goes, here is a summary:
A infertile couple who live next to a witch find plants on her land that help them conceive.  The witch catches the husband stealing the plant one day.  She agrees to spare the man's life if he hands over their daughter following her birth.  The father reluctantly agrees.
Rapunzel is born and given to the witch as promised.  The witch hides her away in a tall tower with only a small door high on top for an entrance.  The witch gains entry by standing under the door and calling "Rapunzel!  Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!"  The girl then drops her long hair and the witch uses it to be carried up into her room.
One day a handsome prince happens by and hears the witch calling to the girl.  That night the prince calls up to her and she pulls him up into her room.  The two quickly fall in love and continue their nightly, secret encounters.  Before long, Rapunzel admits to the witch that her dress has become too tight through the stomach (I guess that's one way of describing it).  The witch is infuriated and cuts off Rapunzel's hair and banishes her to the forest to die alone.  Apparently, the Germans were hardliners against single-motherhood.
The prince calls up, not knowing the witch is waiting in ambush.  The witch lowers the hair and the prince is pulled up to the room.  To his surprise, he finds the old woman instead of his love.  The witch pushes him out of the tower and he falls to the wild plants below and is blinded by the thorns.  He wanders the forest blind and alone.  Apparently, the Germans were hardliners against dead-beat dads.
The prince, alone in the woods, hears the sound of Rapunzel singing by a brook.  He finds her and his condition saddens the girl.  She cries and her tears heal his blinded eyes.  The two, reunited and healthy, return to his kingdom and get married and have children of their own.

Is it me or does the ending seem a little inorganic?  Sounds like someone wrote themselves into a corner and didn't know how to end their story.

In this friendlier version Rapunzel's parents are the royalty and she is their princess.  One day a "drop of sunlight" falls to earth and it raises a magical flower.  The conniving Mother Gothel finds the mystical flower and uses its properties to keep herself youthful for years. When Rapunzel is born, her mother suffers from the pains of birth and is near death.  The king's men find the sun flower and use its powers to spare the life of the queen.  Its application also provides the newborn Rapunzel with magical hair.

Mother Gothel, wanting her youthful elixir, steals Rapunzel (so she can sing her spell to make her hair give her youth) and hides the girl in a tower and pretends to be her mother.  Each year the royal couple hold a light show in memorial of their missing daughter.  Annually, Rapunzel watches the beautiful light show outside her tower window, not knowing it is intended for her.  Her dream is to one day see the light show up close.

Rapunzel's isolation is interrupted when a handsome thief who goes by the pseudonym Flynn Ryder finds the tower.  The two travel to the kingdom to see the light show.  The problem?  The local authorities, Flynn's criminal competition and the evil Mother are giving chase.

PhotobucketAs you can see, this version has taken some broad liberties from the original source, but it works very well.  The script by Dan Fogelman (Cars) is remarkably tight and cleverly laid out.  Fogelman perfectly meshes all of the conventions of the fairytale with all of the requirements of a Disney production (the strong father/daughter relationship, the comical animal familiars (represented by a horse and a chameleon), the musical routines, etc.)  His dialog is sharp and he has his scenes cut down to the essentials.  Great work.

The production as a whole is quite fun and uplifting.  Children, in particular girls, will enjoy watching the movie.  It is a solid pick for family viewing.  The sunny disposition of the movie is infectious and a great change of pace from the usual schlock thrown out at the kids these days.  There is a wonderful absence of sexual innuendo, scatological humor or political references which have become so commonplace in "family films".  This is a straight-forward piece of entertainment that delivers.

Two cautions for Christians is the hint of paganism in the tale.  As mentioned, this has its roots in the old Teutonic tale which was derived from an Iranian myth.  The inclusion of mysticism in pretty much unavoidable.  I didn't find these elements to be too intrusive.  They are there but it isn't anything that can't be resolved by quickly resolved with a brief explanation to your youngster.

The other issue is how Flynn's thievery is handled.   He is supposed to be the romantic rouge character and this is used for humor throughout the film.  He is a mockery of the type.  However, the film never takes a strong position on his stealing.  It is just something he does.  There is no moral judgment made which means it provides passive support for it.  This is something that should be addressed for the little viewers. 

