Because of Gracia: Standing up for Your Faith Against Anti-Christian Bigots

Timid undercover Christian, Chase Morgan, hides his faith at his high school, you know, like it’s supposed to be in our brave new world of secular regressive politics. When beautiful and bold Christian, Grace Davis, arrives as a new student, Chase becomes close friends and falls for her. But their experience of faith being suppressed by a double standard at their school, finds Grace standing up for God in her debate class, which challenges Chase to stand up, speak out and find his voice.

Okay, I have a love/hate relationship with the Christian movie genre. I don’t really care for them. But unlike cynical Hollywood “Christians” who condemn all Christian movies because of their own self-loathing “faith,” I actually see a place for the genre.

But to be honest, it takes a lot to get me to watch one. Because, usually they’re just so poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted, that I can’t get through the first ten minutes. My bias is that I was raised on Hollywood quality production values. So yes, the first hurdle you must overcome before you can be considered respect-worthy is the basics of good filmmaking.

But this I will say. Christian movies are getting better. And Because of Gracia is one of the best I’ve seen. This is not saying much, I will admit. Yes, there still needs to be work on the writing, directing and acting. But this movie was very watchable, and emotionally connective in a way others I have seen have not been.

Because of Gracia rang true to the human experience, especially for Christians.

Here’s how it does… Continue reading

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


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.

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Despicable Me 2: Gru Supports Proposition 8 Traditional Marriage

Mediocre sequel to the brilliant original. Okay, it was hard to equal the original with its amazing storytelling and wonderful characters. And this one, I can’t say was captivating. Bad guy wants to destroy the world, blah blah blah.

But the reason to see it is for the most adorable cute little girl of any animated movie ever: Agnes and her excitable love shake, as well as the cuddly little minions.

One of the things I found surprising in this movie is that its theme is VERY traditional marriage at its core. As Gru, the villain turned good guy, has adopted the three little girls from the first picture, he loves them as a single parent and does the best he can for them.

But we see that it just isn’t enough, because the little girls like Agnes dream of having a mommy and what a mommy can give children. She writes a little poem about what a mommy brings and it breaks Gru’s heart that he can’t give that to her.

This of course leads to the humorous love interest between Gru and the young good girl agent, Lucy, who is a groupie of Gru’s tactics and brilliance, and willing to date him if he would only overcome his fear of rejection.

And of course, it all leads to marriage, as any good romantic and/or comedy should end in.

This marriage is depicted as clearly being the solution that the children needed for a full balanced life to grow up under.

Very simple and clear: Children need a mother and father, period.

However, the final musical piece at the end of the movie is the minions singing and dancing to YMCA, the classic hit that became a banner song for the gay movement.

So the best I can figure is that they must have realized that in order to make the story work they had to incorporate traditional marriage for the storyline. But being Hollywood storytellers, they were either instructed by the gay mafia, or from their own left-wing guilt, gave a nod to the gay community with the song as if to say, “We’re sorry we had to tell a story supporting traditional mother and father, but we still support gays!”

Silver Linings Playbook

Everybody’s mentally ill! A dysfunctional romantic comedy about Pat (Bradley Cooper in his usual flexible acting excellence) is home from the mental hospital after 8 months. He was sent there because he had a hostile outburst beating up his wife’s adulterous partner after catching them at home. Pat is delusional in that he thinks he can fix his marriage and his wife will return to him. But when he meets brutally honest Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal), who goes sexually promiscuous crazy after her beloved husband died, he gets sidetracked into discovering what is reality, and it ain’t what he thought.

This is all about how funny mental illness can be. Of course, I’m being facetious, because the mental illness becomes a hook for the storytellers to have fun with the ironic contrast of honest crazy people versus the delusionary dishonesty of normal people. In the real world, this stuff is not funny, but movies are not the real world, they are parables using a fictional world to make us see ourselves through different eyes and therefore learn something about ourselves.

There’s certainly room for some to see this as the dysfunctional Hollywood worldview of reality that is so jaded and cynical that it must have antiheroes and dysfunction to be entertained because the storytellers are themselves nihilists who are numb to hope and goodness. You know, the juvenile pseudo-philosophizing of “how do we know WE are not the insane and the insane are the normal?”

