Partially recommended. A well-intentioned family film by Walden. Walden’s Holes was mediocre, and this one is a little better. It’s all about a young girl whose preacher father moves them to a small rural town in the South. So it’s all about coming of age and learning to love your neighbor. The little girl, Opal, is befriended by an unclaimed dog on the loose, she names “Winn Dixie” because it was the first thing that popped into her head at the grocery store by the same name. So the dog becomes her best friend and because of its slapstick antics, gets her in trouble and rescues her time and again. It’s got some cute scenes and warm fuzzies all over it. I salute the attempt at good morals in the movie, as Opal becomes an agent of grace in a small town where everyone has something they are hiding and are sad about. This sadness alienates them from each other and turns them into stereotypes in other’s eyes. There’s the grumpy old landlord who hates dogs and doesn’t want Winn Dixie in Opal’s house trailer. There’s a blind black lady that the local kids think is a witch, but she’s just a sweet little old lady. There’s the goofy Barney Fife Deputy in town. There’s the animal shop owner with a dark past, who turns out to be a sensitive musician who was unjustly jailed. And Opal’s father, the preacher who can’t get over his wife leaving them because of her drunkeness. As Opal says, “everybody’s hurting. Gloria says people are alone because they forgot how to share their sadness, but I think it’s because they forgot how to share their joy.” Little Opal is the optimistic person who responds to meanness with grace. To the little boys who taunt her, and the grumpy landlord, she invites both to her party, which stuns them with grace. Very touching moments. When Opal has to face the possible loss of Winn Dixie, who also has a hidden fear of thunder that alienates her as well, she learns that “you cannot hold on to anything that wants to go. You can only love what you got, while you got it.” By the end of the story, little Opal brings all these alienated people together so that they are having a party and praying over the food, thanking God for little Opal. It’s all sweet and nice, and a good values movie for families. But I must say, I had some qualifications on its values. First off, the Barney Fife cop was over the top and not funny because of it. And it was all a tad bit too herd-like to make fun of the authority figure in the town. I’m not against doing so, but only in a bigger context of respect for proper authorities, which this film did not seem to have. So that reinforces an imbalanced disrespect for authority, especially in young people. One scene has the dog chasing a rat in the middle of a church service. Opal tells her dad to keep preaching, while she gets the dog. So the dog runs around after the rat, that they call a “mouse”—since the filmmakers evidently didn’t want to be politically incorrect and call it a rat – and well, the dad keeps preaching. It was utterly unbelievable that he would do so as the dog is upsetting chairs and people and everything. It just stretched the credulity way too far. Particularly, since this was done in a realistic style. Another out of place element was that this realistic story out of the blue adds a fantasy element that DID NOT work for me. Opal gets a hold of some old candy lozenges made years ago and the old lady who gives them to her tells her that the candy maker lost some sons in the war or something so he added sadness to the sweetness of the candies. So Opal proceeds to hand out the candies to all the people in her life, and they proceed to tell her how sad the candy tastes and recount some source of sadness in their life. WAY TOO ON THE NOSE, too contrived. Did not fit the genre they were making. Took me out of the story. Also, there was a tendency in the story towards a humanistic conception of man as basically good. People are just mean because they are hurt, but they are basically good inside. Well, I’m all for the power of grace and forgiveness to change lives, but there was a bit too much attempt to make people appear good when they were not. For instance, the blind black lady was a drunkard in the past and kept her bottles hanging on strings from a tree in her backyard to remind her of her dark past. Cool. But when Opal says in reference to bad behavior in someone, the lady tells her that she’s not bad, it’s just that good people do bad things. Otis, the animal shop keeper tells the story of how he was arrested. How some cops were hassling him and tried to take his guitar and he fought them because of it. He went to jail for his violence. Then he says, “I’m not a bad man, but an unlucky man.” Well, bub, it ain’t unluck that makes you react violently and break the law, no matter how much of a jerk a cop is. So, the point of this is that there is a real shifting of blame away from themselves and an unwillingness to acknowledge one’s evil nature out of which they behave. This is the inherent goodness of man that Secular Humanism preaches. But Jesus said, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:17-20) Rather than people being good people who do bad things, Jesus said we are bad people who do some good things, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:11-12) It