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God’s Not Dead

20140408-122053.jpgWhat would you do if you showed up at your new college, went to your philosophy class, and were ordered by your professor to agree that “God is dead”? What would you do if he told you that your refusal to sign would require you to prove in three lectures that God is not dead? What if your girlfriend threatened to leave you and your professor to ruin you if you took the challenge?

For Josh Wheaton, college freshman and dedicated Christian, there can be only one answer.

Take the challenge and tell the world that God is definitely not dead. In fact, He’s very much alive.

The Live

This is a film that clearly proclaims the gospel, along with the power and goodness of God. It doesn’t get too preachy, and does a pretty good job weaving Christianity into the story naturally. It also does a pretty good job of weaving a lot of different storylines together. Each storyline has a slightly different message to offer. Josh learns that God will bless his faith and his courage. A pastor learns that being faithful in the little things is just as important as “being on the front lines” and that God is in control of everything–even cars that refuse to start. A conflicted girlfriend learns to see herself the way God does, and that she doesn’t need attention from anyone to make her worthy. And yet not everyone learns better. A quintessentially selfish businessman exits the story the exact same man as when he entered it.

None of these morals hit the audience over the head too badly, with some of them even left to the viewer to figure out for themselves. Everyone doesn’t live happily ever after, but the central characters do discover God’s faithfulness.

The film is also technically excellent. The cinematography was artistic without trying to be too clever, and the filmmakers did a good job overall of showing instead of telling. The acting was superb almost across the board, and the emotion was portrayed powerfully. Together, these aspects create a film that definitely has the potential to inspire and get people thinking.

The Deadly

Unfortunately, the film had too many flaws for me to wholeheartedly endorse it as I wish I could. Almost all the characters are unrealistic and two-dimensional from beginning to end, making it hard to take their lessons seriously. All the atheists in the story are stereotypically and over-the-top bad, with one even remarking “I’m the meanest person I know.” One atheist is outright verbally abusive, to the point that I was honestly a bit scared when one scene left him alone in an elevator with the protagonist. Not only is this not true to real life (many atheists are kind people, and most mean people hide it a little better than these characters), but it gets a little tiring to watch after awhile.

To be fair, the atheists aren’t the only mean ones. One character’s Christian girlfriend angrily leaves him because what he believes to be the right thing to do might interfere with her plans for their lives. My question is why he didn’t see her selfishness previously in their six-year dating relationship, especially since it was obvious to me in the first ten minutes of the film.

But then, there are a lot of confusing or just plain absent motivations in this film. One major character has a sudden dramatic change of heart for unclear reasons… presumably because his girlfriend stood up to him and an eighteen-year-old kid humiliated him in front of his class. Other characters swing from one state of mind to the next with seemingly small reasons.

On a theological note, the idea of trying to prove or defend God is shaky at best. For one thing, the very idea that anything can prove God implies that something has higher authority than He does. For another, statistics and science cannot convince someone to believe. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Yes, He can use anything to touch people’s hearts for Him. But turning to reason as a basis for faith is troubling. We don’t believe because our minds are convinced, we believe because our hearts are changed by God.

I also found Josh’s answer to the question of why there is evil in the world concerning. Whether you believe in free will or not, his reply didn’t indicate that evil has any greater purpose in God’s plan, which is a very depressing point of view, and not one that I believe Scripture teaches.

The Verdict

From my criticisms, it probably sounds like I hated God’s Not Dead. I didn’t. I thought it had merit, and even that it was worth seeing. I think it has the potential to be used by God. I’m grateful for the courage that led the filmmakers to boldly and openly proclaim our King.

I was just disappointed to see that in the end, the story wasn’t able to shake off many of the stereotypes, bad writing, and unrealistic content that has tended to characterize Christian films. It accomplished a lot of things. I just hope that we’ll start seeing some Christian films with better writing in the near future.

I’d give this one 2.5 stars out of five.

