Patriots Day: This is What Makes America Great

patriots-day

I saw an advance screening of Patriots Day, the dramatization of the Boston Marathon Bombing and the hunt for the young Islamic terrorists who perpetrated it. I must say that this is a movie that ALL Americans need to see when it is released. Put it on your calendars and keep an eye out for opening weekend December 21.

You Need to See Patriots Day.

With Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and now Patriots Day, Peter Berg is fast becoming the official great all-American movie director in my book, along with Mark Wahlberg as the great All-American actor. Berg seems to understand the courage, sacrifice, and exceptionalism of American heroism, and he is unafraid to tackle the most important villain on the earth today: Islamism.

(We must forgive him for Battleship, as that was a studio monstrosity that I am sure he only did to be able to make the movies he really wants to.)

The movie’s first act introduces us to some of the lives of the victims and heroes of that fateful day, and gives us a taste of their desires, their loves, their hopes for life. We are made to care for these everyday people and first responders before we see them go through the horrendous attack and aftermath. Wives, families, parents and lovers, all, with dreams and plans. The emotional power in this story is thick and human and deeply moving.

He even gives us a glimpse into the Tsarnaev brothers “everyday life” that leads up to their Islamic everyday terror. Though not with the kind of typical Hollywood “terrorists are people too” moral equivalency.

Mark Wahlberg plays a character who represents a composite of a couple different homicide detectives for narrative flow. But the attention to accuracy and detail outside of the necessary creative license is strong. This movie is true to the facts, but more importantly to the spirit of this important historical event.

And that spirit is the American spirit of banding together, something we desperately need right now in our country. Continue reading

To End All Wars Voted One of 29 Best WWII Movies on IMDB

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See the Wrap’s list of 29 WWII Films with a 7/10 rating on IMDB.

Woo Hoo! After all these years, it’s become a classic. Check it out. It’s 5th on the page list.

To End All Wars was my first feature film that I wrote that got produced.

It stars Kiefer Sutherland in one of his best roles ever, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you can on Amazon Video here.

ONLY $1.99 to Rent. What are you waiting for?

Makes a nice compliment to the awesome Hacksaw Ridge out in theaters now.

 

Hacksaw Ridge: Intense Podcast Discussion of Its Worldview

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This is one of my favorite podcast interviews I’ve done.

The guys at A Clear Lens talked with me about the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

We discussed everything: The themes, Christian faith, persecution, worldview, politics and acting and casting!

You will love this one. It’s deep.

Click here to listen.

I may start a podcast about movies with a friend of mine, Mark Tapson. What do you think?

Doctor Strange: Strangely Boring Magic

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The latest Marvel offering about a doctor of medicine who, because of a horrible accident, seeks to replace his lost fame and power as a successful surgeon, but discovers the power of eastern occultism to transcend himself and fight the dark forces of evil seeking to take over the world.

Special Effects as Boring

This is the least of all Marvel movies, or TV shows for that matter. I have grown so weary of these superheroes as substitute gods, and special effects obsession with big vast environments of CGI with tiny little people in them running around avoiding mass destruction. It’s all quite boring and lacks humanity. It’s shallow spectacle over dramatic depth.

Don’t get me wrong, in general I like some of the Marvel universe. Captain America deals with some pretty transcendent values. The TV shows, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are intensely human and personal with powerful themes that resonate. So it can be done right sometimes.

But Dr. Strange is unfortunately not one of those times.

I know that movies are visual and so they are the place for some real visual feasting to occur. But if that visual exploration is not accompanied by deep human meaning, it is like junk food or entertainment masturbation; empty thrills without satisfaction. Christopher Nolan sometimes does it right. Dr. Strange tries to mimic some of Inception’s mind-bending visuals, but without much interest beyond derivative homage. Chases and fight scenes occur in an endless litany of ever-changing Escher-like environmental metamorphosis with little purpose.

To be fair, writer-director Scott Derrickson does try to make this story about something bigger, about the recognition of spiritual reality and the purpose of life found in something bigger than ones’ self. Dr. Strange begins a narcissistic individual but ends up giving himself to a cause greater than himself. He begins a selfish glory hound, and ends up a guard dog for the world.

