Category Archives: movies

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

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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.