Thursday, February 28, 2008

Silverado -- Old and Predictable

After watching 3:10 to Yuma, I'm on a bit of a Western kick, having gotten several recommendations. This is an old movie and pretty predictable.

Two brothers, Jake (a campy, joking Kevin Costner) and Emmett (Scott Glenn), and 2 strangers, Paden (Kevin Kline) and Mal (Danny Glover) as they seek to right the injustices being done in Silverado by a controlling Sheriff Cobb (Brian Dennehy) and crooked landowner.

The movie opens well enough with four gunmen trying to kill Emmett, who is sleeping in a barn. He avoids death, obviously, and now needs to know who wants him dead. In the next scene he meets Paden, who has been robbed, stripped and left to die of thirst or exposure. From there the two become acquainted, on their way to the town of Turley. Emmett's brother is in trouble tin Turley with the law, Sheriff Langston. In the saloon they meet Mal, as he gets thrown out of town by the sheriff. In this way, the four heroes cross paths on the way to Silverado.

The first half of the movie is quite amusing for the simple fact that John Cleese plays Langston as a stiff upper-lipped Brit: "I'm Sheriff John Langston. As you may have guessed, I am not from these parts." The only other western I can recall with a British character was Unforgiven, with Richard Harris as English Rob, one of the bad guys not the lawman.

But once the second half begins, the four friends are in Silverado each with his own quest. Paden is the most interesting, and he has the fullest character arc, moving from totally uncaring to caring enough for the dimunitive dwarf, Stella (played by Oscar-winner, Linda Hunt), that he will get involved. There are cliche-ridden set-pieces, such as the cattle stampede to mask the coming of the rescuers. There are plot developments so plain that Stevie Wonder would see them coming. And there is the ending that was telegraphed by Alexander Graham Bell.

The sharpest line comes from Stella the dwarf: "Cobb's using me to stop you. So good people are being hurt because of me. That makes me mad. Some people think because they're stronger, or meaner, that they can push you around. I've seen a lot of that. But it's only true if you let it be. The world is what you make of it." This made me think of all the bullies in the world who push the little guys around. Only when we stand up to them, even at the cost of some pain, will they eventually back down.

Further, this last line is so good, it gets repeated, "The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn't fit, you make alterations." We cannot be mere passive spectators, waiting on what the world throws at us, we should be active participants in this world we live in. God has put us here for a reason, and that includes serving Jesus (Eph 4:12, Rom 12:11) and spreading His gospel and His love (Matt 28:19). We can make alterations, but mostly in ourselves. It does inspire us to action, though not to make the world what we want but to make the world what Jesus wants by being His hands, feet and voice here and now!
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mosaic Movie Connect Group 3/8/08: Sophie Scholl

The next movie for our Mosaic Connect Group is Sophie Scholl. Nominated for the 2006 Oscar for best foreign film, it lost out to Tsotsi. However, it won 15 awards in other film festivals, including best picture and best actress for Julia Jentsch.

Although this is a German film with English subtitles, it is easy to follow. Our then 8-year old, Hannah, watched it with us and easily followed along.

If you want to invite a friend, click on this link for a printable invitation. Plan on seeing you at this event.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oscar Winners!

For the first time in years, I missed the Oscars. While the awards were being given out, I was sitting in a Tektronix conference room in Shanghai listening to my boss present a Central Engineering China strategy. I couldn't even sneak a peek without appearing rude to my Chinese hosts. So, I had to wait till lunch-time to catch the first set of results. Oh well, that is the price I pay to feed a family (who are sitting watching the Oscars at home, I should add). But I can't complain -- this Shanghai trip is actually pretty fun, even if I have to present for 3 hours tomorrow.

As for the big winners, all we can say are the "Coen brothers". They were three for four: Best Picture (the big one), Best Directors (another big one), and Best Adapted Screenplay; they missed on Best Editing (pseudonymously). But No Country for Old Men also picked up Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem.

Looking at my picks, I ended up four out of seven, the same score as Sharon. Wow! Not bad. I don't know how other friends did, but don't tell me you got seven for seven, cause I simply won't believe you. Next year I plan to see all the best picture nominees before the Oscars. This time I had seen only two of them. The other three will have to wait for the DVD versions, which won't be long. I am looking forward to seeing No Country along with the others, and will post reviews after I have seen them.

Look for reviews of Silverado, Away from Her, Dan in Real Life, and Martian Child coming over the next week or so on this blog, as internet in Asia allows.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gone Baby Gone -- Choices that Define

The director is Ben Afleck, and it's his first time directing. We're thinking Gigli, or maybe Jersey Girl. What we get instead surprisingly is another Mystic River. The comparison with that movie is there since both films are based on novels by Dennis Lehane.

Gone Baby Gone is a riveting thriller, sizzling with snappy, though often four-lettered, dialog. ("He lied to me. Now I can't think of one reason big enough for him to lie about that's small enough not to matter.") A crackerjack story that is multifaceted and tremendously acted, this has to be the best movie of 2007.

Casey Afleck and Michelle Monaghan star as private investigators and lovers, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. When four year old Amanda McCready is kidnapped from her home and the Boston police cannot find her, her relatives hire Kenzie and Gennaro to help the police in their investigation. The two tough detectives working the case are not thrilled to have a puppy-dog 30 year old on their team, but Kenzie is deeper and tougher than he appears. He grew up in the neighborhood, and knows the seamier side of Boston. The locals talk to him even when they are closed to the cops. One minor complaint is that Kenzie, scrawny fellow that he is, just seems too small to act so macho amidst guys twice his size. But perhaps that is the only way he has managed to survive these mean streets until today.

At first Gennaro does not want them to take on the case -- it has the potential for too much tragedy. Monaghan has a real role here, not just the female love interest she played in MI3 or Heartbreak Kid, and she sinks her teeth in. She is an intelligent and smart foil to Kenzie's blunt hammer approach. But after visiting the home she and Kenzie are persuaded to take the case.

The story appears cut and dried. A missing girl. A Boston-wide search. A grieving mother. Then come the twists and the other great actors. Ed Harris appears as one of the veteran detectives, Remy Bressant, and Amy Ryan does a stellar job as the coke-head mother, Helene (she is nominated for the best supporting actress Oscar). Gone is filled with conflicted characters, realistic, ugly people who are less tha perfect, each carrying his or her inner demons. Morgan Freeman shows up in a minor role as Police Captain Jack Doyle, and steals one scene with a gut-wrenching speech that helps us to feel the pain of losing a child.

