Category Archives: movies

Clever but lacking profundity

wreck_it_ralph_2The mind-blowing part about Wreck-It Ralph was that it aimed to teach kids empathy. It was also a brilliant idea and tightly written script. In fact, the only thing wrong with it was its publicity: an unappealing gorilla of a man.

The sequel had much to live up to, and it fell short (except for the publicity). To be sure, the script is clever: Vanellope’s game is being shut down, so she and Ralph go into the Internet to attempt to buy the steering wheel to save the game. There, they fall into a series of hilarious misadventures as they attempt to raise money to pay for their EBay purchase.

princessesBut when it comes to underlying theme, Ralph Breaks the Internet disappoints. The lesson? Be secure enough to let your friends go. Vanellope wants to driver around in an online game called Slaughter Race with her new friend Shank. Ralph doesn’t want to let go.

Meh.

It is 1000-foot drop down from the lofty notion of teaching kids empathy. It was just jaw-dropping that the first film even attempted such a great undertaking. Empathy is one of those abstract human qualities that only the mature can hope to acquire. And this movie want to inculcate it into kids? It got my all my admiration.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Gal-Gadot-Shank-PhotoRalph Breaks the Internet prefers a clever plot with smooth jokes over a transcendent theme. The princess scene is delightful, and the King Kong part a handy evocation of past cinematography. You can enjoy the sequel with your kids. It’s safe. But if you’re hoping for your mind to be challenged and heart to be stirred to growing nobility, you’ll be disappointed.

One final note: Wreck-It Ralph‘s script was genius. There were no untied loose ends at the end. The hurtling spaceship crashing into Sugar Crush is paralleled by Vanellope’s race car glitching past King Candy. It’s one of those internal structures that you don’t see until you’ve watched several times, and it stirs awe at the writer’s ability to seamlessly weave such a delightful and structured tale. Ralph Breaks the Internet sadly ends with loose ends. What happened to that virus? It just drops out of the story with no explanation. Unsatisfying.

 

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When Mark Wahlberg heard the jail door slam behind…

mark-wahlberg-rhea-His parents were always working and left him unsupervised, so Mark Wahlberg took to the streets and found drugs, racism, crime — and jail.

For beating mercilessly two Vietnamese men at age 16, he was tried as an adult for attempted murder. He pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to two years in prison. He ultimately served only 45 days of his sentence, but carries a permanent felony record.

“When I heard the jail doors close behind me … I knew that was just the beginning for me,” he says. It was the beginning of a life in crime or the beginning of a fresh start, if he turned his life around.

Wahlberg, famous for acting in Transformers Age of Extinction, turned to God and to his Catholic priest to help straighten out his life.

Mark-Wahlberg-Jesus-Christian“I should be in a lot of places and it should not be here, so trust me, God is so good,” he says. “Thank you Father.”

Wahlberg goes to church for at least 15 to 20 minutes daily and also prays every day, allowing him to begin each morning with a clear outlook and avoid negativity.

“Faith keeps me focused, patient, calm, happy and gives me joy,” Wahlberg said in an interview with Walter Scott. “I start and end my day in prayer. It keeps me grateful, humble, hungry, committed to trying to do more and be more positive. It is the reason for everything good in my life. If I can start out my day saying my prayers and getting myself focused, then I know I’m doing the right thing. That 10 minutes helps me in every way throughout the day.”

Wahlberg, the youngest of nine children, starred in Daddy’s Home, Planet of the Apes and Boogie Nights. In 2006, he earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his roll in the neo-crime drama The Departed. Recently, he has served as executive producer of four HBO series: the comedy-drama Entourage (2004–11), the period crime drama Boardwalk Empire (2010–14), and the comedy-dramas How to Make It in America (2010–2011) and Ballers (2015–present).

mark wahlberg the bad boyWahlberg got his start in entertainment in the music industry. He was one of the founding members, at age 13, of the boy band “New Kids on the Block,” which he quit after only a few months. He became the frontman for the group “Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch,” releasing the albums Music for the People and You Gotta Believe. His music is mostly Hip Hop and Eurodance.

