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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Review

Wont-You-Be-My-Neighbor-691x1024I grew up on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child. In fact, my mother is fond of reminding me that my love for the cardigan can be directly linked to the show and asking for the Mr. Rogers type of sweater when we were shopping. I loved this show as a child. The trolly, the props he used as representations of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the puppets and the man himself. I remember getting a lump in my throat the first time I saw the trailer for Won’t You Be My Neighbor as memories of watching the show flooded back, so I was keen to see the film as soon as I could. I’ll say right up front, it’s brilliant. I may be slightly biased, growing up loving this man and his show, but I don’t think I am. I think this is exactly the kind of movie we need at this point in time.

Love You Neighbor as Yourself

Fred Rogers was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church. He actually put  his aspirations to the ministry on hold when he saw television and was inspired to get into children’s programing. He was disheartened to see the things geared towards children and helped start The Children’s Corner, which aired on the public television station WQED. He would leave the show and finally pursue his theological degree, but he never lost his passion for television. In fact, in may ways, his pulpit for all those years was living out the first and second commandments given by Jesus in the Gospels,

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 34-40

You can see the importance of the show even being called, neighborhood. Mr. Rogers modeled the life of love and faith in the way he dealt with his “neighbors” on the show. In a world scared to go out it’s front door most of the time, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a reminder of just what we’ve lost. Fred Rogers treated everyone with the respect they deserved, not because they had “earned” it, but because they were a child of God, created in his image and therefore was his neighbor, who he was called to love. Fred Rogers may never have given a sermon, but his life was one, living out the two great commandments to the best of his ability.

Children

The most striking thing about the film is the way it shows Rogers deep and unwavering commitment to children. Even though he was in television, he actually didn’t like it all that much. He deplored the way it treated children as mini consumers, what was peddled as children’s programing and how it did more harm than good for them. He rightly understood just how impactful what a child sees, is to them.

He spoke to children about subjects many struggle to talk about, assassination, divorce, death, just to name a few. He never talked down to children, but especially through the puppets like Daniel Tiger, he was able to express the deepest feelings of their heart on a plethora of topics. The show was never slow, but purposefully deliberate and intentional. In many ways it helped foster children’s abilities to think about whatever he was saying because it was not too quickly rushing to the next thing, allowing them to ponder and truly mull the subject in their minds.

The reason for all of this was that Rogers believed completely in the solemn responsibility it was to speak into a child’s life. What a child watches, sees and hears will have a massive impact on who they become. Because of this he felt that anyone producing content for children should not take it lightly. In a society full of “children’s” programing, Won’t You Be My Neighbor asks that we as a society reevaluate what we’re allowing our children to be subjected to from the earliest age and and if it’s really appropriate or beneficial for them.

The most important message from Rogers to children ties into Jesus’ second great commandment and it was his consistent refrain at the end of every episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you/yourself. There’s only one person in the whole world that’s like you, and that’s you. And people can like you just/exactly the way you are. I’ll be back next time. Bye-bye!”

Fred Rogers understood the human dignity that was endowed by our Creator because we are image bearers of God and that each person does not have to earn love, but is loved. He showed this to  the children watching is program, everyday, for years and it’s a message needed now, more than ever.

Conclusion

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a 5 out of 5. Seek it out, watch it, encourage others to do so as well. The world sorely needs more Fred Rogers in the world, who’s kindness, vulnerability and grace still reverberate as strongly now as they did when he was alive.

 

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Skyscraper – Review

skyscraper_posterDwayne Johnson has solidified himself has a massive star. He’s made his mark with the Fast and the Furious movies and had the surprise hit of last Christmas in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. This summer he looks to continue his dominance at the box office with his latest action outing, Skyscraper.

Hubris  

The movie is pretty simple in the end and it’s similar to Die Hard, man has to save his family from building, only this time it’s on fire, on top there being a band murdering psychopaths with guns on the loose. There is a nice theme in the film from the beginning, as the world’s tallest building is being revealed to the audience, of hubris. The movie even mentions the Tower of Babel as an example of man reaching for the sky and greatness. The building’s owner shows off the tower’s incredible technology that supposedly makes it the safest, most secure and advanced structure in the world. Like the Titanic, it’s suppose to be impossible to take down, even with a fire, as airtight doors are intended to keep floors separated in case of emergency. Yet like all technology, there is always a way for the unthinkable and “impossible” to become reality. It’s an evergreen message that technology is never infallible and is only safe, depending on the hands it’s in.

Family  

This might be an action movie staring The Rock, but it’s all about family. Will Sawyer is a former FBI hostage rescue team leader who was almost killed when a situation turned deadly. He almost loses his life but it’s saved by Sarah, a former Army doctor who later becomes his wife. He does have to have a leg amputated because of the explosion, but from that loss comes joy. If he’d not had something so awful happen, he admits, he’d never have met his wife or had his twins who he credits with saving his life. His family is his strength.

