King Arthur

Kinda recommended for it’s interesting take on an epic legend, but not really recommended because of its paganism. Trying to be a pagan Braveheart. Doesn’t work. Paganism simply does not provide the necessary preconditions of a world that gives things like courage, love, honor and nobility meangingfulness or validity. Okay, this was a cool concept of trying to “get to the true historical figure” behind the Arthur legends. The problem I have with it is that the actual historical information available is so scarce as to render this theory of Arthur as a 6th century Roman Briton named Artorius, to be basically a new legend replacing the conventional legend. Of course, I’m not against such speculation. It makes for interesting fodder and theory. The problem is that modernist storytellers like David Franzoni, the writer of this movie, are so awash in their own modernist “realist” mythology that they actually think their Demythology mythology is somehow the true and “objective” perspective of reality and history. Ahh, ignorance must be bliss. Couple that with the fact that so much of this story is actually made up that it is all quite dishonest to bill it as the real historical Arthur. These people must have no clue that they are in fact simply replacing one mythology for another. Modernist naturalistic realism for romantic idealism. One prejudice for another. Again, there may be some truth to it, but let us not fool ourselves into such prejudicial imperialism of history. One of the deliberate fabrications of this story is Arthur’s connection to the arch-heretic Pelagius. Very relevant that Franzoni picked this guy. Keep in mind, that Franzoni wrote Gladiator with the deliberate desire to downplay Christianity and exalt paganism, the opposite of what most sword and sandal epics used to do (and, I might add, the opposite of historical reality, as Christianity was one of the primary downfalls of the Roman Empire according to Gibbon, but alas, I digress). I quoted him saying as much in my book, Hollywood Worldviews. The guy knows what he is doing and he does it well. And this movie is no exception to Franzoni’s hate affair with Christianity. Unfortunately, since the movie takes place around the 5th century, when the Roman papacy was still not established, but getting there, then Franzoni is not merely criticizing Roman Catholicism, but Christianity itself. In this story, there are “uncivilized” pagans of the woods, who end up allying with Arthur and are good guys, and there are the barbaric Saxons, but the worst monsters are the Christians, who hold up torture chambers to torture people in the name of God like a Pre-Inquisition Inquisition. It always leads to Inquisition for these bigots of Hollywood. Rome is basically the center of the Faith and is described as “those who take what does not belong to them.” Well, the coagulation of Christianity with pagan Rome certainly did create monumental problems, but in this story, the “True” picture of Christianity is painted in the heretic Pelagius. Pelagius was the teacher who Augustine rightly condemned as negating the sovereign glory of God and elevating man’s autonomy to an idolatrous equality with God. Pelagius denied that man was born into sin and asserted that man’s will was entirely autonomous from God’s effect. Therefore, man, does, by his own autonomous power, do all that he does, both good and bad. Mankind has no sinful nature. Funny, but the Living God I worship says, “there is no one who is good, not even one,” (Romans 3) and that humans are by nature, evil (Ephesians 2:3; Matthew 7:11), and are slaves of sin (Romans 6:16-19), and that man is responsible for his actions, but is not free from the control of God in any way (Job 12:16-25; Ephesians 1:11; Acts 4:27-28). But IN THIS story, Pelagius is a hero championing individual rights, personal freedom and the like. Arthur believes in Pelagius’ teachings because he teaches that all men are free to choose their own destinies and are free by right from the control of others, such as the institutional church of course. It’s a very clever coupling with the theme of political and theological freedom that Franzoni creates, though ultimately philosophically invalid. Unfortunately, the freedom Pelagius espoused was humanistic self-idolatry, not true freedom. Man is the ultimate power in his own life, not God, man is the creator of his own destiny, or as Arthur chimes in, “The home we seek is not in some distant land (read: heaven) but in our hearts. As free men, we choose to make it so.” With the emphasis on WE CHOOSE TO MAKE IT SO. (Ahem – as in “not God” or anyone else) Okay, I can dig the whole free from the tyranny of other men thing, but so-called Free Will of man, which is actually the “autonomy of the human will from God” has lead only to the gulags and killing fields and cultural purges and gas chambers of the twentieth century. 100s of millions dead in the name of autonomous human will. And they complain about Inquisitions and Crusades? Sheesh. Religious intolerance is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the evils done in the name of man’s absolute freedom from God. Anyway, the whole point of the story is that Arthur begins as a loyal Christian man of integrity, who obeys his orders from the bishop in Rome, even when they are foolish. The Cardinal tells him to do one last quest before he and his knights are free from their Roman military duty. And that quest is a rather indulgent meaningless one, to rescue an important and utterly selfish Roman leader simply because his son is in line for leadership. But Arthur obeys authority. But the progress of the story step by step shows that this Christianity Arthur is committed to is cruel and despotic. It’s rulers are cowards, they throw away people and lands who have been loyal to them for years and years at a whim, when the Saxon’s invade. They leave those poor people to their deaths. But not Arthur, who tries to save a whole village from the Saxons. This Faith tortures people in the name of God, abuses people’s freedom, basically CONTROLS people. And that is the metaphor for the film, CONTROL VERSUS FREEDOM. Arthur starts out thinking Rome Is where “the greatest minds in all the world come together in one place to help make mankind free.” But by the end of the story, concludes that “The home we seek is not in some distant land (read: heaven) but in our hearts. As free men, we choose to make it so.”And ends up giving up that Faith of his fathers to marry a pagan wench, okay, one of the hottest pagan wenches in movies ever, in a pagan ceremony in the midst of a mini-Stonehenge (another pagan reference to the Druids) Ah, shades of Spinal Tap—mini-Stonehenge. That is the power of subversive drama. Make the hero be a committed loyal member of the worldview you want to discredit, a worldview that many in this world believe, so that by the end of the story, when the hero reluctantly changes his view about the world, it gives the audience the affirming encouragement to do so as well. After all, the hero is the good guy, right? And we want to cheer on the good guy, right? So, before you know it, you are cheering on leaving the Christian faith because of how cruel it is – or rather how cruel it has been portrayed. Interesting, this Pelagianism. Pelagius considers each human born to be an entirely innocent and autonomously free chooser. They create their own destinies by their own choices. God has no control in their lives at all. Therefore, man ultimately saves himself by his own power of doing good over doing evil. People do not need Christ to redeem them, because it is all up to their own choices and power. This is salvation by works, not “free will.” That is why Pelagianism is heresy, because it damns those to hell who believe in it because they do not place faith in Christ, but in their own “free will.” It is all up to them. As a matter of fact, this “salvation by works” is really what every other religion and worldview reduces to EXCEPT Christianity. Which is no surprise why pagan Franzoni chose Pelagius as a hero. Because his own humanism negates God and places man’s destiny in his own hands. Man is his own god. [If you want to read more on this issue of Free Will and God’s Sovereignty, click here for my very long article: “Whatsoever Comes to Pass: A Personal Journey Toward the Sovereignty of God”] ALSO, here is some sweet irony: Arthur praises Pelagius’s theology of the absolute free will of man, and yet, he prays this mighty prayer to God to help him in this last task of duty. As if God can do anything according to this man’s theology? He posits that man is absolutely free and then asks God to do something when all the events of history are accomplished by free acts of autonomous men. Dude! You just preached that man is free from God’s control! What the heck are you asking God to do anything in history for? But then, heresy and false doctrine is never very consistent anyway. And neither is the secular humanism that Franzoni writes into his otherwise interesting historical epics. Here is what I wrote about his movie Gladiator in my book:

