Archives For film

Nota bene: this post contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen Interstellar proceed at your own risk.

My wife watched Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar last weekend. I’ve been pondering it ever since. The film presents a rather bleak (or dystopian) view of the future, showing a world where most crops are dying due to an unstoppable blight. Corn is shown to be the hardiest, but it too is showing signs of falling to the blight. Moreover, due to the dying plants, oxygen levels are dropping.

Mankind, of course, can’t live without breathable air.

What happens next is something which appears to be supernatural–numinous–by which the film takes great pains to explain scientifically. Murphy, the daughter of the film’s protagonist, Cooper, seems to be receiving communications from her bookshelf. Some force, or entity, is using Morse code and/or gravity to leave her a message. This message contains coordinates, which lead to a secret government facility.

And thus the plot of the film is kicked into gear. The secret facility, it turns out, is the last NASA facility left, where they are working on a plan to save humanity. It seems that a wormhole has been opened near Jupiter, which is seen as a chance to find colonizable planets. Other missions have gone, by have not returned. Cooper, now a farmer, was once NASA’s best pilot, and is seen as this last mission’s best hope for success. He of course agrees, leaving his children to be raised by his father-in-law.

What follows are thrilling scenes of space travel, alien landscapes, intrigue, danger, betrayal, and salvation. It is this last of which I’m going to write.

Cooper, it turns out, becomes the means of mankind’s salvation by becoming a conduit through which ascended human beings communicate to his daughter, Murphy (who grows up to become a scientist while her dad is gone), who completes a formula to move mankind off of Earth.

As a lifelong fan of sci-fi, this didn’t bother me, namely the idea that our hope lies amongst the stars. That’s a trope as old as time. Philosophically, however, Interstellar is firmly grounded in materialism and humanism. All that exists is only what we see, and somehow we evolve to save ourselves. Becoming somehow so transcendent that we can’t communicate except by leading a man to the farthest reaches of space, and then dropping him into a singularity. My biggest beef (if you will) with the film is this: future humans are so transcendent we can make wormholes, and indeed black holes, but can’t, you know, speak.

Now there were aspects of the film I appreciated, particularly the notion that love transcends time, space, gravity, and death. But in the end I’m glad it’s fiction, and that our hope lays not within ourselves, but in God.

The God Who became one of us, spoke to us, showed us the way. Because the Gospel according to Interstellar is a bleak one.

What do you think? Did you see the movie?

noah giveaway_1

As you may, or may not, know, the Noah movie has been released on Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital. This movie generated quite a bit of dialogue both before, and during, it’s theatrical release. While we as Christians may not agree with the artistic license Darren Aronofsky employed in making the film, I think we can all agree that he had that right. Before we get into a debate about the movie’s artistic merits, or lack thereof, we would do well do remember that written works (such as the Bible is) and films are very different artistic mediums. What works well on the page doesn’t always translate to the screen. And the account of Noah as recorded in Scripture is very short. It is also completely without conflict. What I’m saying is that Mr. Aronofsky had scripted, and filmed, his movie with slavish adherence to the text it wouldn’t be a movie worth seeing: it would be woefully short, and without conflict.

Conflict is what drives stories. At their most basic, stories are about a character who wants something, and undergoes conflict to get it. In an industry dominated by the almighty dollar, name me a studio that would finance a wide theatrical release films which clocks in about twenty minutes. Who would pay to see that? (I wouldn’t. Movies are frightfully expensive these days. I’m not plunking down my hard-earned scratch on something unless it tells a compelling story. It has to be worth my time). There isn’t one. Added to that is that fact that Hollywood, by and large, isn’t in the business of catering to Christians. Why should we expect them to do so? Is that reasonable? In Celebrate Recovery, they have a maxim that goes: “Accepting this sinful world, as Jesus did, as it is, and not as I would have it to be.” Which is to say that, as people of faith, we would do well to moderate our expectations of the entertainment product coming of the movie industry. They, being very being very much interested in the bottom line, have to make a product which appeals to the broadest audience possible. That said, I have no compunction about avoiding most of the films, T.V. shows, what have which originate there. I know very well what the Scripture says about the love of money being a root of all kinds of evil.

That’s a given.

In this particular case, that of Noah, yes, Aronofsky used both the Bible, and extra-biblical sources (midrash, etc). We may not agree with that. We may not like all of his choices, or the way Noah is depicted on screen. However, let’s not forget the one, singular truth here: a director has been given the greenlight to make a big budget film about Noah, the ark, sin, justice, forgiveness, redemption. Again, we may not agree with everything that takes place on screen. Nevertheless, the fact that this film was made gives us a giant opportunity to talk about: Noah, the ark, sin, justice, forgiveness, and redemption. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. The good news is that the Bible has been brought back into the multiplex in a big way (this December, director Ridley Scott’s Exodus Gods and Kings will bow).

My opinion? When God hands us an opportunity this large we best use it. People that aren’t normally open to discussing the Bible will be open, will have questions.

And we need to be there… with the Good News.

