It Truly Is a "Tale as Old as Time" and That's the Problem

The lack of creativity in Hollywood has been spoken of in various venues over recent years. While it may not be waning creativity on the part of the filmmakers and artists, it does not take long to realize that remakes, sequels, and re-imagined stories of old seem to fill the "Coming Soon" lists from Hollywood. If not a lack of creativity, it certainly is a somewhat safe financial plan for the production companies.

The children of the 80s and 90s reminisce of days gone by as they find themselves forced into "adulting" (apparently, that's a word now.) For the Gen Xers, this explains the "GI Joe," "Transformers," "Dukes of Hazzard," "21 Jump Street" and "Chips" movies. For Millennials, perhaps this is why live action versions of Disney cartoons are such a big hit. In some cases, as with "Alice in Wonderland" and "Cinderella," the original animated films were made decades prior to the birth of the Millennial generation. Yet, it was when these young adults were children that Disney began to "unlock the vault" on occasion and release these classics on VHS. How many young twenty- and thirty-somethings grew up with those bulky plastic cases strewn around the room as they watched their favorite films over and over and over? As a parent, I remember these films being worn out and while "Robin Hood" was incredible, a man can only take so much "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo."

A Tale As Old As Time

The internet and media outlets blew up last year when it was announced that a live-action version of the newer classic Disney film "Beauty and the Beast" would be developed. Early clips shared online revealed that Emma Watson was to play Belle and the film was to be, in some cases, a scene-for-scene live version of the animated classic. Watson was cheered as the new Belle. The rose in the early trailer was celebrated online as just a glimpse of the new film began to elicit positive buzz. 

Even when Angela Lansbury, one of the stars of the original, shared her confusion as to why the film was being made and clearly wasn't a fan of the endeavor, it was clear to those watching the industry, the film would be a huge hit and make millions. Disney is banking on that. In fact, that's the answer to Ms. Lansbury's question.

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Photo credit: Castles, Capes & Clones via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The marketing has been systematic. Disney definitely knows how to do this and with marketable tie-ins such as the races at the Magic Kingdom and new dolls already on the market (though the Belle doll did get some pushback with claims it looked less like Emma Watson and more like Justin Bieber). Make no mistake, this film will rake in the bucks and many will celebrate the music, acting, reminisced childhood, and message.

Oh, the message.

It has changed a bit from the original.

Belle is more liberated, it seems. She's an inventor now, as is her father. This was revealed a few weeks back. Most read that and thought "No big deal."

Yet, last week another revelation was shared by Disney regarding their new film.

Disney's First "Exclusively Gay Moment" in a Children's Movie

Since this is an updated re-telling of the "tale as old as time" or at least as old as the early 1990s, the writers and directors have taken the opportunity to insert a sub-story into the plot revealing that one of the characters is actually gay. This story truly blew up the internet last week and continues to be shared online and through entertainment "news" television shows and media outlets. 

To the Christian with an eye on culture, this should be no surprise.

When the online push to make Elsa a lesbian in the Frozen sequel began, it became inevitable that Disney would step even more intentionally than in the past into the LGBT revolution. Some have declared this to be the first gay character in a Disney production. That actually is not true. The Disney Channel show "Good Luck Charlie" depicted a lesbian couple as parents of a friend of the main character. The Disney produced television show "Once Upon a Time" on the Disney-owned network, ABC, presented familiar characters from film as outed lesbians in April 2016. Yet, the difference here is the fact that the upcoming film is marketed to families. 

The Gay Sidekick

The protagonist in "Beauty and the Beast" is Gaston. His sidekick is LeFou. In a recent Washington Post article by Elahe Izadi, the following is stated:

In recent years, Disney has increased the racial and ethnic diversity in its stories, and has made strides to reimagine female characters as fully formed protagonists rather than simply damsels in distress.

But there have been calls among some for children’s entertainment to portray same-sex relationships as well. Last year, a Twitter campaign asked Disney to make Elsa from “Frozen” a lesbian character in the movie’s sequel, inspiring the hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend.

A few Disney movies have left viewers wondering about the orientation of characters, with allusions to same-sex relationships. “Zootopia” featured Bucky and Pronk, two male antelopes who live together, bicker like a couple and share a common last name. An episode of the Disney Channel show “Good Luck Charlie” included a character who had two moms.

But the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” will bring an overt depiction of a gay man to the big screen.

This has been called a watershed moment for Disney.

The culture celebrates the seemingly progressive step in this upcoming film. However, not all parents are excited. Many who planned to relive their childhood with their own kids while watching the film together in the theater are now questioning if they should. For some, it is the frustration that they may be forced to address an issue of sexuality with their children in a way they did not plan or desire to do.

Nevertheless, some will celebrate the opportunity to share the normalizing of such things. This is the cultural revolution in full swing.

To be clear, while turning a beloved animated film into a live-action movie is intriguing, I am not a fan of the subtext in this one. There are no accidental messages in such multi-million dollar presentations. There never have been. 

Movies and Messages

Movies are made to make money, but in the process are not made in a vacuum. Movies (even the ones in the $2 bin of DVDs at the store) present a worldview. It's inevitable. It cannot be avoided. Christians have struggled with this reality for decades. And, surprisingly, not all Christians agree about movies. For generations, Christians were declared bad and sinful in the church-subculture if they ever went to a movie. Now, churches produce films intended to be shown in the multiplex. 

So-called "faith based" films pop up. Some are good. Most are bad. Many create online debates. Ever heard of "The Shack"? Wow! That hot-mess of messed up trinitarian presentation is causing more confusion and frustrated Christians than even the bogus heaven-tourism flick "Heaven is for Real."

Yet, this new Disney film isn't marketed as "faith-based." I am not sure there's such a thing as a Christian Disney film. Since movies don't go to heaven, there may not be such a thing as a Christian film at all, but I digress.

Dr. Albert Mohler recently shared thoughts on this film on The Briefing and as followers of Christ in the midst of a worldview shift, his words are wise and should be considered.