Then, mid-way through the movie, after a major set-piece in an abandoned quarry, the story seems to end. The search is called off. Tragedy is reality. And the decision Kenzie and Gennaro made to take on the case comes back to haunt them. Gennaro is now depressed because her predictions became fulfilled.

Where can the story go from here? It can only get even better still, with more twists and turns, all unexpected. Another child is kidnapped, and this opens act 2. This time, Kenzie accompanies a low-life friend to a low-life house and makes a dramatic discovery. Later, joined by the two detectives, he enters the house amidst lethal bullet-fire. Finding the criminal he was after, he makes a shocking discovery, and makes a chilling choice he later regrets. This choice sets the stage for the remainder of the film, because on the basis of this choice the whole of the first act is ultimately explained.

As soon as the choice is made, Kenzie realizes he has compromised his convictions. He is almost immediately racked with guilt and shame. In a terrific scene, Bressant tries to encourage Kenzie into believing he did right. But his morality is already compromised. "Murder's a sin," says Kenzie. "Depends on who you do it to," replies Bressant. "It doesn't work that way," retorts Kenzie. He is a three-dimensional character who has a faith (clearly spelled out in the opening monologue) that he wrestles with.

From here, Kenzie is plagued with his conscience. And this is what drives further towards the truth and further away from his love, Gennaro. With each new development, Kenzie is a man on a single-minded mission. As the movie approaches the climax, Kenzie figures out the mystery and faces a decision only he can make. If he does the right thing, he will lose what is dear to him. If he turns away, he can keep his love but lose his conscience . . . again. The movie began with Kenzie saying the line, "I always believed it was the things you don't choose that makes you who you are." He never chose the McCready job, it chose him. Now this has brought him face-to-face with the choice that will define him and make him who he is. The plot leads inexorably to this point, and what a decision he has to make.

Gone Baby Gone
raises the theme of truth and compromise. What will we do for the truth? Are we really prepared to look for the truth? When it gets hard, personally, will we continue at all costs, or will we compromise our search and our values? It suggests that it is often through our shame for our sins that we are driven to make things right. Guilt is portrayed as a motivator for truth-seeking. Certainly, guilt can be a motivator, but biblically if we have confessed our sins, we are forgiven (1 Jn 1:9) and guilt is removed; we no longer stand under condemnation (Rom 8:1). Guilt, theologically, should be a motivator to drive us to God. Is it deepening or destroying our relationships?

Gone Baby Gone also raises the theme of family, specifically caring for our children. What will we do to keep our kids safe and protected? How well do we care for them? We may not be like the drug-addicted mother who leaves her kid at home while she goes snorting for hours, but what about when we simply leave our kids in front of the TV or the Wii for hours at a time? Or when we sit blogging or reading instead of interacting and relating with them? What is our priority?

In finding the truth, was it really what Kenzie wanted to find? And at the very end, in the final scene as he quietly makes one final choice, we wonder as viewers if he made the right choice? Afleck, the director, does not answer that question.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Friday, February 22, 2008

Saving Private Ryan -- the value of 1 person compared to 8
by Ryan Blue

I remember the first time I saw Saving Private Ryan in the theater. I also remember the fourth time I saw it in that setting. Each time, I sat with the audience stunned for at least ten minutes after the movie was over. Saving Private Ryan is best known for allowing the viewer to experience the sights and sounds of war right along with the soldiers storming the beach. Its realism caused the audience to catch a glimpse of the truth of the phrase, ‘war is hell.’
While Saving Private Ryan shows very vividly the horrors of war, this is not the main idea of the movie. The fictional story primarily revolves around Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad who are sent behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in combat. The main question raised is why eight men are risking their lives to save just one? As the movie progresses, we see this debate on several occasions.

First, we see General George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, order a rescue squad be sent in to find Ryan and “get him the hell out of there.” One member of his staff objects and claims that any members of a rescue squad would be killed trying to retrieve Ryan.

Secondly, we see the rescue squad itself debate the issue when the squad first embarks on its mission. Private Reiben (Edward Burns) inquires, “You wanna explain the math of this to me? I mean, where's the sense of riskin' the lives of the eight of us to save one guy?” In response, Captain Miller replies that soldiers must follow orders even if one believes the mission is “fubar.” He goes on to tell Reiben, tongue in cheek, that the mission has a valuable objective and that he feels heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private Ryan. At this point, we begin to see Captain Miller struggle with the issue of obeying orders when he's not convinced of the wisdom of those orders, and we are uncertain about his true beliefs regarding the worthiness of the mission.

Third, we see the squad encounter Captain Hamill (Ted Danson). Hamill states to Captain Miller that he understands their mission and tells them to find Ryan and get him home. The following scene shows Captain Miller debating the mission with his second in command, Sgt. Mike Horvath (Tom Sizemore). Miller says that Ryan had better be worth their efforts to find him; Ryan better cure some disease or invent the longer lasting light bulb because he would choose just one of the soldiers he has already lost over ten Ryans. Thus, we see Miller struggling even more with the wisdom of his orders
Next we see Reiben’s frustration with the mission finally spilling out after Wade is killed. He mocks Captain Miller’s decision to attack a German outpost and says that he hopes Mama Ryan is proud that her son’s life is worth more than the lives of two other soldiers. In order to diffuse the situation Captain Miller says he doesn’t care anything about Private Ryan. But if saving Private Ryan earns him the right to return home then he will carry out his mission. Thus, we now see Captain Miller seeking some sort of justification for his mission.

Finally, the squad finds Private Ryan and breaks the news to him of the deaths of his brothers. In a surprising twist, Ryan refuses to leave. He refuses to follow Miller’s orders and instead chooses to follow the orders given, which was to hold the bridge at all costs. Miller decides to stay and help the soldiers hold the bridge and then get Ryan back to safety. After the final battle is over only two members of the original eight sent out to rescue Ryan survive. Just before he dies, Miller says to Ryan, “earn this.” In other words, make the mission worth the sacrifice.