First, the celebration of life here, it’s ups, it’s downs is truly beautiful and the recognition that good can come from bad is relevant perspective. Second, the portrayal of family and it’s importance is wonderful. It’s nice to see a movie that upholds these virtues and remembers that they are worth honoring.

The Movie

The movie may have quite a few action flick cliches, but it also has a lot of heart. One of the best things is that Sarah Sawyer is no damsel, she’s as capable as her husband and just as determined to save her family. The movie does a great job of have them working in tandem, even though they don’t know it, from different sides of the problem to help save the day. Along with this, the films upholding of family, bravery, heroism and sacrifice are worthy of praise. It’s nice to walk out of a movie with the reminder that these things are important. It’s also a fun movie, that is something good almost the whole family, probably safe for 10 and up. Skyscraper is rated 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Rebel Dawn – Review

Rebel_Dawn_cover

Rebel Dawn arrives as the last book in A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. The series spans most of the 19 years from the end of the Clone Wars to the beginning of A New Hope. One of the greatest strengths of the series and something that’s fully on display in this book is that it’s not just a story about Solo. This series explores the underworld of the Star Wars galaxy and the beginning of the Rebellion. In many ways, this last book is less about Han and more about the pieces of the galaxy that Crispin has been playing with throughout each book.

The first of these elements is the Hutt syndicate and Jabba’s rise to power. Crispin wraps up the power struggle between the Desilijic and Besadii clans while also setting up other underworld crime bosses like Xizor of Black Sun. The series does a magnificent job of playing with these elements, depicting the way Palpatine is using them for his benefit and delving into a whole other side of the galaxy rich in characters and potential. You can see how Solo: A Star Wars Story uses some of these elements and just how ripe the underworld is for stories. Reading this series has me praying that Lucasfilm will continue to make movies with Han, Chewie, Qi’ra, and the rest of this underworld they set up in the film.

The second element that is fleshed out is the Rebellion. Bria is now a commander in one of the rebel cells, so we get to see the rise of the Alliance through her character. Rebel Dawn shows us not only the rebellion’s rise, but it tells the story of the theft of the Death Star plans and their transmission to the Tantive VI. Of course this is all before Rogue One came out and just one of a few stories in Legends on how this went down. Honestly, this part of the story, especially the theft of the plans, seems rushed and not all that satisfying. When it’s just about Bria and her part in the Rebellion it works, but the moment Crispin tries to squeeze in the Death Star plans, it just feels too cluttered.

Something I was not expecting was for Crispin to work in Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy into her narrative. This was an interesting choice and it works for the most part. Even if there are parts of the Daley novels that do not always feel completely like the Star Wars we have come to know, it’s a nice tip of the hat to the first Solo stories we ever got outside of the films.

One thing that does not work for me is Han’s relationship with Bria. Her betrayal of him and her death just feel too close in time to the events of A New Hope. It is hard to buy that Han would be interested in Leia so soon after the loss of the love of his life. It feels like this book would have better served the larger story if it had been set four to five years before A New Hope, giving Han time to move on from such a tragic loss.

Regardless, Rebel Dawn is probably my favorite book in this series. Crispin does such a good job of utilizing all the plot elements she set up in the previous books to bring this to a mostly satisfying conclusion. There are parts that feel forced to me, but ultimately they’re not detrimental to my enjoyment of this underworld of Star Wars that she’s developed through the story of Han Solo. I’ll say it again, reading this has me hoping and praying that Lucasfilm will continue what it started in Solo. This series shows just how much they could do with it on the big screen. Rebel Dawn is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

 

Ant-Man and The Wasp – Review

ant-man-and-the-wasp-5ae82eac36ee2Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews!

A mini review for this film feels appropriate. Ant-Man and The Wasp is a nice reprieve from the galaxy spanning peril and overstuffed buffet that was Infinity War. This latest Marvel film’s biggest strength is it’s scope. The story lends itself to being more about the characters which is perfect. The first Ant-Man was a good introduction to this world and Ant-Man and The Wasp fleshes it out wonderfully.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly shine throughout the entire film and their chemistry is outstanding. Michael Douglas is given even more to do as Hank Pym, as the character is explored in more depth and Michael Peña, with the rest of the crew add some great comedy relief along the way.

