The Simpsons Movie (2007)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

The Simpsons MovieShould I see it?
If you love the show - perhaps
If not, absolutely not.

Director: David Silverman
Written by: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti
Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria, Joe Mantegna, Albert Brooks and Tom Hanks

Rated PG-13 for low brow humor

Buy or Rent This Movie HereThe Simpsons Movie

While funny, there is no reason to see this in the theater. Its’ a blown up version of the television show. The translation to the big screen isn’t remarkable enough to spend money at the box office.

Homer Simpson befouls the environment with pig feces. The area becomes so awful the whole town of Springfield is quarantined. Homer and his family escape the town and move to Alaska. Eventually, they return to save their suffering hometown. The story told is passable and holds enough comedic moments to do its job. It isn’t anything special or more interesting than what you will find in reruns on television.

Overall, this is a funny film but it does contain a good deal of low brow humor including a shot of Bart Simpsons’ penis. This is much like the television series – it is often crass and it is not intended for small children.

Worldview: The movie, like the television show, is split on its beliefs. While Homer loathes church, the film shows Grandpa Simpson receiving a message from God (or at least a spotlight streaming from the heavens). Moments later, Homer looks at the Bible and explains “This book doesn’t have any answers!” This is a ironic joke, poking fun at Homer’s ignorance.

***Spoiler Warning***

From this point forward I’ll be mentioning things that may ruin the film for you. If you haven’t seen the film yet you may want to avoid the remainder of this post

Later in the film Homer receives enlightenment from a goofy Inuit ritual. He has a vision and the trees provide him wisdom. In other words, the Bible contains no answers for the dimwitted hero but bellowing in a tent is the way to go. It says something that after Homer has his vision quest and returns with his pearl of wisdom he is shown on the floor in a Christ post. The movie is comfortable with mocking Christianity but holds respect for whatever other religious thought it can find. Viewers of the show will not be shocked. This is the show after all that felt it was good to have a Christmas episode which was actually a commercial for Buddhism while dismissing Christian belief at the same time.

Production Notes: The move to the big screen means the filmmakers were free of the television censors and were to do whatever they wanted. Instead of restraining their impulses it seems the filmmakers couldn’t help themselves. This show isn’t exactly Shakespeare but there is something to be said about not delving into filth just because you can. Again, I know this is The Simpsons and they are supposed to be sardonic but do we need to see them doing drugs and listen to them swear? I know we don’t need to see Bart’s naked wiener. This is a little like complaining that Beavis and Butthead tends to be off-color but there is something to be said about having a modicum of self-respect.

Cautions: This is The Simpsons. There is plenty of low brow humor including jokes about homosexuality, drug use, drinking and other morally questionable behaviors. This stated, if you’re able to handle this material, you will find this to be a humorous film. But just because you laugh at something it doesn’t mean its good for you. Like with the show, if you approach it knowing what to expect you’ll be better off.

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Ratatouille (2007)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

RatatouilleShould I see it?

Director: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Written by: Brad Bird
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Peter O'Toole, Brad Garrett, Will Arnet and Lou Romano

Rated G

Buy or Rent This Movie HereRatatouille

More subdued than the other Pixar efforts, this film comes across as casual and a little dull in spots. Don’t take this the wrong way, this is a fine film and well worth the effort of seeing. The film does suffer a bit from the fact that its main focus is cooking – which isn’t usually a visual experience. One can only watch animated people taste and smell things for so long.

This movie is superior to most of the “family movies” out there since it doesn’t devolve into a strong of rectal jokes and barely hidden sex references for the adults. By the way, when did it begin that that nearly all kid’s movies needed to have “jokes for the adults” inserted into the production? Is the kid’s movie too much for the adults to take without hearing some snickering reference to our genitals or sex? I thought it was the kids who were supposed to have the short attention spans?

Back to the movie, it is well done but far from being a brilliant piece. The performances are good, with the only standout being Patton Oswalt as Remy, a rat who knows how to cook and helps a hapless young man learn the craft. This is a Pixar production so the piece is family friendly and supports good values.

Go to the film, it is timid but it is fun.

Worldview: It seems a little odd talking about worldview when the film’s main characters are talking rats. That said, every film does contain a central point of view. This film is inoffensive across the board which is something you can expect from a Pixar movie.

The piece supports the notion of individuals having a purpose in their lives. This naturally and unconsciously promotes a deity since that purpose has to come from somewhere. Moreover, the film constantly works over the notion behind Commandment #8 “Thou shalt not steal” Exodus 20:15. They don’t refer directly to God’s word but the rats are inherent thieves. Remy’s life is only transformed after he and his cohorts learn to stop stealing.

In addition the film strongly promotes honesty and giving credit where it’s due.

