Category Archives: Reviews

Captain Fantastic; The Review I Want to Read

As seems to be the norm, I’m late to the game… but better to show up late than not at all. Right?  This post is a review piece on the 2016 movie Captain Fantastic staring Viggo Mortensen.  Quite frankly, the reason I’m writing this review here and now in 2019 is that I keep reading reviews of this movie and haven’t ever found the one I’m looking for… I guess that means that like everyone else, I’m looking for something that aligns with my subjective take on the thing.  Having not found one in 3 years that I agree with (in total), and after much sighing in frustration, I decided to write my own.

Well, it’s not really that I just want to write my own, it’s that almost every Christian review I’ve read about this movie is embarrassing to me as a Christian, and I’m going to focus a lot on the religious (or anti-religious) bits of the movie.  So, let’s get a few things out of the way; this movie features cussing, anti-religious sentiment, and last but(t) not least, full-frontal male nudity.  Yes, indeed, if you want Viggo in all his glory, this is the movie for you.  I happen to love this movie, but that is in spite of, not because of, Viggo’s glory.  Please, if nudity offends you, I totally understand, don’t watch the movie.  If someone using the Lord’s name as a (or in the midst of a) curse word, is a deal breaker, avoid it.  I really do understand completely.  (One point I never see mentioned when people are going off about said nudity is that there is zero, 0, female nudity in this movie, and the nudity is not sexual in any way… I think that is on purpose and makes me like the movie more, because I truly think the writer/director Matt Ross did it to make a point.)

Anywho, enough about the nudity.  This review and discussion contains spoilers, and yes, the movie is 3 years old, but on the ‘net there is always that one person who screams bloody murder at the fact there wasn’t a spoiler warning even though it’s old news.  What we have with Captain Fantastic is a story about parenting (specifically fatherhood), and the attempt to be present in your offspring’s lives to a greater degree than anyone else is; to raise your kids as you see fit.  Matt Ross then adds the layer of; what if those parents have an ideology that does not line up with the majority population?  Most reviews miss this basic point.  Many believe this movie exists to bash a certain political or religious perspective, and they contend the vehicle for this is how we are supposed to feel about Ben (played by Viggo) who is the patriarch of his family.  I don’t know what movie they were watching but the father is not portrayed as a hero… all I can come up with is people were 1) not paying attention while watching and 2) were so offended by what they perceived to be the point early on, that they missed the point entirely.

The family; Ben Cash the Dad, Leslie the Mom, oldest brother Bodevan, twin girls Kielyr & Vespyr, Rellian the rebellious brother, Zaja the death obsessed sister, and the “baby” of the family, little brother Nai.  Mom and Dad are out of the norm and hard to quantify specifically, but what I instantly noticed that never really gets mentioned is that Ben wears a Mjolnir pendant.  Now, we are told flat out that Leslie, his wife, is an Buddhist in regards to philosophy not religion, but we are never told what Ben is, other than he isn’t Christian.  Their main beef seems to be against organized religion, which may be a reaction against Leslie’s upbringing that sharp-eyed viewers will find to be Catholic.  Many wear Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer) as a sign of protection, or as a nod to heritage, there are even Neo-Nazi’s who have latched on to it as a symbol.  Some wear it to simply show they aren’t Christian, but Ben’s use of it is interesting because who exactly is he wearing it for?  They see almost nobody, but even in the deep woods, or when showering in a waterfall, he keeps it on and no one (in the movie or in the reviews) really seems to notice. (Interesting side note; Viggo, as himself, has been photographed wearing one as well.)  Further, if I may jump to the end of the movie, in the final scene we clearly see he is not wearing it anymore, which is a really important clue that he has indeed changed his ways.

The whole family lives out in the Pacific northwest on a kind of homestead; tiny house with teepee, garden, treehouse, etc… They hunt and grow and can their own food.  The kids are homeschooled, which includes hand-to-hand fighting, meditation, wilderness survival training, lots of phys ed, field trips, music education, and a handpicked reading itinerary complete with tests and debates.  They all dress (or undress) however they feel like.  Mom is conspicuously absent and we soon learn why; she’s been admitted to a hospital because of her bipolar disorder which has finally forced her families to try to get her intensive help.  She slits her own wrists one night and we get the feeling she’s threatened to do this many times before, but this time succeeds and kills herself.  This sets the stage for the rest of the movie.