Since his initial incarceration prompted a spiritual turn-around, his walk with Jesus has been a continual re-committing daily to the Lord. For Wahlberg, the “journey to redemption” is a “process” of seeking Jesus.

transformers-markwahlberg-biggun“That’s why I start my day everyday by getting on my hands and knees and starting a time of prayer and reading Scripture, and then I feel like I can go out there and conquer the world.

Initially, it was hard for him to break with the other bad boys of the block. He had to walk from his home to the train station everyday, and the guys didn’t like the fact that he’d left them. “If I wasn’t with them, I was against them” in their minds, he says. “So I had that to overcome, but I was committed to turning my life around.”

Eventually he came to the revelation that he belonged to a huge community of believers and dedicated himself to the church, to the people and to God. He saw it as a beautiful thing to have such a support network. “You just have to believe and have faith and know that you can accomplish it and turn your life around.” Read the rest: From racist to Christian actor, Mark Wahlberg.

Black Panther cast is largely Christian

chadwick-boseman-michael-jordan-christianThe box office-smashing Black Panther is not a Christian movie, but many of its actors are men and women of faith.

“During breaks (from filming) we shared our testimony of how we got to where did and most of the people were testifying to God’s miracles,” said Sope Aluko, who plays Shaman in the movie. “It was almost like church.”

The Nigeria-born actress raised mostly in the U.K. was not the only Christian on the set of the superhero movie that is being heralded as a watershed for black actors to shed minor roles and stereotypes. Just recently, the film became Marvel’s third-highest grossing, sending a rebuke to the mainstream media which constantly stokes the rifts that supposedly fracture our society along racial lines.

sope-aluko-christian-black-panther

Sope Aluko

In the movie, King T’Challa is the Black Panther and learns to save the world and break with an isolationist past of Wakanda, a fictional nation blessed by a vibranium meteorite that gave it supernatural powers.

It can be seen as a parable encouraging Christians to break out of their four walls. But the movie contains elements of witchcraft; in two scenes rival kings visit to the world of the dead and speak to their fathers. One must distinguish movie fantasy from demonic reality and not be tempted to dabble with evil.

The movie’s title role actor, Chadwick Boseman, credited prayer with him landing the role as the Black Panther.

christian-actors-black-panther-letitia-wright“You pray for something and then it actually occurs, you almost can’t believe it,” Boseman told Hunger magazine. “When they called me it was surreal. I had already written about Black Panther in my journals as something that I wanted to do.”

Boseman is maybe less vocal about his Christian faith, but his childhood pastor from Welfare Baptist Church in Anderson, South Carolina said what Boseman is doing now is a continuation of what he was doing in the church.

“I just seen him mature, and blossom into a man,” Pastor Samuel Neely told the Christian Post. “He did a lot of positive things within the church and within the community,” Neely said. “With him singing in the choir, with him working the youth group, he always was doing something, always helping out, always serving. That was his personality.”

Heart-warming and humorous, ‘Growing Up Smith’ provides food for thought about values

GOB_04“Growing Up Smith” is captivating love story about an 10-year-old Indian boy whose parents want to hold on to Old Country values and not become corrupted by the evil customs of American.

Dad wants “Smith” to become a well-to-do neurosurgeon. He wants his son to fit into America, hence he chooses a very American name for him (without realizing it’s a last name). But he also wants his son to conserve the religion and traditions from India. His marriage is arranged from childhood to an Indian girl the boy has never met.

growing up smithSmith, however, gets a crush on a classmate, Amy, who lives across the street.

And therein arises the jeopardy. The movie provides moments of humor, elation and sadness. While it’s not a tool for evangelism, its feel-good content about role models, loyalty and overcoming obstacles provides ample fodder for family values.

In one scene, Smith is made to pray to the Hindu gods for his disobedience — to each and every one individually (maybe just the major “gods”). “For the first time in my life, I realized the value of having just one god,” he thinks.

I never thought of that advantage, but as a Christian I heartily agree.

GrowingUpSmith_midrollWhile the basis for the movie is immigration, it sidesteps all of the controversies raging through current politics. The plot is based in 1979 in upstate New York. The father studied to become a CPA and does very well economically. To his dismay, his kids begin to adopt American customs. Smith wants to be Darth Vader for Halloween, but Dad hears “Dr. Vader.”

barbque.jpgOne of the difficulties facing immigrants are those moments when conversation gets lost in translation. “Butch,” the across-the-street good-ole-boy neighbor, invites Smith to join him doing some “big game hunting.” The father — a strict vegetarian who would never kill an animal — only understands that there is going to be some sort of “game.” Being the typical patriarchal male, dad allows Smith to accompany Butch, overruling his wife’s objections. She has a better understanding of English, but he won’t listen to her.