As much as I love this movie, it never answers the fundamental question raised throughout the film: was saving Private Ryan worth the sacrifice? Were the lives of six American soldiers worth the life of James Francis Ryan from Iowa? The movie concludes with Ryan as an old man visiting Miller’s grave. He asks his wife if he has been a good man and she replies that he has. Is this supposed to be Ryan’s way of making the mission worthwhile? Did simply being a good man throughout his life earn the sacrifice that was given on his behalf? What would the other six soldiers have done with their lives? Would one of them have found the cure to cancer? Would one of them have had a greater impact on the world for good than Ryan did? Imagine having to live your entire life proving that you were worth the death of six other people.

Most movies answer the main question they raise one way or another. For example, in Schindler’s List, another Steven Spielberg movie, the question raised is what is the value of a person as compared to property? The movie very clearly answers that people are more valuable than property by showing Oscar Schindler looking at his car and his ring and realizing how many people he could have saved if he had sold that property. In Saving Private Ryan, the question raised is what is the value of a person as compared to another person(s)? Again, I don’t believe the movie actually answers this question. I would have preferred that Saving Private Ryan answer the question and then let me decide whether I agree or not. I suppose one could argue that not answering the question is a creative technique to get people to discuss the film but it left me somewhat unsatisfied.

Nevertheless, as you wrestle with this question, also wrestle with the questions underneath the main question. First, how do we measure the worthiness of a life? Second, do we value some people over others and if so, why?
Copyright 2008, Ryan Blue

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Across the Universe -- A totally fun experience

I don't like musicals . . . there I said it. It's off my chest. Sad to say, I never made it through the opening credits of West Side Story before I gave up. So, I still can't explain why two of the funnest movies of the last 12 months for me were musicals. The first was Hairspray, which I saw at the coast last summer -- that was a total blast. I came out of the movie theater with a silly smile plastered on my face. And the second is Across the Universe.

Across the Universe is more than a musical. Rather it is a love story played out with Beatles songs. The cast sing the songs as their lyrics, and this is surprisingly effective. The songs are sung anachronistically, most of them from the later period even if sung early in the movie, and they seem to capture just the right moment and mood. The movie reminded me a little of Moulin Rouge in this regard, although that movie used 20th century songs in a 19th century setting. This film uses songs from the sixties against the backdrop of mid-late 1960s counterculture. And it works. It is eye-poppingly fantastic, with expansive imagery, emotional and organic musical performances, and incredible solarization color-treatments.
The story is a predictable love story: Jude goes to America to find his estranged father, and there meets and falls in love with the sheltered Lucy. But the journey is so much fun, as it is accompanied by and taken along by the music. According to web-postings and interviews, 90% of the song vocals were recorded live on-set, rather than in studio. So, there is little lip-synching. What an achievement for a cast of mostly non-musicians.
All this said, the movie is a vehicle for the music. There are some favorite Beatles songs and a few rarer ones. There are some great characters: Jude (Jim Sturgess), the working-class boy from Liverpool; Max (Joe Anderson), the rich Princeton drop-out; Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), Max's naive sister; Sadie (Dana Fuchs), the Janis Joplin-like singer; JoJo (Martin Luther), the Jimi Hendrix-like guitarist; and Prudence (T.V. Carpio).
Across the Universe starts out in the actual Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles played. It begins with a fun, early 60s kind of mood. Progressively, the mood becomes heavier as Max gets drafted and goes through induction, turns psychedelic before becoming dark with the activism of the late 60s. Finally, it closes on a lighter, climactic pop note. All this in the space of two wonderful hours.
There are some outstanding set-piece scenes that are unforgettable. T.V. Carpio sings a beautifully balladic rendition of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and as she does she walks across a football field of "balletic" players. The Detroit riots form the backdrop for "Let it Be" by a 15 year-old unnamed singer and Carol Wood. This is a powerful moment. "Strawberry Fields" is incredibly sung as Jude, now a budding artist, uses strawberries in his art. He pins strawberries to the canvas, and they seep juice, representing the GIs who are shedding their blood in Vietnam. Jude uses "Revolution" as he jealously confronts Lucy's radical activist leader, Paco. They all want a revolution, but none can seem to make one happen.
But the two finest songs and set-pieces are saved to the end. "Hey Jude" is sung by Max in a New York bar, as he ponders why Jude is back in Liverpool. We see Max draining his last beer, looking in the mirror and singing. Juxtaposed against this, is Jude sitting drinking his ale in a Liverpool pub wondering why he is not seeking his love. And when the song breaks out into "Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy" the two come face-to-face and it works wonderfully. The climax of the movie is sung on a roof-top (ala The Beatles last public appearance atop Apple Records in London) -- "All You Need is Love."
Along with the cast singing these set-pieces, there are guest appearances. Most noteworthy of these is Joe Cocker, singing "Come Together" as JoJo comes to New York. This is a great cover of this song. Then Bono, appearing as the psychedelic Dr Roberts, sings "I am the Walrus." This could be better than the original. And Eddy Izzard appears to perform "Mr Kite" in a Monty Python-esque sequence that is the turning point of the movie from happy and high (from drugs), to dark and low (due to the war).

As a story, Across the Universe raises the questions of war (Vietnam), activism, radicalism, revolution, but focuses on love. It never gets too deep. It touches each subject mostly superficially. As Lucy's eyes are opened to freedom, free love, free drugs, her love for Jude takes back-seat to her need to do something about the war. While she starts to work with and follow activist Paco, Jude channels his emotions about the war into his art. Both are seeking outlets using the skills and talents given them. As this progresses, both her activism and his art become radical. This radicalism drives them apart. They cannot coexist with one another.

The climax of the movie comes when Jude, back from Liverpool to find his love, is on the roof-top on his own, and soulfully sings out acapella, "All You Need is Love". Pretty soon, he is joined by the band and the song becomes a full-fledged anthem, the whole point of the movie.

The director seems to be saying love is all you need. Even in the midst of war (Vietnam then, Iraq now), love will prevail. Many returning war vets might disagree with this thesis. Indeed, it begs the question, does love solve all the world's problems? In a biblical sense, it does. God is love (1 Jn 4:16) and He has shown His love for us by sending Jesus (Jn 3:16). Yet, even biblically we are expected to work in the world while we wait for Christ's second coming. So, in this sense, love will not solve all the world's problems. Another minor criticism is the implication that peaceful activism cannot achieve its desired ends. A shot of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, after he is assassinated, is followed by several riot scenes, each progressively worse. Radicals cannot protest peacefully and be effective, it seems to say. And finally, there are other Beatles songs that could have, or should have, been included, several of which are intrinsically referred to in passing.