But I think that is too simplistic. Because this is in the end a very traditional love story in terms of discovering one’s selfishness and learning to love the person who cares for you, not the fantasy you’ve created of someone else. It is about facing reality and giving up false pictures of the world in our minds. It does have that element of showing how some of the people in the “normal world,” like Pat’s OCD gambling father, and his doting mother, and best friend and wife are as mentally screwed up or unhappy as any inmate. It also shows a certain insanity that is a part of sports fans (“Fan-atics”). The family’s father is an Eagles fan who has superstitious religious like behavior he lives out in his devotion. But that craziness is also on display in many fans who paint themselves up and get in fights at the sports arena without reason – just like the neurosis and explosions in the asylum. Let’s be honest, there really are things in “normal life” that are acceptable, but are in fact crazy.

And here is what I like about that. There is an element of honesty in Pat and his love interest, Tiffany, that is not in the “normal” people around them. Their frankness, their lack of social filters in saying inappropriate, but truthful statements in public, their open misery and inability to play the game of being happy or normal when they are not, are all reflections of an honesty of facing their flaws that is the beginning of a fully human life.

I could not help but see this movie as a metaphor for Christian faith – not the movie’s intent, but in my own triggered thoughts. I believe that the more one gets closer to God, the more one sees how bad in our soul we really are. How inherently selfish, but in clever secret ways that make us look “normal.” It’s like the closer you get to God, the more screwed up you see that you are, and the less willing you are to try to deny it, so the more honest you become in confessing it. But also, the more vulnerable and trusting in God that you are because you consider yourself more and more helpless and unable to be that “good person” that everyone aspires to be, but no one truly is. This does lead to some changed behavior of course, but it does not get rid of the “diagnosis.”

And that looks crazy to the world. To the world, that’s low self-esteem, that’s neurotic negativity or “fear religion” or “worm theology.” They think that it hampers our human potential. I mean, after all, if a religion is healthy, it should result in us seeing ourselves as basically good, which would make us become better people with positive thoughts, right?

Wrong. The belief in humanity’s inherent goodness is the delusion of the “normal world” with all its facades and games of cover up. This unwillingness to face the truth is the worst sort of dishonesty, it’s lying to ourselves and it is the true insanity. It creates the very self-righteousness that such people accuse Christians of being. It is not the Christian who sees himself as increasingly sinful before a holy God that is crazy and self-righteous, it is the fool who nestles in his normality of innate human goodness.

Before you can live fully human you must face the tragic honest reality that everybody’s “mentally ill.”

Shrek Forever After

If you remember, the original was an apparently traditional fairy tale that made fun of traditional fairy tales but ended up being a traditional fairy tale. A hero rescuing a maiden from a tower protected by a dragon, true love’s kiss redeeming the maiden. And the twist was that the maiden who was an ogre by night and a blonde human by day, was actually an ogre as her true self. Some Jungian analysis about the self etc.

But in this fourth installment it seems the storytellers went back to the original spirit. In this tale, Shrek has now been married with Fiona and has cute little triplet ogres and they are living happily in their village. But Shrek has a mid-life crisis and pines over the loss of his youthful free spirited ogre life of scaring people and being a basically selfish rogue. All the responsibility has taken the fun out of his life and he makes a deal with an evil Rumplestiltskin to have one day as his old single self in exchange for one day that Rumple picks out of Shrek’s life. Well, after Shrek has his fun, he discovers that Rumple has picked Shrek’s birth date as the one day he gets. So Shrek is never born and Shrek is now trapped in a world where he didn’t exist to free Fiona from her tower and the evil Rumple has taken over building his exploitative kingdom in place of the good king and queen. Shrek now realizes what a mistake he has made and tries to find Fiona, only to discover that, because Shrek never rescued her, she had to rescue herself and has now become a hardened warrior leader of the ogres who are oppressed by the kingdom. So now Shrek has to win Fiona’s true love kiss again in order to change the world. Only this time, she doesn’t need him. She’s been liberated and doesn’t need a man to rescue her.