I highly recommend this movie.  If Disney keeps on this path, they may just get their groove back.


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You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I've just seen Voyage of the Dawn Treader

And I can't tell you a thing about it till it opens December 10.
Except this; make plans to see it with your family, its not to be missed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Movie Review: Unstoppable - PG13

Based on a true story.

Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and Will Colson (Chris Pine) both work for  the same railroad company.  The difference is, Barnes has just been given notice to retire early, and Colson is just starting with the company.

While they are on an assignment together, someone else allows a train to get lose.   The problem is this train has about 36 cars, and 9 of them are carrying a hazardous chemical.

The story is about efforts to stop the train, several of which fail.   There is not  much plot beyond stopping the train, but there is plenty of action, and I really enjoyed the interaction between Barnes and Colson.   Rosario Dawson is also very good as Connie Hooper.

A very entertaining movie.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Review: "Deceit" by Brandilyn Collins

Joanne Weeks’ best friend Linda disappeared 6 years ago and was declared dead.  One night, a mysterious stranger stops Joanne on the road and tells her that Linda was killed by her husband Baxter and to prove it, Joanne will need to use all her skills as a skip tracer to find the one witness to the crime:  Linda's foster daughter Melissa.

The two challenges that make the search more difficult are that Melissa doesn't want to be found, and if she is, the whole town of Vonita thinks Baxter is a great guy. 

The search turns out to be more difficult and dangerous than Joanne anticipated, and she soon finds herself the hunted one.

I like the characters:  Joanne is strong and clever, her sister  Dineen is supportive and sympathetic,  her friend Perry is supportive and clever,  Dan the District Attorney is very astute.  But I think the best developed character is Melissa.   

Joanne is a Christian, and sometimes struggles with it when she must use deceit in her job  as a skip tracer and it is thrown back in her face.

The story-telling moved at a good pace, and look for a big twist at the end.

A good story that I really enjoyed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Movie Review: Cool It - PG

This is a documentary by Bjorn Lomborg, the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" (upon which this film is based) and the founder of Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank/environmental research center.. 

Bjorn has tried to bring some common sense and reason to propose solutions to  the issue of global warming.  While he acknowledges the problem of global warming, his point is that the consequences are greatly exaggerated by Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth"  and by other environmental alarmists.  As a result of his views,  He was attacked quite viciously, being labeled an environmental heretic, a liar, and the devil incarnate .  This reaction actually made me think of how Jesus was treated, of how irate people can be when confronted by the truth.

To support his position, Bjorn points to the goals set by the Kyoto protocol and by the European Union.  Their goal would  reduce global temperature by 2/10 of a degree by the end of the century.  Bjorn asserts that we can do as well for less.

The methods used by environmental alarmists are also challenged.  The main tactic can be summed up as FEAR.   The threat of natural disasters such as hurricanes and rising sea levels is augmented by an increase in malaria and the extinction of polar bears.  The scenes that really touched me were school kids drawing pictures of impending disaster and daily measuring their emissions.  It was heartbreaking to see children living in such fear.

What I really liked was that Bjorn spent quite a bit of the film discussing possible solutions.
Some of the proposed solutions include:

splitting hydrogen and oxygen
growing algae that produce fuel
nuclear energy which also burns its own nuclear waste
wave energy from the ocean
urban cooling

Admittedly, not all of these ideas will provide the answers.  But some of them showed enough promise to at least merit further research.

I found Cool It to be very thought-provoking.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am very skeptical of global warming, but the part I liked most was the search for alternative energy sources, which I strongly feel we need to pursue to ween ourselves off of our oil dependency.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Joey, you got potential!

To the commenter Joey on the Twilight Series post by Housewife Spice, I give a thumbs up!
He wrote,
 "so here i am, reading this, and i cant believe how many people are such a big fan. im a male who hasnt read the books, but my ex girlfriend dragged me to the theatres to watch some of the twilight movies. i could not believe the bland acting and horrendous filming that was put into this movie. i am a film student and i think i could have done a better job using a cellphone camera, a bottle of sparkles, and a can of white paint. this movie actually disturbed me though. edward sits outside her room and watches her sleep. in real life this is predatorial activity (which is illegal) but in the movie it is considered to be romantic? c'mon kids whats with that? it puts a completely false image into the minds of girls who read it. it makes them think that this is what true love is. but true love is far from that. true love is not about losing control, its about having control. true love is not selfish and manipulative (as edward shows on many occasions) it is unselfish and completely giving. twilight is a great way to warp your mind and view, and i would highly encourage people to stay away from it unless they were to watch it for the comedic purpose of the poor acting."