And there’s more good news for anyone reading this post: in conjunction with Grace Hill Media, I’m giving away a special edition box set of Noah. Just follow the instructions below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

'notting hill' photo (c) 2010, Nikos Roussos - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I’m a happily married man of many years. As such, it happens that I’m contractually obligated to see a certain number of romantic comedies per annum. As there really haven’t been any romcoms produced of late (what’s up with that, Hollywood?), I’d like to reflect upon one of my favorites (did I just say that?):

Notting Hill.

Starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, they play variations of themselves (shocking, I know). The more I watch it, the more layers I peel back. Because this movie works on so many levels. It’s a meditation on celebrity, society’s obsession with it, and the consequences of that celebrity.

But mainly it’s about wish fullfilment.

There’s a hang dog, down on his luck book shop owner (I’ll leave it to you to puzzle out who plays this part), and a starlet, whose paths cross in the most ordinary of ways: shopping. Upon their first meeting, Grant’s William Thacker is nonplussed by Julia Roberts’s Anna Scott. In fact, excuses himself to deal with a shoplifter. In our world, one wouldn’t think that such souls would be drawn together, right?

Think again.

Upon their second meeting, later that same morning, Thacker bumps into Scott, spilling orange juice all over both them. He prevails upon her to tidy up at his house (it being just eighteen yards away). This is where the movie takes a turn. And for years, this particular turn bothered me.

After Scott returns to retrieve a forgotten bag, she kisses Thacker. In what world would a celebrity do this? It doesn’t seem realistic. Yet, the heart is fickle, right? I believe it is her desire for some degree of normalcy which prompts this. This self-effacing, unassuming Englishman represents something she doesn’t have: a normal life.

And for him, the kiss awakens a repressed desire for anything other than the quiet life of obscurity he’s been living.

Each represents for the other a fulfillment of a wish: a dream of a different life.

All of the best movies, in my opinion, awaken a similar longing in us; namely, that there’s got to be more. The late, great C.S. Lewis said that “If I find in myself desires that nothing in this world can satisfy, it stands to reason that I was made for another world.”

This is what the best movies, whether romcoms or otherwise, do: evoke in us that longing for that other world. That world where love never dies, where all is indeed right…

Where there is neither sickness nor pain nor tears… for all of these have passed away. But this is not that world. We are still in Act III of the play.

Notting Hill, despite its flaws, reminds that the path to lasting love is fraught with difficulty. But it is possible to find it. If we are willing to plunge into the pain, confront our demons, and work at it. That love won’t be perfect, and it often works best when we’re willing to lay aside our expectations–our wishes–and embrace what is.

We are all that girl, are we not? Standing in front of someone, asking them to love us…

Someday it will all be worth it.

What do you think? Have you seen Notting Hill?

At the outset let me just say that I’m glad I didn’t pay good money to see A Good Day to Die Hard in theatres. Yes, I know it came out a year ago. I just had a free preview weekend of HBO courtesy of DirecTV, and it was on.

So I queued up the DVR to record it. Thinking, “You know, Live Free or Die Hard was cheesy, but I kinda liked it. How bad can this one be?”

The answer is so, so bad. Clichés, deus ex machina, etc. Near as I can figure the plot had something to do with bad blood between Evil Papa Smurf and Russian Alec Baldwin (his Russian doppelganger). Throw in a surly kid named Jack–who don’t know jack–and Bruce Willis acting like he wishes he were in a Geritol commercial with Wilford Brimley, and you’ve got the movie. Seriously, Willis looked like he needed a healthy dose of prune juice.

Don’t get me started on the ridiculous set pieces. Like a car chase involving a conveniently placed trailer? Whither credibility? At least with say James Bond there’s a willing suspension of disbelief (especially the Blonde Bond films). But here? They only thing that could’ve made this film worse is Shia LeBouef. Or maybe that’s better? MAYBE THEN WE’D KNOW NOT TO, YOU KNOW, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.

Yes, that I think–other than the absurdities (quick car ride to Chernobyl from Moscow, anyone? It’s 12 hours away!)–was the film’s greatest sin:

It took itself too seriously. It wasn’t fun. The one liners fell flat. And there wasn’t one single “Yippee-kai-ai!” in the whole sordid mess.

And that, my friends, is just one McClane too far.

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men is a new movie starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, and Hugh Bonneville. Set during the waning days of World War II, it is the story of an unlikely platoon of men tasked with recovering, and restoring, works of art stolen by Hitler’s Nazi regime. Positioning itself as an epic among the likes of Saving Private Ryan, it is nevertheless a tale that takes place in smaller, quiet moments. Going in, we do not know much about the Monuments Men, other than they are scholars, professors, art historians, architects–men who love art. Despite this lack of back story, we learn who they are by what they do.

They characters are revealed by their respective actions. Though they wrestle with it, struggle to come to grips, each believes the mission is one worth dying for. That these monumental works are worth preserving. That by keeping culture alive they are keeping hope alive.

That by preserving history they are safeguarding the future.

Though it is somewhat disjointed at times, with abrupt tonal shifts, this movie brings home the high human cost of war. Not through the horrors of the concentration camp, but rather through small moments (a character hanging a painting in an empty apartment, never to be occupied again by the people who left it).

It is a journey worth taking.

Go see The Monuments Men.