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Popeye

Popeye posterStrong, squinting, pipe-smoking sailor Popeye sails into Sweethaven to search for his father, who abandoned him as a small child. The folks of Sweethaven are set in their ways, and are wary of the good-natured, kind-hearted, mumbling newcomer, though Popeye soon earns their respect with both his compassion and his muscles.

While boarding with the Oyl family, Popeye meets their daughter, the stubborn and lovely Olive Oyl, soon to be reengaged to the town bully Bluto. Tempers begin to boil and the plot to thicken as Popeye inadvertently steals Olive’s heart, and is left a baby with psychic fortune telling powers that everyone–including the furious Bluto–wants to exploit for their own purposes.

A cartoony and lighthearted romp from start to finish, this film follows Popeye as he seeks the truth, tries to protect others, and learn life’s greatest lesson–to always eat his spinach.

The Strong

This is really just a fun, rather cute, if very bizarre, film. There’s little either good or bad about it, though by far the strongest positive element is the character of Popeye himself. He is principled, kind, and ready and willing to protect and defend those he loves. When harshly insulted and humiliated by a group of men in a restaurant, he takes it meekly and without remonstrance until they insult his father. After this he requests an apology, and it’s only when they mockingly and violently force a number of innocent bystanders to apologize to him that he proceeds to give them all a beating.

The romance between Popeye and Olive Oyl is innocent and cute, with no innuendo or ickiness, and while the storyline about them going off and coming back with a baby that they both see as theirs could have been used to make inappropriate jokes, there is none of that. Popeye tells a group of people how he was bitter against his father for leaving him for a long while, but that he learned to wholeheartedly forgive him, and came in search of him to tell him so. He doesn’t waver in his decision that he will not allow “his baby” to be exploited to predict horse race outcomes or locate buried treasure. Indeed, his only fault is being a little too innocent and trusting, in assuming things like that his father will be delighted to see him, and that people who ask to “take the baby for a walk” have no ulterior motives in mind.

As for the artistic side of the film, redoing a classic cartoon as a live-action film was a very bold idea, and they certainly pulled off the cartoon aspect of it. Everything from the costumes to the sets to the shots are cartoonish in the extreme, giving an almost surreal quality to the visuals. And it’s almost worth sitting through two hours of the goofy story to watch Robin Williams’ extraordinary interpretation of the character. He has the bow-legged shuffling gait, the mumbled dialogue, and the squinting face of the animated Popeye down to the last little detail.

The Weak

The film may have few especially good qualities, but on the other had it has very few bad ones. There is some violence, but it’s all extremely cartoonish in quality. There’s no blood, no gore, just an awful lot of slapstick. Bluto, the hefty, morose henchman to the mysterious Commodore and Olive’s five-time fiance, is surly and easily angered to the point that he literally sees red.

There is some pipe smoking, though I don’t believe any actual smoke is seen coming from the pipes, and a lot of just plain bizarreness that might bother some young children. At the horse race, there are some women hanging around who are dressed with mild immodesty. Some cartoonish scary situations and lots of goofy behavior round out this film, which fluctuates between charming and utterly strange. The characters occasionally burst into songs, none of which are especially melodic or enjoyable.

Conclusion

Popeye is a very distinct style of film, unlike anything else I’ve seen. This unusual quality makes it the kind of film that most people will probably either love or hate. I personally found it overly goofy, but sortof cute, in a bizarre kind of way. The sweet character of Popeye, the innocence of the story, and the cleverness of the adaptation made it worth watching once for me, though I don’t see it becoming a favorite.

Wreck-It-Ralph

Wreck-It RalphRalph is a bad guy. Well, he’s not a bad guy, but… he’s a bad guy. In an arcade game called Felix Fix-It Jr. Ralph breaks a penthouse full of cute little people, Felix fixes it with his magic hammer and wins a medal. That’s how it’s been every single day for thirty years. Felix gets parties and cake and admiration, while Ralph lives in the dump and is shunned and hated.

