Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Narnian Lesson: "It Was a Good Pain."

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader came out last Christmastime, and although I wasn’t as pleased with the movie as I would have liked, the book, at least, still holds the truths C. S. Lewis had in his wisdom to impart. 

My favorite scene in the entire series is when Eustace turns into a dragon. Up until that point, he had been immersed in himself and blind to Aslan. But he begins to feel lonely as a dragon and sees that he would rather be a boy. Being a dragon wasn’t who he was created to be. So Aslan offered him to bathe in healing waters. But in order to do that, he would have to remove his skin, to “undress”.

Eustace tries peeling back a layer of scaly, dragon skin, but there was another layer beneath it. He kept going, but there was always another layer underneath. At last, in exhaustion, he cries out, “I can’t do this on my own!” So Aslan digs his strong claws into Eustace’s skin. It feels as though it were piercing through his heart, it hurt so bad. But Aslan was strong enough, and at last Eustace was clean. He was a real boy again, as he was meant to be.

When I read this scene for the first time, it left me in tears. How true this image is, when it comes with the way God works with us! So often God allows pain because it opens us to Him. In our cries, we open our hearts and allow Him to work in us. He finds us in the excruciating mess of our lives and pulls us up out of it. 

But not without our permission. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom and see what a great mess we’re in. Then we try to fix it and upon realizing we can't, we cry out to God in the rubble. And then, finally, He is allowed fix it. It is only in crying out to Him, though, that gives Him permission to touch our hearts.We are never strong enough to fix ourselves on our own.

In order for us to admit God is God, and to transform into the person we were created to be in His eyes, we have to undergo a conversion. We have to see that the way we were doing things wasn't best for us after all, and we have to allow God to fix that damage.

C. S. Lewis says, in “The Problem of Pain”:

But pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.  Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.  While what we call “our own life” remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.  What then can God do in our interests but make “our own life” less agreeable to us?

Lewis makes his case further in Mere Christianity, saying:

It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home.  All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.'

Did this monumental experience hurt Eustace? Of course it did. But the pain was worth it. “It was a good pain, as if a thorn was being pulled out,” as he put it. “The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”

God doesn’t expect us to lead perfect lives, or to fix it ourselves. He wants us, all of us. Our problems too. He wants us to realize that He is God, and He can fix the problems if we let Him. All we have to do is hand him the baggage to open our clenched hands, so He can put something better in them – new life in Him.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau and Free Will

Film Grade: C+

The Adjustment Bureau is Matt’s Damon’s latest action film, which gives you everything - a convincing romance, an intriguing plot and bad guys who chase you. What it doesn’t have, however, is moral truth.

 It’s about a Congressman, David Norris, who, when he meets a pretty girl in the men’s bathroom, finds out that their meeting was not part of “The Plan”. Through chance, they meet a few more times and have to fight against “The Plan” for “their plan”.  

Well, at least it’s entertaining. The action and thriller aspect of the film definitely doesn’t leave you bored.  Emily Blunt and Matt Damon have a pretty dynamic chemistry and play their roles convincingly. The special effects aren’t bad. The whole film sparks discussion as to its view on free will and the connection it has to fate.

That’s pretty much all I can say for pros.  While it’s good to spark such a discussion, the view it portrays in the film is certainly faulty. It’s as if the director wanted this movie to portray his imagination of why bad things happen to people. 

Just to list some other cons: God and His “bureau” are painted as the bad guys, who keep us from doing what we want. How dare they. We obviously know better. The “bad guys” discourage marriage and family life, when the opposite is obviously true. The girl is bad for Norris because she “fills the void” – when nothing in this life will ever fill the void but God. 

So what’s the deal with this movie and free will? Well, it’s pretty much heretical in saying we don’t really have it. It’s an allusion, apparently. We are forced to do what we don’t want to do, and They will invade our minds if they have to. Which is completely false. God respects our free will so much that He lets us make our bed and lay in it. He is a gentleman that never forces Himself or His plans on us. As for bad why things happen, that’s a whole other discussion…

Now, I know this is a movie, and movies are make believe. But when it comes to theology, it’s best to just stay away from it if it’s not going to be true. Case and point with The Da Vinci Code. Art is supposed to have truth, beauty and goodness in order for it to get a message across the right way, or at least give realistic expressions of them. Without truth, it’s just bad art. It should direct us out of ourselves, rather than further into ourselves.