But we also have to note that when we laugh at something and when we find something interesting and, not to mention, entertaining, effectively our thinking will become aligned with our hearts. That’s exactly why Hollywood is ground zero for so much of the change driving the moral revolution around us. But there is something even more ominous in all of this, and that’s this. We’re not here talking primarily about the effect upon adults, adults’ eyes and ears and minds and hearts, we’re talking about entertainment with an agenda, an agenda to reach eyes and ears and hearts and minds directed at children, and very effectively so.

I guess most of us suspected that it was only a matter of time before some film directors said something like,

“It is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

But now we know that that time is now. It may not be surprising, but it truly is shocking.

While some call for boycotts, I am not. However, I do think families should consider how what is sold as entertainment actually impacts belief systems. Parents should consider this.

It's Not "Just a Movie"

It's really not about "Beauty and the Beast" or the LGBT revolution. That's just the clear issue on the front-page today (it will be old news in about a week). It is about living with a biblical worldview as ambassadors for Christ in a world that rejected him. 

Declaring loudly all that we are against will likely not lead to engaging conversations about the Gospel. However, ignoring the blatant worldview shifts seems to lead many to live isolated from the mission. 

Oh, and please don't fall into the "It's just a movie" or "It's fiction, enjoy it" groups. Nothing is ever just anything. The story is much larger and the mission becomes even more clear. 

The Real "Tale As Old As Time"

The "Tale As Old As Time" is truly about a battle and a rescue. It did not start in a castle with a beast and some talking dishes. It began in a garden. Actually, it began prior to that. This tale includes beauty, deception, rebellion, shame, death, rescue, and life. 

Christians must be wise and understand the times. As for the characters in the latest Disney film, they are not real, but they represent the depravity of humanity clearly. Perhaps this is why people are so drawn to the stories. 


firstFAMILY Podcast 005: Jason & Kimberley McGibbon - Church Planting, the Arts & X-Men

McgibbonIn today's podcast, I spend time time talking with Jason and Kimberley McGibbon of Hamilton, Ontario. Jason and Kimberley moved to Hamilton five years ago after having taken their son Liam to the children's hospital there for some vital treatment. As a pastor in Milton, he knew their fellowship would eventually send a planter out to launch a new work. He just didn't know the planter sent out would be himself. 

God has blessed Jason and Kimberley as they seek to engage the culture of Hamilton. We talk a little about the uniqueness of Hamilton and the church culture (or lack thereof) in the city.

Jason is a gifted musician and painter. I discuss with him the subject of the arts and the church and how many opportunities are missed by local congregations when it comes to artistic engagement.

Jason and Kimberley have four children - Daniel, Caroline, Liam and T.J. They range in ages from 21 to 10. T.J. has been given a unique opportunity and Jason and Kimberley see this as a Kingdom- focused outlet for God's glory. T.J. always desired to be an actress and God has opened doors for her to do voice work and star in some movies. Some are faith-based films, like the newly released "The Masked Saint." Others appeal to a broader audience, such as the soon to be released "X-Men: Apocalypse." We discuss how God has used this ten year old girl to open up conversations on television and movie sets about Christ and the challenges of parenting in this world.

The Hamilton Fellowships

hamiltonfellowships.com

Twitter: @THFellowships


MOVIE REVIEW: "Woodlawn" - Will God Do It Again?

Sometimes you need to look back to understand where you are.

The new film Woodlawn, opening October 16 in over 1,500 theaters, appears to be another "based on a true story" football film reminiscent of others like Remember the Titans. However, it does not take long to discover that this story is about more than high school football in the age of bussing.

Woodlawn is a film by the Erwin Brothers (Mom's Night OutOctober Baby) based on the true story of "Touchdown Tony" Nathan, a high school football star in the early 1970s at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama. The film opens with images, some from old newscasts, others made just for the film, that highlight the intensity of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.  News footage from the late 1960s and early 1970s showing Birmingham churches burning and bombed out, Alabama Governor Wallace's famed speech about never allowing desegregation at the University of Alabama and interviews of those living in a city being called "Bombingham" sets the stage for the depravity and division in our nation from just a few decades ago. Some would say we have come far as a nation. Others, referencing recent acts in Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston would say that perhaps we have not progressed as much as previously thought.

Old news footage then shifts to images of Explo '72, an event sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) in Dallas, Texas that was heralded as the most visible event of the "Jesus Movement."

The stage is set for the story of Tony Nathan.

 

The version of the film my wife, Tracy and I saw with other leaders in our city is a pre-edited, or more accurately, a mid-edited version. There are scenes where dialogue will be added, and special effects will replace visible green screens and empty stands during football games.

I imagine some other scene trimming will take place to get the film under the two-hour mark.

Nevertheless, this is a very watchable and engaging film. This is a film that is worthy of an incredible opening weekend. The acting is excellent, beginning with Oscar-winner Jon Voight as Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. 

Sean Astin plays a pivotal character in the film. Astin is Hank Erwin, the Woodlaw High School team chaplain, who also happens to be the father of Andrew and Jon Erwin - the "Erwin Brothers" who brought the film to life.

Of course as soon as Astin appears on the screen in a period-piece football movie, I wanted to yell "Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" but my wife wisely discouraged that.

5300_Woodlawn-Temp_Graphic_lgLesser known actor, but wonderful in this breakout role, is Caleb Castille. He plays Tony Nathan, but didn't get the role until three days prior to shooting. It's clear the Erwins casted the right man. Castille not only carries his scenes with class and skill, even those shared with more seasoned actors like Voight and Astin, but he is a football player - not just an actor pretending to be one.

Castille was a walk-on at the University of Alabama where both of his brothers (Tim and Simeon) and his father (Jeremiah) played football. His father and brothers all played in the NFL as well. After three years of playing and winning two national championships at Alabama, he decided to walk away from football and pursue acting. He was given the go-ahead by his parents as long as he remained in school.