Yet, despite these minor criticisms, the movie is all about experiencing the magic of these Beatles songs put into a story that captures the hearts, the ears and the eyes. I enjoyed this so much I bought the soundtrack.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

There Will be Blood -- moral disintegration personified

I still can't decide if I really liked There Will be Blood. Nevertheless, it was a powerful movie with a tour-de-force performance by Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview, a cold and heartless oilman. Yet, the story moved too slowly for my taste, and rather than having the typical hero arc, it had an anti-hero with a self-destructive one.

Unlike most movies where the goal of the hero is set out in act 1, it is not till late in the movie when we really discover Plainview's goal. He says it plainly: "I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone." Moreover, he self-discloses: "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people." So, here is the premise of the movie: what will success look like and what will it do to a man who is driven to succeed, to win at all costs, who hates most people? How will he handle success, family, community? More importantly perhaps, how will he handle faith?

The movie opens with an expansive shot of a New Mexico landscape set against severely discordant music. In fact, the prolonged establishing scene plays without dialog for almost 12 minutes. During this time, we meet Plainview and see him mining on his own for silver at the turn-of-the-century. We see him as a determined man, who will single-handedly accomplish his goals, regardless of the challenges and obstacles that come his way, whether they are broken bones or unselling landowners.

Having found little silver, he finds liquid gold -- oil. And once he knows there is oil, he develops his own mining techniques to plumb this river of gold. Little by little his operations grow, and he starts buying or leasing land-rights in his insatiable ambition. At this point he meets Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), who offers to sell him information on the location of oil fields in Little Boston, California, and the movie moves to that locale for the rest of the film.

Fast forward to Plainview in California where Plainview has set up camp with his "son" H.W., who is in fact the son of one of his workers killed working the mine early in the film. The heart of the movie is here, especially in his growing competitive interactions with Paul's twin brother, Eli who is the charismatic and manipulative preacher for this small community. Before the drilling begins, Eli (also Paul Dano) offers to say a blessing for the well. Plainview agrees to this, but at the last minute surrounds himself with H.W. and Mary, Eli's little sister, and proclaims his own blessing. This is reminiscent of Jacob stealing Esau's blessing in Genesis 27.

Plainview appears to love H.W. but in the middle of the movie, just as oil gushes out of the new well, an accident occurs. And in this accident, H.W. is hurt and his hearing destroyed. As H.W. lays on Plainview's table, the oil ignites and Plainfield leaves H.W. to go deal with the conflagration. From here on, H.W. is damaged goods. Plainview sends him away, and this is indicative of his discarding of people whom he no longer needs or can use. He has no significant relationships, other than those that benefit him, such as his right-hand man Fletcher Hamilton (Ciaran Hinds). Even when a long-lost brother appears, Plainview is not excited. He is suspicious. He eventually unravels the truth and discards this "brother" in a different way.

There are two key parallel scenes that drive to the very heart of the movie. The first is the "redemption" and "baptism" of Plainfield in Eli's church. Plainview needs to build a pipeline to the ocean, but there is a holdout whose land lies between the oil and the sea. This holdout offers to sign the contract if Plainview joins the church, which is only possible if he converts. So, he comes to church and comes forward as a "sinner." As Eli berates him, Plainview has to admit to his sin. He does, but not loud enough. Eli physically abuses him, humiliating and humbling him until Plainview shouts out in anger, "I want the blood!" Whose blood does he want? Is it Christ's, or Eli's? Or is this blood he wants simply the oil itself?

Jeffery Overstreet, in his CT on-line review of the movie sees the oil as a metaphor for blood. This may be so. But I see it, too, as a metaphor for money and wealth. In this sense, we see the conflict between God and Mammon. The Bible says "You cannot serve both God and money" (Matt 6:24). Plainview understands this and serves his god. Eli may have deceived himself, because by the end he makes his choice too.

In the second scene, years later, Plainview has attained his goal. He has more than enough money and he lives apart from people, except for his servants. He has even severed any lingering relationship with H.W. Eli, now a polished and dapper preacher, comes to visit him, finding him drunk and unconscious. Like his brother earlier in the movie, Eli offers him oil. This time, however, it is not new news. And Eli is after money, since he has lost it all in the market crash. Plainview, realizing he now has the upper hand, agrees to the offer provided Eli will renounce his faith to him. In a parallel to the earlier scene, Eli has to humiliate himself in plain view of Plainview. And he does renounce his faith . . . all to get his hands on his desired money. But when he does so, Plainview backs out of the contract, much like he did with the blessing earlier. He has control. He has won. But by this time winning is no different than losing. They have become one. The moral disintegration of the man is complete.

In Eli we see a foil to Plainview. We see greed and ego, just a quieter, more sanctified version. Both lead characters struggle with these character flaws. Plainview, says at one point that he prefers "plain speaking," yet he says anything to get his way. His name appears as a symbol for his character -- he is not in plain view. He is deceptive, manipulative, completely controlling. At one point in the movie, one character suggests he does not know how to run his family. At this, Plainview becomes angry and in rage threatens to kill him. Not only does he want to win, he is not willing to be perceived to be a failure or in need of anyone's help. Plainview is a picture of human depravity. He is a personification of the darkness of the human heart, where love is absent.

Blood shows us that as humans we cannot live without relationships. We were made for community. "It is not good for the man to be alone," said God in the beginning (Gen. 2:18). We need each other, not just for what they can do for us, but for what we can do for them. Competition, though healthy in its place, can be severely hazardous to the health of all when it becomes more important than community. (How am I doing with competitiveness, as a broken, mixed-up first-born?) Blood shows us that hatred will destroy, like a cancer eating away at our soul until we are left black and numb, selfish and uncaring, dead while still living. And Blood shows us that though wealth may look good on the outside, when our heart is focused on money Mammon owns us. It will not solve our problems. They will catch us out.

When grace is absent, when love is missing, life is not life. Though Plainview was probably abused as a child, and had no apparent relationship with his father, that is not sufficient cause to become the person he became. Successful by the world's standards is a poor epitaph for an eternity alone.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Monday, February 18, 2008

Spoilers & Upcoming Reviews -- Seeking your input

I need your input. Some people have said they don't like reading a review if it gives away too much of the plot. But I find I can compose better when I create a complete review, even if sometimes spoilers are included. Is this an issue? If it is, one option is to pull the paragraphs with spoilers out of the main review and post these as a comment to the main post. What are your thoughts on this? Which do you prefer?