Now, here are some points that many don’t seem to catch.  When Ben finds out she’s dead, he looks through their important papers and opens her will.  We see (and hear) that Ben himself is shocked at her requests (we are kept in the dark about the particulars at first), just as earlier in the movie we see he is shocked at little Zaja’s death obsession that revolves around taxidermy, altars made of animal skulls, and Pol Pot.  Again, dad is not fully in control here and we are allowed to see that, nor is he immune to the norms and mores of the wider culture.

Leslie was being treated close to her mom and dad, who are rich, powerful, and used to getting their way.  Because of the Cash family’s “wild” ways they do not want Ben interfering with Leslie’s funeral and burial and warns Ben to stay away, which of course he doesn’t.  Now, here is where I wish more Christians would express their outrage along with Ben.  Leslie’s mom and dad, who are Catholics, completely and totally ignore their daughter’s wishes and will.  Leslie was a Buddhist who wanted to be cremated, not embalmed and buried.  She wanted music and dancing; a celebration of her life.   And, yes, she wanted her ashes flushed down a toilet. Hey, I don’t agree that’s how human remains should be handled, but that is what she wanted and had listed in her will.  Other reviewers focus on Ben (and fam’s) “bad” behavior in the church during her funeral… bad behavior? Reading her will, dressing out of the norm, and trying to stop the proceedings is not the bad behavior.  The bad behavior is on the part of the mom and dad who did not respect their daughter’s last wishes, who had her embalmed, placed in a Catholic Church, all laid out in a massive coffin, and then buried under a Christian tombstone.  None of that is acceptable from a Christian perspective and is meaningless to put a non-Christian through it.

Other worthy mentions; reviewers target a conversation that takes place in a bank.  The kids are shocked when they see everyone is so overweight.  They haven’t been exposed to that before, and they wonder if everyone is sick.  Nai thinks everyone looks like hippos and says so.  His sisters remind him that isn’t proper, “We don’t make fun of people.”  Vespyr helpfully chirps, “except Christians!”  What most Christian reviewers miss is the look of exasperation on Ben’s face right after his daughter says this.  He knows he’s caught in the very same hypocrisy that he claims infects Christianity.  Does he correct this? No, but the look says it all and we are supposed to catch it as the viewers.

In another scene, Ben is rightfully pulled over for a non-functioning left taillight.  The police officer boards “Steve” (their modified school bus) and begins poking around because the kids are not in school and the situation appears unusual.  Bodevan gets the idea to run the officer off by proselytizing like a stereotypical evangelical Christian homeschooled family, and they all begin serenading the officer with “One Day When Heaven was Filled with His Praises” and the officer beats a hasty retreat, sending them on their way.  Somehow this offends Christians too… but this Christian has heard the jokes my brothers and sisters tell each other; “When you get a call from either a salesperson, or a fake phishing call, just start telling them about Jesus and they’ll hang up really quick! Hahaha.”  We know how proselytizing can come off, and some have weaponized it, and now we’re going to act ticked off because it’s used in a similar fashion, but by a non-believer? Nah, it’s funny, lighten up.

Let me flip it for a second and also clarify a point that confuses some reviewers.  Ben and fam don’t celebrate Christmas, even the secularized version.  This is one of the areas of the film that I’m really surprised they didn’t tweak.  Instead of any holiday like Christmas, the Cash family celebrates Noam Chomsky day… and they celebrate it early on their adventure, just like Christmas in July.  Rellian, the family rebel, thinks it’s stupid, and asks why they can’t just celebrate Christmas like everyone else.  Ben then weaponizes his own philosophy against his son; he essentially humiliates Rellian by demanding an answer to the following question. “You would prefer to celebrate a magical fictitious elf, instead of a living humanitarian who’s done so much to promote human rights and understanding?”  I’ve seen Christian reviewers get really bent out of shape here… because they think he’s referencing Christ.  No. He’s referencing Santa Claus of course.  (Personally I think this is a misstep in writing Ben’s character, but it may have been deliberate to sidestep actually bashing Christian beliefs.  Why would Ben have focused on attacking something we all know isn’t true vs. attacking the idea of Jesus Himself?  It doesn’t fit the character, IMO.)  But that’s beside the point, the point is, this is not an attack on Christ.