Originally cast as the understudy and body-double for football scenes for the actor originally scheduled to play Nathan, it became clear prior to shooting that Castille was the guy and he received the role. 

Other well-known actors and entertainers appear. C. Thomas Howell steals scenes as the Banks High School coach, Shorty White. Nathan's parents, played by Sherri Shepherd (who offers perhaps the funniest line in the film when she meets Tony's potential new girlfriend) and Lance Nichols are superb.

Also - this is set in the 1970s, so the sideburns on just about all male characters are great. This film may usher in a new retro-facial hair style to replace the ever-popular goatee.

The football scenes in this film are as engaging as any I have seen in movies. 

Sports movies, in my opinion, have often done a poor job of conveying the action on the field or court well. In some cases, the interaction between players, fans and referees is so unreal that any athlete (or former athlete) just cringes when watching the film (remember Teen Wolf?) In more recent years, it seems that directors and writers work to ensure the games on film are more realistic, recognizing that many in their potential audiences will notice flaws.

Woodlawn does a wonderful job at leading the audience to believe actual football games are being played out on screen. Castille and the other actors make this convincing. Of course, there was one moment during the film when my wife leans over and asks "Does anyone other than Nathan ever get the ball for Woodlawn?" I laughed and then, almost like the writers heard us, the next scene showed another Woodlawn Colonel running the ball. 

Making a period-piece sports movie, especially a football one, as an independent filmmaker must be tough. There will be numerous fixes in post-production. Legion Field in Birmingham is old, but the modern Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew advertisements on the scoreboard need to be replaced. This is not a big deal. . .but, I noticed it. Unless these soft drinks have paid for product placement, they will likely be replaced. When actual footage of the Woodlawn and Banks (the rivalry school) game is shown, I was reminded how different football helmets and uniforms looked in the 1970s. The shoulder pads were larger, the face masks and the logos on the helmets were different. This is not a knock on the film. I understand the creative license and the Woodlawn helmet used in the film looks much better than the one in archive footage. These make for cleaner, clearer images in color.

It's a Great Film, But Now What?

Faith-based, or "Christian" films are trendy now. The quality is much better and getting the church out of the church-house and into the local cinema has been effective. Most Christians understand the value of opening weekend and many churches, mine included, look to help quality independent films like this one do well when it counts. 

However, this time, I sense something different must be done. There was a Q&A time with those in the audience seeking info on creative and new ways to get the right people in the cinemas to see it. In other words, the discussion was focused not on how to get the church into the theater, but to get others into the theater to see the film and then into local churches.

This isn't a "grow your church" campaign disguised as a movie. This is a real effort to see what the next chapter in God's great awakenings will look like and in an age where entertainment and sports reign as the gods of our nation, the question remains "What can we do?"

I heard a number of people share ideas - though, to be honest, they weren't really ideas. One pastor said, "To make a long story short. . ." and I knew what that meant. He would share anything but a "short" story. 

Others echoed ideas that sounded like they had been birthed in the 1970s. 

I wondered if anyone in the room heard the host say "Let's pray and share some creative and out-of-the-box ideas regarding the message of this film."

Alas, the church often fails when it comes to creativity, much to the dismay of people like the Erwin brothers, who obviously live on the edge of creative arts.

Here's What We Will Do

I shared my idea and still believe that this is our best, first-step. Our church is located in a suburb of Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville and our area have a long history of racial divide. Things are better than in the past, but I don't hear anyone saying that we have arrived and are where we desire to be. Every day on the news there is another story of a shooting. Sometimes it's gang related. Sometimes "black on black" crime." Other times, it's "white on white" and since we're diverse, there are still multi-racial crimes being committed. Our sin is equal opportunity.

There are some amazing God-sized stories happening in our community as well. These are powerful and God is birthing new churches and revitalizing legacy churches. More multi-racial work is being done by churches that in prior generations would not have happened. 

It seems that we are on the precipice of something big. 

The church is ready, but by and large. . .we're still holed up in our buildings.

I believe what we saw acted out in this film is more than just a story about what happened years ago, but a reminder that God does not sleep, is the same yesterday, today and forever. 

What if high school students in a city grabbed hold of the message of the Gospel? What if the Gospel grabbed ahold of these students? Our church will seek to purchase all tickets for a showing or two on opening weekend. This will likely be on Saturday evening, since high school football is king each Friday evening. The tickets will not be for church members but for members of our local high school football teams. Maybe even putting two schools in the same theater . . . rivals, even? Our teams are not segregated (at least not intentionally) as they were in the 1970s, but what is the same is the reality that the vast majority of our students do not know Jesus Christ. They are spiritually void and need to know there is a God who says "It doesn't have to be this way."

Will the players attend?

Many schools and coaches are more afraid than ever of being sued for the breach of the "church/state" issues. Here's what I know. If students decide to go to the movie, it is legal and there is no issue for the school. If the coaches attend, it is legal. This is a public theater and so far, other than guidelines regarding age and ratings, people can attend the movies of their choice.

What would happen if by viewing a true story of spiritual renewal through a high school football team, God decided to do it again?

What if He decided to do it in my neighborhood, in my community, in my schools. . .or in yours?

I'm still dreaming about how to get kids to see the film, but more than that, I'm dreaming about another great awakening.

Will God Do It Again?

Yes. The question is "Will we miss it or be a part of it?"


MOVIE REVIEW: "War Room" by the Kendrick Brothers (Coming August 2015)

Last night, my wife and I previewed the new Kendrick Brothers' film "War Room." The Kendricks are the men who brought "Flywheel", "Facing the Giants", "Fireproof" and "Courageous" to theaters and have found great success in placing Gospel-centric stories on film in an engaging and challenging way. 

They also have discovered how to make Christ-centered movies that I'm not embarrassed to invite non-Christians to view. The production quality and the acting has increased with each film.

