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Billed as a 'coming of age' film with a fairly uninspiring title, Mud certainly was not top of the list of flicks I wanted to see this month, writes Afra Morris in Thinking Faith. It is, however, a pleasant surprise that will have you dreaming of sun-dappled days and the adventures of your youth.
Set in Arkansas, it tells the Huckleberry Finn-esque tale of two 14-year-old boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), as they discover and assist the enigmatic 'Mud' (Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive trying to rebuild a boat to float away with his first love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Mud, however, has a chequered past, which the boys gradually uncover, and the group of bounty hunters on his tail add a gentle tension that simmers just below the surface throughout.
One gets the sense that, particularly for a US audience, this film evokes nostalgia for a lifestyle that is fast disappearing. We see the decline of river communities, grubby boys foraging for scrap and building dirt bikes unassisted, and groups of teenagers hanging out at 'strip-malls'.
Director Jeff Nichols has successfully conjured up the essence of laid back southern living in a deliciously soporific fashion that makes you want to experience it for yourself. The beautiful cinematography by Adam Stone has helped to craft a dusty southern landscape that pulls you in, and when McConaughey turns his face to the sun you can almost feel the same dry-heat on your own skin.
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This review isn't going to be short, so for those of you in a hurry, here's the short version: It's a very good movie, with some great sequences, some lovely effects, and an engaging story. As a Star Trek fan I loved the links to stories past, but yet the two people I was with who weren't so steeped in Trekkie tradition also loved it, so it seems to be a film with universal appeal. Very useable in youth ministry - with the main themes being humility, team work and moral decisions - and very good for your night off. If You're a serious Star Trek fan like me, some bits of the movie will grate with you a little, but you'll also love the little references throw in just for you which everybody else in the cinema will miss!
And now for something a little longer... what follows contains spoilers, by the way, but nothing you probably haven't heard by now anyway.
The movie is the second instalment in the rebooted incarnation of the original Star Trek, which started in 1966 as a TV show. A show which was cancelled after just three series, but which found cult acclaim and was revived a dozen or so years after cancellation as a movie series. Ten movies and four more TV incarnations followed before producer J.J Abrams decided to reboot the original with a new cast in 2009. The first movie was praised for its effects, for its writing and for its cast. The look at the young James Kirk before he joined Starfleet was done extremely well. Kirk joined Starfleet after Bruce Greenwood's Captain Pike (another lovely throwback!) challenged him to be better and to achieve his potential.
'You can settle for a less than ordinary life, or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special?'
A brilliant moment.
But while the 2009 film was brilliant in almost every way, some Star Trek purists were a little bit annoyed at how the story had been framed. The story made clear to the viewers early on that the opening events of the movie - an incursion from the future by a time travelling Romulan terrorist - had changed the future and put them on an alternative timeline. The matter was despatched in a throw-away comment between characters in the movie, a line whose real purpose was to announce to the audience that the new incarnation wouldn't be bound by the stories that had gone before.
In a way, you could see where they were coming from. It was a quick fix, a simple device which meant they didn't have to be enslaved to the continuity demands of fifty years of writing, but to many Trek fans it felt like a bit of an easy way out. It felt a little disloyal.
I was one of those people, but yet I still loved the 2009 film. They got way more right than wrong.
I mention all this because I think the writers have heeded those concerns and responded to them in the direction they have taken in this second movie, a film which is basically a rather cool alternative-timeline rehash of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and also partly (mega geek alert here) of the...
Interesting stuff from Busted Halo on the latest take on the great classic. Here's a slice...
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Fascinating stuff from ChristianPost.com:
The third installment of Marvel's "Iron Man" film series hits theaters Friday, but will it be a hit with the Christian community?
Adam Graham, a fiction author and superhero blogger, says the most successful superhero movies are those that evoke Christian themes.