Where Infinity War felt like part of a movie and so connected to the other MCU films it was almost a burden at times, Ant-Man and The Wasp is almost the exact opposite. Much like the Guardians series, the Ant-Man films fit within the MCU, but never at any point during the movie do you feel the weight you do when watching something like Infinity War. It’s refreshing to just be able to enjoy a movie on it’s own terms. This feeling lasts until the mid-credit sequence when the weight of the MCU crashes into the Ant-Man with the snap of a finger. It was inevitable, but it did leave me feeling like this became just a stepping stone to Avengers 4 more than an important story in it’s own right. This doesn’t ruin the experience, but it did personally dampen some of my enjoyment.

Ant-Man and The Wasp is a fun movie with lots of heart and some neat action scenes. In many ways it has some of the most comic book/sci-fi ideas in the MCU with the quantum realm, shrinking and expanding all adding to the far out nature of what’s happening. The movie also nicely sidesteps Marvel’s villain issue in a very clever way. In the end, the movie feels like an issue of a comic book in a larger story, but it’s an enjoyable issue to be sure. Ant-Man and The Wasp is rated 3 1/3 out of 5 stars

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Review

fallen-kingdom-poster-t-rexThree years ago the Jurassic Park franchise made it’s mark on the box office once again as it surprised everyone by becoming one of the top grossing films of all time. The series is back, under the direction of J. A. Bayona and looks to pick up where the last one left off, collecting a massive sum of over $450 million worldwide, even before opening in the USA. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back, reprising their roles of Owen and Claire as they try to keep the rest of the world safe from threat of weaponized dinosaurs.

Responsibility 

In many ways, all of the Jurassic films have been about responsibility, but the theme is particularly strong in Fallen Kingdom. It’s three years since the events of Jurassic World and the park has since been abandoned. Isla Nublar’s once dormant volcano is now active, threatening the dinosaurs with another extinction level event. The world must decide what responsibility it has towards these creatures it’s created. Do previously extinct animals, brought back through science have the same rights as other species? Is this volcano an act of God, meant to correct our mistake in bringing them back? As the world wrestles with these question, time is running out for the dinosaurs.

The film brings the question of responsibility a little closer to home through the characters of Claire and Owen. As the plan to weaponize these animals is unfurled, Claire is reminded that she also once exploited these animals for profit. She was instrumental in creating the Indominous Rex, keeping it in a cage, keeping all of the animals in cages for the benefit of the bottom line.

Owen is reminded that it was he who helped prove that a creature like a raptor could be trained, yet had failed to see the applications his research could be used for. What’s fascinating is that Owen, as he’s training these raptors, especially Blue, there’s almost a Garden of Eden feel to it. He’s connecting with one of the most dangerous predators to have ever roamed the earth and him doing so is innocent. In fact, he’s really living out the first great commission from Scripture, to have dominion over all the animals. Owen’s dominion here is the relationship God had in mind pre fall, a care and stewardship of these creatures for mutual benefit. Owen is the antithesis to who Claire use to be and the villain of this movie, Eli Mills.

jw4Accountability key here. What is our responsibility with the things we create as humans? How should we use the technology we create? What about the cities, political structures or even our own children? The movie shows two ways of doing things. We can treat everything as if we’re nothing but consumers, seeing everything through the lens of what we can get out of something monetarily or how it can benefit us. Or, we can be stewards, people that think through the implications of our actions of creation and how we accountable for those creations. Isn’t that what Malcolm was trying to get at in Jurassic Park?

Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun…

If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it…

Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

And Malcolm is right. Too many times our responsibility in creation is neglected because the creation of something is driven by something much more temporal and mundane, money, and the carnage in it’s wake is what happens while we’re busy scheming for something more. Honestly, the message that resonates through each Jurassic movie the most is, humans make crummy gods.

The Movie

In some ways this movie is a spiritual successor to The Lost World, yet it works better. The reason for taking the dinosaurs off the island makes a lot more sense, especially in light of Jurassic World. They’re not being saved, they’re being exploited, once again. Sadly this time, the entire world is being put at risk just to line the pockets of a few.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard have real star power. Rafe Spall as Eli Mills is sufficiently skeevy as the villain. James Cromwell as Sir Benjamin Lockwood adds a whole new wrinkle into the story and to what is possible with genetic power and his granddaughter played by Isabella Sermon is a wonderful addition to the cast.

The effects are fantastic, even better than Jurassic World. The times when someone touches one of the dinosaurs, it looks so real. Giacchino’s music is on cue, using themes from the Williams’ scores and his work on Jurassic World perfectly. The movie does have it’s flaws, it’s a little too derivative, but honestly, it’s better that Jurassic Park III and The Lost World (all this particular reviewer needed it to be), a worthy addition to the series. It’s rated 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Incredibles 2 – Review

new-incredibles-2-poster-promises-lots-of-fun-in-the-sun-01Fourteen years ago, Pixar introduced us to it’s world of superheroes and the Parr family. The film was a massive success and with each announcement of new Pixar sequels the question was always, “But when are we getting an Incredibles sequel?”. Luckily for fans, the wait is over and Brad Bird has finally giving fans the long awaited return of the Parr family.

