Boyhood – Review

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Boyhood is the newest film by Richard Linklater who is known for diverse films such as Dazed and Confused, School of Rock and the Before trilogy. This film follows the life of Mason, a young boy growing up in the new American family, a broken one. Seen through his eyes and spanning the 12 years from ages 5 to 18, Boyhood also has the distinction of being filmed over those same 12 years. One of the highlights is watching the natural progression of the characters as they truly age with time. The children go through every awkard stage of development as the parents descend into age’s inevitable trap. It is a unique and special film.

Limbo

This film is aptly named Boyhood as everyone in the film male and female, young and old, is caught in a perpetual childhood with no guide to full adulthood. The grown-ups may be older, but they are just as lost as everyone else, absentmindedly bouncing from one thing to another while dragging their children along like emotional baggage they’ve inadvertently collected. There is a beautiful ruination in Boyhood as we witness the aimlessness of the characters. No one has any clear idea of the meaning of life or anything resembling a purpose. It’s a sad picture of the lives so many lead and haphazardly pass on to their children.

There is no one to help this boy become a man. All the men he has in his life, in this span of time are petty, immature, some drunk and dangerous or just absent. They are locked into an uninterrupted boyhood, lost as to the meaning of being a man. Without a foundation of faith or belief in God, these men are left to wander the wastelands of video games, ridiculous dreams and booze. They shirk responsibility, hoping to find something better just over that next horizon. It’s utter lostness. Manhood has to be passed from one man to another and there is not one true man in the film. (Except Mason’s dad’s, second wife’s father, who is shown to be an attentive father, husband and grandfather. He and his wife are down home, God-loving people, yet the main characters mock the notion of being a “God person.”)

The most ironic scene and yet the most moving comes near the end of the film. Earlier, Mason’s mom encourages a young hispanic teen who is working at a manual labor job outside their home to go to school. She tells him he is smart and could truly make something of himself if he gets an education. As Mason is heading off to college, his mother and sister accompany him to lunch at a restaurant where the manager comes over to introduce himself only to find that it’s that same teen, now grown up. Because of her words, he has studied English, gone to community college and is finishing his bachelor’s degree. He thanks her for her kindness and tells her children to listen to her because she’s a wise woman. What’s so ironic is that this is the most moving scene in the movie and it’s not between Mason and his mother, but between her and a stranger. She’s had more of a directing, helpful influence on this unknown boy than her own. Proverbs says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Yet in Boyhood, none of the adults know the way their children should go, since they themselves are essentially lost in limbo, having adult bodies with the minds of children.

Conclusion

Boyhood is an important film to see; it’s a masterful achievement in cinematic production. Each vignette in Mason’s life transfers seamlessly to create the illusion that 12 years passes in just under 3 hoursIt also shines a light on the state of the American family. It’s broken and mangled on the rocks of selfishness and the endless adolescence a majority of people find themselves locked in. Children grow up directionless as they are not shepherded to adulthood, but left to muddle through with no purpose or true hope for something better. The movie will leave you with a melancholy unease as exemplified in the closing song that says,

Let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
Just wanna fight with everyone else

Your masquerade
I don’t wanna be a part of your parade
Everyone deserves a chance to
Walk with everyone else

While holding down
A job to keep my girl around
And maybe buy me some new strings
And her and I out on the weekends

And we can whisper things
Secrets from our American dreams
Baby needs some protection
But I’m a kid like everyone else

There is hope, but it is up to parents to pass it on to their children as they raise them up in the way they should go and to do that, the parents need hope from above.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5 ESV)

The 602 Club 14: The Roger Moore of Indiana Jones

tsc-014-th-squareRaiders of the Lost Ark.

As George Lucas vacationed in Hawaii after finishing the original Star Wars, he is joined by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg mentioned that he wants to direct a Bond movie and George tells him he has something better; Indiana Smith. Steven would go on to direct and fortuitously convince George to change the name to Indiana Jones. The rest, as they say, is cinema history.

In this episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined by John Champion and Norman Lao to talk about the original Indy adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark. We discuss if Indy had been played by Tom Selleck, our memories associated with seeing the film for the first time and what kept us coming back for more, the basis for the series, what we love and what still bugs us about the film, the soundtrack, Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, plus the question, “Does it hold up for today’s audience?”.

America Sniper – Review

american-sniper-posterVeterans are notoriously quiet when it comes to their lives in war. My own grandfather never said anything about his time in the navy during WWII to me. Clint Eastwood had a difficult job when he took on transferring the life of Chris Kyle to the screen. One, you have a legend in the military. Two, its a man who even in his book, is not the most forthcoming with his emotions, even though we know he had much to overcome after his time in the war. Third, how do you accurately portray the PTSD of Kyle when like many military people he is less than loquacious about his experiences and the severity of their impact him.