The moral of the story I got from the film was that we’re greater than God and we can make our own plans. And in some sense, we do make them, since we can freely choose them. But we do not have ultimate control over our lives. 

And thank God we don’t.

Digital vs. Real

One of my favorite places to be is a bookstore. I love the quiet, kind of eclectic atmosphere where lots of things besides books are sold. It’s a place where you can lose yourself in different ideas and worlds, and marvel at all the cool trinkets and books you find. 

Which is why I was so sad when I heard Borders is closing. For good. All we have left is Barnes & Noble and the little bookstores, which are also sparse. 

I blame digitalization. Part of our social lives (or, so called, anyway) are digital, from cameras, computers, to cell phones, you name it. And those things have their purposes and can be used for good, up to a point. But books – that’s where I draw the line. 

When it comes to reading, there’s nothing better than holding a book in your hand. You can pop it open, stick your nose between the pages and smell the muskiness. I have a reverence for holding another’s creation in my hands, since I know what kind of work and creativity it requires. There’s a certain level of reality that you are able grasp when you hold a book in your hands. It feels more relatable.

Which brings me to another point. While digitalization has its purposes, as I said before, it should be used in moderation, as with anything good. It’s terribly sad that kids as young as eight years old have cell phones and text people around the clock. And even adults consider people they’ve barely met on Facebook real “friends”. In reality, those people would barely be acquaintances.

Fact is, the more we become immersed in a virtual, digital world, the less we are based in reality. Back in the 50’s, people went next door and talked to their neighbors, face to face. People had real relationships with one another, and there was a sense of community. We’ve lost sight of that.

When you’re talking to someone through email, or even the phone, we only glimpse a small part of that person – we don't see their mannerisms, their emotions, etc. On the other hand, you build interpersonal skills when speaking in person, plus, you get the fuller picture of who the person is. 

So it’s good to use the digital technology we have. But we should seriously moderate it, so we develop “friends” based in reality and social skills gained through real life experience. It would help us take a step back to the time where people cared about one another, even if we didn’t know them well. 

Let’s be humans, not humanoids.

We Could Use More of Captain America

Film Grade: B+

Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America is undoubtedly the best superhero film of the summer. And I might say the second best film of the summer, as Super 8 still beats everything in my book, in terms of quality film-making. 

But for those of you who don’t know the story, here’s a quick rundown. Captain America was originally the scrawny Steve Rogers whose dream of serving his country got him into a special sector of the armed forces. He is chosen, because of his determined and compassionate character, to undergo a cellular transformation and become a special kind of hero. He finds himself up against Red Skull, Hitler’s weaponry man, who plans to control the world with a glowing energy source. 

The story is pretty much like any other superhero's. What makes Captain America special is the way the film was done - the way it should be done. It was a wholesome tribute to the comics. 

It’s almost as if the whole film could be a comic, minus the “KA-POW” flying across the screen. I admit that Captain America is not as good as Spiderman or, say, the more recent Batman films, but it’s still good. There are some cheesy lines, but they're done tastefully. In short, the film is like a sophisticated comic book. 

And unlike a lot of hero films, the visual effects aren’t overbearing. It adds to the story, rather than suffocating it. There isn’t anything overtly sexual that threatens to distract the film and detract from the story. The acting isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely worthy.The 1940’s costumes give the film an air of sophistication, quality, and especially patriotism.

The patriotism itself, in the film, is a much-needed nod to our country and to the men and women who serve it by giving their lives. It’s refreshing and uplifting to see them celebrated rather than criticized. 

Also refreshing is the romance between Steve Rogers and Agent Peggy Carter. There is obvious attraction between them the entire film, but they don’t touch, so it builds both tension and suspense. The moment where they finally do kiss becomes a treat that adds heart to the story. Take note, Hollywood. This is how romances on film should be! 

Captain America is wonderfully done in its visual effects, costumes and especially its story. The story is what makes it both relatable and worthy of admiration. Steve Rogers is the kind of superhero kids should look up to, unlike Tony Stark. He’s sacrificial, compassionate, fearless and determined. 

We could use more people like Captain America. Fortunately, we will. Next summer. Make sure you stay until after the credits. You’ll get a little preview of a film coming out next summer that you will probably want to see.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Soul Sufer Review

Film Grade: C+/B-

AnnaSophia Robb in Soul Sufer
I remember when I first heard about Bethany Hamilton's heroic story and being amazed at her resilience and fearlessness. Soul Surfer sounded promising about how honestly it would portray her story.