You are a true man of exacting taste in film and some real  knowledge of romantic love. You are also very snarky.  You should be a film critic. Do you, by chance, come from Brooklyn, NY? If so, please do your movie reviews on film, I could almost hear your comment being read by Joe Pesci in his best "My Cousin Vinny" voice. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Movie Review: Morning Glory - PG13

Becky Fuller(Rachel McAdams)is hired as Executive Producer of 'Daybreak', a 4th place morning show. 

Her first idea to revive the ratings is to bring in Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a news reporting legend already under contract with the network, to host with Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton).

The main theme is content:  what do viewers want to see in a morning show?   Hard news or human interest and pop culture?  That debate is the source of frustration for Becky, a point of conflict between Mike and Colleen, and the reason for many comedic moments throughout the movie.

I was a bit surprised at the reduced role that Diane Keaton played.  She didn't have as major a role as you'd expect.  It was all about Becky and Mike, which is okay with me, because I'm a big Harrison Ford fan.  He was careful to just go so far, but not too far in his haughty, grumpy, stuck-up portrayal of Mike.  Jeff Goldblum was also good as Becky's boss Jerry Barnes.

Although Becky is a likeable character and you can't help but root for her to succeed, I was a bit uncomfortable with how casually she treated sex with her boyfriend.  Aside from a few brief curses, there was no objectionable content.

I found Morning Glory to be a fairly unique blend of a commentary on society, and romantic comedy.  Very entertaining.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"The Rite" inspires US bishops to discuss exorcism

After reading Fr tom Euteneuer's book, "Demonic Abortion" (review forthcoming) I wondered how many exorcists there are in America.  The answer is scarier than Fr Tom's description of demonic activity in abortion mills. FIVE. In a time when the devil is running things, from Congress to colleges which used to be Catholic, to Hollywood, we only have five exorcists.Yikes!
But, thanks to "The Rite" a powerful nonfiction book I reviewed here, that may be changing. Author Matt Baglio, a formerly fallen away Catholic rediscovered his faith as a result of writing about the experiences of Father Gary Thomas  who took a course on exorcism at the Regina Apostolorum in Rome, and later coordinated with him on an effort to mail a copy of "The Rite" to every bishop and seminary rector in America. Sadly they only heard from a handful. Happily, the bishops are meeting today and over the weekend in Baltimore to discuss exorcism.Its about time.
According to NewsOK;

U.S. Catholic bishops are sponsoring a conference this week (Nov. 12-13) in Baltimore on the "liturgical and pastoral practice of exorcism." Fifty-six bishops and 66 priests have registered to hear about the shortage of trained exorcists and the growing interest in the mysterious rite, according to Catholic News Service.

Read more:

Soon "The Rite" will be made into a movie by New Line Cinema, starring Anthony Hopkins. . And rather than shock audiences a la "The Exorcist", they hope to inform them. The devil is real and very powerful in this Culture of Death, but the power of the Church, when wielded by her priests in the Rite of Exorcism, is triumphant. I'll be keeping you informed. 
Read the entire article here

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review: "The Bishop" by Steven James

FBI agent Patrick Bowers is called upon to investigate the gruesome murder of a congressman's daughter.  It is soon followed by other murders,  and is also connected to an assassination attempt years earlier.

While trying  to find the killers, Patrick finds those around him in danger and both he and his stepdaughter Tessa must face someone from their past.

The investigation leads to scientific research into neurological and psychological influences on behavior.  Mr. James skillfully uses this plot to illustrate the dangers of eugenics.

But Mr. James' real skill is accelerating the plot toward an exciting climax, but not before a few plot twists to hold our interest until the last minute.

This is the fourth Pat Bowers story I've read, and Mr. James continues to improve with each story.  He is clearly at the top of his game.