And finally the point of the movie itself; the dad was wrong.  Not only was the dad wrong, he figures that out, and tells the kids (and us) just how wrong he has been (this is after what I see to be the climax of the movie when his daughter Vespyr falls from her grandparents’ rooftop and about dies).  Now, if the point of the movie was to glorify Marxism, and anti-Christian sentiment, why would the dad admit his experiment was “a beautiful mistake?”  Why would he then change course, move his kids back to a farm and enroll them in public school, and remove his Mjolnir pendant for the first time in the whole movie? It’s clear as day that he is still a loving, devoted father, he’s just realized there is more than one way to show that and to guide and protect his kids.  We can also see that the family does not throw out their former lives or learning, but things are repurposed and balanced out.  The point is; if you make your kids into philosopher kings and they have no society to interact with, then what’s the point?  If you get your kids seriously injured or killed in raising them up, then what’s the point?  Ben has finally learned you have to walk the path between order and chaos in a balanced manner.

All of that to say; I loved the movie.  It’s one that should make you think, but if you go into it with a chip on your shoulder about what you initially perceive as “anti” this and that, then you’ll miss the lessons Ben learns along the way.  Movies like this should especially challenge us Christians and make us reflect on if there is any truth to the stereotypes against us, and if they are something we want to change or not.  It should also make everyone, Christian and non, realize the importance of educating ourselves and raising the bar when it comes to interpersonal discussions, and parenting.  Finally, it also calls our society into question; what we spend time, effort, and money on, and if those things are actually meaningful (or inline with the Christian ideal anymore).

I plan to post at least one more article on particular aspects of the movie that I found so interesting, I hope, dear reader, that perhaps they will be interesting to you as well…

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Atheism, Catholicism, Christianity, Humor, Musings, Philosophy, Religion and Politics, Reviews, Sacred Secular

Here’s Not Here… A Walking Dead Review

Yes, yes, I’m a fan of The Walking Dead.  If gore is one of those things you (as a believer) are lead to stay away from, please don’t go out and watch The Walking Dead just because I’ve mentioned it on my blog, and I also know the various arguments presented for Christians not to watch such things in the first place, let’s just skip ahead to the part where I disagree with blanket restrictions on watching TV shows (though I do think there are some movies, books, shows, etc.. that have no redeeming qualities, I don’t think The Walking Dead (TWD) is one of them for me).

So, this is an episode review and it is written solely for one reason… I can find no other reviews close to my thoughts on this episode and I had to ask myself why, and then blog about it.  I think I have the answer… it’s because many out there on the ‘net writing reviews are not Christian, nor do they have a degree in psychology, nor have they taught college philosophy courses, nor studied comparative religions.  In short, I found this particular episode one of the best TWD episodes ever for many and layered reasons and I’m not seeing others “get it” in quite the way I expected.  This review is going to proceed as if you, dear reader, have seen TWD on a fairly regular basis and have seen the latest eppy Here’s Not Here.  So, if you are not a fan you can stop reading without any guilt.

SPOILERS for all past episodes ahead, you’ve been warned.

If you are a watcher, you realize that Glenn’s “death cliffhanger” was the previous episode, and there is a  certain group of fans out there in TWD fandom whose heads were exploding because Glenn was not directly in this episode.  We still don’t know if he is alive or dead, or is now zombieGlenn, and that is apparently an unacceptable situation for many fans to be put in.  There are indeed several reviews praising the episode but hating the timing of it.  Here’s what they are missing: that’s one of the points of this episode.  The powers that be wanted you to go through a car wreck… not for sadistic reasons, but for effect.  They had everyone hurtling 80 miles an hour down the road, only to come to a dead stop with a seemingly out of place episode all about good ol’ crazy Morgan-gone-Zen.