The problem is that the story’s well-intended meaning becomes a shallow generic self-righteousness that ends up drowning in an irrational and unbiblical occultic worldview.

Here’s how… Continue reading

Hacksaw Ridge: An Epic of Christian Faith and Heroism

hacksaw_ridge

I just saw Hacksaw Ridge again. I posted about an early screening, and I am reposting that with expansions here.

It’s the true story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist Christian who joined the US military in WWII, but refused to carry a weapon and never fired a bullet. He became a medic who “saved lives instead of taking lives.” He suffered persecution within the system and from his fellow soldiers, but ended up saving 75 of his company’s men in the brutal bloodbath of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa.

This is the best war movie about Christianity in a time of war since To End All Wars (Go ahead, mock me, accuse me of self-promotion, but it’s true, regardless of who wrote it. And it was a true story too).

Mel Gibson’s Redemption

He’s done it again. Mel Gibson has crafted one of the most inspiring movies for this generation.

If you want to see Christianity respected in a movie, then you will definitely want to see Hacksaw Ridge.

If you want to see Christianity lived out in grace and sacrifice, then you will definitely want to see Hacksaw Ridge.

If you want to be inspired to be a better person, then you will definitely want to see Hacksaw Ridge. Continue reading

Deepwater Horizon: Explosive Portrait of Heroism and Survival

The true disaster story of the 2010 explosion and destruction of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, that became the largest man-made disaster in history.

Watching the first third of Deepwater Horizon was like watching The Big Short or Wall Street. After a brief introduction to the protagonist, Mike Williams, played by Mark Wahlberg, and one other female character, we are plunged into the politics aboard the semi-submersible oil rig, famous for its safety awards, but now facing the mounting pressure of corporate executives trying to skirt safety regulations on a delayed project versus the safety concerns of rig chief, Jimmy Williams, played by Kurt Russell.

Insider lingo and tech talk fills the screen in such a way that the viewer cannot quite understand, making him feel immersed in an authentic environment, but not so detached as to be unable to interpret the emotions and tense human drama that are occurring.

Tension mounts with rising concern under the direction of Peter Berg, a fine visual director of past films like the phenomenal Lone Survivor.

When the series of explosions begin that will utterly destroy the rig and ultimately kill eleven of the workers onboard, the movie becomes a non-stop, white-knuckle ride of terrifying real life disaster, accompanied by acts of heroism, as Mike and other workers pull together to save as many people as possible.

I’ll admit it, I am a sucker for true stories of heroism because they move me, they inspire me, and they give me hope that men and women can pull together in crisis for the better part of our humanity. That’s the second best kind of transcendence in a story that makes it worthy.

So I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure and the human will to survive. We need more of these movies to counter the nihilism and cynicism that permeates our culture.

Godawa’s Quibble Corner

What did not inspire me was the very thin development of character, not merely of the protagonist, but of all of the characters. There were no significant personal internal journeys that would have created a much more human interest story. It amounted to an explosively well-filmed disaster survival documentary with two dimensional characters. I longed for the kind of transcendence that movies like these can attain, if they only seek the deeper meaning that is waiting to be discovered embodied in the event.

One particular moment at the end of the film was like a loud backfire of missed opportunity. After most of the men are aboard the rescue ship, and the proper villain is shamed, all the men kneel down and pray the Lord’s Prayer together. But there is nothing prior in the movie that would set up for this otherwise moving scene. What a powerful spiritual potential to a story that was never set-up to be released with real impact. Patronizing instead of inspirational as it could have been.

Well, counter that with the pleasant surprise that the end credits did not blame the big bad oil companies involved with causing global warming, and my respect for Berg just rose several notches. It’s gotta be difficult to keep insane Hollywood politics out of your movie, and that’s about as heroic as you can get in my book.

Ben Hur: An Epic Movie of Christian Forgiveness in an Empire of Hate

Ben Hur

Adaptation of a famous fictional novel by Lew Wallace about a first century wealthy Jew, Judah Ben-Hur, and his pursuit of revenge against an adopted Roman brother who betrays his family.