Movie Review: Hereafter - PG13

Hereafter begins by telling three stories at once.

George Lonegan (Damon) is a psychic in San Francisco  who no longer does readings for people;  he is happy in his warehouse job, but his brother would like him to do readings again.

Marie Lelay is a journalist in France  who is greatly affected by a near-death experience. Her story is mostly told in French, with English subtitles.

Marcus is a young boy in London  who is greatly affected by losing someone very close to him, and he is seeking answers.

As these stories were told,  I couldn't help but wonder how/when they would diverge. 

I think too much time was spent telling each of the stories.  The slow  pace was not easy to sit through.  There were a couple of exciting scenes (a tsunami, an explosion), but the best part of Hereafter was the last quarter or so when the parts are all tied together.

Despite the slow pace, it was a well-told story

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Works in Progress (2010)

Should I see it?

Short Review: A film made by a first-time director, rookie writer, novice crew and newbie actors that is better than many films I've seen by seasoned pros.

PhotobucketJohn (Greg Brostrom) and Patrick (Ben Jeffrey), two young artists, move to the city to begin their careers.  It isn't long before their work gets the attention of a seedy art dealer who talks them into compromising their vision for the sake of sales.  As his star begins to rise, John meets Abbey (Christina Blodgett) at one of his showings and the two begin dating.  Patrick does some research and finds Abbey’s old blog, and John uses her posts to discover her interests.  He proceeds to use this information to woo Abbey by pretending to be the kind of man she has always dreamed of dating.  How long can John keep the professional and private charades going?

Works in Progress is the first film by Stephen Pruitt; he works from a script written mostly by his wife, Mary Pruitt.  Usually a director’s first film is completed when they are in their early twenties, if not earlier.  Pruitt, in his fifties, has come to filmmaking later in life. Pruitt’s age in apparent in his production—and I do not mean that in a bad way.  This is a romantic comedy.  A younger filmmaker would invariably have littered their story with cursing and loose sexual attitudes.  Pruitt approaches his story with more maturity.  Pruitt presents John and Patrick as young but kind and thoughtful.  They are moral young men, not thoughtless, rutting dogs looking for a score, which has become a template too commonly used. 

For being a freshman director, Stephen Pruitt shows natural talent.   While he makes the occasional odd choice for camera placement and allows his script to devolve toward final resolution with the villain (you will feel the false ending when you hit it), overall his work is impressive.  The film is remarkably clean and sharp-looking for a shoestring, independent film.  Considering how little the film cost ($300,000), the fact that it looks so dang pretty is amazing.  As a director, Pruitt is unobtrusive following his montage opening.  He smartly approaches his production with a very conventional, straight-forward style, and allows his actors to do the heavy lifting. 

The cast has done the most notable work, in my opinion, and deserve a great deal of attention.  The relationship between the leads, John and Patrick, is the biggest strength of the film.  The duo constantly bicker and mock one another, yet this back and forth has an authentic feel to it and provides an endearing center to the production. 

As this film gets more attention (and it will), it is very likely that Ben Jeffrey will receive a good deal of praise for his work.  Jeffrey is the strongest player in the film.  He nails the role of Patrick with great timing and delivery.  He is notable because he takes what should be a simply comedic slob character and infuses him with a lively and attractive personality.  When serious moments occur, Jeffrey is able to put aside the mischievous chum routine and deliver believable moments.  These are not easy transitions for young actors to make and he reveals a strong talent. 

Ben Jeffrey is not the only notable cast member.  Greg Brostrom is a very stable lead and offers a great deal for the other actors to work with—he is a strong straight-man. 

Opposite Brostrom is Christina Blodgett as Abbey.  At first her performance is a little shaky.  This isn’t necessarily her fault as Abbey’s introduction is rather posed and Blodgett is forced to navigate though some unnatural dialogue.  She, too often, is not given much to work with beyond her character’s desire for a man.  Blodgett does make Abbey appealing and, when given good dialogue, quickly brings her to life. 