One day, Ralph finally decides to change all this. He’s tired of being a bad guy, and wants to be a hero. He obtains a promise that if he gets a medal, he can live in the penthouse, and sets out to get a shiny, hero medal from the Cy-Bug-ridden Hero’s Duty game.

But after gaining the medal, his clumsiness sends him crashing into the candy-coated Sugar Rush racing game, where he meets an annoying but cute little girl who needs his help. Not to mention that Fix-It-Felix Jr. is being shut down without Ralph’s wrecking, and Ralph accidentally brought a Cy-Bug with him that’s going to eat Sugar Rush and then all the rest of the arcade if it can’t be stopped.

Can Ralph make the right choices in a world where the tweak of a code can change everything? Can he save the arcade and do his duty? And what really makes a hero, anyway?

The Fixed

I was impressed by the theme of the movie. At first it looks like there’s nothing wrong with Ralph’s goal–he wants to be good, right? And he’s just lonely and tired of being shunned. Is his dream of being gloried and loved such a bad one? As the story progresses, however, Ralph comes to realize that this goal was actually a selfish one. He was so caught up in his own desires and comfort that he lost sight of his responsibilities, seriously endangering everyone around him.

And not only does he admit this, but he’s willing to right his wrongs and fix things, no matter what it takes–even if he has to sacrifice his own life for it.

The themes of friendship and loyalty are also strong. Ralph demonstrates true loyalty to Vanillope by being willing to hurt her in order to do what’s best for her in the long run. He gives a cherry he was about to eat to some “gameless” characters who are in need, demonstrating true heroic behavior that may not win medals, but makes him much more of a good guy than he realizes.

The film is also overall clean. There are a few issues that I’ll discuss later, but there is no language, no sexuality, and no graphic violence.

The Wrecked

The biggest concerns of the movie are some mild crude humor, and some pretty scary violence. Vanillope is very rough around the edges, and consistently calls Ralph names like “Stinkbrain” and “Captain Underwear.” He later reciprocates with names like “Boogerface.” Even though most of these instances are teasingly affectionate, and at worst just annoyingly taunting, it comes up fairly frequently. There’s also one scene where Ralph explains that he got his medal in the “Hero’s Duty” game, and Vanillope giggles and makes fun of the name with phrases like “I bet you have to watch your step in there!” followed by several other mild toilet jokes.

The violence is higher than for many animated films, especially in the Hero’s Duty game and the climax of the movie, featuring thousands of Cy-Bugs, explosions, and dangerous situations. In one scene near the beginning, at a villain support group meeting, one villain rips a zombie’s heart out and holds it to make a point, which was mildly gross.

Calhoun, a female sergeant from the Hero’s Duty game, is a prominent character, and is a tough, intense, warrior in a suit of heavy-duty game armor. Her backstory is a tragic one of a fiance eaten by Cy-Bugs, hardening her into a warrior who lives only to destroy the vermin. Some may be put off by her feminism, but it wasn’t a large part of the plot and didn’t affect the theme at all, in my view, and I especially enjoyed seeing her character soften under the influence of association with good, old-fashioned gentleman Felix.

The Gameplay

The movie is really incredibly clever, and worth seeing for that fact alone. The way the video game world is treated, and the mechanics and rules of passing between games is really delightful. The humor and the world made me laugh out loud throughout.

The animation is amazing, and the translation of arcade graphics to CGI characters had me grinning several times. The story kept me on my toes the entire time, tossing in multiple twists that were often unpredictable even to me (I’m known for guessing twists before they come). Not to mention that it had me crying multiple times.

If the crude humor doesn’t bother you and you aren’t scared by a little animated intensity, I’d definitely recommend this movie for the cleverness, the heartwarming characters, and the sincere lesson, about what really makes a hero.