One thing I thought everyone agreed on (Rick spelled it out for the group and the audience blatantly in an episode) is that “The Walking Dead” does not refer to the zombies, but rather to the humans having to live in, and adapt to, this new world.  The humans going through Hell on Earth are indeed the walking dead, and most of the characters we have come to know and love are suffering from PTSD.  The two characters in the latest episode, Morgan and Eastman, are the two characters picked to showcase the roller coaster that all the characters worth anything on TWD are on.  This show was not “just about Morgan” nor was it just about his backstory.  Morgan is the character chosen to carry the psychological and philosophical revelations for the whole audience.  Glenn was in the show.  Rick was in the show. Carol was in the show, etc… etc…  They were all represented, one just has to look for them.

This eppy raised deep philosophical and practical questions that have been around for thousands of years.  Our religions debate them, our fellow humans struggle with them, and to be truly human I hope we’ve all at least pondered them at some point in our lives.  Are you a pacifist?  If yes, are there times when your pacifism is actually morally reprehensible?  If no, when is killing ok?  Is killing animals ok?  How about people?  Only when necessary?  Are you for or against the death penalty? Under what circumstances?  Can humans be forgiven?  Can they be redeemed? Is there such a thing as evil?  What is PTSD?  How is it cured?  Is it possible to be mindful during a zombie attack?  And on and on… how can someone watch such an eppy and not be philosophically geeked out?

Let’s look at the character “Eastman.”  East-man.  He was used to show what the eastern philosophies may look like in this world of TWD.  I’ve seen people mocking the Way of Peace online (the book Eastman leans on for his own philosophy and the book Morgan uses to help return to sanity, and yes, the book is real), in essence arguing that some of the most ancient practices and philosophies “are like so stoopid, no, man, like really reallllly dumb, Carol should just off Morgan, cuz stoopid.”  We’ve ran into humans in the show that have given up their compassion and humanity and we’ve seen how they’ve turned out (Termites anyone?  How ’bout those Wolves?)  Did literally the whole internet miss that Carol was having this very revelation in the previous episode?  How ’bout Glenn’s treatment and forgiveness of the despised Nicholas?  How ’bout Rick’s descent into darkness?

In Eastman and Morgan we have two characters that are not cowards, are not stoopid, are not naive, and yet decide to not kill a fellow human unless absolutely necessary.   We also have these characters showing us a different side of nature (again, a central theme in eastern philosophy); we are used to the beautiful environment of Georgia turning into a enemy at the worst of times, and a forgotten background the rest of the time.  In this eppy we have the environment reintroduced as a thing of beauty and life.  It’s all about balance and this season is centered (pun intended) on that theme.  Eastern philosophy captures that perfectly.  Life/death, black/white, good/evil, male/female, love/hate, active/passive, bravery/cowardice… and that is just scratching the surface.

This episode had it all; the themes of man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self, and I just happen to think the powers that be did a wonderful job presenting those themes in a way that was trying to force the audience to stop and think, which again is why we were slammed to a stop with Glenn’s cliffy.  This eppy was to help us see that there are other ways of dying, and there are other ways of becoming a walker, rather than just in the literal sense.  The fact that many on the net are howling in anguish and are now spitting on Morgan, but holding Carol up as the perfect human are proving that this was a much-needed episode.  I have no idea how it will all turn out. Perhaps the writers are all nihilists.  Perhaps they are all naturalists/materialists.  Perhaps they will paint a picture of the world I’ll disagree with, but man, Here’s Not Here was surely one of the writing highlights of the show that put forth that humans have a choice to become animals, or to rise above.  As a Christian this episode was everything I had wished for Gabriel’s character, but, I’ll take it in eastern guise if I have to.

2 Comments

Filed under Humor, Musings, Of Interest, Philosophy, Reviews, Sacred Secular

Breaking Benjamin is back… and so am I.