This week I will be posting my reviews of the following 2007 movies (one of these is my movie of 2007), along with Ryan's comments on the message of Saving Private Ryan:
  • There Will be Blood
  • Across the Universe
  • Gone Baby Gone
Finally, you've probably noticed my new "hearts" rating system. I decided that, since this is a "film and faith" blog, the heart symbol would be appropriate.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Serpico -- Character in the midst of Corruption

Serpico, starring Al Pacino, is the true yet sad story of Frank Serpico from his beginnings as a rookie cop to his undercover work on the narcotics squad in the early 1970s. In an award winning performance (Golden Globe winner, Oscar nominated), we initially see Serpico as a short-haired street cop who wants to do the right thing. However, he very quickly learns that most cops don't.

An early scene has the young Serpico, on car patrol, hear that a rape is in progress, though it is in a quadrant over, not his patrol quadrant. His dozing partner says essentially, "Ignore it, it's not our quadrant." But Serpico says, "It's right on the edge of our quadrant" and goes to the rescue. In doing so, he captures one rapist. As this scene moves to the station room, we find a veteran detective beating the crap out of this rapist, while Serpico decides not to participate in this violently abuse. Instead, he offers the young criminal coffee, compassion and an opportunity to rat out his fellow rapists. This softer approach wins out this time. But already the lines within the force are drawn.

As Serpico's career progresses he moves to undercover work, and it is here that the key theme of corruption emerges. Unlike all the cops around him, Serpico will not accept money. At first he is naive on what is going on, but he becomes more cynical while remaining straight and true, and honest as the day is long. Many of his fellow officers considered him the most dangerous man alive since he is apparently the only honest cop in New York City.

Serpico tries to take a stand, raising the moral issue to higher powers that be within the force, only to be told to wait it out -- things are happening. He is being strung along, so that he will do nothing. But all the while, the stress of the scorn and mistreatment from his "fellow officers" causes him to lose one female relationship and then a second. We see his hair grow, his mustache bloom, his dog balloon from a pup to a huge bear-like animal, but all the while Serpico will not change, he will not compromise his values -- he is an honest man trying to do an honest job without any support from those who should be there for him. This is tearing him and his relationships apart. Only his dog stays with him.

Toward the end it is evident that going to a grand jury is not solving the problem, although it is making it clear that he is an enemy to most of the police force, who would prefer to see him dead. He finally takes a bullet that almost ends his life because his "partners" don't give him back-up.

This movie addresses the themes of honesty, integrity and character. It raises the question of what would we do if all those around us in our job or career were corrupt. With growing hostile peer pressure would we buckle, turn a blind-eye, even succumb to the temptation to be "one of the boys," or would we retain our integrity even while being painted a pariah? If this pressure become so much that it threatened our relationships at home, would that make a difference, would we change? Where do we see corruption today? Have we seen it yet? Are we ready to stand firm and do the right thing? It is something Serpico forces us to consider.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Oscar Predictions 2008

With the Oscars just a week away, it's time to start making predictions. There are some shoe-ins and some "tough to call" categories. My predictions, not necessarily my personal choices, are listed in red:

  • Best actor: George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Daniel Day Lewis (There Will be Blood), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd); Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah)
  • Best supporting actor: Casey Afleck (The Assassination of Jesse James), Javier Bardeem (No Country for Old Men), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War), Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild), Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton)
  • Best actress: Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Julie Christie (Away from Her), Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose), Laura Linney (The Savages), Ellen Page (Juno)
  • Best supporting actress: Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There), Ruby Dee (American Gangster), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton)
  • Best animated picture: Persepolis, Ratatouille, Surf's Up
  • Best director: Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Jason Reitman (Juno), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men), Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood)
  • Best picture: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men, There Will be Blood

Those are my predictions. What are yours? Comment now, not after the event next Sunday.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Friday, February 15, 2008

Answers to the Mosaic Shawshank Quiz

If you've taken the Mosaic Shawshank Redemption quiz and have been waiting to see how you did, here are the answers, with a little commentary. Most of these questions came from, but some came from other weblinks. Enjoy, and let me know how you did or what you thought!

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Thursday, February 14, 2008

CT Readers' Choice Awards 2007

In the last two weeks we've seen the "Top 10 Most Redeeming Movies of 2007" and "2007 Critics' Choice Awards" from Christianity Today. This week it is "The 2007 Readers' Choice Awards" where average Joe's like us get to vote. Interestingly, I have seen 6 of the top 10 and really enjoyed them. (The #1 movie is really a terrific movie, a tear-jerker.) They are slightly different than the other lists. What does this tell you? Anyway, here is the latest CT list. Let me know what you think? What movies were your faves for last year?
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Se7en -- a dark tale of human depravity

Se7en is a buddy-cop, serial killer movie, but with a twist. Morgan Freeman plays Det. Somerset, the aging, grizzled, cynical detective who is one case and one week away from retirement. Brad Pitt is "rookie" Det Mills, just transferred into New York City and on his first big city murder case. This is standard fare, with terrific performances from Freeman (such a fine actor) and Pitt (not so pretty in this picture), until we realize the serial killer is playing with religious themes. And therein lies the twist. Does the killer see society better than the rest of us?

The movie opens with one patrolman asking Somerset, "Why do you ask so many questions?" The patrolman apathetically wants to negate curiosity and involvement; this is one of the key themes. Also, the mood and music of the very first scene is predictive of the whole movie. It is gray, and wet, and the house is dank and dilapidated. In all, this will be a dark, grim movie. One of the characters describes this part of New York City in one word -- "horrible". And Det Somerset prophetically says "There will be no happy ending" -- this is darkly foreboding of the next two hours.

As the plot proceeds, it becomes clear that the mysterious serial killer is an educated man who is murdering people along the lines of the seven deadly sins of the medieval Catholic church (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride). This is a big clue as to motive. Along the way, there is violence and a number of deeply disturbing images.

It is only when the serial killer is "captured" that the movie themes come to light. The killer is lashing out at society. He says we are tolerant of sin, it is all around us. He claims we live lives of apathy, not caring, not getting involved to make things better. Here is a key ethical question: has American society become so depraved that we tolerate, even dwell in, sin? In many cases, we are apathetic toward sin, and we have gotten to a point where sin is often tolerated. We lose ourselves in mindless or mind-numbing entertainment, in drugs (legal or illegal), because we don't want to get involved. The killer's point is that we are all capable of sin, even deadly sin given sufficient provocation. We are all guilty; none are innocent. This could be straight from Romans 2-3. The depraved nature of humanity is exposed for what it is. It is indeed a dark and murky picture of the human heart.