The Tigger Movie

The Tigger Movie posterTigger has always liked being “the only one.”  After all, that’s the most wonderful thing about Tiggers!  But when all his friends are too busy to bounce with him, he finds himself wishing that he had more Tiggers around to bounce and have fun with.

Thus begins his journey to find and reunite with his family.  After an accidental idea from Owl sends him and Roo looking unsuccessfully through the woods for the Tigger family tree, Tigger decides to write his family a letter.

It takes danger, disappointment and even disaster for Tigger to begin to realize that perhaps his family isn’t as far away as he’d thought.

The Splendiferous

This is one of the sweetest films I’ve ever seen.  It’s entirely clean, without a hint of any immorality, crudeness or anything else objectionable.  It’s pure, sweet family fun.

Tigger learns that he doesn’t need to chase after something more when he has a family of friends who care so much about him they are willing to go out of their way to make him happy and give up their comfort and safety to help him.

The Re-dikorus

I honestly can’t think of anything negative about the film.  It’s a little simplistic, yes, there’s no complexity, no deep moral dilemmas or thought-provoking philosophy.  It’s simple.  But the simplicity is part of its charm and beauty — the simplicity of love and loyalty.

The Stripety

As usual, Disney’s hand-drawn animation is superb, the characters are wonderful and consistent, and the story is sweet and satisfying.  Harry Gregson-Williams’ score is fitting and lovely, and the Sherman brothers’ songs are nothing short of delightful.

It’s a simple movie, but a great one for the whole family to enjoy.  Just don’t be surprised if you find a few tears coming while you watch — it’s a story that will both make you laugh and touch your heart.

T-T-F-N, ta ta for now!

Men in Black

Men in Black posterNYPD officer James Edwards was just doing his job, chasing down a criminal through the streets of New York when something strange happened — the perp blinked two sets of eyelids.  The rest of the police department doesn’t believe James, but somebody does — a mysterious man in in a black.

The man in black is known only as Agent K, and after some convincing, he recruits James to be part of the Men in Black — a secret agency that monitors, screens, and covers up alien activity on the planet earth.  James becomes Agent J, dons his own black suit, and partners with K to find out what threat is sending scores of formerly happy aliens running back home.

The answer?  A bug, a violent, parasitic alien who feeds on other life forms, and wants to obtain the Galaxy to help his race win a war with the Arquillians.  As if that weren’t trouble enough, the Arquillians regretfully announce that to keep the bug from obtaining the Galaxy, they will destroy earth if the bug isn’t stopped before their deadline, which is just hours away.

Can K and J work together to stop the bug, deliver the Galaxy, and save the earth before the whole planet and every man, woman and extra-terrestrial on it are blasted into oblivion?

The Good

Honestly, the movie is more a fun ride than anything else.  It is absolutely hilarious from beginning to end, with fun characters, just enough of an arc to make the story feel worthwhile, and a bittersweet ending that tugs at your heartstrings.  There’s not much thematic substance to the story.

There are a few messages.  J learns to take the world just a little more seriously, and that everything is not a game.  The two agents learn to cope with each others’ vastly different viewpoints and are willing to lay down their lives for each other and for the people of earth.

Mostly, though, it’s just to make you laugh — lighten your spirit.  And it will.  It’s loads of fun.

The Bad

Unfortunately, it’s not as clean as I could wish.  The main problem is language, of which there is a whole lot throughout the film.  It’s on the mild side as bad words go, but there is an awful lot of it.

A morgue worker in an extremely short skirt, Laurel, is romantically attracted to Agent J, an attraction which he returns.  While nothing really ever happens between them, they flirt a few times and in one scene she tries to tell him that she’s being held hostage, and he thinks that she is propositioning him.

There are also a lot of scary/disturbing elements, especially the villain — the “bug.”  Disturbing enough in his natural giant cockroach state, he’s more bothersome still after killing a farmer and using the man’s empty skin as a disguise.   It’s not shown in gory detail, but the result is still pretty disgusting.  Aliens’ heads are shot off and grown back, one character is eaten alive by the bug, and two alien characters are murdered.  There’s a lot of that sort of violence — nothing really downright graphic, but some stuff that’s just plain gross.