This is a tale of traditional values that seems to reinforce the need for strong male leadership in a love relationship. Yes, Shrek and Fiona go on a journey together, so it’s not patriarchal abuse, but rather a need for Shrek to take the lead and even responsibility in his life and love. And Fiona is not fulfilled as a lone warrior leader until she discovers love with Shrek. When Shrek gets back to his real world, he has a renewed appreciation and treasure of his family that rejects the juvenile freedom of his single past. It’s a classic tale of It’s a Wonderful Life, in embracing maturity and responsibility over the carefree selfishness of youth, as well as traditional role models for male and female relationships in love and marriage. In Shrek Forever After, A man needs to lead with a woman who admires him, and a woman needs a man to admire.

It’s Complicated

A romantic comedy about a divorced woman who finds herself in an affair with a married man – her ex-husband! Meryl Streep is Jane, the divorced woman, and Alec Baldwin, Jake, the womanizing ex who’s married to a new younger woman. Alec plays the part of many men’s fantasy of being able to start over again with a younger woman, but as only Nancy Meyers can do, this story shows that typical fantasy as a fraud. As Alec’s beautiful young wife is actually high maintenance and a be-yatch, not at all the romantic fantasy of the unhappy middle aged married man.

So he starts an affair with Jane, who for once, actually experiences the passion that was so lacking in their marriage. Is this how it is? Passion can only come through “naughtiness?” And it is a sweet revenge against the woman who stole her man, by stealing him back. But is it justice? Well, Jane also meets a good man, an architect, Adam played by Steve Martin, who gives her respect and becomes her triangle of choice. Should she continue the passionate affair or should she go for the good man who isn’t so “exciting” but is mature and responsible?

Well, eventually Jake becomes obsessed with Jane and even leaves his new wife with hopes of remarrying Jane. So Jane considers, is this the opportunity to rekindle with the man with whom she has such a long history? Can we finally have what we lacked before? She ultimately realizes that the temptation of naughtiness and excitement and passion of Jake, is part of his recklessness, which of course will remain with him because his selfish immaturity means he is never satisfied with what he has and always wants what he doesn’t have. If he reconnects with her, he will eventually do again what he did before, and to his other wife as well, because men like this don’t change. You get what you ask for. The irony is that the “bad boy” that draws women is the bad boy that betrays them. So according to this film, you should really choose the mature man who is the adult and is respectful, not the man child who is passionate and exciting. Of course, Jane realizes this just in time to finally cut it off with Jake and give Adam the chance of building a trusting relationship, which is in this movie, far more wise and deeply fulfilling than the fantasy of passionate romance, which remains shallow, and always carries with it, betrayal.

At the end, the filmmaker draws attention to the fact that Jane does not regret having the affair, as if to indicate a “non-judgmental” attitude toward the morality of adultery, as if it is not a moral issue so much as a wisdom issue.

17 Again

A romantic family comedy about a 37-year old guy who gets another chance at his unachieved goals in life when he is magically transformed into a 17 year old again. Mike O’Donnel was a 17 year old in 1989 when he had a promising basketball scholarship riding on a game at his high school. The only problem is that he discovers his girlfriend is pregnant, and he decides to walk away from it all and marry her to do the responsible thing. But now in 2009, he has two kids and has never been happy because he’s blamed his wife for 20 years for his inability to accomplish his dreams. So she is divorcing him, and he is staying with his juvenile man-child friend and dork turned software millionaire Ned.

Mike has his magical brush with a “threshold guardian” who turns him into a 17-year old – again — and he considers this his opportunity to relive his dream. Until he goes to school and sees his own son and daughter as he’s never seen them before. He realizes he has been so out of touch with who they are and concludes that he is supposed to save them. He embarks on his salvific journey to build his son’s lost confidence, and to rescue his daughter from a jerk boyfriend who only wants to use her for his sexual gratification.

This movie makes a number of thematic points for the viewer. First, it addresses the universal regrets of unachieved dreams and displeased middle age lives. It shows the journey of a man who has to learn that he should not regret the choice he made for love over personal dreams. This is very unusual for Hollywood movies that tend to prioritize personal dream fulfillment over duty. When Mike gets to the end of his story as a 17 year old again, and he again has the opportunity to get noticed by talent scouts at a game, he is presented with the same exact opportunity. But when he sees his wife, who is at the game, is about to leave, just as she was about to back in 1989, he leaves the game again, this time, not for duty to responsibility, but for love. And it is in his choice that he finally realizes he did not make a mistake when he gave it all up for her.