"They've focused on the battle between good and evil without many shades of gray," said Graham in a statement. "Themes such as self-sacrifice, redemption, and responsibility really explain the appeal of these films. It makes them stand out from other films with less noble heroes. While some films have focused on comic book anti-heroes, such as Watchmen and The Punisher, these films have not had nearly the wide-spread commercial appeal."
In "The Avengers," the most recent Marvel film, Iron Man helped rescue New York City from an alien attack by escorting a nuclear missile into outer space, nearly sacrificing his own life in the process. In "Iron Man 3" the man behind the mask, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), tries to cope with the sleeplessness and anxiety that plague him following the incident as well as protect those dearest to him from a powerful enemy.
"'Iron Man 3' will be darker," said Graham. "What that means, we don't know. Tony Stark's dark side has been explored in the films, but to a lesser extent than in the comics. Stark's struggles with alcoholism have been well-known. In addition, the comic book version of Stark has been willing to lie, manipulate, and cross ethical lines in pursuit of what he wants. How Stark is portrayed will definitely be key to the film's success."
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Have I mentioned how excited I am about Star Trek: Into Darkness? It comes out this Thursday in the UK, as we mentioned earlier. I'm going to try and go that very night!
The last movie had some great themes in it which were very easy to use in youth ministry. The main one being about the potential we have as people and the ability we all have to achieve out potential and challenge ourselves: "You can settle for a less than ordinary life, or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special?"
Anyhow, here's a trailer...
With the latest Star Trek movie being released in the UK this Thursday (and then the week after in the US) the expected flurry of attention on all things trekkie is in full swing.
The Catholic Herald has a great piece claiming that Star Trek is the most consistently pro-Christian and pro-Catholic series in American television history. Quite a bold claim, and one that - speaking as both a Catholic and a trekkie - I quite like.
Here's a slice of the article...
Every Christian Star Trek fan recalls Stardate 4041.7. That was the day that I realised that, with very few exceptions, Star Trek is consistently the most pro-Christian and pro-Catholic show in American television history.
The quintessential science fiction television programme by which all others are judged has had a number of permutations over the past 40 years: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and, most recently, Enterprise. In addition, there have been 10 films that have sent the heroic Enterprise into space to "explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before". Gene Roddenberry's creation has become a cornerstone of popular culture and has helped to popularise and develop the science fiction genre.
In "Bread and Circuses", the episode that took place in Stardate 4041.7 (AD 2268 for planet-bound humans), Captain James Tiberius Kirk, valiant captain of the good ship Enterprise, in the midst of their five-year mission, came across planet 892-IV, a draconian 20th-century version of the Roman Empire, complete with gladiators, senators and nefarious politics. The empire sponsors state executions of renegade slaves who practice a pacifistic religion of "total love and total brotherhood". Sound familiar?
The twist is that the slaves imprisoned for practising the religion of their choice are sun worshippers. As Mr Spock, the ship's Science Officer and Captain Kirk's logical foil, points out: "It seems illogical for a sun worshipper to develop a philosophy of total brotherhood. Sun worship is usually a primitive, superstitious religion."
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I don't know exactly who it is that makes all the money on the Avengers movies, but I know that generating that money can't be much of a big ask! After all, last summer's blockbuster Avengers Assemble movie is currently ranked as the 3rd highest grossing movie ever! Given that, it would be very, very easy for lazy, greedy studio executives to just put any old rubbish out there with an Avengers label on it and then sit back and watch the dollars roll in, and when I learned about the second wave of Avengers films - that is, postAssemble - I worried that's what would happen.
That's why I was delighted this afternoon, to see that this first film to be released post Assemble is genuinely very, very good. They've put a lot of thought into how the story develops, into how a character of Tony Stark is developing, and into providing a movie which is both brilliant in its own right, and a worthy part of the Marvel Canon.