I have been seeing teasers and the trailer for "War Room" for weeks and, to be honest, I was not drawn to this story initially as I was to the previous three films. Maybe it is due to the fact that there were no firetrucks, police cars, guns, or even football games presented in the story. Yes, that's a stereotypical male response, but this is my blog, so I figured I'd be honest.

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The "Pastors' Preview" was held in Jacksonville on Tuesday and the theater was full. Each of us received our "gift bag" with promotional items and a survey card for the distributors. 

Trailers of two other faith-based films were shown. These look really good as well ("Woodlawn" coming in October 2015 & "Risen" coming in January 2016). Then, the new film then began.

Images of the Vietnam War filled the screen. It appears the partnership with Sony and Tri-Star provides some quality footage for the filmmakers. Narrated by Miss Clara initially (a major character who leads by example as a true "prayer warrior") we see the story of family, joy and heartache revealed. The "War Room" motif is connected to the room where Miss Clara's deceased husband served during the war in planning next steps against a powerful enemy.

Flash forward to present day and Miss Clara is a senior adult seeking to sell her home so that she can move in with her son. Welcome newcomer to film, but not to the Christian audience viewing (especially the women) Priscilla Shirer. Shirer plays the main character in this film. She is a real estate agent in a troubled marriage. However, this is different than the marriage story presented in "Fireproof." Kudos to the Kendricks for touching on a powerful subject, but not just rehashing the same story but with an African-American couple rather than Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea.

The main characters' troubles leave me and every other pastor in the room thinking "Yep, I know a couple just like that." It's not stereotypical type-casting. It is more a revelation of the real world and real battles that our friends, family and church members face.

Don't Worry - No Spoilers Here

I am not going to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it. However, I do wish to say that as the story unfolded, I was moved. I know it's just a movie, but God works through story and often a story played out on the screen allows for some very hard truths to be revealed in one's heart. This is true for me, at least. In the area of prayer and forgiveness, I was confronted with conviction, not by the Kendricks, but by God. It's amazing how he uses story.

This film is focused on prayer. That is no secret. That's the "War Room" that Miss Clara has in her old home. A closet where she goes to pray and do battle. It's a literal interpretation of the Scripture.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6 (ESV)

Miss Clara affirms that a physical closet is not the point, but a quiet, intentional place for prayer is.

The story in the film unfolds. God does amazing things. I'm glad that not all problems are solved, but the sense of the sovereignty of God and the love and grace he bestows upon his children is clear.

The message is obvious - PRAYER WORKS!

Prayer for family members, loved ones, circumstances, situations, relationships, etc. are all valid. I'm reminded of the reality God has shared with me over the past year. . .

Prayer is our active weapon against the enemy. As long as it remains our passive response when we feel all else has failed, we will continue to feel and live defeated. . .and we don't have to.

I left the theater thinking how amazing God is in bringing the message of prayer through this film at a time when I have been discerning His voice regarding the church and our often weak, passive prayer strategies. Also, the personal conviction that my prayers have been less than adequate for a man seeking the face of God and leading others to be "battle ready."

One of my favorite scenes is the one embedded below. . .

 

As a church, we will likely purchase all the tickets for our local theater during opening weekend again, as we have done with "Courageous" and other films like "October Baby." Yet, this outing is less a night of entertainment and more of a resounding call to pray like we mean it.

Prayer is not a manipulation of God to get Him to do what we desire. Rather, it is our humble admission of His sovereignty over all and our invitation into intimacy with the Father.

Final Words About the Film

Just some closing, random thoughts. . .

  • Priscilla Shirer is excellent in this role. This was her first film role and she did wonderfully. Very convincing (though now all her friends will be talking about her feet - explained in the movie.)
  • T.C. Stallings is perfectly cast. The man is strong and it's good to see him reformed from his time as a gangsta in "Courageous." He can act, but man can he Double-Dutch jump rope, too.
  • The other members of the cast did well. At no time was there a cringe-worthy moment of poor acting.
  • Beth Moore is in this film, not for long, but she's in this. With her and Priscilla, the Kendricks have just locked in to a target audience of every woman in Southern Baptist churches who have done a LifeWay Bible Study.
  • When you see the film, check out the digital clock in the bedroom. It's no accident that the time on the screen is 7:14. (Check 2 Chronicles to know what I mean.)
  • There are a number of Easter Eggs throughout the film that hearken back to the previous four Kendrick films. Actors you recognize reappear. The car dealership from "Flywheel" is once again referenced, subtly. Oh, and check out the name of the Paramedic Company on Michael Jr.'s EMT shirt.
  • Plan to view this on opening weekend. Don't wait for the DVD or for Netflix to have it.
  • We'll have tickets available at First Baptist Church of Orange Park, if you live in the Jacksonville area.

The New "Star Wars" Film & the Longing of the Human Heart

It's almost forty years old. 

It became a game-changer for the film world.

The term "action figure" was birthed by its popularity.

Even poor sequels made tons of money.

It's Star Wars.

And it impacts the culture greatly. I'm not saying that is a good thing. I'm just saying that if you wish to be a student of the culture shifts and live as those who understand the times, ignoring what's happening with Star Wars is not wise.

Oh, sure, it's just a silly action/adventure movie franchise. That's true. In fact, especially based on the third film and the three prequels in the series, there are some pretty poor sequences of acting as well as some storylines and characters that make even the most die-hard fan cringe (Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christenson, anyone?)

According to feminist scholar Jackie Byars, film analysis can help us see "the range of readings a single text can evoke," and expose "the hierarchies of power at work in and through texts," hierarchies "linked to race, class, sex, and the gender differences." In other words, close analysis of the Star Wars films can help us not only to examine the problems of a galaxy far, far away, but also to understand how the films reflect and potentially help shape cultural struggles over questions of gender and sexuality in contemporary American society. . .To dismiss the Star Wars films out of hand as lowbrow adventure-romance films that cannot support any meaningful analysis, as some commentators have done, is erroneous and perhaps irresponsible.1

It is amazing how a space opera written by a fairly young director (yes, I know THX1138 and American Graffiti were out, but they didn't put George Lucas on the map) could prove to create phrases, characters, philosophies and even ideologies that would impact culture in America and globally for half a century or so.