When questioned at the end, the killer says, "The Lord works in mysterious ways," implying that he is doing the Lord's work in killing the "guilty" and bringing this to the attention of society. But biblically, though we all deserve death, God has not given us the right to become lawless muderers. He has instituted governments and their law enforcement arms (Rom 13) to keep order in society and to bring justice. Ethically and morally we have no right to take matters into our own hands. Indeed, it is an afront to Christ to suggest He is using serial killers in this way. However, it does raise the ethical dilemna: if God is sovereign and in control of all events, how do serial killers fit into His plan? Or to extrapolate, how do megalomaniacal tyrants (read Hitler, etc) fit into God's plan?

The climax has a twist that is unseen until seconds before it arrives. Without giving it away, it poses the question of what would we do in the face of evil, an evil that has personally impacted us? The movie suggests we are a hair-breadth away from becoming one with the killer. We could be him. There is little room here for God's vengeance, for God's redemptive power of love and grace, or for God's forgiveness.

The movie closes with Det Somerset saying, "Earnest Hemingway once wrote, 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I believe the second part." That is as close to a positive message as this movie has. The world is a dark and terrible place, filled with guilty sinners, yet it might just be worth fighting for. Though it raises some strong ethical questions, this is a dark movie that many will find disturbing.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Monday, February 11, 2008

Shawshank quiz & "Save the Cat" books

There is so much interesting trivia associated with The Shawshank Redemption that it needs a quiz. There was no time to do this on Saturday, at the connect group. You can access the quiz from the link in this post, or from the Links on the sidebar. The answers are not included. If you want to know how well you did, you can email me, go to my Facebook account and take the quiz there (quiz is scored when you submit your answers) or wait for the answers to be posted soon.

Also, kudos to Ryan for pointing out two more books worth reading -- Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies (see details on "Bibliography" sidebar). Both are focused on screenwriting and film analysis, not ethical and faith aspects. But, as we have learned, to interact with a movie ethically, we must first understand the message of the movie. The author, Blake Snyder, is a successful screenwriter who helps us see the structure of movies.

Finally, I watched The Heartbreak Kid (with Ben and Jerry Stiller; no, not the ice cream kings, the clowns of comedy). I struggled, unsuccessfully, to find any ethical or moral connections to write about. There are some movies that are just pulp, and this was one of them. It's a Farrelly brothers movie -- what more can I say! It's crass, crude and funny in spots. But don't expect to be uplifted or challenged. It's two hours you'll never get back.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Shawshank Redemption -- second movie at Mosaic

About 20 of us met on Saturday to watch and discuss The Shawshank Redemption. What a great movie! If you haven't yet seen this modern classic, you owe it to yourself to rent it, buy it or Netflix it!
Ryan used the tag line, "Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free," to direct the initial discussion on the main message of the story. As we worked this over, we saw the key theme of hope/fear emerge alongside two minor themes of freedom/imprisonment, and friendship.

Despite the brief moments of prison violence, this is a well-paced and beautiful movie that draws the viewer in because we can see ourself in Andy or Red. We can all identify with having our hopes raised and our hopes crushed. (We can probably all recognize how we have crushed someone else's hope at one time or another.) We can all resonate with friendships -- what would life be without friends? And a promise given to a friend can be a huge motivator for us, as it was for Red, who embraced hope through his friendship with Andy. And we can all identify with time and life wasted as we "hide" or shrink in fear.

A repeated quote in the movie says, "Get busy living, or get busy dying." That's a terrific thought. How are you doing in this regard? Are you getting busy intentionally living, contributing, growing in relationships, getting closer to Jesus? Or are you slowly withering and dying, one second or one day at a time?

If you're interested in looking deeper at the structure of Shawshank, and how this enhances the movie, Ryan found an excellent article on the web: Finally, look for a trivia quiz on Shawshank coming in the next couple of days on this site and on my Facebook account. (If you have a Facebook account, look me up and friend me.)
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Saturday, February 9, 2008

CT's 2007 Critics Choice Awards

Last week it was the "Top 10 Most Redeeming Movies of 2007;" this week it is the "2007 Critics' Choice Awards" from Christianity Today.

Have you ever tried to come to agreement or consensus with your friends or family on what movie to watch, or what was the best movie of the year? It's not easy. Sometimes it's downright impossible. So, when all the CT critics agree on one movie, it must be special. This year they all agreed that Juno was the best movie of 2007. Whether you agree or not, that says something about the movie. I haven't seen it yet, but David thought it was "excellent, the best movie of the year!" It's on my list of movies to see.

What do you think? Do you agree? If not, what is your "top movie of 2007"? Post a comment and let's dialogue. Here's the CT list:

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Atonement -- Redemption or self-deception?

Atonement is a beautifully photographed and heavily Oscar-nominated English period drama. Set just before the start of WW2, it explores the themes of trust, imagination, and social class prejudices. Despite being a "war" movie there are no battle scenes, though there is some gore. It is a slow-paced movie that relies on character development and narrative. Indeed, the story is intriguing, posing the question where does truth end and imagination begin? It also asks the ethical question, how serious is a lie? How devastating can one inaccurate accusation be? In this case, fatal and devastating.

The three main characters, Briony (acted by three actors as the character ages from a 13 year old, to a young adult, to a dying old woman), Cecilia (Keira Knightley), and Robbie (James McAvoy) are well acted, but seem to lack much in audience attraction. As upper-class sisters, Briony is sneaky and spiteful while Cecilia is cold and aloof. Robbie is simply the housekeeper's son, expected to be restrained and respectful. In playing to these class distinctives, the movie fails to win us to any of them. We end up watching the story without really caring. If there had been more audience sympathy for any of the main characters, this would have been a cracker-barrel story. It is interesting and contemplative, but no more.