Honest it was. Although it’s not a gem in of itself as a film, it’s the heart of the story that makes it worthwhile. You have to get past obvious and sometimes cheesy screenplay that lacks a certain flow and has imperfect acting. Crying on queue, etc. You can tell they’re acting, rather than becoming their characters.

And while AnnaSophia Robb lacks the perfection of Elle Fanning in Super 8, she nevertheless has enough of the heart that Bethany Hamilton’s story requires. It certainly lives on in this film.

What impressed me most and left me pleasantly surprised was the courageous, unashamed display of Bethany’s faith. I’m sure she had some say in that, because it was clearly a huge part of her overcoming the accident and the aftermath that followed it. It was because of her faith in God that she got through that ordeal. Through it, she learned that she wasn’t alive to surf, but to love. And that surfing without her arm could play a role in that. 

Bethany’s faith in the film is huge reason it’s a courageous movie. Add to this Bethany’s unshakable will and desire to get back up after being smashed to the ground. Those two things together made this film worthwhile to watch, showing just one faucet of the beauty of the human will, and what it can do when merged with God’s. 

Not to mention that we could learn a thing or two by Bethany’s example when bad things happen to us. When it happens, we should take a step back, gain some perspective and see how blessed we really are.

No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits...They've Lost Their Minds.

With No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits coming out this year, Hollywood has me partly outraged, partly shocked. Both movies are about the same thing. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed their plots are becoming more and more original these days…). They’re about using another person for your own pleasure and benefit.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure most people don’t like to be used. Because no matter what Congress or Media tell us, deep down, we know we are people, not objects, who deserve respect. 

So what’s the sense in showing characters who enjoy being used, plots that glorify using, and how “fun” it is? Think this through, people. No one likes it. So why make movies about people liking it? (Not to mention, unapologetically flaunting how obsessed Hollywood is with sex. Forget that film-making is an art form).

I certainly won’t see these movies. But I plead other people not to, so Hollywood gets the message that people won’t take just any movie they shove down our throats. 

We imitate what we see. And if we go see a movie where people enjoy being treated as objects, we will begin to feel that we are objects and expect to be treated that way. We’ll stop demanding respect. 

In addition, we tell Hollywood that we like trash films like these. I most certainly don’t. The movies I enjoy most show people as they truly are, what they’re capable of doing – in other words, films that reflect true humanity. Even if they’re fantasy, they still reflect the essence of humanity.

But seriously, Hollywood. These two films deserve a palm to the forehead. 


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon Review

Film Grade: C-

I didn’t think the last Transformers movie was too bad, other than being similar to the first one (except for the story line, they changed that slightly). By the looks of the trailers for Dark of the Moon, I was hoping that it would be as epic as it looked. 

Well, it definitely looked epic. The special effects were action eye candy, which was non-stop. It was metal carnage for the whole 2 and a 1/2 hours running time. 

Yeah, it’s that long. For what this film is, it should be 2 hours max. The action was cool to watch, don't get me wrong…except that it’s seeing the exact same thing we saw in the previous two films. 

The special effects, unfortunately, is about the only thing I can complement in this film. I love Shia Labeouf, but he's the only actor worth his paycheck. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Sam’s girlfriend, wasn’t as disgusting as Megan Fox, but she plays the exact same character: the objectified hot girl. The first shot of the movie is of her butt. Michael Bay feeds the male viewers what he (apparently) thinks the perfect girl should be – impossibly hot, with no heart or depth. Sam and Carly's whole relationship is superficial.

There is little continuity in the storyline where Sam's relationship is involved. What’s the deal with Mikaela dumping him? She goes through Hell and back with him in the first two movies and then leaves? It was all for nothing.

Speaking of storyline...well, there isn't really one to speak of – it’s basically the same. The Decepticons are back and want to take over the world. Sam has girlfriend troubles and annoying parents. Oh, and Patrick Depmsey is a horrible bad guy, he should just stick to RomComs. 

To conclude, it's an overly long film that bashes your brain with mindless, mindnumbing action with no real plot, script or acting to speak of. Morally, it’s bad. Sam and Carly live together, and Carly is totally objectified for her looks by the director. There is a lot of unnecessary language.There’s references to homosexuality and other innuendos. The parents look dumb. 

The film reflects Sam and Carly's relationship: pretty, but superficial. Heartless. If you want to watch a movie that is pure eye candy, no brain involved, have fun.