The 2000 Academy Award winner Gladiator marks an achievement of respectability for paganism in modern filmmaking. Writer David Franzoni has said that he deliberately wanted to offer a contrast with the sword-and-sandal epics of yesteryear:

The film is about a hero who has morality, but that morality is a secular morality that transcends conventional religious morality. In other words, I believe there is room in our mythology for a character who is deeply moral, but who’s not traditionally religious: I loved that he was a pagan, not Christian or any other traditional/established religion. All those Roman Empire movies from the ’50s and ’60s were religious morality plays, and had to maintain the Christian status quo, it’s all very conventional. You would never have been able to portray a pagan afterlife back then, either. Maximus is a man who will die for his family, and he will die for what’s right. (1)

Apparently, the contradiction of a “secular morality” derived from Roman paganism does not bother Franzoni. Maximus does “what is right” as his religion conventionally defines it for him. (2) So Franzoni has replaced the Christian convention of morality with another religious convention, that of Roman paganism, thinking that this somehow points to a secular morality that transcends them both. (3) Be that as it may, Maximus’s pagan heaven was depicted as real, which is extremely rare in a mainstream movie of such prominence, and it marks the cinematic postmodern openness to religiosity that is decidedly non-Christian.

[(1)Quoted in John Soriano, “WGA.ORG’s Exclusive Interview with David Franzoni,” WGA .
(2)There was nothing more conventional in Rome than the religious belief in Elysium and in strength and honor.
(3)“Transcendent secular morality” is an oxymoron. Secularity cannot be transcendent, because by definition it is immanent, that is, of the world rather than of the transcendent spiritual realm. From Aristotle to Wittgenstein, if there is one thing that the history of the secular philosophy of ethics illustrates, it is that when people reason “secularly” (from themselves), rather than from the transcendent God, they can only end in subjectivism (each person decides for himself or herself), and that is certainly not transcendent. Without a transcendent absolute standard, this secular moral relativity reduces to the will to power—whoever is in power (the majority) defines what is right and wrong for the rest (the minority). This will to power is the essence of Rome, and it is the same will to power that was embodied in the German Nazi state of the 1930s and 1940s. The director Ridley Scott understood this, and that is why he modeled the look of the Roman cult in Gladiator after the fascist imagery of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.]

Napoleon Dynamite

Recommended. Funny little Indie movie about Geeks winning. Quirky, clean, character-driven comedy. Amazingly clean. I must applaud the Mormon filmmakers for making clean look cool. Quite an example for Christians and others who are trying to bring influence on the values of movies they make without capitulating to cheese and preachiness. What I didn’t like was that it was so character focused, that it dragged a bit in the middle. You can only enjoy so many scenes of the Nerdy title character and his oddball interactions with his dopey friends so much and then you start begging for some story. Character ain’t enough to drive a story, but it sure helps tremendously in our character-starved plot heavy movie culture. So it’s a good change of pace with a refreshing freedom and simplicity that you just don’t see from studio films because of their obsession with formula, marketing and justifying corporate executive jobs.

Spiderman 2

Recommended for it’s morality, but not so much for it’s story. I say this because, like the first movie, this one reaffirms the traditional notion of heroism and moral character. For this, I applaud. The problem is that it is very preachy and it is done within a predictable typical comicbook movie plot. How many times am I going to see another “growing ball of energy that is going to destroy New York.” Maybe I’m being too nitpicky because you gotta go exaggerated for comic books. But I guess that stuff is just boring to me. Big FX effects and wild action are boring compared to the personal emotional and spiritual conflict. Now, this movie has that personal angst. In fact, it has it OVERKILL. Too much of a good thing, as they say. This one reiterates the excellent theme of the first movie, that with great power comes great responsibility. Problem is, they spell that phrase out a couple more times in this movie as a way to pound it into our heads. And if that isn’t enough, Peter