The downsides to the film are its lack of attention to the art dealer subplot, which is what bites the production’s ending.  The conflict arc is not heavy enough, and its resolution comes across flat.  There are also moments of small budget, first-time independent filmmaking that the audience will need to look past—common for this type of film and certainly does not get in the way.  The negatives are far outweighed by the positives, however, and should not keep you from seeing the production.

Relevant Magazine published an excerpt from my book, You Are What You See: Watching Films Through a Christian Lens (yes, I am self-promoting in a review, but indulge me, I have a point).  In the article, I call for Christians to stop making “Christian film” and focus on simply being Christian artists.  Christians do not need to cite Scripture and shoehorn a conversion scene into every movie they make.  A Christian bricklayer does not construct “Christian walls”; he applies the talents provided to him by the Lord.  Similarly, a Christian artist should focus on their work and create their art free of labels and conventions.  With Works in Progress, Pruitt provides a great example of exactly what I have been calling for.  This is not a “Christian film” but rather a film made by a filmmaker who is a Christian.  His faith informs his art instead of dictating it.  Christian filmmakers should follow his lead and learn the difference.

This is a very enjoyable, charming film, and I highly recommend it.

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You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review: "The Sacraments We Celebrate"

The Sacraments We Celebrate: A Catholic Guide to the Seven Mysteries of Faith
by Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

In the introduction to “The Sacraments We Celebrate: A Catholic Guide to the Seven Mysteries of Faith,” Archbishop Timothy Dolan writes that Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi “has baptized hundreds of babies, heard thousands of confessions, celebrated Mass daily, married countless couples, and anointed thousands of infirm and elderly. In other words, he’s been on the front lines of the battle for souls, armed with water, bread, wine, oil stock, purple stole, words, and gesture.” The sacraments are “the front lines of the battle for souls,” yet we Catholics often take them for granted. Msgr. Vaghi’s book is designed both to educate readers about the mysteries of the sacraments and their role in our spiritual lives, as well as to encourage Catholics to make greater use of them.

The book is the second of a four part series examining the four pillars of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” As such, Msgr. Vaghi quotes heavily from the recently published “United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.” This is designed as a companion volume to that Catechism, but it functions equally well as a stand-alone study.

“In the sacraments, each of us encounters God.” Msgr. Vaghi explores in great detail how we encounter God in Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Each chapter includes questions for personal or group reflection as well as a prayer. There is so much to learn about the mystery and gift that is the seven sacraments. Readers of “The Sacraments We Celebrate” will come away with a much greater appreciation for the sacraments and will hopefully seek to integrate them more fully in their lives.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Book Review: "The Knight" by Steven James

Possible spoiler

FBI agent Pat Bowers is back to investigate a string of grisly murders.  He and the task force soon discover that the murders are based on a series of medieval stories,  and the victim in the last story is....Pat.  While he is working on this investigation, Pat must also deal with a case from his past.   Although Pat is portrayed as an immensely capable agent, he is clearly upset about the break-up of a personal relationship.  He is also trying his best to raise his teenage stepdaughter Tessa;  their exchanges are some of the more entertaining moments in the story.

As Pat is preparing to confront the killer, Cheyenne, the detective he is working with on this case, gives him a St. Francis medal to keep in his pocket because he is the patron Saint against dying alone. She had previously mentioned that St. Francis is also the patron Saint of the Archdiocese of Denver (where most of the story takes place).

I was pleasantly surprised to see a strong pro-life message when a character finds out that her mother had planned to abort her before changing her mind. She is very disturbed by the discovery and is very open about her feelings toward abortion.

The only content warning is some gruesome murder scenes.

I've become a real fan of Steven James and his Pat Bowers character.  I heartily recommend his stories.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Movie Review: Red - PG13

RED = Retired, Extremely Dangerous

The 4 central characters are played by Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren.  Besides being friends and retired CIA operatives, They all have 2 things in common:  They have had trouble leaving their CIA past in the past, and someone is trying to kill them.

Frank Moses (Willis) calls the CIA HR Deptartment regularly about his pension just to talk to someone and finds himself liking her.

Frank is the first target, and gathers the others to find out who is trying to kill them.  The 'why' is apparent pretty early on.  

There is a lot of action, and more humor than I expected.   In addition to the 4 main characters, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss also appear.

I found Red very entertaining from beginning to end. 

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