The movie has a slightly darker style than many of the others, and focuses to a large degree on Tony Stark's struggle to come to terms with what happened last year in New York (Avengers Assemble, of course!). As stark struggles with these Demons, he also has to struggle with a character from his past, with a global terrorist, and with a shocking new discovery which makes people (bad people, mainly) able to heal their wounds instantly and to become pretty much invincible. Watch out for some awesome special effects, by the way, as that healing happens!
The movie gives you a lot of stuff that you can predict: wisecracks from the brilliant Robert Downey Jr, tense action sequences, lovely little bits of technology and gadgets, and many of the characters we've seen in the past, created by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle. New to this movie are the brilliant Ben Kingsley, and also Guy Pearce (yes, Mike from Neighbours!) who add something positive to an already strong mix.
N.B. Slight spoiler alert for the next paragraph (not a big one though!)
In short, this is a good movie. Yes, you should go and see it and, yes, you will be able to use it with you young people. One of the main themes that comes across is how to deal with being in a dark place emotionally. As Stark struggles to adjust to things, the conclusion he reaches at the end is unexpected. So much so that I left me...
Thanks to my NOW TV subscription, I've seen a few fun movies this week. They're not instantly useable in youth ministry, but they're a good watch if you're looking for something to do in your downtime.
Moneyball is the Oscar-nominated 2011 Baseball movie staring Brad Pitt. It tells the real-life story of Billy Beane and his struggle to compete against teams with far more resources and money than his. Beane decides to invent a new way of looking at the game, and it proves succesful. But then, they wouldn't have hade a movie about it if it didn't I guess!! It's a great movie about creativity and ingenuity!
Lockout, unlike Moneyball, isn't based on a true story. It tells the story of a former CIA agent, turned prison inmate, who is charged with infiltrating himself into a prison space barge where the inmates have taken over so that he can rescue the president's daughter. It's every bit as silly as it sounds, but it's also very, very good. Definitely worth watching if you're stuck for something to do one evening!
Contraband is probably the best of these three movies. For some reason this movie came out last year with that relatively little fanfare. That surprises me because it's a really, really good movie. It tells the story of a reform smuggler who is thrust back into the world of smuggling when his wife's younger brother gets in debt to seriously nasty drug kingpin. The story follows Mark Walberg's leading character down to Panama through a number of different scrapes. I won't tell you the whole story, but I will definitely recommend it.
Brilliant stuff, as ever, from Busted Halo, this time looking at how the character of Batman has evolved. Here's a slice...
Recently, the Vatican tweeted an article entitled "Holy Switcheroo! Batman has grown bitter, more vengeful with the years." In it, Adam Shaw discusses the increasing darkness of the character since Bob Kane and Bill Finger created him in 1939. While the Vatican has stated that the tweet was an accident, the article nonetheless remains on the Vatican Communications website and Twitter feed. It also begs the question — in the growing darkness that surrounds Batman in all media (from TV and movies to video games and comic books) is there any room for light?
The short answer, of course, is yes. Otherwise, this article would've been called "Batman Dances With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight" instead of "The Not-So Dark Knight." Still, what does the Bat have to do with the Catholic Church? Let's take a look at Bruce Wayne's alter ego in each medium, and see how he stacks up to the Church's teachings.
Here at Busted Halo® we've already discussed Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, but one movie does not a character's history make. Since the superhero's debut, Batman has been the focus of at least eight feature films, as well as two serials, one in 1943 and one in 1949. While Adam West's 1966 Batman film certainly is the campier, more family-friendly sort of entertainment for which Adam Shaw professes love, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale's Dark Knight trilogy are not quite how Shaw presents them.
Shaw says Nolan's Batman "is obsessed with exacting revenge on the criminal underworld" rather than simply pursuing justice. This is how Bale's Batman gets his start, certainly, but it is not what the character is about. In fact, the major arc of Batman in Batman Begins (and the two movies that followed it) is transformation from a revenge-obsessed vigilante into something more than just a man.