The Art

The highlight of the film is definitely the acting.  Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are a riot together, and they completely make the film worthwhile.  Minor characters are also well-acted, but the heart of the story is the two agents and their hilarious relationship.

The visual effects are decent, especially for the time the film was made.  Danny Elfman’s score is memorable and fitting, the plot, while complex, is well-paced and engaging.

If you don’t mind the swearing and the alien weirdness, this is a delightful film to laugh away a couple hours with.  If you have a problem with language in films, this is definitely one to skip.  Hopefully, this review will help you decide whether or not this classic is a movie you care about seeing.

The Avengers

The AvengersWhen a powerful villain from another planet steps through a portal that wasn’t supposed to open yet, the world is thrown into chaos.  Loki, banished Asgardian prince, is out to capture the source of ultimate power, and after that — the world.

S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury knows that there’s only one force that can combat this power — the Avengers.  A eclectic group of unusual people with remarkable abilities, the Avengers are reluctantly dragged together to locate and stop Loki.

A genius billionaire playboy.  A doctor who transforms into a green rage monster.  A hero from the past.  A Norse god.  And two trained assassins.  Can these unlikely forces look past themselves and team up to defeat, not only Loki, but the ruthless power commanding him?

The Heroic

The film is pleasantly clean, with a few small exceptions I’ll mention later.  There is no sexual content, no graphic violence, very little language, and no crude humor.

The themes are complex, many and fascinating.  One of the most prominent is the importance of putting aside ourselves and our differences and learning to work together for the good of others.  Initially the unlikely group of heroes is a great big explosion waiting to happen, and it takes a sobering near-defeat and the death of a loyal supporter to shock them out of themselves and their own problems, and point them to the world that needs them.

Iron Man especially learns this.  At the beginning, he’s a snarky jerk who only cares about about himself and his own reputation and affairs.  Later… he’s still snarky, but has proven himself by his willingness to sacrifice himself for others.

Captain America learns to fulfill the responsibilities that come with his power. Bruce Banner (the Hulk) learns to accept his circumstances and use them for good.  Good is defended and evil vanquished, freedom championed, and selfless courage wins the victory.

The characters of Captain America and Thor display particularly good character, each in his own way.  Captain America’s chivalry and justice and Thor’s strong and almost naive nobility stand out amidst the chaos of the mad struggle for our planet.

The Villainous

The movie is basically composed of two elements: fighting, and philosophical talking.  With so much philosophy there’s bound to be some bad mixed in with the good.   And there is a lot of good, but the problems must be watched out for.

One such bad element is Black Widow’s determination to “wipe the red out of her ledger” by good deeds–saving lives.  While Loki correctly states that there is no possible way for her to atone for her deeds, his words have little weight, since he’s the bad guy.

Another negative is that Tony Stark (Iron Man) lives with his girlfriend, and there is some mildly suggestive dialogue between the two of them early in the film.  At one point Black Widow is seen in a mildly immodest outfit while being interrogated, and a very mildly suggestive comment is made by her captor.  She wears a skin-tight uniform for much of the film.

There is a smattering of mild language, perhaps half a dozen mildly offensive words.  There is also a great deal of violence, of course (it’s a superhero movie!), but it’s not gory, and the only especially disturbing part is when Loki uses a device to remove a man’s eye.  The action isn’t shown, but what’s happening is clear.  Other than that, it’s just a lot of smashing and bashing and explosions.

The Super

The film is beautifully done.  The cinematography is absolutely stunning, and Alan Silvestri’s score accentuates the action and emotion very well.  The acting is superb, the writing riveting and fast-paced.  It’s not a tug-at-your-heartstrings kind of story, but it is engaging, exciting, rousing, and in many places thought-provoking.