Production Notes: Pixar is one of the great organizations working in Hollywood today. Their products are the most consistently uplifting, family friendly and well-structured films available. It is easily safe to say that any of their films is worth seeing and able to be seen by the whole family.

Cautions: There really isn’t anything concerning with this film. The relationship between the main man and woman is handled with taste (pun intended) and the other elements are within the bounds of family fare. You can, and should, head into this film without a worry.

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Less Christian Art – More Christian Artists

“Christian film” is far better now than it was just a few years ago. Then again, that is a little like saying that dry heaving is better than puking. Yes, you’re doing better, but you’re still left queasy and the end material results are still unpleasant. After thirty years of claiming to be on the verge of breaking into the mainstream, “Christian film” is still synonymous with substandard production values, heavy-handed dialog and childish plots. This is not to say there’s a lack of good movies to be seen. The issue is that we don’t need good movies.

We need great movies.

To be blunt, if a film purports to be a “Christian film” it supposedly is done for the glory of God. You don’t glorify God by making lousy movies.

We need great movies.

Like I said, things are getting better. Production values are indeed increasing and there are some serious shops out there trying their best. Within the past ten years we’ve gone from embarrassing messes like Left Behind, The Omega Code, and Joshua to more impressive works like The Nativity Story, Luther, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, Saints and Soldiers, and Facing the Giants. Lest we forget, there’s also that little ditty Mel made called Passion of the Christ. As the industry has come to see the financial and cultural muscle of Christians they have worked to market products our way. Those directly in our ranks have likewise stepped up and tried to cater to our tastes. This has lead to more investors, more money and better looking product. Of course you can have the nicest lighting in the world but if you’re still filming a pedantic script with summer-stock reject actors your “better look product” is simply lipstick on a pig. The product still stinks.

As I said, the genre is improving but must do better. I believe the first step in improving “Christian film” is to stop having “Christian films” and simply have Christians making films. I believe labeling our works, or allowing others to label our works, is our first mistake. When we label our works as being “Christian”, the intention is usually to announce that the piece is “made for Christians” and presumptively is made to glorify Christ. These are fine – no commendable ideals and should be the goals of any committed Christian when making art. We run into a few problems when we use the “Christian film” label however:

1. The label is just that, a label. It allows Christian artists to be pigeonholed by both people in the industry. Those in the industry can subscribe any negative ideas they’d like to a label “it’s one of those “Christian” films.” The label can also relegate the product to a particular distribution stream, which isn’t always a great match.

2. The audience can do the pigeonholing as well. Christian audiences have come to expect very particular things. The rules don’t’ tend to stress Biblical truth, moral clarity and sound technical achievement but rather a watered down view of the world. Violence is almost non-existent, salty language never happens, unmarried couples never struggle with lust, evil isn’t really all that evil (because showing various forms of sin isn’t allowed) and in the end everyone is converted quite nicely with no residual issues. Life is reduced to an after school special with praying thrown in for good measure.

For me, this is where the aforementioned dry-heaving usually comes in.

The “Christian” label sets the filmmaker up with a number of hindering rules that are meant to satisfy the most sensitive members of the audience and more times than not hijacks the proper development of a story.

3. When a non-Christian is presented with a “Christian film” their reaction is going to be far more defensive than a regular ol’ movie. No one wants to go to the movies to be preached at. As it turns out, looking at the box office receipts, they don't go.

4. Which branch of Christendom gets the corner on the label “Christian film”? Catholics make movies, as do the Evangelicals and Mormons. Who gets to claim their films are “Christian”? I’m certain most Catholics would be made uncomfortable at a film like Luther while most Evangelicals would bristle at many of the films stemming from the LDS.

5. When we remove ourselves by stamping our cinema with the Christian label we are leaving the wider culture to be run by whoever comes around. We retreat into our safe little subculture and then act surprised when the Pagan turn Hollywood into Nineveh. We handed over the steering wheel to the heathens and relegated ourselves to whining in the backseat as they drive the culture straight to hell. Our place is at the FRONT of culture not running along the side of it hoping we’ll get noticed.

As you can see, the label brings up a number of serious issues – issues that are not necessary. Christians should drop the label, drop the pretences and get to work. We have retreated into this subculture to protect ourselves from the wider one. By relegating our work to be “Christian” we extract ourselves from the wider population. We need to be in the mix.

Christian film’s has a long history of being relegated to the basements of churches. The films were made by Christians for Christians to be seen by Christians in the comfort of their churches. We have spent all of our efforts preaching to the choir and then exclaiming that our work was done. If Christians are to make movies they should be with the intent of distributing the teachings of God to everyone not just those in the light. We are to speak the Good News to the world and we can’t do that if we’re too busy entertaining ourselves. Removing the unneeded label of “Christian film” from our works is the first step in the process of opening up to the outside world.