appears that Because of Winn Dixie gets the second part right, but no the first. And lest we forget the universal dictum in Romans 3:9 “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace have they not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Yes, this is the true nature of mankind: evil, not good. But boy how our culture seeks to brainwash against this truth. Opel says people shouldn’t judge the animal store keeper by his past but by how he treats the animals now. Well, okay, we have to be careful to acknowledge that people can change, BUT I got news for you Opal, some serial killers are very kind to their dogs and rabbits while eviscerating human beings, so I would rather judge someone by how they treat people. All in all, though, the movie is a strong step in the right direction of family friendly films.
Recommended with qualifications. Constantine is a mixed bag of good and bad theology with high production values, proving once again that secular movie makers make movies about Christian concepts better than Christians do. But everyone suffers because of it. This is basically a secular interpretation of spiritual warfare that a movie of Frank Peretti’s novel, This Present Darkness should have been. But this is a topic I am sore about, because it seems that the world does better movies about Christian themes than Christians do. Okay, The Omen or Left Behind? Which is better, Hmmmm? I wonder. By the way, The Omen still stands strong as a movie 30 years later. Scary as hell. I don’t even agree with its theology but I still think it’s the best Antichrist movie ever. (That is, until they make Hank Hannegraaf’s book The Last Disciple into an epic). The Exorcist or Raging Angels? Heck, even the Seventh Sign was better than the slew of Christian end times movies, and that was a pretty bad movie. I wrote a review of Constantine for Christian Research Journal, so I have to write something different here. Okay, so Constantine is an exorcist who has a special talent of seeing the spiritual world. He committed suicide in the past, but came back to life, so he is condemned to hell by Roman Catholic theology for a mortal sin. Therefore he seeks to work his way back to heaven by casting demons out of people and sending them to hell, thinking that his good deeds will outweigh his bad. Okay, here are the good things I liked about the movie: 1) you have to realize that in our postmodern society that denies evil as a cultural construct, a movie about good angels and evil demons battling over souls of men, with a REAL hell where people suffer for their sins, is A GOOD BEGINNING. No, an excellent beginning. After all, in our world, there is a growing number of people who actually believe that one God’s “terrorist” is another Satan’s “freedom fighter,” as if Satan has a legitimate perspective. As if evil is relative. Well, this movie dispels that ignorance pretty well and I like it for that. 2) It shows angels, not just demons, 3) it communicates a rudimentary notion of salvation through faith when Gabriel tells Constantine that he can’t earn his way to heaven because of the sin he’s committed. That’s a powerful truth that is certainly politically incorrect to communicate. Constantine begins the story with a grudge against God, and he thinks God is a “kid who’s not planning anything,” but ends up asking God for a little help at the climax and concludes that God does have “a plan for all of us.” Before I talk about what I didn’t like, I want to establish that a movie DOES NOT HAVE TO be theologically correct to be a legitimate story. Much like Jesus’ parables, the important point is the overall worldview or overall theme of the movie. I have a movie coming out about demon possession (The Visitation) that takes creative liberties with the concept of demon possession and healing. But the whole point of the story is how people can be religious and miss the truth if they don’t have it right to begin with. But having said that, I still must give my complaints of elements that bugged me about Constantine: 1) The entire scenario of the movie is based on a Dualistic worldview where God and the devil make a bet to win the souls of men, but only through influence, not direct contact. It makes them look more like equal powers fighting “to see who would win.” Constantine is an Arminian Free Will nightmare of dualism where God and the devil are near equal beings of power…” Think about it, If our salvation is all up to our will and God can’t change our hearts he can only persuade us—as the Arminian believes—then God really is no stronger than Satan in the battle for men. Satan really does have a chance to win if he can convince more men to his side. In this view, God is thought of as the most powerful being in the universe, but not truly all-powerful. And technically, he isn’t even the most powerful. Man’s will is the most powerful being in the universe and gosh, I sure hope God is good enough to convince man. You get the point. This is on the level of the light and dark sides of the Force baloney. Some may point to Job as an example of the wager, but that is a specific instance of one man’s life and God is always in control the entire time, which he makes very clear in the final chapters: “Job 42:2 “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” In