Thanks to my wonderful Now TV subscription, I spent a few hours last night watching Arthur. I had never seen the movie before, and to be honest I normally find Russell Brand a little bit irritating, but I wanted to watch this anyway, and I'm glad I did.
The movie follows a man in his 30s who has never really grown up. Thanks to a very rich family and millions of dollars to draw on, he doesn't really have to. He spends his life drinking, having sex, partying, and playing all kinds of silly pranks landing him in trouble with the police and in trouble with his mother who runs the family business.
Arthur's world is upset when his mother tells him one day that either has to marry somebody who he really doesn't want to marry or face being cut off from the family fortune. Arthur reluctantly agrees to do so, but at the same time falls in love with An unorthodox tour guide who we meet in the middle of the city.
Okay, from then on the story is fairly predictable and you can probably figure out how it ends up, but nevertheless it's a nice story of somebody discovering values and discovering love and I'd recommend it for youth group movie night!
[image hotlinked from Wikipedia]
This is an American documentary film about young ballet dancers competing in the Youth America Grand Prix for young performers (aged 9-19). All have a passion for Ballet, as dance. The dancers, supported by their families and coaches, are competing for scholarships that are coveted, and which potentially introduce them to professional ballet companies.
The film introduces the dancers, comments on their different backgrounds, and then focuses on the competition itself. It highlights individual dancers, often against expectations. The dancers, demonstrate startling cultural diversity, and come from a fascinating range of different socio-economic backgrounds.
For instance, there is a girl who lost both her parents in a civil war, another who grew up in abject poverty in Colombia, and a boy whose father took a military position in order to pay his child's way, so that he could arrange for his son to have the best dance-teacher he could find. Then there is a girl, who is called Barbie by her peers for her artificial looks. She is perfectly happy about the derogatory label; all she wants to do is to dance well, and to impress the judges. Another girl's family keeps her and themselves on a low-fat diet, to ensure that she stays slim.
The competitors in this documentary all stand out for different reasons. Three, who do that, are Aran Bell, Michaela DePrince, and Joan Sebastian Zamora.
Aran Bell began dancing in ballet as young as 4 and lived and trained in Europe, while his father was employed in an army base. He has an infectious personality, and a talent that shines.
This brilliant new book is now available on Kindle. It was written by three British pilgrims at World Youth Day and includes accounts from them as well as many others. It's available from Amazon for less than a fiver! Here's the blurb from amazon...
Here's the info from Amazon...
Quite an interesting science-fiction film, one with more thinking than action. The original novel was written by Stephenie Meyer, much better known as the author of the Twilight novels. She moves from vampire communities to futuristic alien/body-snatching communities. Once again people with significant differences can exist within the ordinary human community. Except that, this time, the aliens want to take over the humans as they have done on other planets.
Earth is a particular challenge, a dark planet with violent, greedy and wasteful people. At the opening of the film, the aliens boast that they have been able to create a perfect society, where nobody does any wrong, honesty is the only policy and hurting others is not part of the ethos.
Actually, this raises some philosophical issues right from the introduction. It concerns everything happening happily in our world where individual freedom has been taken over and nothing wrong can happen. This is akin to those desperate and suffering questions about God and why God does not intervene to make everything go well for us, that people do not harm others, that there be no pain and suffering, especially in illness and death. One of the morals of this story is that people want to be able to live in freedom, without the intervention of the aliens in any 'god-like way', to make mistakes, to love and assert themselves, not to be body- (and soul) snatched. Whether audiences will contemplate these issues and see the connections with the film's plot, one wonders. But, the foundation for thought is there.
This has been quite a theme for writer-director, Andrew Niccol, over 25 years. Audiences did realise these issues in his screenplay for The Truman Show. It features in the films he has directed, the futuristic Gattaca, the artificial, computer-personality, SimOne, the ruthless arms sales in Lord of War and separated communities in an artificial future in In Time.
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