Tag Archives: Movies

My Top 5 movies of 2015

Here are my top 5 movies for 2015:

5. Star Wars: Force Awakens – JJ thank you for re-kindling the excitement for a galaxy far away…

4. Bridges of Spies – This movie marks the return of Steven Spielberg to high form.

3. Inside Out – A brilliant and emotional screen representation of what goes up in our brains.

2. Mad Max: Furry Road – Probably the best action film ever. I was mesmerized not only by its nimble and sharp script but also by the fact that it is a story about redemption that plays against the backdrop of stunning visuals and exhilarating action sequences. Absolutely Brilliant!

1. The Revenant – This movie is an achievement in film making.


 

There are plenty of movies that were release in 2015 that I haven’t seen like Slow West, Creed, Sicario, The Walk, and in the Heart of the Sea among others…I just noticed that The Martian didn’t make my list but it was a fun movie to watch.

Top 10 Movies for Lent Part I (10 to 5)

We are entering Lent at full altitude now that we are closely approaching the third Sunday of Lent. One of my pet peeve is to find redemptive Christian qualities around me, especially in movies. So I decided to come up with my Top 10 movies to watch during Lent.

Some of the movies that made my list are not necessarily overtly Christian but that does not mean that they aren’t Christian films. I rather think that what make a film a Christian film is its subject matter and its resolution. The list is not an exhaustive list of movies since is restricted to the limited number of films that I have watched.

10. Gran Torino

This is Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece about redemption that showcase one of the best Christ like figure in modern cinema. I was hesitant to include this movie on this list, since it’s crude language but it is not gratuitous but rather serve the plot of the story.

9. Locke

This is Tom Hardy best role to date. This is an engaging account of a man trying to make things right and the consequence of his past sin in his life. I was mesmerized by the brilliance of its screenplay.

8. Up

This is Pixar’s fantastic movie about marriage, family, and old age. What I love about this movie is its portrayal of love and marriage and its reverence to old age.

7. The Kid with a Bike

This is another gem from the Dardenne brothers. The story centers on a kid who is longing for his absent father. It does a great job at showing the value of fatherhood and the consequences of its absence in the life of a young boy.

6. The Mission

Considered by some to be an anti-religious movie an odd statement given that it made the Vatican top list for religious movies. For a great review at visit: http://www.decentfilms.com/reviews/mission

What do you think…any favorite movie that should be included in the top 5?

Syllogism for Cinema by Peter Kreeft

gran_torino28

Gran Torino

Premise 1: The imagination is the most powerful force in human nature for good or for evil.

Premise 2: Of all the art forms in our culture cinema is the one that most powerfully uses the imagination.

Conclusion: Therefore cinema has the most power the most potential for good or evil of all art forms in our culture.

Peter Kreeft

Musings about why Christian can’t make good films.

My Top 5 Movies of 2014

This is my incomplete list for my favorite movies of 2014…

1.  American Sniper

Rarely a movie makes the clear and necessary distinction between good and evil and the moral responsibility to confront it. Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, American Sniper, do so without any hesitation and brilliantly.

2. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious project to date. It scores hight on its scope and impressive visuals. It also features the best soundtrack of the year by Hans Zimmer.

Do not go gentle into the night…

3. Locke

A gripping drama about a husband, father and worker trying to amend his life and in the process risking everything. A reveating movie about convictions and the consequences of sin.

4. Boyhood

Innovative, enticing, and brutally honest film about a post-christian family.

5. X-man: Days of Future Past

Well…life can be fun and so ought to be movies. Best movie in the X-man Franchise by far.

This list is incomplete because I yet need to see at least the following movies:

Two Days, One Night by the Belgian filmmakers the Dardanne Brothers. Anything they make is bound to be brilliant…yes I am biased.

Whiplash
Imitation Games
Gone Girl
Birdman

About growing up, fading memories of Christianity and Mutants…my review of my favorite movies of the summer.

There is something especially about the broad, open, and moving canvas that a film provides artists to tell their stories. Its ingenuity is that it combines multiple art forms into a unique conveyor of fierce and gentle emotions that is the human experience. In that, a single frame can be a view as a painting, its musical score can be listened as a symphony, and the cries of its characters permanently records the drama of theater. Great films can do that; lesser makes you wonder about the decline of civilization and question your sanity for having spent money on them.