tells his aunt the whole backstory that we already saw in the first movie where he passes by the criminal who kills his uncle. And then has a vision of talking with his dead uncle in heaven, or at least, somewhere in the ether. This is all just too much. I liked Petey explaining to the aunt, but everything else was too much corn. The other problem I have is that I don’t think you should have the same moral or theme in both movies. That becomes redundant and derivative. The Matrix had it right at least in this aspect, that the first movie was all about questioning reality. Instead of repeating that theme, in the second movie, they focused on a new and equally thoughtful theme, that of freedom and determinism. Another cool theme in Spidey 2 was, as Aunty says, “Sometimes, to do what’s right, you have to give up the thing you love most, even our dreams.” Very powerful and pure. Peter has to give up a normal life with rest, a girlfriend, and any time to himself, if he is going to do good. Another cool theme was that heros are examples for us of courage and self sacrifice, and that we all have the capacity for being heros, not just extraordinary men. Problem is, Aunty has to spell this out to us in a two page monologue to Peter, where she preaches, “There’s a hero in all of us. Heros are examples for us of self sacrifice and courage.” The delivery was just too pedagogical, too on the nose, “this is the moral lesson of the story.” Don’t get me wrong, I believe in strong moral themes, and like I said, I like Spiderman for it. But you know, Christians are always getting lambasted for “preaching” their moral messages in films, for spelling out what we are supposed to learn. And they are flippantly condescended to as prosletyzers. Hey, I’ve criticized them myself for such pedagogy! Well, what’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander. I want to hear those same criticisms objectively applied to a Hollywood movie guilty of the same thing. This theme of finding the hero in each of us is further extrapolated by the concept of the consequences of our choice. If we choose to do the right thing, then we will become the hero, if we choose the wrong, we become less capable of such heroism. As Auntey concludes in her preachy sermon to Peter, “It’s wrong that we should be half ourselves.” That is why Peter starts to lose his spider powers. Because the more he struggles with wanting to be normal, wanting to NOT save the world, wanting to just have his own life, unhindered by the problems of others, the more he loses his spider powers that help him to save others, in other words, his inner heroism decreases the more self oriented he becomes. The more his personal sense of identity is confused, the less able he is to help others. The more he feeds the self, the less capable of heroism he becomes. Again, this is a tremendous moral, but it just seems a bit too contrived to the original story. I thought his powers came first and with those powers came responsibility. Now his responsibility comes first and then he gets his powers after. Oh, you mean I too can be a Spiderman, if I just CHOOSE to do right? Ah ha! Again, true, good and beautiful, but again, not as intrinsic to the reality, so it doesn’t hit me emotionally or spiritually. Okay, okay, I forgive them, because they had good intent. It’s just not as powerful to affect me because even though the theme rings true to our humanity, it does not ring true to the story. But hey, it’s just a comic book movie, so give ‘em some slack. I gotta say that I really thought the scene in the first movie where Spiderman holds an entire cable car with his web was just so ludicrous that it turned me off. Yet, I think I have found a scene to match that ludicrous in the sequel. When Spiderman must stop the runaway train by spinning webs to hold the car back and sticking his feet in the ground to stop the car. You know, Spiderman is NOT Superman, okay? There has to be some limit to his strength and invulnerability. Sticking his feet into train track studs while going 60 or 70 miles an hour in a multiple ton train car would snap his legs right off. And holding onto the webs to stop the train like a slingshot would rip his arms off. Now I can accept a little bit of exaggeration for a movie, but when you go ridiculous just cause you have to top other stuff, then you create this kind of outlandish absurdity. And then, when Spiderman is so exhausted he can’t fight Doc Oc on the train, the people carry his body over their heads in a Christ pose. You know, they should outlaw that analogy in film. It was original when they did it in Cool Hand Luke 30 years ago, but it’s been done to death. Please don’t resurrect it! – no matter how good the intentions.