Chances are, you have heard of the classic movie of Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston in the lead role. But if you’re young, you probably haven’t seen it. Look, for those of us who have seen the “original,” it’s pretty hard to live up to the grandness of it because Heston was so legendary. But the truth is, when I watched the old one again some years ago, the actual quality of filmmaking and acting, even the famous chariot race, was not as good as my memory of it. Modern filmmaking is simply more sophisticated on many levels.

Enter, the modern reboot

Judah and his family live in Jerusalem, but his adopted Roman brother, Masala, never feels welcome with his pagan ideas and desire to make his own name in life. So Masala goes to Rome and becomes a highly placed military leader, who ends up at Jerusalem aiding Pontius Pilate at the time of Christ.

Judah begins the story as a Jew who scorns the extremes of both the Zealots, who seek to rise up against Rome, and of the way of love that he sees a young carpenter preaching to his followers. Judah seeks to protect his family and stay out of trouble. Self-preservation. And isn’t that really the desire of most of us, if we are honest? (Zealots were kind of like ancient “Social Justice Warriors” or terrorists)

The problem is that the family gets falsely accused of a Zealot crime, and is punished accordingly. Rather than execute Judah, Rome prefers to enjoy him dying slowly by putting him as a slave on a Roman galley ship. I have to say, this part of the movie was the most excellent surprise of the experience. I remember that part of the Heston movie as being a bit boring: guys rowing in dirty sweaty grunge with the quartermaster pounding the drum and the slaves getting whipped and yelled at.

But in this version, the experience of the sea battle by the oarsman from their perspective was a powerful action sequence. It captured the experience of what it might feel like to be there, helpless in those cramped quarters being bashed and battered around and sinking during a battle. And only being able to see what is going on through cracks and oar windows as they row. It reminded me of the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan, how it made you feel like the first time you ever really got a true sense of real battle in a movie from the individual’s perspective.

More Bread and Circuses!…

Continue reading

Hacksaw Ridge: Real Christian Faith Under Fire

Hacksaw_Ridge

I just saw a rough cut of Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s new movie coming out in November.

It’s the true story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist Christian who joined the US military in WWII, but refused to carry a weapon and never fired a bullet. He became a medic who “saved lives instead of taking lives.” He suffered persecution within the system and from his fellow soldiers, but ended up saving 75 of his company’s men in the brutal bloodbath of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa.

I will blog more about it when the release comes, but suffice it to say this is the best war movie about Christianity in a time of war since To End All Wars (Go ahead, mock me, accuse me of self-promotion, but it’s true, regardless of who wrote it. And it was a true story too).

Mel Gibson’s Redemption

He’s done it again. Mel Gibson has crafted one of the most inspiring movies for this generation.

If you want to see Christianity respected in a movie, then you will definitely want to see Hacksaw Ridge.

If you want to see Christianity lived out in grace and sacrifice, then you will definitely want to see Hacksaw Ridge.

If you want to be inspired to be a better person, then you will definitely want to see Hacksaw Ridge.

And here is what is amazing… Continue reading

Ben Hur: I Saw an Advance Screening, and It’s Good News

Ben Hur

The soon to be released epic period adventure, Ben-Hur is an adaptation of a famous fictional novel by Lew Wallace about a first century wealthy Jew, Judah Ben-Hur, and his pursuit of revenge against an adopted Roman brother who betrays his family. It takes place in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus’ ministry, so it brings a moving clash of worldviews between that of power and empire versus love and faith. And Jesus shows up.

Ben-Hur is a movie that is what Christians have been asking for. A real Hollywood epic with a legitimate Christian worldview. It has some fantastic action sequences that rival anything in recent blockbusters, and in ways far more human and interesting than most of those gluttonous orgies of overspent excessive CGI comic book world destructions. Ben-Hur is more like Saving Private Ryan and better for it.

It’s a timely movie dealing with forgiveness in a world of violence, hatred and oppression against Biblical faith. Not unlike today.

Thank you, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. And thank you, Paramount for considering the Christian audience with respect. I hope your box office supports your decision.

I can’t tell you about it until review time, so keep on the lookout here at the blog. Sign up to receive email updates.