The Perfect Storm?

Maybe it was a combination of the era of filmmaking, the partnership with Kenner to make toys, the licensing of products, and the incredible images on screen within the first five minutes that drew children into this world in such a way that now, those children are in their mid to late forties and still enjoying the stories. 

I'm not talking about the guys who live in their parents' basement, playing video games, playing with their action figures (while also owning a set that are still in the original packaging.) I'm talking about the men and women who have productive lives, send their kids to school, maybe attend church every now and then and seem. . .well. . .normal.

Even they are posting updates about Star Wars and seem to be very excited about 2 minutes worth of video primarily due to just a few seconds featuring a senior adult man who needs to shave ("Who's scruffy looking?") and a very tall man wearing a furry costume.

Here's the two-minute trailer. If you would like to know more about it, there are approximately 45 million (my estimate) blogs and websites breaking down every little scene in the trailer. Just Google for them, you'll find them.

 

In an age of amazingly fast culture shifts, something about the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is offering middle-aged men and women something to enjoy. Millennials do not really understand this. Oh sure, they saw the first three films on VHS or DVD and enjoyed the over-the-top CG prequels and the edited re-releases of Episodes IV - VI, but they don't remember 1977. They cannot really understand why their parents are looking forward to a sci-fi film coming out in eight months. 

And. . .the parents of those who were children in 1977 don't understand it either.

The truth is that Star Wars was more than just a film for many of the generation of Toughskins jeans, Keds tennis shoes and banana seat bicycles. Star Wars was something that allowed the nerds in school to be accepted by others. Why? Because it seemed that everyone had seen the film and no one hated it. Even the Star Wars Christmas Special was something kids made sure they were home to see.

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Then, these children grew up, started families and found themselves trying to keep up with all that culture was throwing at them with life changes and philosophies and when the trailer for the new film came out. . .they had a moment of reflection. It's like being a kid again. . .even if just for a moment.

And, it's weird.

And dangerous.

The Star Wars films, to me, are entertaining. I understand the false religious teachings presented in the narrative. The Force is a facade. It's New Age mysticism. It's a man-made idea for a film, based on Buddhist and other beliefs. For the follower of Christ, it's fiction. Yet, for many it's a modern expression of what they believe to be true. It's sci-fi karma.

Darth Vader is an enigma. He was viewed as the epitome of evil for decades. Then, he became a whiny kid and a brooding teenager and everyone wondered "What did Padme ever see in that guy?" Well, maybe everyone didn't wonder that, but I did.

His fictionalized story is redemptive, but still fiction.

For my Christian brothers and sisters, the Star Wars universe is a fun, fictional place to visit. So is Tolkein's Lord of the Rings world and Lewis' Narnia. My encouragement is to visit, but don't live there. It's fiction. 

In the meantime, it would behoove my pastor friends to at least seek to discover why so many of your middle-aged church attenders are excited about a forty-year-old movie series' latest installment. It is not really about the special effects, the spaceships or the character development. It goes much deeper than that. It has more to do with the innate desire of all adults to go back to a time when they had less responsibility, pressure was lighter and summer was never long enough. 

It's a longing for peace.

Ultimately, a fake world with droids and aliens will not offer that . . . even if you buy a costume and pretend that what is fake is real. (BTW - I don't recommend wearing your Jedi costume out in public unless you work for Disney or are at Comic-Con or maybe a camp or costume party.) Maybe this is a reminder that we are wired to find this. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27 (ESV)

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1Silvio, Carl, and Tony M. Vinci. Culture, Identities, and Technology in the Star Wars Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. Print. p. 136.


Gay Men & Soccer Moms: A Target Audience That Reveals Much About the Times

After finishing my post about the soon to be released Fifty Shades of Grey film, another film trailer hit the internet and has been making quite a splash. Now, my intent is not to have this blog become a movie review site, but as an observer of culture and one who attempts to keep up with the latest trends, it is quite disturbing how pornography and erotica are seen as acceptable and commonplace. While some would say that this is a sign of sexual freedom, in my opinion, it's a sign of cultural degradation.

I enjoy good movies and as a pastor have used clips and illustrations from popular films (legally) at times to help make points in my messages and talks. Believing that the message of the Gospel is written on the hearts of all humanity leads me to see the value of storying and the parallels in stories or movies that speak of battle and rescue and beauty and honor. Now, in most cases, the films I speak of are not written by believers in Christ. In many instances, these are just visible, moving images that tell a story that attempts to connect with an audience, ultimately for high ratings and profit.

I believe God is the Master Storyteller, the author of the Gospel and the hero in the story. That is why I believe that our Enemy seeks to pervert and destroy all that is good and holy and turn that which was meant for good into evil in an attempt to thwart the movement of God's Spirit in the lives of people.

Some of you are saying in your head right now, "Seriously? You're talking about movies. They're just movies." I know, I know, but foundational to all of life is a story that is deeper and more important than that which is projected onto a screen, streamed on Netflix or burned onto a DVD. 

Nevertheless, there is a trend that seems to be growing. It's not really new. There have been stories of violence, sexual perversion and erotica around for ages, even prior to the advent of the film industry. Yet, as each year goes by, it seems our culture is moving a little deeper within Sodom (referencing the story of Lot in Genesis - living outside Sodom, near Sodom and eventually inside the city.) 

Whether comedy, drama, action or romance, overt sexuality (hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, etc.) has become little more than enticement for audiences who seek to justify what they view under the guise of freedom, art or just entertainment. 

771223_23909068

"Artistic" Pornography

Last year, Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 was released and subsequently was being written about, reviewed, and had YouTube trailers shared by many. The film starred some notable actors and actresses (Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, and Connie Nielson, to name a few) and received reviews speaking of it's artistic integrity and depth.