The Notebook

Recommended with Caution. This was an emotionally rich and moving story for me. First off, I absolutely loved the premise and couldn’t wait to see the movie when I read about it in development a couple years ago. An old man reads the same love story everyday to an old woman with Senile Dementia (at first, it was Alzheimers) only to realize that it is their love story. I may not be smart, but I know what love is, and that is one of the most gut wrenching heart tugging premises I have ever heard. So the story is about a romance that takes place in the 40s and ends in the present, 60 years later. Let me tell you, these modern kid movies about falling in love and teen and college romance, and young love etc. don’t know anything about the real depth and richness that love can achieve after a lifetime of devotion and commitment. Young love doesn’t hold a candle to mature love. And that is what this movie is about. It’s a classic Romeo and Juliet story about a girl, Allie, with rich Southern background who falls in love with a poor lumber worker, Noah. Of course, the parents don’t want it because they are raising her to marry wealthy. Allie goes back home to New York and Noah goes to fight in the war. They lose touch, and Allie falls in love with Lon, a high society guy who is everything her parents want AND what she enjoys. A rarity since she is so rebellious. But just when she is about to marry him, she realizes that she is still in love with Noah, and always has been. She may love Lon, but she is IN love with Noah. Just before the wedding, she goes back to visit Noah, to try to wrap up her past so she can get on with her life. But of course, she cannot because she is still madly in love with Noah. Her internal struggle is that she has always done what others wanted her to do in life and what she thought she SHOULD do rather than what she wanted to do. With Noah, she feels more alive and free than with anyone. He affirms her long lost love to paint. Something that fades in her wealthy world of high society. But what’s cool about it is that her wealthy world is not a cruel prison, as in the propagandistic Titanic, it’s actually a pretty good world, and Lon is actually a great and loving guy, but it’s just not her heart’s truest desire. This is a great premise, because unlike Titanic, this story is more real in setting up two worlds that are both good, but one is just best. So will she choose the best and sacrifice the good? Will she give up her security and choose the man who makes her come alive, but is of less means? Security and a good life versus poverty and the best life. The reason this is so dear to me if because I feel it is, in a sense what my wife did when she chose me. She did not choose a secure rich life, but she chose love and a man with passion and vision for what is important in life. At least, that’s what I’d like to think ☺. Anyway, another mature and wise thing about this story is that it shows that Noah and Allie are so passionate with each other that they are also passionate fighters as well. The good comes with the bad. Passion has a both a good and a bad side. You may experience higher highs with Passion, but also lower lows. This is scary thing for Allie, but Noah reminds her, “Of course, this isn’t going to be easy, We fight a lot. Because that’s what we do. It’s going to be hard. But we’ll work through it together for the rest of our lives. And I promise to love you forever.” And of course, they do, and we see that Noah’s love lasts their whole lives with devotion and dedication, even when she forgets who he is. So it’s not just about the fires of young passionate love, but about enduring devoted love, a real lacking in modern romances.