After a couple hours, the father happens to see a cartoon in which a hunt takes place and realizes what “big game hunting” means. He and his wife frantically drive the family station wagon around the countryside looking for their son, hoping to avert “disaster.”

Meanwhile, Smith shoots a squirrel.

As he picks up his prize, he wonders if what he has done is evil or amoral. Read the rest about Growing Up Smith.

Stephen Baldwin got saved, thanks to nanny

330 stephen baldwinOf the 18 or so tattoos scattered all over Stephen Baldwin’s body representing different stages of his life, one is a scripture: 3:30. It’s on the back of his neck and stands for John 3.30. “I must decrease so that he may increase.”

The youngest sibling of the Baldwin acting clan accepted Jesus in the aftermath of 9/11. But the wake-up call only came after a Brazilian nanny was singing about Jesus in Portuguese to the Baldwin’s baby in front of Stephen’s Brazilian wife, Kennya.

“So, we hired this lady from Brazil named Augusta, and the whole first week she’s working for us she’s singing in Portuguese, which she only spoke that language with my wife,” said Stevie B., as he calls himself.

Baume & Mercier and LOVE146's " Into The Light" Benefit Hosted by Stephen BaldwinKennya suddenly realized whom the nanny was singing about. She went to Stephen and said, “Do you hear what she’s singing about?  She’s singing about Jesus.”

After overhearing the singing a few more days, her curiosity could not be contained and she approached the nanny directly. “I noticed your singing, and I’m wondering why every song is about Jesus?”

Kennya was taken aback when Augusta burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“Quite frankly, I think it’s a little bit funny that you think I’m here to clean your house.”

To Kennya’s amazement, she explained that through a prophetic word, she was told that if she went to live with the Baldwins, Stephen and Kenya would one day come to faith in Jesus Christ and be involved in ministry.

“She goes on to tell my wife that, before she had accepted the job, she prayed with her pastor and some church members in Brazil. I haven’t told this part of the story a lot. She had a dream and saw me, saw my wife and saw my first daughter Aliya.”

But Baldwin was not impressed or moved about what appeared to him at the time to be religious gibberish.

“Didn’t faze me for a second,” he said. “Raised Roman Catholic up until 11 or 12. Didn’t stick. Went out into the world and did my own thing.”

Among his “own things” were roles in Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Posse (1993), Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), Threesome (1994), The Usual Suspects (1995), Bio-Dome (1996), Fled (1996), The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000), Fred Claus (2007) and The Flyboys (2008). In addition to being an award-winning actor, he became a producer and an author.

Kennya was first one in the family to receive Jesus. After spending much time talking about Jesus with Augusta, Kenya attended a Brazilian church in New York City, seeking answers and learning more about Him.

As time went on, Stephen became curious and felt drawn to God and began asking questions. Then 9/11 struck.

“September 11th kind of freaked me out,” Baldwin recounted. Read the rest of the fascinating account.

Somebody has to die

rogue-one-deaths

I was shocked and pleased when Disney killed Hans Solo. I would’ve thought they lacked the guts to kill off such a beloved hero. But it made the plot 100 times more credible and compelling.

Now in Rogue One, Disney (spoiler alert) decimated all the good guys. They all had to sacrifice their lives to get the plans out of the Death Star to expose its structural weakness that could be exploited to destroy it. This is the backstory to the first Star Wars film.

landscape-1470743574-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-donnie-yen-600x400Such willingness to script stars out of the franchise reflects reality and distances Disney from its sanitized fable fodder (and everyone lived happily ever after). Without sacrifice, nothing of good is accomplished.

Jesus sacrificed Himself. I’m sure He really didn’t want to go to the cross, but He did — and thank God for it. I would never find salvation under the impossible Old Testament system of animal sacrifice for every sin. Yup, me, hell-bound.

rogue-one-crew-posterSo this sacrifice stuff is inspirational, if not tidy. It might your tyke cry. But it teaches a valuable lesson. When I went down to Guatemala, I endured innumerable dangers and hardships — all to get the gospel to a needy people. Today’s Christians are too self-focused, too self-serving, too self-pleasing. Oh, they’ll throw a prayer and an offering (out of their excess cash) at world missions. But most of the time, they’re looking to minimalize personal discomfort.