"The film is an intellectual high-wire act, death-defying, dangerous, entertaining, and delighting in its own inventiveness and daring." - Roger Ebert

However artistic it may appear. . .regardless how well edited and developed the film may be. . .it is little more than blatant pornography with a story attached.

No, I have not seen the film. I don't intend to do so. I have seen the trailer. . .and had to stop it due to the imagery presented.

So, Fifty Shades of Grey is not surprising. Neither are other sexually-laced and expressive new films on the way. Boundaries have been moved and Sodom has become home for many in our culture it seems.

With the sexually inclusive society now set in place, Hollywood is now overtly marketing to sub-groups and sections of the populous that will guarantee a strong opening weekend for their films. This is not new. Pixar films have been targeted toward children and parents for years. American Sniper and other war movies have been pointedly marketed toward men. Romantic comedies have a female demographic in mind. Different people enjoy different stories.

Magic Mike XXL

The eye-opening trailer for the male stripper film sequel Magic Mike XXL is clearly focused on two groups in our culture - gay men and "soccer moms."

When the first Magic Mike was released, the theaters were filled. Many women (wives and mothers) had movie nights with their girlfriends and packed theaters to enjoy the Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaghey and Matt Bomer film. The target marketing worked as the film finished second on opening weekend.

The other target group was gay men. I heard one gay man in our community speak about watching the film with his friends (other gay men) and how much they enjoyed it. This was no anomaly. 

“It’s a fun night out with a bunch of gay friends to go see a movie about hot boys,” said Aaron Rhyne, 32, a theatrical projection designer who saw the film with about 10 friends. “We’ve been throwing the trailer around, laughing about it.” (New York Times - "Magic Mike" Is a Big Draw for Gay Men.)

Sex Sells

It's been the mantra of Madison Avenue for decades - "sex sells." The sexual revolution and free love movement of the 1960s was little more than "moving near the gates of the city." Now, we are fully inside.

The trailer for Magic Mike XXL has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online (well over 1 million if all versions are combined.) The reviews that laud the trailer as wonderful speak openly about the sexuality and openly stated double-entendres throughout. (I presume this allows an R or PG-13 rated trailer, to be viewable in all theaters.)

Even though these are sexually explicit (i.e. pornographic) films and are more common than we'd like to admit, we must realize that these stories are little more than perversions of holiness, morphed to confuse, trap and eventually aid the enemy to "steal, kill and destroy."

So What?

What's a Christian to do? 

The same we've been commissioned to do for centuries - live as salt and light, make disciples, love the unloveable and honor God.

Sexuality is holy. It is God designed and beautiful, when experienced within His guidelines. Those guidelines are clear in Scripture - heterosexual and within the covenant of biblical marriage only. 

Casual sex is only another term for casual sin.

Redeem the day. Don't be taken in.

Boycott theaters? That's NOT my recommendation. Most people view Christians, and especially Baptists, as people who are "against" everything anyway. Redemption shows what we are "for." 

Be for the Gospel.

Be for God's plan for marriage.

Be for God's plan for sexuality and relationships.

Be for God's plan for holiness.

Be for God.

He's for you.


"Unbroken" Is Broken Without the Epilogue

As has become a bit of tradition in my household, the family went to a movie on Christmas Day. After apologizing to the young ladies selling tickets and concessions for making them work on Christmas, we entered into the theater designated for the 8pm showing of "Unbroken." 

This film had been promoted for weeks. The biography by Laura Hillenbrand had been a NY Times Bestseller for months. The buzz about Angelina Jolie's directorial debut was strong and with such negative press about the Sony comedy "The Interview" and the only other real opening day competition being "Into the Woods" it was no surprise to see the theater packed for this film.

"Unbroken" is the amazing story of survival and life-change of American Olympic track star and World War II POW Louis Zamperini. For sports and military historians, as well as those who follow the history of the Billy Graham Crusades, Zamperini's story is well-known. However, for most people, Louis Zamperini's story is being heard for the very first time.

In the late 1950s, Universal Studios secured to the rights to Zamperini's story. They intended to produce a film with Tony Curtis portraying Louis. The film was never made, but Universal held onto the rights. When Hillenbrand's book hit shelves and shot up the NY Times list, it was inevitable that a film would be made.

There are numerous reviews of the film online now. The reviews swing from "Loved it!" to "Disappointed" and every level between. 

Some pan the Angelina Jolie direction of the film, but most likely due to a distaste for Jolie rather than actual dissatisfaction with her direction. 

Others dislike the portrayal of "The Bird" by Japanese pop-star Takamasa Ishihara. It is Ishihara's first feature film and with that taken into consideration, he performance was definitely above average.

The celebrated Coen brothers are credited with the script and while there are some great lines in the film, the dialogue was not excellent. 

10387292_697866970284464_9113511582935429008_nI have not yet read the book, but did receive it for Christmas. Therefore, I did something that I wish I hadn't - viewed the film before reading the book.

I'm not a film critic (I just pretend to be on my blog) but overall, I enjoyed the film. I admit that I entered the theater wanting to enjoy the film, and no doubt that led me to like it more than others may. However, since I'm now a pretend critic, here are some thoughts I had during the viewing (SPOILER ALERT):