Constantine, it is the ultimate picture of the universe, a worldview. But if one looks at the Bible, there may be a bet in Job, but the whole story has already been written from beginning to end, or Genesis to Revelation, and God’s battles with Satan are predestined to failure for Satan. So, yes, there is struggle in Biblical spiritual warfare, but from God’s perspective, he is still in control of every thing that happens and has it all planned out. 2) Another thing is that they set up the “Spear of Destiny” that pierced Christ’s side as the McGuffin that the demons are trying to get a hold of. They say that Christ didn’t die on the cross, the spear killed him, so whoever has the spear will rule the world. Well, GOD SAYS that Jesus gave up his spirit and the spear merely proved he was already dead by illustrating the division of his blood and water flowing from his side. This is a typical occult Gnostic view that uses talismans as objects of power in the spirit world. I’m not against using these as cinematic symbols of spiritual powers all together, but it’s just the whole context makes it seem that even GOD can’t stop them. I am reminded of the famous line in Raiders of the Lost Ark where they say that whoever has the ark is unstoppable, as if God can’t even do so. But when they open the Ark, God does kill them cause they did not anticipate God’s power. 3) Another thing, Even though hell is real in this story, the depiction of demons ruling over hell is more like a Roman Catholic medieval picture out of Dante than the Bible. The Bible says that the devil and his angels will THEMSELVES be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). So, hell is not a party or realm of power for demons, it is a place of punishment for them as well as humans. 4) Also, the goal of the demons is to bring forth the “Son of the devil” by human birth, in the same was as Jesus was the “Son of God.” Well, this is a common movie convention, but it is terribly unbiblical. There is not a single Scripture that indicates Satan can have the same kind of incarnation that God had. Here is another of my censored sentences from the Journal article: “This may fit the fanciful theology of Left-Behinders whose blessed hope is the coming of an incarnate “Antichrist,” but it has no place in a biblical theology of incarnation.” 5) There is a voodoo witchdoctor who is portrayed as “neutral” in this battle between God and Satan. Which is a joke, because God says that witchcraft is detestable in his sight and that there is no neutrality, you are either for Him or against Him (Deut. 18:9-14, Matt 12:30). Neutrality is, as they say, a lie of the devil. Ain’t no purgatory, folks. And there ain’t no sin, like Constantine’s suicide for instance, that cannot be forgiven. 6) An interesting thing that they had in the movie was that they used the term, “half-breeds” of angels or demons who were suspended between heaven and hell or something like that. Well, that seemed to me to be a pretty racist language in today’s politically correct fascist fashion. But all in all, considering our anti-supernatural Darwinian society, I consider the spiritual breakthrough of Constantine more good than bad, and quite frankly, I’m glad Christians didn’t make it cause they probably would have screwed up even worse. (Unless it were me, of course ☺)
Recommended with caution. This is a very well written romantic comedy. Lots of great insights about the difference between men and women. Spot on insights. And also very funny. Brilliant acting by Will Smith in the lead role as Alex Hitchens, a date doctor that helps timid men catch the women of their dreams. So, to him, it’s all about the game, as he says, “without guile, there is no game.” Of course, Hitch meets his match when he falls for a cynical tabloid journalist, Sara, played by Eva Mendes. In fact, there was so much balance of truth in this movie, that I could not begin to cover it all. So just a few. First of all, the problem with most current romantic comedies is their assumption of modern romance and fornication as an assumed consumative expression of love. Whereas traditional romances place that consummation at the end in the context of marriage, most modern romances use it as a plot point to establish growth in the relationship outside of marriage. We have become such a degenerate society that what I am complaining about now is considered absurd to even talk about. To hold off until marriage isn’t even a thought in most teens minds let alone adults. Be that as it may, this movie is remarkably almost free from such folly. Well, it has some in the beginning when Hitch’s set up for a few couples is shown to be successful through fornication. But interestingly, the dominant two storylines of Hitch and his funny sidekick ARE NOT done in this manner. The main characters’ stories do not include fornication as the consummation or import of the relationships. Hitch’s fat sidekick, Albert, ends in marriage, in the traditional way, and Hitch’s story does not include fornication either. At least none was even hinted at. You know, no fade outs, or obvious indications that they slept together. What a delightful surprise. But in a way, its in the story because Hitch is on the level of a womanizer, he’s a