This was a clever twist on the genre formula, that usually sets up an opportunity in the beginning for the hero, who makes a wrong choice, but at the end, he is usually set up with a very similar opportunity that, because of his journey, he will now make the right choice to find redemption. But in this film, the twist is that the choice he has to make is that he made the right choice to begin with! It is a film that questions his values, but reaffirms them at the end.

Second, it is a pro-life film in that it depicts in positive terms a teenage couple (Mike and Scarlett) choosing to marry over a pregnancy instead of having an abortion, which is the standard advice to pregnant teens. A major argument by pro-choice advocates is that marrying to take care of a child instead of aborting it results in wasted lives and potential for both men and women. But this movie makes the argument that it is not only the right thing to do to accept the responsibility and marry for the sake of the child, but can easily produce the happiness in intimacy that we are all looking for. When Mike chooses to give it all up a second time, he is saying it is the right choice to do so, it is the right choice to place duty over personal dreams.

Thirdly, it is a film that is pro-abstinence. Mike, as a 17 year old again, follows his daughter around to protect her. In a sex ed class, he makes the argument that kids should not have sex before they are adults and in love, and preferably when they are married. As he describes the beauty and responsibility of an infant daughter and how that baby should be protected by a father, he looks right as his daughter, who doesn’t realize who he really is. After his mini-lecture, all the girls are moved and give back their condoms handed out by the teacher, because they obviously want that kind of true love. When Mike is accosted by three girls at a party who literally offer their bodies to him, he holds them at arm’s length and tells them that they won’t get respect if they don’t respect themselves by such offerings. But they don’t listen, and they say, “You don’t have to respect me,” which illustrates modern teen girl’s complete lack of self-respect.

And also, the film addresses the generation gap. But not merely in the sense of Mike learning about his own selfishness through the eyes of being a teen again. But it also shows that the generation gap is also the fault of teens. When Mike gives all his advice to the other students, he is of course, a 37 year old in a 17 year old body. His is the wisdom of age from the mouth of a youth. Of course, kids don’t listen to these arguments from adults, because they just think adults don’t want them to have fun. But through the mouth of a 17-year old, they listen. Which only goes to show that teens are missing out on wisdom because of their own prejudices and ignorance against their parents.

Mike’s journey is to learn how to be a better husband and father by giving up his selfish dreams for the love of his family.

The Proposal

This romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock as Margaret, a ruthless ladder climbing editor and Ryan Reynolds as Andrew, her abuse-puppy assistant seems to be a tale of traditional love over and against the feminist or egalitarian worldview. Margaret is an abusive witch to everyone in the office, who fears her and makes fun of her behind her back. She is arrogant, dominating and fully intent on making it to the top of corporate culture, crushing anyone who gets in her way. In short, she is trying to be like the ambitious men she sees in the corporate world. Unfortunately, a green card snafu regarding her Canadian citizenship threatens to deport her and ruin her ambition until she creates the scam that she is marrying her assistant Andrew. The only problem is, he is a very subservient and patient assistant – one may even say “ass-kisser.” But this deception puts his future in jeopardy, not the least because it is a felony to fake marriages like that for citizenship. She has pushed him too far, but he gives in, by forcing her to give him the long-promised never-given promotion to editor that he’s longed for in exchange for him marrying her.

When they visit Andrew’s family in Alaska for a weekend in order to announce the marriage, Margaret is surprised to discover Andrew is from a very rich, very successful business family. So he is not a snively little weak toad, but has chosen to try to make his own way, and a non-financial way as an artist, which ticks off his father. We see through this that Andrew is in fact a very strong person with his own vision in life, willing to defy family tradition. Also, Andrew turns around and deliberately does not treat Margaret as Queen, but as an equal. He lets her carry her own luggage, remarking that she’s a feminist and likes to do that kind of thing for herself. She is suddenly not a pampered coddled selfish little queen anymore, and she lashes back. While trying to tell the family “how they met” they have to make up a story on the spot, and Margaret tries to paint a picture of Andrew as a weak man, while he fights to spin it back to a more equal relationship, thus showing Margaret’s weakness: She can never be loved until she learns to submit herself to a man to be loved. This of course, she cannot do because of her own past hurts, but it makes her invulnerable and unable to love. She must be in control and “over” a man, which is why she will never find one. Andrew clearly seeks to be the leader she needs in a relationship, but she just can’t do it.