  • The back-story of Louis as a child was good, but seemed choppy. I know the film had to hurry and get to the POW camp, but there just seemed to be more to his upbringing and entrance into the track & field world that should have been told.
  • The Olympic scene in Berlin was great. The Jesse Owens cameo was nice, as a reminder of the times and the biggest story of the 1936 Olympics.
  • Loved the line about running in the Tokyo Olympics being the true goal for Louis. I knew this would come full-circle.
  • The time in the life-boats with Louis, Phil and Mac seemed to take forever. Maybe that was the point, but that portion of the film seemed much longer than it needed to be. On a side note, while watching this part of the film, I could not help but think of my friend Edgar Harrell and his account of beging stranded at sea with others from the USS Indianapolis upon its sinking. His story is incredible and has been put in book form (and should be a movie as well) under the title "Out of the Depths."
  • When Louis and the boys catch the shark and beat it to death in the liferaft, I chuckled a little. This really happened, I'm sure, but it just seemed over the top.
  • When the shark jumped up to attack the men, my daughter and just about half the audience jumped out of their seats. That was worth the price of admission.
  • Jack O'Connell's portrayel of Zamperini was great. I believe we may have a new silver-screen superstar revealed in this film.
  • Watching life in a POW camp, as portrayed on film, is always heart-wrenching for me. As those I know who experienced this personally can attest, the despair and challenges just cannot be presented fully in a movie. However, I applaud the filmmakers for how they protrayed this.
  • The statements "If you can take it, you can make it" and others seemed overdone and a little too much like the motivational posters seen in some offices. 
  • The movie ended and the images and statements during the end credits were nice, but as many have stated, there is so much more to Zamperini's story left untold that I left the theater feeling that I was able to eat the appetizers and a few parts of the main dish, but didn't get the full meal and definitely missed dessert.

The average rating for the film on IMDB is 6.7 out of 10. That's about right, I'd say.

As for some of the criticisms I'm reading and hearing, here's my take:

Angelina Jolie does not claim to be a follower of Christ. She appears to be a big fan and friend to the late Louis Zamperini. Apparently, she desired to make this film as an homage to him and sought his approval along the way. Louis was a Christian. His life was forever transformed by Jesus Christ. There are definitely large portions of his story that are covered in the book by Hillenbrand, but omitted from the film. Some are offended that Jolie didn't cover these aspects. I'm not offended because I would never expect her to understand fully the impact of Christ upon a life, having not (based on her own faith statements) never experiencing this personally. It's hard to convincingly portray that which you do not know.

Therefore, I believe she did a fine job of telling a portion of Zamperini's story. Louis' family apparently approves as well.

Nevertheless, there is a "rest of the story" that reveals the depths of transformation and life-change in Louis Zamperini's life. My friend, Rick Wheeler, recently shared this on his Facebook page. Here is a portion of his posting:

The story of Louis Zamperini is about the enduring and resilient human spirit. His triumph over everything life threw at him is unquestionably one of the most inspiring stories of modern history.

But there is a bigger and deeper story that the book presents that the screenwriters and the director of the movie missed: When Louis came back from the war, he was deeply wounded - not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. His hate for his captors and for "the Bird" prison guard in particular created a new prison in his life. One he could not escape from or endure by his resilient spirit. He was so tormented by his inner demons and nightmares of his captivity that he turned to alcohol and violence. Before PTSD was something doctors knew about, Louis' life was out of control and headed toward a destructive end.

Then, as a last ditch effort, his wife invited him to a Billy Graham event in 1949 in Los Angeles. That night, Louis acknowledged that he was broken and gave his heart to Christ. According to his own interviews, he had been experiencing nightmares every night since returning from his imprisonment. The night he was transformed by the gospel, he was freed from this torment and the nightmares immediately ceased. His faith was not just a crutch to get him through, it became his pathway to healing that would take Louis back to Japan on a mission of forgiveness. Louis wanted to free his former captors from the prison of guilt and shame he knew they were experiencing. The human will does not lead you to this kind of compassion, surviving a tortuous war and beating the odds does not transform a life in this way. The most incredible element of Louis' life was omitted from the movie. The pathway to redemption is not survival and resilience (if I can take it, I can make it) it is forgiveness that only comes from acknowledging that we are broken. The movie leaves the viewer with this false hope that extraordinary human effort is sufficient to overcome the internal and external conflicts of life.

I know that Louis and his family are pleased with how the movie portrays his faith and I would never want the movie to be presented as a religious film - on the contrary, I want the full truth of Louis' story to be told....because it was the part about surrender to Christ and forgiveness that met me at a broken place and brought healing.

The movie leaves this part of the story to text pages during the final credits. Camille (Rick's wife) and I could not believe that part of the story was left on the editing room floor. Overcoming adversity is always a great story. But the end of the war was not Louis' salvation as the movie depicts - in fact, the end of the war sent Louis careening out of control. Only Jesus can transform a life that has been so brutally tortured and change it into a force of forgiveness and healing. Resilience is not enough - only the gospel story will get you through your worst day. 

I agree with Rick in his assessment. He says more about the film and the book in his posting on Facebook. While I enjoyed the film, it did feel incomplete. I have told people that it is a good film. I believe it is. However, I wouldn't say that it's a great film. 

Here's why I believe this film is good. It will lead many to want to know more. Sure, many  will watch the film, leave the theater and say "Hmm, pretty good movie. Now let's go see another." However, others will be intrigued by Louis Zamperini's story and they'll want to know more. Some will read Hillenbrand's book. Others may read Zamperini's autobiography or perhaps watch the documentary produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Louis Zamperini's story is incredible. It's inspirational. It's challenging. Yet, until one knows the full story, it will always remain incomplete. 

Ultimately, until Zamperini realized he was "broken" he could never discover completion. He surrendered to Christ, was made whole at that moment and now is home. His story continues to be used by God to draw others to Himself.

And that is good.

______________________________________

Books & Documentaries referenced & recommended:

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

After Unbroken: The Rest of the Louis Zamperini Story by the BGEA

Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian's Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II by Louis Zamperini & David Rensin

Don't Give Up, Don't Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Louis Zamperini & David Rensin

Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival,  Courage & the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis by Edgar Harrell & David Harrell


"Heaven Is For Real". . .a Bad Take on Heaven

Culture is enamored with "gone to heaven and now back" stories. I just saw a deal at BJs Wholesale with three of the books in this genre packaged together for a great price.

Heaven-is-for-realNo, I did not buy them, but many will. Many have. In fact, many Christians have.

All of you who think the book, Heaven is for Real is cute (and plan to see the movie) as well as all the other "I left earth, went to heaven/hell and came back to write a book" books are now upset with me. I'm sure I "shouldn't say these things about books that touch people and help them." Sorry. Not sorry. This isn't about throwing anyone under the bus. This is about shining light on stories that enamor many believers, but do not line up with the Word of God.