player, who knows all the “tricks” to get a woman’s attention. Even though his intent is a good one, that is, “Any man can sweep any woman off her feet,” even dopey, shy or timid men, if they just play by the rules can overcome their disadvantages. He says “90% of what you’re saying ain’t coming out of your mouth.” As most men, in their pursuit of women, are quick to invoke machismo or sexuality and are thinking more of themselves, Hitch teaches them to listen to a woman, watch her closely, and be cool, distant, not desperate. It’s not sexuality that they are interested in, it’s heart. It’s not machismo, it’s confidence and support. It’s basically a man who cares enough to know everything about a woman for her own sake, not for a means to an end. And its also about a man who cares more for a woman’s strength and happiness than asserting his own power over her. But there’s a hitch in all this. The goal of Hitch teaching Albert how to catch the impossible rich woman, he seeks to teach him how to be cool and classy. How to avoid the awkwardness and foolishness of his insecure or inferior status. Yet, by the movie’s end, Hitch discovers that the very things that turned the rich woman on about Albert were the things that made Albert original and himself. At just the moment when the rich woman discovers that Hitch was training Albert, she feels betrayed, that it was all an act. But they both discover that the things she loved about the guy, were not an act. His asthmatic breather, his two-fingered whistling, and other things that Hitch was trying to suppress were what sold the woman on Albert. So Hitch realizes that he didn’t help Albert to act, he only helped him to be himself and more confident, and therein lies the redemption of the movie. Being yourself truly and maximizing your own strengths are the best things for finding a mate because putting on airs or playing a game is false character. So the point of it is that the “game” is not a good thing to play. Hitch says another theme of the movie, “Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.” Yes. Quality over quantity. Smell the roses. Realize that the moments of highs are what we have in a life of normality, and that’s okay. We just need to recognize those rather than being so focused on what we want to achieve that we miss the small things of beauty and life. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Don’t miss the beauty of the little things in life or more accurately, the beautiful moments are where we find the happiness we are looking for. And therein lies the central conceit of the Romance genre: the proposition that the meaning and significance of life are found in the romantic love of another person, rather than the love of God, or even a higher purpose in living. Don’t get me wrong, I love traditional romance, it’s just that it is empty unless it has a higher transcendent context to give it meaning. Otherwise it is just humanistic self-deception. We’re telling ourselves fairytales to suppress the ultimate darkness to come: death. Without transcendence, we are fools to think there is any meaning in anything in life, other than the “game” of significance we lie to ourselves and create. I read a great few paragraphs by Lee Siegel, about the difference of modern romantic sex with traditional romance that bears repeating here: “The effect of Hollywood’s portrayal of sex as both the literal and symbolic center of existence is incalculable, especially the political effect. The tacit bargain used to be that working-class and middle-class Americans expected, in exchange for playing by the rules, that the popular culture they turned to for relaxation would reflect back to them positive images of people who played by the rules. Or at the very least they wouldn’t be made to feel foolish or excluded for dutifully following the rules. The function of a generation of romantic comedies a la Doris Day, and sitcoms a la ‘The Honeymooners’ or ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ was to ennoble disappointment, limitations, and the postponement—sometimes forever—of gratification. There’s scarcely any delay between a wish and its fulfillment in today’s movies, where beautiful-looking people are regularly, and graphically, gratifying themselves with other beautiful-looking people. The decline of the sitcom means that the terms of the old tacit bargain are slowly being ignored on the small screen, too, which is an even more consequential development, given that medium’s domestic immediacy.”—Lee Siegel, writing on “The Moviegoer,” in the Feb. 14 issue of the Nation. Of course, Hitch is all about playing by the rules in the traditional sense, but neglects the greater significance of transcendent values, of a God who loves that we may love or a God who values his creation that we may find value in it.