What I didn’t like about the movie was the fornication. Unfortunately, they played up premarital sex too strongly as something that is right to consummate their love. The fact that Allie had wild sex with Noah right before she was going to be wed to another man shows an abysmal lack of character that most people simply do not have a clue about. A person who will follow their passions rather than do the right thing makes for explosive drama but not for quality character in real life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for passion and going with your heart and dream, but it is simply selfish to elevate passion as the ultimate arbiter of goodness or right. Sometimes we must do the right thing even if our passions tell us not to. A woman of character and trustworthiness would have broken off the engagement and saved the sexual consummation for marriage. You can be very passionate and still do the right thing. I know, because that’s what I did. After all, if she would be unfaithful in her engagement because of her passions, upon what basis could either of them trust the other in their marriage when temptation comes along for a new passionate tryst? The reality of life is that passion always wanes, temptations will surely come, and then what do you want, the person of passion or of character? Also, I am so tired of how romances overwhelmingly tend to be stories about how the chaotic Existential “against the rules” person “frees up” the musty, uptight person who is bound by society’s rules. Just another humanistic, modernist prejudice. In real life these Existential thrill seekers who live for experience and passion without rules most often end up destroying relationships and marriages because after all, if they live for the moment and think “doing the right thing” is oppressive, then why do we think they will stick around and work through problems when problems inevitably and ALWAYS DO arrive? Life, and commitment is hard work, and rewards come from sticking to the right thing, not following your heart, as it turns every which way. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) But in this story, though Noah is portrayed as a man of passion, he is shown to be a man of promise as well, in that he builds the house he promised to Allie even when he thought he lost her. When she asks him why he did, he replies, “Because I promised you I would.” And he writes to her every single day for a year even though she never gets the letters and doesn’t reply. So I think there is balance here that warrants respect for this mature understanding of love that balances passion with devotion and promise. It’s just too sad that in the real world, there are far too many men of passion who do not have character and devotion, and so end up destroying so many lives by ending up passionately unfaithful. Another touch of Romanticism that I did not care for is the elevation of this human love as the ultimate love in life. They say “our love can make miracles.” So they end up dying together in bed, a “miracle of their love.” While loving a spouse for an entire life is certainly one of the highest loves to experience, it is really empty and vain to me if it is not rooted in a higher love, a transcendent love of God. This is the only eternal love that can give human love any real value. Without the love of God, all human love is just tragic foreplay to death. When you know the love of God, you understand how much human love pales in comparison, but at the same time how human love is given its true ultimate value in being rooted in something higher. Self-evident truth: Man is not God. So no matter how hard we try to deify human love, we are unsatisfied. As Augustine said to God, “Thou has made our hearts restless till they rest in thee.”


Not Really Recommended. Story of a smelly old loser gym owned by slacker Vince Vaughn, being overtaken by high tech infomercial Exercise Emperor Ben Stiller. So the slobs of Joe’s Gym join the Dodgeball circuit to win the money they need to keep their pit alive. Vaughn sleepwalks through this lazy slacker with a heart of gold part that he has made so popular. Looks like he’s bored with it. But Ben Stiller is excellent as the body worshipping self-deified health obsessed entrepreneur. Some GREAT jabs at the whole self-worshipping culture that has grown up around the exercise industry. Shows the true fleshly nature of ascetic lifestyle. Favorite joke in the movie: when a crippled Dodgeball hero played by Rip Torn is training the losers. He has them run across a highway busy with speeding cars and says, “If you can dodge traffic, you can dodge balls.”