Eastwood makes the decision that instead of trying to show us the impact on Kyle, he will let the audience experience his life alongside him. This way, as Bradley Cooper gives us the subtle hints at what the war is doing to him in the field and when he is home, we’ve lived his life. You know what is running through his mind when he is sitting in a chair in his living room with the television off, or as he drives white-knuckled on the freeway. It’s strangely effective. When the movie ends, it leaves you more transformed than you realized.

Cooper gives a moving performance, never over the top or distracting. He looks the part and you never believe he is not America’s deadliest sniper. Siena Miller does a good job of portraying Taya, the wife that is left at home, trying to keep the fires of home burning as Kyle deploys four times. The casting is perfect.

Many will say the movie is pro war and yet if you read the book American Sniper you will realize that Kyle is not pro war, he is pro-America and he’s there to protect his fellow soldiers. He’s a warrior, that’s how he sees himself. For him it’s God, Country, Family and he lived that out till his dying day. I think the movie lets the audience make up it’s own mind about war and it’s impact. Kyle does go through a lot to get healthy yet you won’t really see that in the movie. People will complain about this as well. Yet Eastwood is being true to his subject. Kyle didn’t really talk much about what happened and when he did, he downplayed everything, reminding us that others had it much worse.

American Sniper is an experience. Being married to a military person and having them be affected by the film and say it was good, carried a lot of weight. Veterans know best in this area where we civilians can only ask and listen when they will tell us their stories. This movie is a timely reminder that our soldiers have wounds they may never talk about. Iraq and the War on Terror might not be in the news much anymore, but these men and women still need our support, our love and patience.

The 602 Club 13: Princess Bride Status

tsc-013-th-square1999 saw the release of three films aimed at sci-fi fandom and more specifically, Star Trek – Free Enterprise, Trekkies and Galaxy Quest. Galaxy Quest seemed to hit that sweet spot for many fans and at Star Trek Las Vegas it’s ranked as a Star Trek Movie.

In this episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined by Norman Lao and Andi VanderKolk to talk about Galaxy Quest. We ask the question of whether it should be considered a Star Trek film, our reactions to the movie then and now, themes, crew dynamics, what works, as well as what doesn’t, if the movie would have been better if it had been rated R and if there should be a sequel.

Selma – Review

selma-movie-posterIn 1964 the Civl Rights Act was passed, yet in the Democratic controlled south, African Americans were systematically deigned the vote though archaic voter registration laws and despicable voter intimidation. It is in the small town of Selma, Alabama that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is called in to make a stand. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his nonviolent movement would be met with some of the most severe opposition and hate the world had seen, as millions around the world would watch it play out on their television screens. This is the story of Selma.

Triumph of Faith

One of the best parts of the story is the way it highlights the movement being lead and supported by those of faith. It was pastors, priests, nuns and those of faith that showed up to support King in his call for reinforcements. Some of these men and women would even pay for this with their lives. Everyone who showed up lived out Christ’s words, “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends”. All of these men and women, fighting for the equality and dignity of every human being to vote and determine their own fate though their constitutional rights as Americans.

There is a beautiful scene where King is in prison and is struggling to see the endgame, worried about so many things and Ralph Abernathy speaks the truth of Jesus, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” It is another representation of the importance faith played in these people’s lives. It drove them, motivated them and informed everything they did in their fight for their rights.

Equality

The Declaration of Independence established so beautifully, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” King and his followers take this seriously. Driven by their belief in God and the rights of all men and women, created in God’s image to be treated with equality and dignity. If there is no belief in men and women as special, made by God to be unique, it becomes easy to dehumanize, treating people as deserving less than is their right. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement fight against the bigotry and hate of those that cowardly misused faith to oppress others, using Lincoln’s words, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” as motivation that one day the government would truly be for all.

Conclusion

Selma is an important film, it may be one of the most important films in years, it needs to be seen. What is lamentable is the reminder of just how far we have to go in this area. There are so many places in this country and around the world where bigotry and prejudice reign. The film does such a good job at showing how abhorrent humans can be to one another and yet how virtuous we can be when driven by faith in something bigger than ourselves. What Schindler’s List did for the Holocaust, Selma does for the Civil Rights movement. We cannot forget where we have been, if we do, we will forget just how far we have to go.

 

The Magicians – Review

The-Magicians-Book-Cover-e1317909429117In 2009, Lev Grossman, a writer for some of the most popular newspapers and magazines in the world gave us a new fantasy book. The premise, what if the Harry Potter series and the Chronicles of Narnia had a child, but that child turned out to be a vulgar, “adult” perversion of it’s parents. This is The Magicians

The Good

The was one thing that stood out as a positive. The innate depravity of human kind is on full display. Every character is lost in a hopeless cycle of searching for happiness and never being able to find it. They are trapped in a life were there is nothing beyond themselves and the material world, even their fantasy realm is just as mundane and morose as the “real word”. It is a fantastic representation of darwinian, atheistic belief and the utter despair that kind of worldview fosters.