Good for Goodness Sake

Incredibles 2 picks up right where the first movie left off and the attack of the Underminer. Springing into action, the Parr family works to stop him but is unable to apprehend him or keep him from robbing the bank. This puts superheroes in a bad light, again, and causes the government to finally shut down it’s superhero assistance program (who help relocate superheroes after incidents). Rick Dicker, who’s been helping the Parrs for years, tells them, “Politicians don’t understand people who do good things. That makes them nervous.”. It’s a sad state of affairs when the world has become so cynical and distrusting that people who do good, because it’s the right thing to do, even when no one asked them too, are discouraged or even outlawed from doing so. The film shines a mirror on the kind of world we’ve created today and it’s not pretty.

Opinion Polls

The superheroes have an advocate in Winston Deavor who’s father was a massive supporter of superheroes in the past when they were legal. He has an interesting quote as he’s trying to recruit Frozone, Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, he says, “It’s time to make some wrong things right. Help me bring supers back into the sunlight. We need to change people’s perceptions about superheroes…”.

Now it’s said your perception determines your reality and there is some truth to that. Yet, the idea here, that the perception of superheroes needs to change in people’s minds is another frustrating mirroring of our society. It’s not important that superheroes have a right to exist or that doing what is right, is important, regardless of public opinion. What is actually “important”, is just getting people to perceive that superheroes are legitimate. Truth and right are not a factor, it’s really only the shifting sands of opinion that make something “right”. It’s a scary foundation. Late in the movie the villain says to Elastigirl, if you didn’t have these morals and values we could have been friends. Elastigirl and these heroes stand on the side of right and truth, even when it’s not popular because they know it’s the right thing to do and that is a wonderful message.

The Movie

incredibles-2-rgb-z355-15-cs-pub-pub16-507The Incredibles continues to be the best version of the Fantastic Four we have seen on screen. The movie nicely gives each of the characters good storylines. Frozone is less a sidekick and more of a full member of the family now. Elastigirl is front and center as the one working in public to reverse public opinion on superheroes, leaving Mr. Incredible to be Mr. Mom at home. This is a very strong part of the film as Mr. Incredible, who has only really found joy in his superhero work, finds the joy that parenting can be. It’s beautiful to see a movie celebrate the importance of family and show how impactful it is to have  father who is actively apart of his children’s lives.

The movie, may not completely stand up to fourteen years of anticipation, but it’s one of this year’s best superhero movies and an absolute blast for the whole family! Incredibles 2 is rated 4 out of 5 superpowers.

The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear – Review

The_Mighty_Chewbacca_Forest_of_FearThis post originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Disney Press continues it’s streak of excellent tie-in work for Star Wars with The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear. The book is written by Origami Yoda author Tom Angleberger, who brings his humor and wit to bear on a story from Chewie’s perspective. When Han finds himself double crossed, it’s up to Chewie, a librarian named Mayv and undercover droid K-2SO to save the day. To spoil it, right up front, the book is a joy to read.

Wookiee Depth

There are not many books that tell a story from Chewbacca’s point of view, so immediately Angleberger’s book stands out. To get past the language barrier, the book is told by a narrator. In some ways, the narrator felt a bit like Ron Howard’s narration in Arrested Development, which fits perfectly. The beauty of the book is the way it capitalizes on Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s presentation of Chewie and runs with it.

Chewie, who’s long been relegated to sidekick status in the films, is given room to shine here. Angleberger brings real depth to the character which is accentuated through his relationship with Mayv. They both get to share their stories with one another (Mayv only partially understands Chewie’s since she’s not well versed in Shyriiwook, luckily the narrator is) which brings them closer, realizing that the Empire has had the same impact on both of their lives. What’s neat about this is how it’s just one more example of the Empire’s tightening grip on the galaxy as it destroys freedom and creates a totalitarian, thought-police state.

On top of all of this, the mission that Chewie, K2 and Mayv are on, is one that ties in nicely with some things we’ve seen in other places. The person holding Han hostage, sends them to a planet to retrieve a book that the Emperor wants. There is a very familiar green mist on this planet, reminiscent to Dathomir Magic, which does leave a strong impression that they may be linked somehow. Plus, having Palpatine looking for more Dark Side relics connects nicely with Marvel‘s first Lando comic and his ship full of Sith artifacts.

Conclusion

Like Guardians of the WhillsThe Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear is a fantastic Star Wars read. From start to finish it’s fun, well written and seriously, it brings out the joy of being a fan. The Mighty Chewbacca is rated 5 out of 5 Wookiee growls!