The Terminal

Recommended, but not highly. There is just something magical about Tom Hanks to me that makes everything he does so appealing as the everyman. Which is why, if this was some other star in the movie, I would have considered it somewhat plodding. This is a story, about a traveler, Viktor Navorsky, from a small Eastern European country who is stranded at JFK airport because his country erupts in civil war which makes it cease to have national status, and therefore places Viktor unable to enter the United States or to fly home because of legal technicalities with international passport laws. He is a man without a country. He then ends up living in the Terminal for almost a year, while the head of security, played by Stanley Tucci relentlessly hounds him as the antagonist. And of course, Viktor falls in love with a stewardess, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Viktor’s cute little anecdotal experiences with some of the airport personal make for some humorous, if not very believable, episodes. The themes behind this film center around waiting for life to happen versus making your life through your choices. Not bad. The stewardess is a woman who can’t extricate herself from an adulterous relationship with a married man, because she keeps foolishly hoping against hope that he will divorce his wife. Men can be pigs – but boy, women can be stupid. Of course, he won’t leave his wife, and she wastes her life waiting. Until she meets Viktor, who loves her for who she is and treats her with the respect she needs. One of the cool things I liked about this film was its unusual point about character. The stewardess never can give up her hope for the married man. She keeps going back to him, and therefore loses Viktor in the end. Viktor moves on when his country is back together. It is a bittersweet ending, but a good one. Viktor is too good for this woman, and we see that the romantic emotions of love are not the highest value, but character is. Very unusual for a romantic comedy for the boy NOT to get the girl. But another cool thread carries the film, that of grace, and loving the unlovable. Of course, the airport personnel are quirky characters. Anyway, when the security head discovers that several of the airport personnel are good friends of Viktor, and that they each have reasons to be fired, he uses this against Viktor to try to get him to go home rather than stay in New York and achieve his ambition of fulfilling his father’s dream of getting a famous Jazz singer’s autograph. If Viktor does not go home on the next plane, the security head will fire these guys and deport one of them back to India where he awaits charges of assault and battery. The Indian guy, with the name Gupta, was a fugitive from his own country. And Viktor became one of his only friends. Viktor sacrifices his dream to protect his friends. But when Gupta finds out about this, he basically turns himself in to the police with a diversion and allows Viktor to go and get his father’s dream autograph. Gupta gets himself deported. Now the security man cannot stop Viktor cause he has nothing over him. It’s a perfect picture of grace. Gupta is shown grace by Viktor’s sacrifice, the innocent for the guilty, so Gupta responds with repentance and accepts his own responsibility for his past actions. Very powerful grace and atonement theme. Those who respond to grace (Gupta) find redemption, and those who do not (Stewardess) continue on in miserable lives.

To End All Wars

Very Highly Recommended. Possibly one of the best films ever made. Okay, I wrote the screenplay so I might have a tiny conflict of interest here ☺. Here is what Gene Edward Veith said of it in World Magazine:

COMING SOON TO A THEATER near you: a World War II drama featuring Kiefer Sutherland, one of the movie industry’s hottest stars. It is rated R. It is a product of Hollywood. And it is one of the powerful cinematic expositions of the Christian faith.

To End All Wars might have been pitched to the mainline filmmakers as Chariots of Fire meets Saving Private Ryan. Fans of the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, the true story of an athlete who refused to run in the Olympics on the Sabbath, will note the same Scottish accents, a similar soon-to-be church worker positively portrayed, and comparably high production values. But whereas Chariots of Fire, for all of its virtues, never got around to mentioning the gospel, To End All Wars amounts to a sustained meditation on the core of Christianity: Christ dying for sinners, and what that means in the most extreme trials of life.

To End All Wars is based on the true story of Ernest Gordon, the long-time chaplain at Princeton University. Mr. Gordon, who died just a few months before the film was completed, was a captain in a Scottish Highland regiment in World War II. When the Japanese took Singapore—in those early days of the war when Japan was sweeping away all opposition—Mr. Gordon was captured. He spent the next three years in a Japanese POW camp, enduring hardships, brutality, and spiritual challenges that became for him a crucible of faith.

The film, based on Mr. Gordon’s autobiography Through the Valley of the Kwai, does not shrink away from the torture, degradation, and cruelty of the Japanese camp. It also dramatizes how evil breeds evil, even in its victims: Allied prisoners, struggling to survive in this dog-eat-dog environment, start adopting the values and behavior of their captors.

But then, to hold on to whatever shreds of their humanity are left, a number of prisoners remember their old vocations and decide to exercise their callings in the teeth of the most hostile surroundings. A former university instructor organizes a philosophy seminar, and prisoners get together, in the mud and squalor of the camp, to discuss Plato’s philosophy of justice.

Another prisoner had been an actor. He forms a troupe to perform plays by Shakespeare (which he had thankfully learned by heart). A group with musical talents carves recorders out of bamboo, making themselves into an orchestra that plays Bach.

They also form relationships with their guards, some of whom are transfigured from stereotyped villains into genuine human beings.

But the brutality reasserts itself. Prisoners are punished and pushed into betrayals, compromises, and impossible moral dilemmas.

The issues they had been learning about in their “Jungle University” are tested. What is justice and can it really be achieved in a sinful world? What does it mean to love one’s enemies? How could Christ take other people’s sins upon Himself? What does it mean that Christ died for sinners, atoning for them and granting them free forgiveness?

The movie climaxes in a shocking, yet unforgettable scene of redemption.