Captain America: Civil War: American Exceptionalism in a Corrupt World

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There is a passage in the New Testament, Acts 17, that tells the story of the apostle Paul preaching his message of good news to the Greek pagans on Mars Hill. I wrote in an article and in a book about how Paul actually subverts the Greco-Roman culture by retelling the ancient pagan Stoic narrative redefined through a Christian worldview. He was so familiar with pagan beliefs that he could quote them and even retell their narratives. That means he studied his culture in order to connect with it so that he could share with that culture the risen Jesus, whom he had encountered. He read their philosophy and knew their myths and cultural narratives. The passage begins with him telling the Athenians that he perceived they were a religious people, based on their altar for an unknown god amidst the many of the pantheon.

I feel like that when I watch Marvel movies such as Captain America: Civil War.

I perceive that America is a religious people. I don’t mean in the old sense of the “Christian America” origins or even the high percentage of American believers in that God. What I mean is that as Western society has become more secular and more Christophobic, it has correspondingly become, not less religious, but more pagan in its religiosity.

Case in point: Superheroes.*

Pagan religiosity is illustrated in the polytheistic embrace of this new pantheon of gods. It is not news that superheroes are modernized updated versions of ancient gods 2.0. Humanity craves transcendence and deity, and if we refuse the living god, we replace him with new gods, and a new religion. So even the secular reductionism of the modern superhero only serves to perpetuate religious myth in a “secular” pseudoscientific garb. Most superheroes have some kind of scientific origin for their powers. Even Thor is not supernatural, but merely an ancient alien.

Romans 1:21–23
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

The modern world rejects the living God and so it creates substitute gods and religions in order to tell stories that embody its values.

But in spite of this idolatry, and like Paul with the Stoics on Mars Hill, I am often amazed to find some powerful truths in the Marvel universe with which I would certainly want to agree.

One of those values is the American Exceptionalism of Captain America.

Movies are not made in a vacuum. They often reflect the zeitgeist or “spirit of the age” that permeates our culture. We are a polytheistic society that has become increasingly polarized in our political and cultural wars. Thus it is no surprise that our gods now express that internal hostility in such movies as Captain America: Civil War (CA:CW) and Batman Vs. Superman. As one of the characters says in CA:CW, “An empire that crumbles from its enemies can rise again, but if it crumbles from within, it is dead forever.” The villain in CA:CW seeks to get his enemies, the Avengers to kill each other.

But in contrast with the usual multicultural zeitgeist of Hollywood is Marvel’s apparent rejection of the socialist utopian madness that is gripping the minds of our society like the talons of a possessing demon. We have become cynical and nihilistic, thus, the perennially perfect good guy, Superman (Of the DC universe) has renounced his American citizenship in the comics, and turned dark along with the Dark Knight by Frank Miller (UPDATE: Correction on the Batman Vs. Superman movie).

But into this cynical world, comes the superhero from the past, Captain America. Quite literally, he is transported into our modern world from the old days of WWII. So he still has those quaint American values that Superman rejected in a previous movie (“Truth, Justice” but certainly no “American Way”). And that is what makes our modern cynical society willing to watch him, because they see it as outdated anachronistic and ironic in juxtaposition with our modern day. Oh, how cynics and nihilists love “irony.”

But it is just here that Cap becomes the lesson from the “greatest generation.” It is precisely those values of “outdated” left behind American Exceptionalism from a bygone era, an era usually damned as “Ozzie and Harriet” values, that becomes the goodness, integrity and righteousness that could save us from ourselves. The values of chivalry that seems arrogant and presumptuous to modern left wing collectivism and the so-called anti-colonialism of Obama’s America.

I won’t pretend to understand all the mythic trails of the Marvel universe, nor remember all the tedious details of their mythology and characters. But the big picture story of Captain America: Civil War is that the world is blaming the Avengers for all the destruction that has occurred because of the terror activities of Hydra’s bad guys who want to control the world. Hmmmm, does that sound like America being blamed while protecting the world from a certain extreme wing of a certain religion we all know is performing jihad in the name of their god? And while we are at it, let’s throw in the atheist religion of communism that still threatens the globe. So these bad guys are so evil, they cause great swathes of destruction as the Avengers fight to stop them. Entire cities wiped out, innocent lives lost, the usual collateral damage that totalitarian regimes cause when stood up to.

And yet, the world blames the Avengers for it! WTF? The Avengers are accused of “routinely ignoring sovereign borders” as if they are global bullies engaging in macroagressions rather than saving everyone’s asses. (Quick, where is the safe space with playdoh and crayons?!)

As the Vision, who is supposed to be very intelligent AI, very stupidly says, “Our very strength invites challenge, and challenge breeds hostility.” This blaming of the victim is the very heart and soul of the left wing Anti-Americanism that is destroying our country from within. It is a collectivism that doesn’t understand the nature of evil. It is not strength that breeds or invites hostility, it is weakness that does. Bullies don’t pick on the strong, they pick on the weak. Communist countries, and Islamic terrorists “vote for the strong horse.” They will only stop when forced to stop — by strength.

Captain America understands the nature of evil, and the nature of American Exceptionalism. He says, “When you can do the things we can, but you don’t, then bad things happen because of what you didn’t do.” When America pulls out, evil grows to fill that void.

But the world blames the good guys, and seeks to have them sign a treaty of “accords” that would place the Avengers under the authority of the United Nations, to be more collectively accountable. Think of it as redistribution of power. Funny how the greed of envy works, isn’t it? Legalizing theft and crybullying.

It is here that the movie seeks to have a dialectic between collectivism and individualism. Some of the Avengers turn wimps (led by the chief cynic, Iron Man. Hmmmm, any surprise, the most cynical becomes the first fooled?), and they split between two camps of Avengers, those who seek to sign the accords and appease the envy and greed of morally inferior debtor nations, and those led by Cap, who has “faith in individuals,” and a strong moral compass to be leaders in righteous strength.

The appeaser Avengers “do what has to be done to stave off something worse,” and in so doing, actually make matters worse, precisely because that collective authority (the UN) under whom they place themselves is morally inferior.

It is here that the movie becomes fallacious in depicting the UN as a neutral body of nations who just want to have peace and order, when in reality, it is a corrupt body of greedy and immoral criminals (See the documentary U.N. Me). But I get it, they want to show both sides at their best in order to have a “balanced” dialectic.

But the true moral superiority of Captain America and his Americanism shines when he says he won’t sign the accords because it keeps them from fighting evil, which makes evil win. As he says, “When I see a situation going south, I can’t ignore it,” and “Even if the whole world tells you something is wrong when it is right, you say, No.” This is how a righteous man thinks, a moral man, a strong protector of the weak.

But this is not a naïve self image that ignores America’s faults or imperfections. No nation is perfect, and certainly not America, but it’s the best we’ve got. As Cap says, “We may not be perfect, but the safest heads are our own.” American Exceptionalism is not “my country, right or wrong,” but it’s also not the moral relativism of multiculturalism that concludes that our morality is no better than any other country’s morality. Moral fools propound moral equivalence.

The collectivism of the United Nations does not create peace, it creates war, by tearing down the strength of the righteous just like it did to the Avengers. The selfish greedy thievery of socialist redistribution does not create wealth, it destroys it. The oppression of human rights and genocidal impulse of Islamic states is not the equivalent of the Judeo-Christian chivalry and self-sacrifice of the West. There is right and wrong, and some cultures are wrong. Cap believes we must lead by strength and righteousness, which will be the model and example for morally inferior nations to aspire to.

That is what made America great.

And that is what makes Captain America the coolest of all the Avengers and the victor in the inevitable civil war of Avengers at the end.

Nevertheless, like Paul on Mars Hill, I have to say that despite some of these positive truths portrayed in CA:CW, I find myself unsatisfied by the substitute pantheon for the living God. For only with the Judeo-Christian God can there be any intelligibility to the chivalric values of righteous strength. Without God, even American Exceptionalism is hollow idolatry. Without a transcendent God, all values are morally equivalent as the godless and nihilist argue. One man’s superhero is another man’s supervillain. Without God, there is no righteous nation, just nations and their gods vying for power — and the will to power rules.

Without the one God of the Bible, there is no justice, there is only war.

 

* Another example of the spreading influence of paganism is Environmentalism and the Climate Change Cult that is sweeping over nations like a global Crusade. It is a return to pagan earth worship with a fascist religious regime akin to the Inquisition, complete with high priests, punishment for heretics and End of the World threats.

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