Highly Recommended. This is an amazingly preachy movie that I absolutely LOVED. Which in my mind only proves that being preachy in movies is not always bad if you preach a sermon well. It’s based on a true story about a black basketball coach of a high school in the inner city who seeks to discipline his players not only on but off the court. Samuel L, Jackson is superb as Carter. The theme of this movie is obviously that individualism is selfish and won’t lead to success. The key to successful living is to be a part of a team, where “if one person struggles, we all struggle. If one person triumphs, we all triumph.” It is also an excellent moral antidote to the ghetto hip hop culture that is controlling the minds of young people today with a complete disregard for authority and moral responsibility, and a worship of violence and hate. Coach Carter comes in, as a black man mind you, and teaches his mostly black players things you will NEVER hear in hip hop culture, but we all know he is right. From a BLACK MAN! This is beautiful! Like listening to Bill Cosby chastise the black liberal leadership in its failure to teach responsibility. He starts them out calling each other “sir,” for respect. He despises the use of the word, “nigger” used by blacks, because “it’s derogatory. When a white man uses it, you wanna fight him, but then you use it of yourselves you disrespect yourselves and you make it easier for the white man to disrespect you.” He teaches them that basketball is good, but it is not more important than an education. It is an education that will free you from your impoverished past. Now, this is a bit too much enlightenment prejudice for me. The belief that education is salvation simply isn’t true. It is not mere “secular” education that changes a person, it is MORAL education that people need. However, everything that Carter is teaching the kids is precisely a moral worldview, so that balances the negative for me. Carter points out that the system is designed for them to fail because the expectations of the educators and parents are too low. They expect kids to fail and don’t raise the bar to challenge them to do better. Carter never believes this lie and believes the theme of the movie: “Growing up means making your own decisions and living with the consequences.” He disparages the blame shifting of most poverty oriented activism, he faces parents of the kids who are themselves undisciplined and unwilling to accept their kids’ responsibility for their actions. He asks the kids, “Look at your parents, and ask yourself, Do I want better?” Carter makes the kids sign a contract to play ball that includes wearing ties and jackets on game days, and that they will maintain a 2.3 grade average, which is higher than even the school district demands. But this is the grade average that will get them into college. When the kids start to accept responsibility and become better ball players, they get cocky and Carter commands them to stop “Trash talking,” to humiliate their opponents. This is just as disrespectful as anything else, and he won’t have it. It’s brilliant. I could not believe all this moral sense coming out of a Hollywood movie dealing with poor black kids. It was astounding. But when the kids fail to meet the grades on their contracts, Carter suspends the whole team and cancels games, even though they have become a winning team. When the parents try to fire him and complain, he tells them, “if you enforce the fact that they don’t have to keep a simple contract, you are sending them a message that they are above the law. How long then before they start breaking the law?” Again, truly unbelievable to find such truth in a Hollywood movie. One big negative for me was an anti-life message with abortion that contradicts the theme of the movie. One of the players has gotten a girl pregnant and they struggle with the reality that he can’t go to school and college trying to maintain a family. But he wants to try anyway. Okay, that’s cool. That’s reality. Let’s see how they overcome it. Unfortunately, the girl has an abortion and this is what is portrayed as solving all their problems. Now she won’t be on welfare and they won’t be saddled with a child while trying to go to college and they can still fornicate by living together on campus. Well, this is directly contradictory to the theme of the movie which says, “Growing up means making your own decisions and living with the consequences.” When those kids had sex, they were making the decision to risk a family. To kill the preborn child is an unwillingness to take the responsibility for their actions, and unwillingness to live with their consequences, but another juvenile way of selfishly thinking not of the “team” but of one’s self. And unfortunately, the movie presents this as a solution rather than the problem. It is the typical attempt to avoid the consequences for their choice of having sex. It is a selfish definition of children as unworthy burdens to be eliminated or destroyed. The devaluation of human lives is not responsibility, it is the height of irresponsibility. Not a single thought about the responsibility of adoption or even accepting the consequences and getting married or maybe refusing to fornicate anymore. This could have been a great moral lesson for the ball player to learn that he shouldn’t be having premarital sex because of all the responsibility that comes with it. But instead the filmmakers contradict their own theme because of their immoral agenda to support the killing of the unborn. But that said, it is a minor plot point, not the major one which is more important to the heart of the movie, so I am able to complain, while still appreciating the countercultural truths that the movie does promote.