Every summer there is a film that I can hardly wait to see. This past summer was sort of an exception. There wasn’t a movie that I couldn’t wait to see. I was cautiously optimistic about How to Train Your Dragon 2, mildly excited about X-Man: Days of Future Past, curious about Guardian of the Galaxy and indifferent about the rest. Unbeknown to me was that there were movies like “Boyhood” waiting to be discovered.

Boyhood is the passion project of Richard Linklater (Daze and Confused), filmed over 12 years with the same cast. It is a painfully honest and beautiful film about a family living in an ever-increasing secular society. The film is a coup in filmmaking. The high-risk idea of filming a kid grow-up over the span of 12 years immensely pays off. It not only adds such a subtle familiarity with the character, but a deep texture of realism unmatched by any especial effect. It not only adds such a subtle familiarity with the character, but a deep texture of realism unmatched by any especial effect. Its visual and musical cues play a central role in the narrative while the script manages to captivate your attention by portraying ordinary life with simplicity, honesty and wit.

What I found interesting about this film was that although it is obviously narrated from a post Christian point of view its message led the audience, in my opinion, to question the vanity and futility of such world view. This was clear to me towards the end of the film (spoiler alert) when the mom goes through what seems to be a nihilistic crisis after her youngest child Mason and the main character goes off to college:

Mom: This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First, I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own fucking funeral?

Mom starts crying.

Mom: I just thought it would have been better.

That last line stroked a nerve. It was brutally honest and painful. On one hand it shows the vulnerability of hard working mom facing an empty nest and a new way of life; on the other hand it exposes a deeper longing for fulfillment. The apparent dissatisfaction reveals a paramount reality of today’s secular world. That is the lack of objective truths. In such world-view the meaning of things and the value of actions are delegated to subjectivism. I think this is why I like this movie so much. It touches on some fundamental questions about the human experience. Is it all worth it? Do all the sufferings and joys of life have any transcendent and objective meaning or are they subjugated to our own capacity to rationalize them? As a Christian I believe so. All I have to do is to look at the Cross.

Every summer there is always a movie that surprises me and turns out to be an unexpected gem. A few summers ago, it was How to Train Your Dragons. I didn’t think much of it as I walked into the movie theater, but a quarter into the film I fell in love with the phenomenal world of Vikings and dragons that it created. This summer the honors went to The Giver, a passion project by Jeff Bridges, who originally wanted his father to play one of the main characters, the giver of memories.

The movie does a fairly good job, in portraying the world that Lois Lowry created in her award winning children’s book “The Giver”. In this dystopian future there are no wars, hunger, diseases, or social unrest. Everyone seems to be contempt and safe living in a technologically advanced society that provides health care, nutrition, and housing for free, but that is devoid of religion, ideology, or even objective morality.

Aptly the landscape of this dystopian future is literally viewed in black and white by its citizens. Differences are only acknowledged once in an individual lifetime. Sameness is the central paradigm of this society. To this end emotions and distinctions are highly regulated through daily injections and precise use of language. Life altering decisions are made for you, like your career or even your “family unit”. Memories of history, cultures and past civilizations are sandboxed to one member of the community called “The Giver”. The movie centers on the transition of these memories from an old man, the giver, to a teenage boy, the receiver.

From the cinematography point of view the movie adaptation didn’t fully exploited its potential but it did a great job in affirming the values of life, liberty and the pursue of happiness. Simply put it, in my opinion, this is one of the best pro-life films that I have seen in recent memory. The film deftly combines its narrative with visual imagery of memories of a world long gone. Sometimes this memory is joyful, others they are painful, but they convey a transcendental truth about our human condition. That is, we were made for love and without the ability to freely choose it there cannot be love.

The movie as well as the book works at least at two levels. First, as a political commentary it warns against the false promise of humanism; that deludes its self in its ambition to create the perfect society. History shows us that such attempts leads to the denigration and the devaluation of human life. National Socialism and Communism being the two prime examples of such grievous ideology. One caused the death of about 12 million people during WWII while the other the death of ~200 million people during the 20th century.

In the world of “The Giver” human life is valued according to its potential to serve society. Ineffective individuals, non-conformists, the elderly and the ill adapted babies are discarded to elsewhere, a euphemism for euthanasia. Political correctness are disguised as politeness. Language is used to manipulate the morals. This is not so different from our own society. We refer to the killing of a baby as a choice and to same sex partnership as marriage.

On another level “The Giver” is introspection on what it means to be human. Can humanity devoid of emotions and free will be truly alive? As the main character Jona awakens to the reality of his world he feels more alive than ever, but at the same time more lonely than ever. He feels alive because his search for truth and found it. More isolated and lonely than ever because he realized that nobody else is seeking truth. This rings so true for Christians. We seek for truth in Christ and found it but find our self so lonely when we realized that most are not even seeking.