I’ve posted several times about Breaking Benjamin, but it has been a while.  They were, and are, a favorite band of mine, though the current members are not the same as when they first arrived on the scene.  They have an all-new lineup except for Ben Burnley of course.  He finally won the court case enabling him to keep the name “Breaking Benjamin” and the rights to the songs.

The new boyz in the band; Jasen Rauch on guitar, and if you recognize the name he was indeed from Red, Keith Wallen also on guitar,  Aaron Bruch on bass, and Shaun Foist on drums.  Some of the guys sing backing vocals, which is unusual as Ben used to sing alone and do all his own backing vocals on albums.

It took me a long while to buy and listen to the album, Dark Before Dawn, I suppose I didn’t want to be disappointed, but also my musical tastes have changed over time, and I was strangely nervous I’d hear them and hate them.  I shouldn’t have worried, their style both remains completely recognizable as Breaking Benjamin, but allows Ben to showcase his journey and his maturing through an unexplained illness that causes him daily suffering.  I like the album a lot, and it is definitely worth the cost of a download.

If you don’t like alternative rock, this isn’t for you and they aren’t a Christian band… though if Ben’s not a believer by this point, I’ll eat my hat.

Here are my earlier articles about BB:

Breaking Benjamin Interview

Jesus; The Lamb and The Lion via Breaking Benjamin

And, yes, I hope this marks my return to blogging.  Honestly there is so much to say about world events, these times we live in, and how biblical wisdom is indeed that answer, that it is sometimes hard to know where to start.

1 Comment

Filed under Musings, Of Interest, Reviews, Sacred Secular

ISIL is not Islamic?

Short post; ISIS is indeed Islamic.  They are Muslims, and they believe they are serving their god Allah, and interpreting the Koran correctly.  They are not secular, they are not just perpetrating a civil war.  Unfortunately that means our own President is lying to us when he said last night, “Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”

Let me be clear, and you can go do the research; ISIS is serving a vision, and while slaughter is a part of it, it is not the whole of it.  They believe they are doing a service for god, and they believe in a religious end times that they can help bring about, as well as a mandate for military jihad.  That our own President misleads the American people on this very important point is incredibly disturbing.  Make no mistake, ISIS wants to bring their religion to the US and Israel.  Please wake up, and if you are already awake, pray.  ISIS is indeed Islamic, they are indeed Muslim.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion and Politics, Reviews

Book Review; Kisses From Katie

I mentioned in a recent post that I would be review this book soon, and here it is!  The full title is Kisses from Kate: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie J. Davis, and Beth Clark.  The story is written from Katie’s perspective and Katie is a very interesting sister in Christ.  Katie traveled to Uganda on a short-term mission trip that changed her, and her family’s lives forever.  That short-term trip turned into what is shaping up to be a lifelong adventure.

Falling in love with the people there, and seeing the poverty, disease, and suffering first hand, Katie felt called to return to Uganda… and now she has 13 adopted Ugandan daughters, and is the founder of a really neat charity; Amazima Ministries.  Obviously the book is an account of how all of this went down with the focus being on Jesus and His call on our lives, whatever that call may be.

First, let me say that I loved the book, loved the story, and it is very readable.  I would highly suggest this book to Christian high school students.  All believers would enjoy this account, but I single out students of that age because I feel it would open their hearts to possibilities.  Having said that, this is also the book that prompted me to post an article I titled “Two Left Feet.”  The danger is that those that read Kisses from Katie will either take away legalism, and/or the idea that we all have to go to Uganda and adopt orphans.  Katie is very clear in her book that isn’t the case, but it is not stated in as clear of a manner as I embrace, hence my article.

I admit, the story amazes me, esp. because of Katie’s age (starts at 17/18) and this is from a person who believes that children and adolescents are capable of moving mountains under certain circumstances, and that hard work should not be denied them.  The only thing about this book that may bother certain readers is the sometimes heart-wrenchingly accurate descriptions of the aforesaid poverty, disease, and suffering.  This is definitely a book that helps redefine priorities and does so in a manner that is so refreshingly straightforward with good storytelling and very little “preaching.”  I give it the Scribbler honor of being one of those books I plan to read again.