The Bad

The Magicians stands on the backs of fantasy genius, Rowling and Lewis, yet it lacks any of the heart, depth or soul of either. The plot meanders for far to long, following pointlessly vacant characters doing aimless things. There is no driving force to the plot or passion in the story. It is the post-modern Harry Potter/Narnia and it suffers under the weight of it’s hollowness.

Another important issue is the amorality of the characters. This fits perfectly with the feeling that Grossman seems to be striving for. The problem is it never rises above feeling like Harry Potter: The College Years. Grossman seems to revel in the salaciousness and profanity of his characters. The whole time it just feels forced, as a way to cover up for his constant and blatant ripping off of Rowling and Lewis; it’s the book’s undoing. By leaning so heavily on these pillars of fantasy, Grossman’s story falters, coming up completely void and empty in comparison. Tolkien and Lewis both speak of the power in fantasy and myth to teach as well as mirror the great story of the Gospel, even George Lucas with Star Wars understood this. Myth can guide and teach in ways no other literature can. Yet as you read The Magicians, the lack of purpose gnaws on you, reminding you that Lewis, Rowling and Tolkien are all on your shelf with the ability to wash away ruinous, joyless fantasy such as this.

Although there are many problems with this book, the last I’ll mention is the lack of joy and fun. All of the characters are completely lost and lifeless, eking out, what can only be considered vapid, wearisome lives that no one reading would wish for. The hopelessness and purposelessness translates to the reader, a rain cloud following you everywhere. It is sad because just as much as there should be some fun, fantasy can also be a very serious work and regrettably here too, the book fails. There is just not enough self reflection for the characters or meat to the story for there to be of any redeeming value. Fantasy should have a sense of awe and wonder, like Harry in Diagon Alley for the first time or Lucy entering the wintered Narnia to find a lamp-post in the wood. Unfortunately all The Magicians has to offer is drunk, drugged miscreants with little worth living for.

Conclusion

Do yourself a favor, pick up Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, something by Le Guin, Riordon or Asimov and leave The Magicians to gather dust at you local bookstore.

Unbroken – Movie Review

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In 2o1o Laura Hillenbrand brought us the story of Louie Zamperini and his incredible tale of survival and courage. Spending 15 weeks as number one on the New York Times bestsellers list and over four years on the list for hardcover nonfiction, Unbroken has captivated people in a way rarely seen. Now Angelina Jolie has brought the beloved book to film and the question for everyone who has read the book seems to be, “Can this possibly live up?”. The answer; in some ways yes and in others no. The movie does a good job of setting the stage, telling the story non-linearly and working in the backstory of Zamperini’s life as his trials during WWII play out. It’s an effective way of breaking up the time spent lost at sea, giving us a fuller look at who this man is and how he was able to make it through the torture and dehumanization of a prisoner-of-war camp.

Lost and Drifting

One of the strengths of the film is the way it mirrors Zamperini’s time drifting aimlessly in a raft longing for rescue and his early childhood full of petty theft and purposelessness. It’s a perfect picture of the innate depravity of man. Louie’s father even asks him after a whipping why he does these things and Louie has to reply, “I don’t know”. He shows no belief in himself or sense of direction until his older brother Pete challenges him to try out for the track team, helping train him and reminding him that he is loved and believed in.

We all need this in our lives. Left to our own devices we often drift listlessly along the waves of life. We long to have a purpose and know we are loved and believed in, in spite of the sin that enslaves us and leads us, much like Louie, to do things for reasons we don’t even understand. We need someone to step in and remind us who we are and show us a better way. For Louie that was his brother Pete and later in his life it would be his wife Cynthia.

Conclusion

This is a good movie. The acting is superb and Jolie does a fine job in her big budget directorial debut. Sadly it could have been even stronger. Zamperini comes home and is far from unbroken, he’s been shattered. Unable to find a way past his anger and rage, he turns to alcohol and descends deeper into hopelessness. It is not until his wife encourages him to attend a Billy Graham Crusade that Louie finds the relief he is looking for. He finds salvation from the anger and pain in the forgiveness of Jesus. Through an understanding of how much he has been forgiven, Louie can offer that same forgiveness to his former captors. He is free. Unfortunately this momentous event is not portrayed in the movie. The main crux of the story is not his surviving the torture and war, it is the salvation he finds in brokenness. See Unbroken, it’s a good movie, but do yourself a favor and read the book beforehand. As the old saying goes, “The more you know…”, and here the more, is everything.


Last year saw the release of a movie much like Unbroken called The Railway Man. I encourage everyone to see it. It is the most powerful movie of grace and forgiveness I’ve seen in years.