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'The Book of Life' Gets Its Messages Mixed

book-of-life-3-guillermo-s-latest-how-del-toro-will-the-book-of-life-beJorge Gutierrez’s “The Book of Life” is dazzling, funny, and well-made, but it bites off more than it can chew. Vibrant and colorful, the film gives a modern twist to an ancient tradition, but it falls short of a true classic due to one fundamental flaw: It cannot decide what it is.

Some directors see genres as dead typologies, constraining themes that deny originality and stifle new ideas. They create new kinds of classics by breaking the rules. Disney’s “Frozen” took the idea of a classic romance musical and flipped it on its head. Pixar’s “The Incredibles” transformed the solitary, secret superhero narrative into a heartwarming family movie. Each of these films had a very specific goal, and blew audiences away.
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Looking Deeper into the Troubling Practice of Surrogacy

ID-100253040This August, a sensational story broke. An Australian couple, David and Wendy Farnell, contracted with a Thai woman to be a surrogate for their children. However, the Farnells took only one of the twins back home, a healthy girl. Left behind was the son they no longer wanted, Gammy, who was born with Down syndrome. Attempting to defend himself to a shocked world, Mr. Farnell said, “No parent wants a son with a disability.”

John Stonestreet offered a great BreakPoint commentary on the case, focusing on the malevolent consistency of a consumerist culture. We can have everything else “our way right away,” so why not children, too?

But I have a sense that most people don’t really grasp the profound social and moral implications of surrogacy. One reason is that we rarely hear about surrogacy apart from fantastic stories in the media, which are far removed from our everyday lives. Another is that we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture, and many celebrities have embraced surrogacy. These celebrities then become fabulous guests on far-too-influential talk shows.

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‘The Judge’ Falls Short because of Its Stale Message about Morality

tumblr_ncbdonE4Lx1tl88e9o1_1280The new film “The Judge” is like the sentimental version of last year’s scathing family drama “August: Osage County.” The story opens when Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.), a defense attorney in Chicago, for whom everything is going right except his marriage, goes back to his home in Carlinville, Indiana. His mother has died, and he loved her enough to return, even though he hates his father, Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).

The family dynamics get even more complicated when we meet his two brothers, Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) the failed baseball star, and Dale (Jeremy Strong) the mentally handicapped man with a possibly significant old video camera. (Spoiler Alert: The significance is repeatedly implied but never realized.) Their father has been a judge in their middle-of-nowhere town all their lives. None of them call him “Dad”; he is “Judge.” Even so, only Hank seems to hate him.

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'My Old Lady's' Surprising Take on Sin, Consequences, and Healing

A031_A031_C013_1010S2_0005-560x315It is a rare and wonderful thing to be truly surprised by a film, yet that’s what happened to me when I saw Maggie Smith’s latest, “My Old Lady.”

Going into the movie, I had no knowledge of the story save the trailer, which led me to expect a quirky, humorous, character-driven piece. But what I received was so much more. I’ll attempt to discuss the impact of this film without spoiling its every plot twist, since the surprise is an experience worth savoring. There’s humor, yes, but it is colored with the tragedy of decades-old pain, finally given vent and the chance to be laid to rest at last. But resurrecting past secrets doesn’t come without a cost—and in that respect, this film is an unexpected call to courage, compassion, and forgiveness.
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'Gone Girl' Is a Terrifying Tale of Marriage Gone Wrong

GoneGirlFincerSpecialShoot(Note: This review contains spoilers.)

Recently married? You might want to avoid “Gone Girl,” director David Fincher’s intense and incredible portrait of the darkest possible outcome of a human relationship.

The movie opens with narration that encapsulates the unknowable questions between two people who are meant to be as close as two people can be: “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other?”

If you have a significant other, you might recognize those questions. By the end of the movie, you’ll wish you didn’t.
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The Films of 1939, Part 10

hqdefaultFrank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is one of the best-remembered films in a year full of great ones. Whenever its title is mentioned, we recall the Washington, D.C., setting; the patriotic montages; the thrill of watching the young senator played by James Stewart heroically fighting corruption. We remember basking in the warm, sentimental glow that only Capra can create, and wishing there were more Mr. Smiths in this world. We may even remember wanting to be one ourselves.

But if that's what we remember about the movie, we're remembering the wrong things. Read More >
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‘The Good Lie’ Offers an Inspiring Portrait of Faith among Sudan’s ‘Lost Boys’

reese-witherspoon-in-the-good-lie(Note: This review contains spoilers.)

In the early 1990s, more than 3600 Sudanese refugees immigrated to the United States. “We did not know the world was big,” explains one of the “Lost Boys” the name given to this diaspora, “we only knew our village in Sudan.”

The new film “The Good Lie,” opening Friday, focuses on a small group of these Lost Boys, from their time as children forced to evacuate a village torn by civil war. They are orphaned and possess nothing but a cooking pot, a Bible, a blanket, and a few other necessities. The opening sequences of the movie take us through the barren desert to Ethiopia—which is then deemed unsafe. The children head across the desert en route to Kenya, the arduous journey taking its toll on their health and killing a few members of their group. In a moment of extreme and unsettling sacrifice, the eldest of the group, Theo (Femi Oguns), distracts the soldiers and offers himself as a child soldier to save his friends.

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How a Polish Jew Reintroduced Me to Jesus

booksThese days most will agree that Warner Stallman’s 1941 painting The Head of Christ—otherwise known as that blond-haired, azure-eyed Jesus your grandmother has hanging beside her dresser—represents a Caucasian (if not quite Aryan) self-delusion. It’s surprising how frequently this lily-white Messiah still rears His flawless complexion in popular Christian art and entertainment. I don’t mean Stallman’s painting itself, nor even its depiction of Jesus as an Isosceles-nosed Anglo-Saxon. Rather, I mean the ideal it represents, culturally, spiritually and historically.