Briony, a spiteful and somewhat jealous sister, spends her time in her imagination, writing plays and looking out of windows. She seems to be living life vicariously by watching others. Indeed, the first act draws on two key scenes where she watches Cecilia and Robbie interacting. In both cases, her adolescent mind cannot understand what she sees, and draws her own conclusion. Robbie adds to his own demise, by inadvertently putting the wrong letter for Cecilia in an envelope and asking Briony to deliver it for him -- a bad mistake. And then in a third key scene in this act, Briony sees a heinous crime and imagines the criminal. In declaring who it is, she is in fact playing a story in her head. In some sense, she is getting revenge for being hurt. As a 13 year old, she does not understand how ruinous this will be.

Act 2 cuts ahead four years, and the consequences of this accusation have played out. Not only has Briony ruined Robbie's life, but her sister's too, and the sisters are no longer speaking. The family has become estranged. Sin has had its effect. But where is grace in all this? Robbie is off at war, stranded in France with the other British soldiers awaiting the retreat from Dunkirk. Cecilia is serving as a nurse, living in vain hope of Robbie coming back to her. Briony is struggling with forgiveness. She wants to be forgiven by Cecilia but does not receive this forgiveness. Both Briony and Robbie look back with regret on the choices and mistakes they have made. One different choice and the present would be so much different. Oh to go back and undo what was done. But this will not happen.

By act 3, the short concluding section of the movie, Briony has become an old and dying novelist who has spent her life writing the one book that she cannot write, Atonement, an autobiographical novel, with names left unchanged. It is her confession to the world. It is her attempt to seek the forgiveness she needs, she craves. It is clear that her heart is in desperate need for this, yet she cannot receive it. She closes with a comment that she could not write the book in truth, for if she did readers would not benefit from this. The truth will not help, either them or her. So, she again resorts to imagination, that which got her into the awful situation, to get her out. She finds her atonement, but at what price?

The movie raises the question, can we trust what we see? Is there more there than is apparent? This is clear from the technique of reviewing the same scene from different character's perspectives. Though one sees an event one way, the characters participating in the event see it another. As we see events in our lives, do we really see them and understand them? Is our understanding accurate? Perhaps our spouse or our boss would explain things differently. How would Jesus explain them to us?

The movie makes it clear that one choice, one sin, can lead to destruction for many. This we would agree with theologically, perhaps even from experience. But it seems to suggest that we can also find redemption in a lie (under some circumstances). It denies the possibility of finding redemption in the hands of a loving God. Instead, we can deceive ourselves and believe that lie . . . but won't it eventually catch us out? Atomement refutes the truth that "the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32).

As much as I enjoyed the scenery, the dialogue, the character development, and the movie itself as a thoughtful experience, I could not determine the hero. Of the three main characters, it seems Briony is the one who proceeds on a journey of "self-growth". But it is more one of self-deception than true growth in self-actualization. In this sense, it is a questionable "atonement."

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Miss Congeniality
by Ryan Blue

February is not only the month for Valentine’s Day but also my wife, Amy's birthday. In honor of her, I wanted to post some thoughts on her favorite movie, Miss Congeniality, the story of an FBI “operative posing as a pageant contestant in order to ferret out a terrorist targeting the event.”

The movie opens by introducing us to a not-so-graceful, bumbling FBI agent, Gracie Hart, a tough girl competing in a world of boys. She is a woman “without a discernible smidgen of estrogen.” Everything about her is masculine, including her shoes. She is tough and she likes to work out by punching and kicking. Once it was decided that the FBI would send an undercover agent to the Miss United States pageant, ‘dirty Harriet’ was the least likely but only choice they had. However, after an extreme makeover, Mustang Sally is actually gorgeous, according to her fellow agent, even though walking in heels still proved to be a not so easy task.

Once a contestant in the pageant, Hart is now competing in a world of girls in which she feels ‘totally’ lost and draws a blank when trying to ‘girl talk’. She must discover her feminine side if she is going to successfully convince everyone that she is a real beauty pageant contestant; but she also must retain her toughness if she is going to expose and capture the elusive terrorist. Hart’s struggle throughout the undercover mission is being tough and being feminine at the same time, which is what will be required in order to catch the ‘Citizen’. Gracie makes it to the top five and in her final interview, she demonstrates her femininity by stating her camaraderie with the other contestants and then demonstrates her toughness by stating that she would take out anyone who tried to hurt them. In the end, she is named Miss Congeniality and the movie concludes with the song lyrics, “she’s a lady.” Therefore, the message of Miss Congeniality is that a woman can be both tough and feminine at the same time.

I asked my wife why Miss Congeniality was her favorite movie. She teaches group strength training classes at a local athletic club, yet she is very feminine and absolutely gorgeous. I asked her if she liked the movie so much because she resonated with the message that a woman can be both tough and feminine at the same time. She accused me of psychoanalyzing her but acknowledged that she does believe that to be true.
Copyright 2008, Ryan Blue

3:10 to Yuma -- a great modern Western

3:10 to Yuma is a terrific movie with two perfectly cast leading actors. Christian Bale (did you know he is English) plays Dan Evans, a morally upright and decent father with a gimpy leg, a wife and two sons. Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, a thoroughly immoral and evil outlaw gang leader, who is charismatic yet sinister. It is a classic good vs evil tale . . . at least at the start. By the end, the lines have been blurred. Nothing is completely clear; black and white has become gray for both characters.

Evans is down on his luck, and about to evicted from his struggling farm to make way for the railroad. His teenaged son looks down on him for failing to be the wild west hero who takes what he wants and needs. His wife has lost trust in him. He needs redemption badly. And he is given the opportunity when a posse is needed to take the dangerous Wade to the aptly-named town of Contention, where he will ride the 3:10 prison train to Yuma. Despite the dangers to himself, Evans volunteers for this duty, seeing not only the dollars, which will save his land, but the dignity that will save his reputation in the eyes of his son. From here, the story takes a straightforward path, including indians, gunfights, and chases.

One scene early in the movie has Wade, a prisoner, eating at the Evans house in handcuffs. While Evans sits eating quietly, Wade makes conversation. And his conversation is psychologically scary, even as he appears erudite and seductively charming. Wade even appears to be type of hero to Evan's son, perhaps even to his wife.

As the movie plays out, and as the rest of the posse are killed or desert, we are left with Evans and Wade. By this time it is overly apparent that he is a cold-blooded killer, deceptive and dangerous. As the climax approaches, the movie plays a little like High Noon. We know a gunfight is coming. We know no one will stand with Evans. But we wonder why Evans continues to stand, since it is not really his fight. Is he doing it for justice? For respect? For money? Or is pride now involved at the end? If he is so concerned for his family, why doesn't he know when to cut bait, when to draw the line?