It is frightening how many church attenders, members and Christians are so confused when it comes to eternity. I hear it when planning funerals all the time. 

Take a look at David Platt's wonderful explanation about these stories and the biblical viewpoint.

 

"Why are we buying this stuff, when we have the Word of God?" - David Platt


"Saving Mr. Banks" is Really About Healing the Wounded Heart

A movie about the making of a movie based on a book had just opened in theaters. For those unfamiliar with Disney lore, it is the account of Walt Disney's twenty-year odyssey to secure film rights from author P.L. Travers for the character and stories of Mary Poppins.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is  an interesting film, in that 99 percent of the audience knows that eventually "Mary Poppins" was made and was a tremendous hit. Words that never existed before like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" entered the lexicon of many American children and images of Dick Van Dyke dancing with penguins somehow seem natural.

<SPOILER ALERT>

Saving-Mr-Banks-Movie-Poster2I just put "spoiler alert" there because other articles and blogs do that when speaking about a film that is currently in the theaters. However, I always read below the "spoiler alert" banner anyway. In this case, since everyone knows "Mary Poppins" was eventually filmed by Disney, there really aren't that many spoilers.

Since I don't recall ever watching "Mary Poppins" in its entirety, the title of this film "Saving Mr. Banks" didn't quite reveal much to me. I did some reviewing and soon found that Mr. Banks is the father in the Mary Poppins book and film. I think I used to know that, but had forgotten. Therefore, once I discovered who Banks was, the title made sense. . .somewhat.

This film goes back to Travers' childhood in Australia when she, her siblings and parents were struggling to make ends meet. Her father had a successful job with the bank there, but due to his bouts with alcoholism, and subsequent outburts and inability to function well at work, he was demoted. This seems to have pushed him even farther toward his addictive behaviors. Travers, as a little girl, obviously adores her father as he does her. The flashback sequences are done well and give the audience a sense of what may be going on in Travers' head as she so adamantly fights Disney for things regarding Mary Poppins and the Banks family that seem irrelevant. 

A WOUNDED HEART

As the story unfolds, it is clear that P.L. Travers carries a deep wound in her heart. Like all of us, we have wounds. These wounds are most often inflicted, willingly or unwillingly, by our earthly fathers. It's part of our human story. 

John and Stasi Eldredge speak of this clearly in their respective books, Wild at Heart and Captivating.

John says it this way regarding men and their heart wounds:

Every man carries a wound. I have never met a man without one. No matter how good your life may have seemed to you, you live in a broken world full of broken people. Your mother and father, no matter how wonderful, couldn't have been perfect. She is a daughter of Eve, and he a son of Adam. So there is no crossing through this country without taking a wound. (Wild at Heart, 71.)

Stasi reveals this about daughters with wounded hearts:

The vows we make as children are understandable - and very, very damaging. They shut our hearts down. They are essentially a deep-seated agreement with the messages of our wounds. They act as an agreement with the verdict on us. "Fine. If that's how it is, then that's how it is. I'll live my life in the following way. . ." (Captivating, 71.)

"Saving Mr. Banks" is an entertaining film and while some I know have commented and Tweeted that "It's a cute film" it is much more than that. Unknowingly, the filmmakers and actors have portrayed that which is evident in the hearts of all people. We all carry a wound. Most often it is inflicted by those we love the most. What we do with that wound determines much. 

HEALING THE WOUND

Even non-believers desire healing. Their lack of acknowledgement of a Healer leaves them seeking throughout their lives and settling for temporary relief. Unfortunately, even some Christ-followers lack the courage and faith to invite God into the deepest parts of the wound. Consequently, those who claim and do follow Christ, remain the walking wounded, never fully free. Forgiveness is key and yet, not a surface-level, superficial forgiveness that never goes to the depth of the wound. The forgiveness that God offers us is that which He leads us to offer others - a forgiveness that says "What you did hurt, in fact it still hurts, but I choose to not hold it against you." That is the beginning of healing and sets the captive free.

"Forgiveness, Mrs. Travers," says Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. "It's what I learned from your books."

IT'S NOT REALLY ABOUT SAVING MR. BANKS

It may seem that making Mr. Banks into a likeable, affable character was truly Mrs. Travers' goal, but in actuality, it wasn't Mr. Banks that needed to be saved, but Mrs. Travers. 

WHAT YOU TAKE WITH YOU AS YOU LEAVE THE THEATER

We all carry wounds and what we do with them is vital. "A cute movie?" - perhaps, but maybe, just maybe, God can use this story to remind each of us that He alone can rescue us and He alone can set us free.

 

______________________

Here's a good review on "Saving Mr. Banks" from Focus on the Family's Plugged In site.

 


All the "Borrowed Christmas" Commercials with the Kids

I had a great time making these parody commercials modeled after the famous AT&T ones with some of the kids from our church. We showed some during worship services and on Christmas Eve. Others were posted to Facebook. Here are all thirteen videos featuring Ansley, Drew, Anna and Eli.

#1 - What's better, birthdays or Christmas?

 

 

#2 - What's a better present, a Batman or a Barbie?

 

 

#3 - What's better at Christmas, going to the beach or somewhere there's snow?

 

 

#4 - What's the best Christmas gift you ever received?

 

 

#5 - Do I make a better Batman or Robin?

 

 

#6 - What's better, cookies or candy canes?

 

 

#7 - Who are the characters in a nativity scene?

 

 

#8 - Is this annoying?

 

 

#9 - Do you put your feet on the tables at home?

 

 

#10 - If you were buying a Christmas gift for your mom and dad, what would you buy? (Does your dad want to be like me?)

 

 

#11 - If you could go anywhere to have fun, where would you go?

 

 

#12 - Why do people go to church at Christmas?

 

 

#13 - So, what do you want for Christmas?

 

Borrowed christmas