In Rogue One, a lot of the characters excused themselves from the battle. They wimped out. That’s why the heroes called themselves “rogues.” They went against the council’s command to retreat in fear.

Rocky, Rambo and Ross got redeemed

expendables

Stallone in the purple jacket.

Action megastar Sylvester Stallone has always done his own stunts, which sometimes resulted in broken bones and hospitalizations. The Italian Stallion’s faith in Christ survived many blows as well, until the Hollywood prodigal found his way back to the Lord.

“I was raised in a Christian home,” Stallone told the Dove Foundation. “I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it until one day I got out into the so-called real world. I was presented with temptation and I lost my way and made a lot of bad choices.”

rocky-balboa_punched_ignStallone, 70, was born in New York City. His father was a hairdresser and beautician. His mother ran a gym, being an astrologer, dancer and promoter of women’s wrestling.

His birth was accompanied by complications. The obstetrician used forceps that accidentally severed a nerve causing paralysis in portions of his face, contributing to his trademark mad dog look and slightly slurred speech.

His parents divorced when he was nine, which may have had a bearing on his poor school performance. Evicted when he was 24 and sleeping at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Stallone accepted a role in a soft-core porn movie for $200.

sylvester stallone“It was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end – the very end – of my rope,” he told Playboy.

He landed some other minor roles but hit huge success with the 1976 Rocky, which won three academy awards and seized the American consciousness. The underdog boxer became an American icon.

Six sequels and a Special Forces series called Rambo followed that success. The Expendables came later. From the dregs of society, he was catapulted to the summit of Hollywood success, and the flush of money and fame brought a glut of temptation.

“All of sudden you’re given the keys to the candy store and temptation abounds, and then I began to believe my own publicity,” Stallone told Pat Robertson in an interview. “There’s no question. I admit it. I just lost my way.”

He divorced twice, first from Sasha Czack and then from Brigitte Nielsen. He is currently married to Jennifer Flavin, with whom he has three daughters.

His personal struggles have become fodder for the introspection in some of his later films. His 48-year-old half sister Toni Ann Filiti succumbed to lung cancer in 2012. In his most recent film “Creed,” Rocky Balboa needs to be pushed to fight cancer by Donnie Johnson, the youngster Rocky is training to fight in the ring.

By his own account, Stallone spiraled downward for 12 years until he finally had a prodigal son epiphany and decided to return to the faith of his childhood.

“Finally I realized it had to stop,” Stallone said. “I had to get back to basics and take things out of my own hands and put it in God’s hands.”

Even in the anti-Christian environment of Hollywood, he unabashedly acknowledges his faith in Christ – and he spills enthusiasm about going to church.

“The more I go to church and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to his word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now,” Stallone told Focus on the Family. “The church is the gym of the soul. You cannot train yourself. You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else.”

Now older and wiser, Stallone admits to some distaste for the shallow violence of his earlier films. But he stands behind the Rocky series.

“This is a story of faith, integrity and victory,” he said. “Jesus is the inspiration for anyone to go the distance. You could compare his courage to that of David, who as the epic underdog defeated the giant Goliath in battle. It’s a metaphor about life. ”

A sequel to Rambo has been in the works for some time, with discussion of one version being a rescue of missionaries out of ISIS’ control in Iraq. But this film may never get done.

The Stallone trademark for his movies is that he does his own stunts. This has resulted in injuries that he has tried to mask with tattoos on his shoulders, chest and upper back. The first tattoo was a portrait of his wife Flavin.

For Rocky IV, he told Dolph Lundgren (who played his Russian opponent): “Punch me as hard as you can in the chest,” he said at a Comic Con panel. “Next thing I know, I was in intensive care at St. John’s Hospital for four days. It’s stupid!”

The injuries too are a metaphor because when we wander from Christ, they tend to make us reflect about what is most important and bring us back to Jesus. It would seem to be something Stallone would say.

This article was written with Alex Cervantes, a student of the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica, where I teach. It was originally published on God Reports.