This ideal shows up in the recent “Son of God” film, in which Diogo Morgado plays an Immanuel who could be my Uncle Howie dressed as a hippie for Halloween—in the midst, ironically, of an otherwise passably Semitic cast. But the Savior offered by a tattered paperback I recently picked up looks nothing like either American depiction. He is a profoundly Jewish Redeemer who may at first seem unfamiliar to Western Christian eyes. But as I came to realize, he’s far more like the real Messiah than Stallman’s painting or even the best film portrayals of my lifetime.

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'Person of Interest' and Female Moral Agency

Person-of-Interest-The-Devils-Share-Dont-fuck-with-Root-Amy-AckerJonathan Nolan’s “Person of Interest” returns to CBS tonight for its fourth season, and with it comes one of its biggest unresolved problems from season three. It’s still got its fascinating and highly relevant premise: A small group of vigilantes try to use an all-seeing surveillance machine to save lives. It’s still got all the dilemmas that result from that premise, and it’s still got the ethics and subtle sense of hope that point to the possibility of finding a way through those dilemmas. It’s still got most of its excellent core cast—Michael Emerson, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, and Sarah Shahi—though Taraji P. Henson’s conflicted police detective was regrettably killed off. In short, it’s still got a lot of what has made it one of the best (and most underrated) series on network TV.

But it’s also got Root.

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'The Maze Runner' Is Short on Surprises

mazefeaturedIf you’re weary of hearing a movie franchise described as the “next” big Young Adult sci-fi dystopia series, or yet another movie compared to “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” your mind won’t be changed by “The Maze Runner.”

In fairness, this movie has some unique twists on what is becoming a familiar formula: Young protagonist—in this case, a boy named Thomas—must try to escape artificial environment created by unknown powers. And for a film likely intended to launch yet another trilogy, it had a surprisingly satisfying story arc—especially as compared to, for instance, Divergent,” which barely had an ending).

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A Review of Simon Chan’s ‘Grassroots Asian Theology’

9780830840489As I have documented in the first two articles in this series, Christianity is expanding rapidly in the non-Western world. Once the destination of missionaries, regions such as Africa, Latin America, and Asia are now sending their own evangelists back to Western Europe and North America.

However, these non-Western missionaries are not simply replicating the faith that their ancestors received a century or more ago. Instead, their Christianity has been indelibly impacted by their particular geographical and historical circumstances. “Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up” (IVP Academic, 2014) offers a description of how Asian concerns are shaping Christian doctrine and a prescription for how Asian Christians can be both faithful to the Bible and to their own cultures.
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What We Can Learn from the Final 'Atlas Shrugged' Film

atlas-shrugged-part-3-teaser-movie-poster-3Reviewers often mock Christian films as trite, cheesy, and lacking any subtlety, but “Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?” shows that atheists, too, can get so bogged down in their message that they forget how to tell a good story. “Who Is John Galt?” takes a classic novel and turns it into a tawdry, boring flick.

This film deserves its inevitable death in obscurity—not because many of the themes and ideas are morally questionable, but because the filmmaking is atrocious. Christian moviemakers would do well to learn from its mistakes, to strengthen the way we present the gospel in film. Read More >
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'Assault and Flattery' Tells the Truth about the 'War on Women'

9781476749600You’ve heard it said for some time now, and you’ll be hearing more of it as the next election cycle approaches: The GOP is waging a war on women. Republicans deny women their contraceptive rights and rob them of equal pay. At least, that’s what we hear in the media after Supreme Court decisions and before political races.

At worst, Republican policymakers are labeled misogynistic. At best, they are depicted as out of touch with the average woman voter. And the Democratic Party self-designates as the “pro-women” party without much dispute.

Regardless of its truthfulness, or lack thereof, this mainline Leftist narrative has proven quite successful. Consider the impact of “pro-women” speechifying for Democratic candidates in the 2012 election cycle. If the 2012 races are any kind of precursor to 2014, we can expect more of the same. “Women’s issues” will remain one of the hinges on which many votes are swung and some elections are won. On many levels, by and large it appears that Republicans are still unable to demonstrate that they are “pro-women,” despite the GOP’s best attempts to train their candidates on how not to talk about the issues.

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The Films of 1939, Part 9

ninotchkaA good Hollywood romance is hard to achieve—especially a good romantic comedy. Many prove not only trite and unconvincing, but hopelessly shallow, as the couple’s problems are mere clichés about men and women, rather than deep and personal problems.

But one of the many great movies from Hollywood’s glorious year of 1939 goes the extra mile here, setting a lighthearted romantic comedy against the darkness and danger of Stalin’s Soviet Union. To put it mildly, it includes the “something more” that rom-coms so often lack.

The title character of “Ninotchka,” an intensely dedicated Marxist from the Soviet government, falls for a man who embodies everything she opposes, a French aristocrat who has never worked a day in his life. The film artfully contrasts Soviet austerity with Parisian frivolity to create a striking and heartwarming story of two unlikely people falling in love. Read More >

'Calvary' Reminds Us of Powerful Truths about Justice, Vengeance, and Redemption

calvary-day7_0In recent years, abuse by the clergy has been in the spotlight. It is rare that a week goes by when a pastor, priest, or other person in spiritual authority is not arrested for illicit activities with minors or discovered abusing their influence in order to manipulate those in their flock for personal gain. One of the most notorious scandals in recent years is the abuse by priests in the Catholic Church, which led to a forceful outcry for justice.

But what happens if the laudable desire for justice is corrupted into a desire for vengeance?

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