Of course, they fall for each other during this scam, but they lose it all, including their jobs, when the INS catches their little ploy. They avoid jail, though, but she is softened, and loses her job and humbles herself before her whole office in packing up and in apologies. The irony was that the proposal for marriage at the beginning of the film that was a scam was forced on Andrew and Margaret made it, thus establishing her as leader which led to disaster. But at the end of the film, Andrew seeks her out and makes the proposal for real marriage this time, promising to be a leader she can give to and receive in return.

The Devil Wears Prada

Comedy. An unfashionable girl gets a job with the Queen of the fashion industry and is educated in the ways of outer beauty. A thoroughly enjoyable moral tale about fashion as a metaphor for life. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as the neophyte thrust in over her head and Meryl Streep is even more brilliant as the Devil herself. What I liked about this story is that it was pretty fair to the fashion industry, even while critiquing it. That is, the moral was of course that you should be yourself and not some fake façade of nouveau, but it gave the devil her due as well. That is, one scene was the most brilliant in the film is where Ann chuckles at the pettiness and apparent irrelvence of the designer’s design choices. Meryl stops and turns it back on her by describing to Anne, the origins and development of the poor taste turquoise blue in the sweater Anne is wearing, all the way up to the point where Anne buys it in a half price bin, thinking she is making her own choice, without being aware that the entire fashion industry dictated her options to her right down to what she is wearing. It was one of those moments where you say the villain is not all that wrong, though she may be an extreme. Favorite line in the movie, Anne questions Meryl about the legitimacy of the fashion world, and Meryl says to her, “Don’t be ridiculous, everyone wants to be us.” There is a particularly poignant punch to that line that hit me about our culture. That is the entire world of advertising/marketing/fashion simply works because everyone DOES want to be the impossible unattainable icon. Fashion is the deity of perfection which we all desire or are drawn to, whether we know it or not.

What I did not like about the movie is that a triangle is set up between Anne and her current boyfriend, a nobody nothing student of some kind, and a writer of the fashion world that is hitting on Anne. Well, the boyfriend is set up as the guy who represents conviction and the world she left but should have stayed with and the fashion writer represents the false world of temptation into emptiness. And yet, I thought the boyfriend as a loser and undesirable non-convictional man. So, I think their moral was not quite incarnate in that character as depicted. Another failing I think is that Anne sleeps with the fashion guy and then leaves him for the boyfriend, as if that liason did not affect her spirit at all. This was dishonest. Something that The Breakup storytellers were more observant about. In the Breakup, they break up but never sleep with anyone else because the storytellers realize that that changes you in a permanent way and alters the hope for true reconciliation. Not that reconciliation is impossible, but surely that the relationship loses the true unity that it had. Sex is sacramental. It changes you and your relationships forever. It takes a piece of you and loses it to another person. To deny that is dishonest.

The Break Up

Romantic Comedy. A live-in couple learn how hard it is to break up when they refuse to leave the condo they both share. This is a very insightful comedy that captures the differences between men and women with a spot on brilliance. The moral of the story is the growth of Vince Vaughn’s character into a responsible male who turns from a selfish orientation into a selfless person who is as concerned about other’s good as his own. His best friend tells Vince at the self revelation that everyone knows that Vince controls everything and only does what he wants to do and doesn’t care what others want. Vince’s moral transformation is highlighted when he goes into the office all night to do the paperwork he was responsible for but never did for his co-owner of his company. I particularly found the ending of this movie to be very impacting in that when Vince does the right thing and changes, he DOES NOT get the girl back, because she has already changed and it is too late. People do change in these things and you can do damage to them that is real. But a last little denouement shows them meeting a year later and Vince is a different man, and maybe, just maybe they might see each other again. So, it shows the hope without the neat and clean resolution. I liked that. It showed that maturity doesn’t always result in getting what you want, but it is worth it anyway.

The major gripe I have with the movie is the complete assumed casualness of living in sin that it takes in its story. Sadly, this is a reality in today’s world, and I will be considered an archaic Neanderthal for even considering that sex before marriage is morally unacceptable and detrimental to relationships. So sue me, I’m not a modernist and you are. But the true tragedy is the attempt of people to live out of wedlock and try to attain all the blessings of marriage without the responsibility and commitment. Now that would be a worthy story indeed.