All in all it’s a very enjoyable story, and I look forward to seeing more of what Marvel has to offer.

Krull

Krull posterWhen the world of Krull is invaded by a powerful creature known as “The Beast” and his army of “Slayers,” the kingdoms know it is time to bury their differences and unite against the attackers.  In the hopes of joining their two rival kingdoms, Princess Lyssa and Prince Colwyn decide to marry to form an alliance.  But on their wedding night, the castle is raided, and Lyssa is stolen away to the Beast’s Black Fortress.

Colwyn sets off to find her, with the help of an aged prophet.  Along the way he meets a clumsy, shape-shifting magician, a band of robbers, a seer, and a cyclops, and comes up against the Widow of the Web, the murderous Slayers, quicksand, evil creatures, the Black Fortress itself, and eventually, the mighty Beast.

Can Colwyn claim victory over the forces of evil and rescue his bride?  Can Krull be freed from the clutches of the Beast?  And in the face of fear and danger, can faithful love prevail?

The Good

There is a great deal of good in this fun and delightful film, which I’ve heard was the first live-action epic fantasy.  For one thing, it is very clean.  There is no sexual content, graphic violence, language, or crude humor.

Many excellent themes are presented also.  The love story is an unusual one, as the couple has decided to marry as a political alliance rather than romantic feelings, but later find that they love and admire each other.  The marriage ceremony that is begun is an interesting one, featuring a flame that the woman gives “only to the man she chooses as her husband.”  Through all the pressure and danger, she refuses to give in to the Beast’s pressure to choose him as her husband, remaining faithful to her vows.

Colwyn also shows great faithfulness and true love.  When Lyssa begs him to let her fight alongside him in the raid, he refuses, saying that if she loves him she will protect herself as best she can.  And then when she is in danger, he risks his life and all that he has to rescue her and bring her safely home.

Courage, loyalty, honor, kindness, and self-sacrifice are virtues that are extolled throughout the story.  Lyssa and Colwyn are loyal to each other, Ergo shows small kindnesses to little Titch, Rell is willing to die for the others.  They are all willing to lay down their lives in any way they can to free their land from tyranny.

The Bad

While there is no goriness, there is a great deal of violence.  A large castle raid at the beginning kills everyone inside except Colwyn.  Nearly all the characters have died by the end, some of them in rather disturbing ways.  One character is crushed to death by a large stone door closing, while another is stabbed by a slowly extending spike in the terrible Black Fortress.  A giant white spider chases a character across a web, another character is sucked under and killed by quicksand, and still another is poisoned by the fingers of a very evil looking shapeshifter.  Plus there are some things, such as the Beast and his terrifying fortress, that are just plain scary.

There is some mild kissing in a couple places, and at one point Colwyn is tempted by a beautiful woman to “keep her company for one night,” but he refuses to betray his bride.  One robber is said to have several different wives, one in each city he visits, which is portrayed as somewhat humorous.  A character who is said to have loved Ynyr, the Old One, long ago, admits to having borne his child, and later killed it.

There is a great deal of magic throughout the film, which is not ever explained.  There are prophets, enchantresses, shapeshifters with evil powers, magic fire, curses, magic artifacts, and more.  It is neither mentioned as coming from a demonic source nor a divine source, but simply exists naturally in the world, so viewers should weigh that against their own view of magic in fiction before deciding to watch the film.

The Art

James Horner’s score is magnificent, though admittedly extremely reminiscent of his score for The Wrath of Khan.  The film’s design is breathtaking, especially the surrealistic and disturbing interior of the Black Fortress, and it is well cast and well acted.  While the story wanders about from time to time and has some elements that are not fully explained or set up, it is an overall compelling narrative that is enjoyable from beginning to end.

I enjoyed this film immensely, not only for its considerable place in film and fantasy history, but also for its delightful tale of epic adventure and faithful love.