Get it, read it, give it to a teen, you won’t regret it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, Ministries, Of Interest, Reviews, Uncategorized

A New Mitford Book!

Happy Easter to me and all Mitford fans!  I just discovered that Jan Karon is taking us back to Mitford in her new book, “Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.”  It’s set to be published on Sept. 2, 2014! For those of you who have never had the pleasure of traveling to Mitford, here is my review of the series; The Mitford Series…  Please feel free to join several fans that comment on that particular article, esp. if you have any questions about theses lovely books.

Leave a comment

Filed under Of Interest, Reviews

The Fast and the Furious Series Review

This is going to be the first time for some of you to read one of my more “secular” posts, but as always I believe you can often find the sacred in the secular.  I admit it, I’m a Fast and Furious fan.  I fell in love with the first movie when it came out, and have followed it ever since.

If you find cussing, violence, and scantily clad women offensive, or if you’ve been led away from those things, avoid these movies.  So, why am I writing this review?  Because I believe most people are missing the main point and feature of the movies in this series.  I also believe that Vin Diesel is trying, in his own way, to get people to realize several key themes.

First, that the world is now connected in ways that it never has been in the past.  Culture is bleeding over political borders, and with it the good and the bad.  Crime, and crime bosses can now go global.  They can do so digitally or physically, and this is one lesson that we all need to learn in a very real way.  Two examples spring to mind; the recent reports of Chinese hackers invading US systems, and the violence on our Southern border.  We all now owe it to our society to start thinking more and more globally, and our news organizations will hopefully wake up and begin providing us with global coverage.

Of course, there are good things coming from this blending of cultures as well.  New styles, new food, new friends, new conversations to have.  And I think that this connects to Vin’s other main theme in these movies; faith and family.

The latest F&F installment, Fast and Furious 6 kinds slaps you upside the head with it, but apparently many reviewers are missing the point.  Faith and family.  Each installment in the main series always has a moment or two of Dom’s running rule; when you sit down to eat, whoever eats first (or tries to) has to say grace.  Some do it with more learning and style, and some try their best.  Dom’s cross also becomes a continuing plot device.

This lesson wasn’t something that was full-force in the first movie; Dom cared more for his own feeling of freedom than for his team, but that quickly changed as one-by-one his family was either hurt, or killed.  Over the course of the series we’ve seen Dom’s family grow, and with it, his loyalty.

Family.  This is where the “sacred” comes in.  This string of movies does a very good job of showing how those people that are not directly related to us can become our family.  In fact, each person that is a born again believer in Jesus is our family.  How often do we really truly see that in our church communities?  It’s rare.  If we truly wake up to what Jesus is telling us, we should help and protect our fellow believers, because they ARE our family.  They are not “like” family they are true family.

I believe this series does a superb job showing us this, in a secular sense of course… annnddd, you really do have to sit through a bunch of racing scenes to get there, but I do believe Vin Diesel is purposefully communicating that idea of family across all borders; language, culture, background, etc… And, yes, Vin isn’t technically a writer, but I hear him and Paul Walker have input into the series, especially when it comes to things the fans demand.

What else do I love about the series?  I love the cars.  I love the humor.  I love the way it self-deprecates.  I love the characters, and their interplay.  There is also ideas such as self-control and forgiveness taught throughout.  The series has become a huge blockbuster and the special effects are there to prove it, but at the heart of it, this series is still about family.  Sure, there are now over-the-top explosions, and cheesy physics defying crashes, but the film never takes itself to seriously on that score.

These movies are definitely not for everyone, but I can’t wait til the 7th installment!

Oh, and if you are interested, here’s the watch order if you’d like to see the whole series chronologically and, Han’s first appearance was not in the F&F series, but in a movie called “Better Luck Tomorrow” it would come before Los Bandoleros):

  • The Fast and the Furious
  • Turbo-Charged Prelude {short}
  • 2 Fast 2 Furious
  • Los Bandoleros {short}
  • Fast & Furious
  • Fast Five
  • Fast & Furious 6
  • The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Leave a comment

Filed under Musings, Of Interest, Reviews, Sacred Secular