Finally the last stand out film of the summer was… if you are still reading. Thank you. Really thank you! It was a toss up between Rise of the Planet of the Apes, extremely well made action packed drama, How to Train Your Dragons 2, which arguably has one of the best family scenes of any recent movie, and X-Men: Days of Future Past (Godzilla did not make the list since there was so little Godzilla in the whole movie and Guardian of the Galaxy was meh). X-Men won. I really love the lack of ambiguity of this movie. There is evil and it has to be stopped. Full stop. The combination of the old and new casts was very well done and exciting to see. The especial effects were great and the one scene with Quick Silver was worth the admission price. I had great fun watching it. After all, movies are supposed to be fun. Right?

Why can’t Christians make good films?

When I was growing up I had a friend who was into, what I can only describe as “death metal Christian band” either that or a “screamo” Christian band. To this day I have no idea what that was, all I remember thinking: “boy that is odd”. Years later I remember talking to an evangelical friend and telling him how odd is to have a “death metal” Christian band singing songs of worship. Just imagine someone shouting from the top of his lungs with a deep ghastly voice: “Jesus Saves You” over and over against the backdrop of screams and dissonant guitar riffs… odd, isn’t? My friend said: if that leads them to Christ then he was fine with it. I quickly agree with him and move on…

Years later, I am confronted with a slightly different question: why modern Christian art is so bad? Let me make some distinctions before you stop reading. When I say bad I mean humdrum, preachy and uninspiring. For example, movies with a Christian themes tend to be long protracted sermons aimed at having someone to accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior right on the spot but are devoid of the great drama of human life. They only have one audience in mind: churchgoing Christians. Another example is praise and worship music. I don’t listen to it. I rather think most of it is just plain bad. I am sorry but it is just an opinion. I find myself closer to God listening to Sigur Ros, an admittedly pagan band with a homosexual front man, than anything I hear on your garden variety of praise and worship station.

This is a generalization. On one hand, there are movies like The Kid with a Bike or the Son, by the Belgian filmmakers Dardenne brothers, that have profound but subtle Christian themes, the detrimental effects of an absent father on the former and forgiveness on the latter.  On the other hand, you have movies like Mel Gibson’s masterpiece the Passion of the Christ. Which challenges you in almost every single frame because it conveys the story of the greatest love that ever was and does so superbly.

The art of subtlety, for the most part, has been lost in Christian art. Subtlety is powerful because it bypasses your own biases and hits you, like a clever joke that conveys some truth. The beauty and the sense of wonder about our faith are often lost because we are so close to it and the filmmakers don’t know how to translate it into the screen. Also, we are guilty of forgetting that before the resurrection there was the passion, that without the Cross, there is no Easter. That, in the drama of life, sin and redemption are powerful. Yet we often don’t really see that in most Christian films. The characters are fixed from beginning till end. No real danger of a precipice to fall and thereby no payoff, no growth and no dramatic event, such as in God is not Dead movie. Alternatively, movies like Joe managed to convey this tight rope dance between sin and redemption, between the ugliness and the beauty of life. I can’t really recommend this movie to everyone, but it tells the story of a very sinful man searching for redemption and making a difference in the life of a kid.

I think this is why we are losing the so-called culture war. We are afraid of engaging the culture where it is and if we do, we can’t resist the urge to preach and succumbing to all temptations and pitfalls of a bore.

The answer is that we should not conform to the “isn’t that nice” attitude. Why not offer the best we can offer? Why not stride to make the best art we can make and not just pay lip service to something that we believe? Why not build cathedrals whose stain glasses are a living gospel that evangelizes the illiterate? Why not be passionate about the gift that God as given you and share them with the world?

St. Paul says in Romans 12:6: “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them…” If you are a blogger, a musician, an aspiring filmmaker or a photographer just make the best blog, the best music, the best film and the best picture that you can make… after all any frame can be a Cathedral stain glass that can evangelize the unbeliever.

God Bless.

If you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend the essay: Why Heathen makes the best Christian Films or Peter Kreef’s talk about Beauty from which I took a lot of inspiration writting this post. Tell me what think in the comments below.

One more note:

Funny thing, I started writing this post wanting to write about Sleeping at Last recently completed a yearlong music album “Atlas”. They are one of my favorite bands that embody the spirit that I wrote about. I guess I will save that post for later.