You can buy the movie at by clicking here.

The Stepford Wives

Not really recommended. This was a movie with potential. A potential that was wasted on agenda. It coulda been more balanced with some good insights, but unfortunately… It’s the story of a feminist woman, played by Nicole Kidman who makes TV shows for a woman’s network, shows that elevate women over men and make men look foolish. Even destroys one man’s life in a reality show. When that guy shows up at the annual sweeps week presentation trying to kill her, the network fires her and she has a nervous breakdown. Her loving husband, played by Matthew Broderick, quits his job at the network in sympathy with her and they move to the country, trying to start a new life away from the insanity. They move to Stepford, a small out of the way town saturated with women who look like incarnations of housewives from the Fifties, happy to always look pretty, and to please their husbands at all times. And that’s what this movie is, an attempted attack on 50s traditional values, very much like the movie, Pleasantville. Hollywood has a hate affair with the 50s. Just the idea of women staying at home, raising the family, supporting their husbands, has just got to be fraudulent to these people, because they cannot conceive that a patriarchal society can have anything good in it. It is intrinsically evil to them. The movie starts out with a flurry of TV commercials from the 50s with women dancing around in dresses and displaying kitchen appliances with wonder over the credits. This sets the stage that this era is the one being attacked. This is the absurdly unreal worldview to them. Of course, how real are commercials anyway? Even the acting of that era looks overdone and melodramatic. Does anyone really think current commercials represent real life NOW? People have always and continue to look silly and stupid in commercials because they are by nature circus acts. Even 10 year old commercials look outdated and funny. So this is a definite poisoning of the well. But it is a clever poisoning I must admit. Anyway, the Stepford wives exist solely to please their husbands in looks (They’re all blonde and busty), service (They caddy for their husbands in sun dresses) and uplift them (constant compliments), in short, they are robotic, soulless and controlled by their husbands, the ultimate adolescent male fantasy, which is why the men are cleverly shown in their “men’s club” playing with remote control cars. This is all very clever and a witty, thoughtful commentary on control in marriages. The problem comes in with the political agenda. This evil control is linked to religious faith in yet another attack on Christianity. The Stepford women are shown patronizing a Jew played by Bette Midler while mentioning “their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Also a Homosexual becomes a Stepford wife for his partner and turns into a “gay Republican with a bad haircut.” He also mentions his Christian faith in Jesus, and is patriotic. And of course, special mention is made of the fact that there are no multiethnic people in the town. All cliché stereotypes of conservative Christian culture. There is no way on heaven or earth that a Hollywood movie could ever get made actually mentioning the phrase “my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ” in a positive context. This is a known fact by Hollywood filmmakers. But if you link the person saying that phrase to evil, then you can have that phrase as clear as day (as illustrated also in Saved). Why? Anti-Christian bigotry is alive and well in Hollywood. Also, traditional values, like those espoused by one of the robots, “my priorities are my husband, my family, my home,” are also the evil enemy to these people. Let’s face it, this movie is not about the wrongness of control in marriage, that could have been a great universal theme that Christians would agree with, but it really is an attack against biblical Christian marriage roles. The filmmakers are not trying to say that control is wrong, they are saying that men as heads of families is intrinsically controlling and wrong. At the end, when it is revealed that the real villain is not the head of the men’s club, played by Christopher Walken, but is actually his wife, played by Glen Close. Turns out Walken is a robot himself, and Close is not. She is actually a throwback from the Fifties who is trying to turn things back to those days. In other words, the worst villain is not so much the men who try to force women into this role of submission, but the WOMEN who believe in and support patriarchy values themselves! So, be aware, Christian women, this movie is ultimately an attack piece on YOU, not merely men. The fact that you would choose traditional values and stay at home to raise your children and support your husband, makes you as evil as the monstrous men you support. Now, there is a tiny attempt at balance at the end, but it fails because of its weakness: Broderick ends up not turning Kidman into a robot, and they reconcile and we see Kidman on Larry King, but she now has blonde hair like Broderick liked, but its still short, like how she wanted it, so that is a compromise. And she has a bit more color in her wardrobe, unlike the black that she always wore and Broderick hated. This was good, but not strong enough in my opinion. The essence of good marriage is compromise on BOTH SIDES. And that’s what could have been a great theme in this movie.