The climax is powerful, but confusing. Why does Evans continue to the bitter end? Why does Wade do what he does? He wanted to be rescued by his gang. But when they arrive, he takes actions that seem unlikely for an outlaw gang leader. Perhaps we are to think Wade has been changed, by his proximity to Evans, but that is hard to accept. As much as life, especially life on the edge of lawlessness in the old west, was gray and not black-and-white, the moral ambiguity that the movie ends with is unsatisfying. The conflict remains essentially unresolved.

Why does evil and its people seem so more interesting and exciting than integrity and upright people? In 3:10 to Yuma, it is clear that Crowe's character is more intriguing. He is attractive, even seductive, to many, while Bale's character is another peon to be trodden on and discarded, if not ignored. And at the end is Evan's sacrifice a worthy sacrifice? Has he brought Wade to justice? If not, of what value is the sacrifice? How often do we get sucked into a journey, a quest, a project, for the right reasons only for it to transform into something else that binds us relentlessly to a path that perhaps the Lord has not paved for us? 3:10 to Yuma makes us think on this question.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Monday, February 4, 2008

Eastern Promises -- Too violent for me

Let me say up front, Eastern Promises is shockingly violent. If you have a weak stomach, avoid this movie. Despite great acting by the leads, Viggo Mortenson and Naomi Watts, this is a dark tale of depravity in the seedy underbelly of life in the Russian section of modern-day London. This movie attempts to be a modern day Godfather, with different mobs of Russian and Chechen nationalities, yet it lacks the deliberative character development of that classic and it overflows with gratuitous violence.

The tag-line is "every sin leaves a mark" and it appears that these marks are both physical, as tattoos on the bodies of the Russian gangsters, and spiritual/psychological, in their cruel spirits and damaged psyches. An old adage says "there is honor among thieves." But not according to this movie. There is corruption, there is brutality, there is violence, but there is no honor.

Eastern Promises does raise a few ethical questions to ponder. Should a person's private diary remain private after death? If Anna (Watts' character) had not opened the diary and asked for its translation, none of the terrible troubles would have happened. Is this a story of redemption or merely corruption? Is Nikolai (Viggo's character), and the "hero," a better man at the end of the movie or has he been corrupted by absolute power? Was it right and beneficial to watch this movie? In my opinion, it was too graphic, too gory, and excessively and unneccesarily violent.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Life is Beautiful: A Modern Fable

Life is Beautiful begins by stating that it is a fable. Now a fable is a story often beyond reality, to provide a moral lesson. The lesson is the point. This movie defies genre but accomplishes its point as a fable. It is part comedy, part romance, part war story, part horror story. Yet it works and portrays a most beautiful and touching story.

Roberto Benigni, writer, director and star, plays a naive Jew, Guido, from the Italian countryside who makes his way to the big city in 1939. En route, he dramatically meets a beautiful woman, whom he pursues in the first part of the movie. Guido is a compelling and sympathetic protaganist who finds so much joy in life regardless of circumstances. We root for him as he woos his love, his princess. The first half of the movie is a celebration of love, of innocence in the midst of the beginnings of the war and the holocaust. Love continues despite war. Love is above war. Through a set of circumstances, Benigni wins his bride, and they ride off into the proverbial sunset on a white charger, though this white charger has been painted green with anti-semitic slogans emblazoned by nazi youth. The first half of the movie ends with Guido happily married to Dora with a young son, Joshua. They have a complete and perfect life. Life is indeed beautiful.

Then the second act opens. Guido and Joshua are arrested and taken to a train station for transportation to a concentration camp. Dora, discovering their absence on Joshua's birthday, goes to the station to complain to the German officer. There is no sympathy there. So, in an unexpected turn, Dora, a non-Jew, asks to be let aboard the train so she can go where her family is going, not knowing this might lead to death. The German agrees and she is herded into one of the cattle trucks.

The pathos is highlighted by Guido's determination not to let his young son understand the harsh reality of the concentration camp. He wants to protect him and his innocence. To do this, he tells him it is all a game, and if they play by the rules, they will win points and ultimately win a brand new tank. In an hilarious scene, amidst the horrors of the introduction to the camp, Guido acts as an interpreter for the German Kommandant and "translates" the German into Italian, while actually telling his son the rules of the game.

If the first act focused on the romantic side of love, the second act focuses on the sacrifical side of love. Guido goes to all kinds of lengths and dangers to protect his son. He also takes great risks to communicate with Dora, who is imprisoned in a different part of the camp. In one scene, Guido creeps into the radio hut to use the intercom to tell his wife she is his princess. In another moving scene, reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption, he plays a favorite opera lp album for her (and others) to hear, to remind her of his love. At all times, he is risking death in taking these steps. But he is driven by love: love for Joshua and love for Dora. At the end, knowing he must do something to save his family before the Germans "dispose" of the evidence in the camp, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his son. His love for his son is greater than his love for his own life. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). This is a clear and tender, ever tearful, illustration of the biblical concept of love. And Guido's love for his wife, and his willingness to do anything for her, is an example of Ephesians 5.

As the movie ends, Joshua is confronted by a brand new (American) tank. He has apparently won the game and won his tank! He is lifted into it by the American liberator, and as they drive past the slowly walking line of freed Jewish prisoners he sees his mother, alive and safe. He is put down, runs into her arms, and says "we won." The fable is that love will win out in the end. Despite war, despite persecution, despite sacrifice (or perhaps through sacrifice) and loss, love will win. Life is Beautiful is a wonderful movie that beautifully communicates the message that "love, family and imagination conquer all." It is a portrait of human transcendance, in the midst of pain and suffering. It reminds us that the human spirit, fueled by sacrifical love, can and will conquer all. Whether you love foreign films or not, this is one that you simply must see!

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

Friday, February 1, 2008

CT's Top 10 Most Redeeming Movies of 2007

Christianity Today just released their "Top 10 Most Redeeming Movies of 2007." What an interesting group of movies. The top movie is a 3 hour documentary of almost total silence. The second movie is about a man who buys an inflatable sex-doll, and the community responds in unconditional love.

How many of these have you seen? What do you think of this list? Are your top 10 redeeming movies of 2007 included? If not, what are they? Why not post a comment to let us know your thoughts?

I intend to view most of these over the next few months, so watch for my reflections in an upcoming post.

Check out the CT list at:

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs