War for the Planet of the Apes: Cultural Appropriation and the Battle for the Social Narrative

In this fourth installment of the Planet of the Apes series we watch the next episode in how earth humans became overcome and enslaved by intelligent speaking apes.

This is a perfectly crafted well told epic that focuses on the personal journey of revenge for the leader of apekind, Caesar, played with understated brilliance by Andy Serkis. It is a moving and complex portrait of a leader who seeks peace, is pushed to revenge, but discovers mercy when he faces his own hatred. It’s what makes epics so… well, epic. War has ape characters that you can do nothing but root for, which makes you think twice, since they represent the creatures who will ultimately overthrow humanity on earth.

Are our enemies more like us than we would like to admit? Not always. But is it moral relativism to humanize the enemy? Not always.

Steven Zahn plays a comic relief chimpanzee who almost upstages Serkis with his lovably selfish personality (I’m telling you, Zahn rivals Serkis’ “good” Gollum paws down). The apes who join Caesar are loyal men—whoops—I mean apes of honor. The “humanization” of the apes is smartly captured by having Caesar’s band of assassins end up caring for a little mute human girl who steals your heart with every gesture she makes.

The visual effects are stupendous. Not one moment in the entire film did I ever think I was watching CGI. That is a compliment not only to the quality of the technology, but to the acting. War exemplifies the best of Hollywood visual effects, not in drawing attention to it, but in making it invisible. Bravo!

Unfortunately, War for the Planet of the Apes is also another example of bigoted Christophobia that seems to spill from the talented yet depraved souls of many Hollywood storytellers.

(Though, thank God, not all of them)

Human Exceptionalism: The Image of God

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American Gods: Secular Man Still Worships & the Gods are Crazy

The Starz network series, American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman’s horror novel is a supernatural story of the “old gods” who immigrated to America with various people groups rising up in war against the new gods of technology and culture that now rule our society.

It’s a great creative idea that in some ways reflects what I have been doing in my own universe of fictional writing. So I was naturally fascinated by the premise.

Unfortunately, it turns out to be a great idea gone bad. A mixed bag of profound spiritual wisdom and depraved humanist blasphemy.

Disenchantment

American Gods focuses on a convict, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), just released from prison only to discover his wife, Laura (Emily Browning), and his best friend died in a car accident while in an adulterous affair. On his way to the funeral, Shadow meets a peculiar old man, named Wednesday (Ian McShane), who hires him as a bodyguard of sorts. Shadow soon discovers that Wednesday claims to be a chief of the old gods who once laid claim to America through those who found their way here in the past, willingly or not. And we see vignettes in each episode of these gods arriving on America’s virgin shores—or really, raped shores. Odin with the Vikings, Bilquis and Anubis with some of the slaves, a Leprechaun with the Irish, Jinn with Muslims and others. In the story, these are real beings with real, though limited supernatural powers.

It’s a common fantasy theme about the “disenchantment” of the natural world that science and technology creates in modernity. The “old gods” represent the sense of wonder that the ancients had of the life in a world interpreted as containing a goddess of spring, a god of storm, a goddess of sex, and so on. In modernity, and in this story, these gods have become like neglected elderly homeless who scrounge around in lives of squalor as the new gods of technology, like “Media,” “Technical Boy,” and others occupy us with obsessive entertainment and electronic diversion that amounts to sacred devotion to the profane. We’ve lost the “magic” and “wonder” of life. We think we’ve become enlightened and put behind us the ignorance of religion, but we remain decidedly religious creatures who worship new gods under the guise of secularism. The goddess Media sometimes appears as Lucille Ball, sometimes as Marilyn Monroe, icons of worship no less religious than Bilquis the old god of sexuality who calls upon her sexual partners to verbalize worship to her as they engage in sex with her.

Spiritual Profundity

And that is the brilliance of the story, as in the original book by the same title (Although in this case, the show is better than the book). It brings alive a profound truth that modern secular man seeks to deny, namely that secular modernity is just as much a culture of religious worship as the old world. We humans are homo religicus, worshipping beings. And the world of media that traffics in narrative imagination is just as much an artificial creation of the human craving for the transcendent as are the religions of old. We have replaced one mythology with another mythology and mistaken the latter as progress.

Ah, but therein lies the rub… Continue reading

Alien Covenant: Ridley Scott’s Christophobic Atheism

Alien: Covenant views like an atheist version of a bad Christian movie.

Look, I was a fan of the original Alien, as one of the best sci-fi horror films of all time. Although I can no longer watch it because it’s gimmick of slow build suspense doesn’t work any more. It’s no longer scary, it’s just boring. One dinner scene remains emblazoned on film history, I won’t deny that. But the film no longer stands up for me.

Not so with Aliens. Aliens is the only one that still works in the series. It is the classic that surpasses the original. But of course, it isn’t Ridley Scott, it’s James Cameron, a superior storyteller. But I digress.

The Devolution of Atheist Storytelling

It seems as Scott gets older, his hatred of God burns brighter. Which is not a wise thing, considering how close he is in age to his own demise. And the worse his films seem to get as well. It’s almost as if Scott’s filmmaking is an argument for the existence of God. The more you apply atheism to your storytelling, the more irrational and the less satisfying your storytelling is for the human spirit.

Gladiator (2000) was quite simply a masterpiece of filmmaking. But it was pagan. Okay, a pagan masterpiece. An inversion of the gladiator movies of the past from their Judeo-Christian context into a celebration of pagan “transcendence.” Not because Scott (or his atheist screenwriter, David Franzoni) believes in such silly things, of course, but simply as a mythical embrace of anything other than Christianity. All the persecution of Christians in that era was quite literally cut out of the story.

Hannibal (2001) was a mocking subversion of the Christ story that transformed the cannibalistic serial killer into a Christ figure and the “real villain” was a caricature of a fundamentalist Christian. Satan as hero, worthy of the Scorsese award for antichrist filmmaking. And just a stupid movie.

Kingdom of Heaven (2005), was a humanistic reduction of all religion as morally equivalent and reduced to conquest. Wait. No. Actually, it was the denigration of Christianity to Islam, since the Crusades were depicted without their context of defense against imperialist jihad, and since the Muslims were portrayed as being more noble in their culture than the Christians. The story is about a Christian knight after all, who loses his faith in the face of multicultural experience of the other. (once again, any enemy of Christianity seems to be this director’s friend, even if that enemy hates him and wants to enslave the world) The problem is that this movie is an epic that lacks transcendence, even the pagan transcendence of Gladiator, and therefore becomes uninspiring and forgettable.

Prometheus (2012) (another pagan myth) was the mind-numbingly boring attempt to make the ancient aliens theory look aesthetically acceptable. But it’s still just the ridiculous atheist fairy tale that the gods of religion come from aliens. And they laugh at Christians claiming we believe in ridiculous made-up myths! Oh, and don’t forget, in this one, Jesus Christ was an alien. Gotta love that shot of the artwork of an alien in a crucifixion pose. Just give us some aliens vs. humans, damn you!

The Counsellor (2013) an uninspiring piece of nihilistic trash. When you argue that there is no meaning or purpose in reality, is it any wonder, your stories become meaningless and without purpose?

The abominable Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) displayed Scott’s apex of vile anger and contempt for the God of the Bible by reducing him to a tamper tantrum-throwing child, a figment of delusion—more a projection of Scott’s hypocritical atheist moralizing (since atheism claims there are no moral absolutes) than a nuanced understanding of complex deity and ancient sacred storytelling. They say your view of God is often a reflection of how you see your father. Well, I can only hope Scott will one day see beyond his own self-righteous hatred of daddy to find the grace that would actually give his hopeless life and absurd universe some meaning and purpose.

It Just Keeps Getting Worse

Now, Alien: Covenant carries on Scott’s legacy of Christophobic atheism. Continue reading

A Clear Lens Podcast: I just can’t shut up about Silence or The Shack.

I love these guys. They love movies and Jesus, and we don’t always see eye to eye, but that’s what makes it such engaging discourse. We talked about how powerful the Shack was, but where it failed in a full picture of the Gospel. And with Silence, we dug deep. Some of them liked it more than I did, but after talking, we did agree on the most important thing of all, and that was quite profound…

Take a listen to us talk about The Shack and Silence on their podcast here.

The Shack: The Good, The Bad, and the Heresy

A man returns to a small shack in the mountains where his daughter was abducted and murdered years ago. While there, he meets with God and learns to cope with the evil of his daughter’s suffering in light of the goodness of God.

The Good

This is a film in the vein of Miracles from Heaven and Heaven is for Real, a well made, well-told Hollywood attempt to penetrate the “faith-based” market. I have to say right up front, that I had read the book and was quite dubious going in. The book was certainly less than orthodox in its understanding of God, even unbiblical at times.

But as it turns out, apparently, the producers and Lionsgate, learned a bit of a lesson from past “Biblical” movies by pagans and atheists, that maybe they should have some real Christian influence on a product for that audience. I could tell that there must have been some Christians involved in the development of this story that desperately tried to keep it inline with that demographic.

For that, I applaud the filmmakers.

This story tackles THE most important struggle in the human experience: If God is good, why does he allow evil and suffering? And it does so with some rather powerful moments of truth worthy of the best of Christian apologetics (the “defense of the Faith”).

The first half of the movie builds on the relationship that Mack, the lead character, played with subtlety and nuanced emotion by Sam Worthington (Yes! Sam can act.) We see the precious sweetness of his youngest of three children, five year old Missy. We feel the abject horror of the number one universal fear of every parent, the abduction and murder of their child by an evil person.

This gut-wrenching dramatic incarnation is truly one of the most powerful and poignant I have experienced in movies (As it was in the book). And Mack’s hopeless aftermath of withdrawal and rejection of God rings with universal truth. This is an honest film of man’s spiritual struggles to make sense of a world of evil, suffering and God. There wasn’t a moment of inauthenticity in this part of the story.

But a few years later, Mack gets a letter claiming to be from “Poppa,” the name for God that little Missy used to use. It says to meet him up at the shack in the mountains where they found Missy’s tattered dress (never having found the body).

Mack reluctantly goes there and soon finds himself in the second half of the movie in a personal discourse with the Almighty in the form of three people, an Asian woman, Sarayu, who is supposed to be the Holy Spirit, a Middle Eastern young man who is Jesus, and the Father, a black woman named Poppa (We’ll deal with that later).

The rest of the story is a dialogue between Mack and the godhead. God compassionately forbears with Mack’s anger and tries to show him that he is too blinded to understand the truth of the bigger picture in relation to suffering and the goodness of God. He/She leads Mack toward his redemption and forgiveness.

But is it biblical? Or is it another Hollywood bastardized subversion of Christianity?… Continue reading

OSCAR WATCH – Silence: Scorsese’s Epic Apostasy

In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violent persecution to their faith as they track down their teacher and predecessor who is rumored to have apostatized.

I confess I have not read the book, so I do not know how faithful Scorsese is to Shusaku Endo’s original novel. But in movie adaptation, stories are shaped to the vision of the director, oftentimes subverting the original. So, despite some helpful appeals to the source material, a movie must nevertheless be understood in its own context and presentation apart from the book. And Scorsese seems to have made this story his own.

Christian Bashing is Nothing New

Silence is a timely and poignant, though at times overly long, exploration of the nature of faith in the face of persecution and suffering. For that reason, I applaud the discussion that Silence raises and the soul searching it inspires in the faithful.

Especially in this era of rising Christophobia and persecution of Christians by all forms of fascism worldwide. From the Muslim torturing and murdering of Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other Islamic nations, to the growing tide of violence directed at believers in America, hatred is being increasingly focused on Christians, not for being hurtful in their actions, but simply for believing in God’s Word. And such spiritual devotion is considered a hate crime by many in our culture.

The ultimate end of demonizing Christian beliefs as “racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist, Islamophobic” and other phobias, is the justification of violence against Christians, the elimination of Christian cultural artifacts and history, and the suppression of the Judeo-Christian faith.

That is why Silence is so poignant at this time. Remember my mantra, movies are not made in a cultural vacuum. They often reflect the zeitgeist of the era, the spirit of the age they are made within. And this era no longer believes in freedom of thought and speech and the free exchange of ideas. It now says to Christians, “Shut up. Your beliefs are bigotry, so you must renounce them and outwardly support the zeitgeist.”

We are not in a post-Christian culture, we are in an anti-Christian culture.

But the trials and tribulations experienced by the Roman priests in this story are rooted in a deeper struggle that all honest believers wrestle with: the silence of God in the face of suffering, spiritual doubts, and weakness of faith.

Christian Lives Matter

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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.

 

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone: Quality Christian Movie That Entertains and Inspires

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I just saw an advance screener of The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.

I have to say, this was the first Christian movie I was actually interested in seeing since I can remember, based on the trailer.

Most Christian movies I can’t get past the first 10 minutes, because of the bad acting, writing, directing, and most of all, bad storytelling. The “Cringe Factor.” The Christian movie genre (and its audience) is hamstringed by its elevation of message over craft.

Not so, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.

This movie delivers. It’s got decent acting, directing, and most of all, a good story.

Here is a tale about a Hollywood bad boy, who has to return to his hometown church to perform community service for his legal shenanigans, only to rediscover the integrity and values of character that he left behind.

Look, I admittedly do not care much for movies that are about church. Maybe I’m not a very “churchy” guy, or maybe Christian movies have ruined church stories for me with their sense of falseness. I don’t know which. Both?

But I do know that watching The Resurrection of Gavin Stone challenged me to reconsider my bias. It is a story about church culture that I truly enjoyed. It rang true, while having a sense of humor about itself. It made church life seem a part of real life experience, imperfect, yet forgiven. And it ultimately accomplished its goal of making that world of spiritual interest more desirable than the world of temptation around us.

And all without preachiness. (Thank you, Jesus!)

The movie has its flaws, but it has raised the bar of quality for the genre, and it deserves support. If you want better quality Christian movies, you need to see this in the theaters when it opens in January.

Well done. I have hope for Christian movies.

40% OFF Black Friday Week for the Hollywood Worldviews Online Course: Watching Movies With Christian Wisdom and Discernment: Use Coupon Code: BFBG16 until CyberMonday.
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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