And that leads to one of TWO MAJOR PLOT HOLES that could have been fixed and made the movie better. FIRST: When the heroine, Kidman is confronted by Broderick and the other men to turn her into a robot, they argue with her. This is the classic “confrontation scene.” She appeals to Broderick that if she was a robot, then she wouldn’t love him from her will. This is great, but she fails a greater opportunity. This confrontation with the heroine and villain, in a good story, will have the heroine recognizing that though she thought she was different from the villain, she really is not so different, and in fact is guilty of the same kind of evil that the villain is. Then she makes the choice to change in order to not be like the villain. But the writer or director never followed this path. When she argues that what Stepford is doing in controlling women and ruling over them is bad, they should have pointed out to her that what she did on her TV network is the same thing. She attacked men, made them less than women and ruled over them. Ironically, the film sets it up this way in the beginning, but it never took the opportunity to pay it off at this most crucial moment. If they had, it would have been a more balanced movie with worthy, less agenda driven lopsidedness. It would have been saying that feminist control is just as bad as male control. But alas, they could not possibly make that actual connection that the story structure demanded, because that would violate their religion. But here is a perfect example where following story structure would have challenged their own extreme views. Therefore, when Kidman decides to submit to the “treatment” and be robotized, it comes out of nowhere in the movie. She gives in out of being forced, not out of a self revelation of her own evil. It doesn’t jive with her character as created. There is no way she would just give in because that is not how she is ñ unless that revelation would have hit her to the soul that she was no different than the men in her attempt to control. Then her choice to submit would have been met with her husband’s decision not to turn her into a robot and the perfect balance would have been achieved: woman submits, but man loves her with Christ’s love (Ephesians 5:22-29). Ah, so close and yet so far. ALSO, they build up this whole thing as women being made into robots. One robot woman spits out money like an ATM machine, all the women move like robots when controlled by a remote control, and then the heroine sees the robot body that will replace her on a table. So the movie sets it up that they are going to be killed and replaced with a robot. But then, Walken shows an entirely unnecessary commercial that shows the process is actually placing computer chips to control the thought process of the brain. So it’s mind control, not a robot. Then what in the world is the robot body for??!! This is an unforgivable cheat on the part of the filmmakers. They set it up as one thing and then just turn it into another with no reason whatsoever. Unforgivable. A movie that had great potential squandered on the altar of feminist agenda.

The Chronicles of Riddick

Not Recommended. Boy, Action movies with heros who are fearless, invulnerable and seem to exist for the sole purpose of looking cool and spouting witty retorts in the face of certain doom are just plain boring. That’s what this movie is. I don’t have a problem with the coolness and the retorts, but when that stuff is everything to the movie then forget it. As soon as Riddick walks, just willingly walks, right into an encampment of the enemy (which he does a couple times) and without an iota of fear, knowing that he’s going to just waltz right out of there when he wants, they lost me and I’m never coming back. This is star glory at its worst. Making gods of celebrity actors. I ain’t gonna worship. David Thowy, who wrote and directed the original excellent Riddick movie, Pitch Black, as well as this one is a good writer-director. But I can’t help but think that this movie is just another example of what happens when big money gets involved in trying to make a sequel to a great little independent movie. The Independent movie is often great because they are forced to be creative with less money, focus on the story, and usually maintain creative control in the hands of those who should have it, the filmmakers, not the marketers and executives. That is the case with Pitch Black. It was a very good sci-fi flick. Riddick is not. Of course, the special effects are good, though I am tired of movies with big sweeping panoramic energy surges or Ghostbusters/Matrix type global explosive devastation. It drains the human interest out of the story. And this one is a very confusing story. The Necromongers are Knights of Nee, I mean Knights of death who are “crusading” to convert or kill whole planets. Problem is, they do not explain the faith with any real substance. They just use the language of faith, like “faith” “doubt” “believe.” Now, obviously in today’s context it is highly ironic and indeed stupid to make a movie about “Crusaders” who are obviously made to look like Catholic knights when they should be looking like Jihad warriors. News flash, people, Crusading Christians are not a problem in this world. Haven’t been for a 1000 years. Another Anti-Christian allusion against the politically acceptable villains of today, Christians. I mean it certainly isn’t the “Religion of Peace” and submission that we have to worry about in today’s world, who are attacking and killing millions of infidels in places like the Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq and on and on, no. It’s those bloodthirsty “convert or die” Christians. Okaaaaay. Ironically, I can’t help but think that if they were to make this movie relevant by making these Necromongers more like Jihadists than the outdated anachronistic Crusaders, why, that might actually put the lives of the filmmakers in danger from “religion of peace” reprisals. Better to reinforce bigotry against the peacemakers of the world than give up the criminals. After all, it’s only a movie, certainly not something worth dying for. And certainly not worth paying eight dollars for.