I am not calling for a lowering of our moral standards. I am not saying we should be ashamed of being Christian. Quite the contrary, we should be open about our faith. It is important for the filmmaker to be identified as Christian than his work be labeled as such. If a Christian makes a film, and if that Christian speaks to Biblical truth and morality – he is making a Christian film. The labeling is there for show and its not helping anyone. A pagan can make a movie and label it as Christian. The product itself shouldn’t be where the labeling resides. The artist is the one who is the Christian. His fruit will bear His name.

I have no interest anymore in seeing “Christian film” What I want to see are films made by Christians. There is a difference in my mind. The former is made to satisfy the demands of Christian culture. The latter answers to Christ.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Pirates of the Caribbean At Worlds EndShould I see it?

Director: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgård and Yun-Fat Chow

Rated PG-13 for violence and frightening images

Buy or Rent This Movie Here

This final installment of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy left me more disappointed than a beer vendor at a Baptist convention. Even if you liked the first two Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this one will still probably let you down.

Johnny Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow and fills the screen once again with his performance. The problem is that even a wildly popular character cannot mask a thin script. Numerous loose ends from their previous film Dead Man’s Chest proves too much to for screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot to overcome. To force a resolution to their sprawling narrative, the writers introduce new characters, conflicts and rules that are simply inorganic when held against the previous films. By the end of this outing it is clear that it is a good thing the franchise is going away.

This film is proof that it is possible to have too many spokes in your narrative wheel. It’s a bad thing when your audience needs a scorecard to keep track of all of the competing plots and characters.

Go back and watch the original Pirates of the Caribbean and ignore this fumbling mess.

Worldview: Just like the previous film this movie promotes a view that moral relativity rules the universe. The original film’s line of thought that the pirate’s code is more of a set of suggestions fuels this piece. Everyone is out for themselves, while there are brief moments of sacrifice, any semblance of actual goodness is vacant. When one looks at the behavior of the “good guys” they are not far removed from the villains. The only thing that makes the protagonists good is that our attention is pushed their way. In the world of this film there are no good people.

In the world of this film there is also no God. There are plenty of curses and odd afterlife notions but God is not present. Instead of being rescued from the price of their sins by the blood of Christ, this film shows that their pals can save people – if their pals really try hard. I always find it interesting that filmmakers are likely to casually mention sin, curses and the devil but can’t quite muster the logic to speak of Christ standing against these things.

Production Notes: The main reason this film is so scattered is that doesn’t have much to do with the first film. As mentioned in my review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the three films form a three-act structure. The first film is the opening act and this film is the final act. Literally, this film not being deeply connected to the first (by narrative) is no different than telling the story of Snow White and ending the tale with the resolution from Cinderella. It’s confusing and unrelated.

The characters are the same throughout the films but the story is too transitory to maintain any sense.

Cautions: This film contains cartoon violence, but it is dark. The violence isn’t gory but the nonchalant attitude towards killing may be disturbing. There is a brief moment of sensuality between two characters involving the male lead passionately kissing at the leg of the female lead.

As with the previous films, the biggest concern with this work is the godless worldview which allows for the casual violence and whatnot. The afterlife is considered to be a pliable plane of existence that can be manipulated and molded by human endeavor. Since this is the case one’s morality in this world isn’t of concern. You can always have your punishment absolved if you’re well connected and people will come to your aid.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Mans ChestShould I see it?

Director: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, Bill Nighy and Stellan Skarsgård

Rated PG-13 for violence and frightening images

Buy or Rent This Movie HerePirates of the Caribbean Dead Mans Chest

It’s just like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie except without the upbeat tone, rock solid structure, fun or proper lighting.

There is a clear break with the original production. It is apparent this is an afterthought. In other words, the first film wasn’t made to naturally lead into this piece. This leaves this film with a number of awkward moments where they attempt to retain the rules and characters from the first film while also forcing items in to develop a new narrative to set up the next film in the series.

Director Gore Verbinski seems uncontrolled with his action sequences to the point that his sword fighting scenes actually become tedious. Jack Sparrow and company become oddly dressed versions of Jackie Chan in some instances where they perform amazing acrobatics while fighting. The sequences move from interesting, to silly, to belligerently stupid.

This film will probably entertain but it won’t do much else. This is a lesser product than the first film and it is sorely obvious with each frame. This said, its still a better production than most Hollywood efforts these days.

Worldview: It is the same as the first but without all of the obfuscation. Jack Sparrow, a raping, thieving, murderer is celebrated as a positive character. While he is not revered as a good man, the film does promote his wickedness as a mere humorous character flaw.

Unlike the first film, there are almost no good people in this installment. Each character is out for themselves and themselves only. The only person trying to do actual good is Will Turner but he’s a secondary character and in the midst of the pirates his efforts are muted.

Production Notes: This is a dark movie. The reason for that is because it is the second film of three. When you have a trio of films that share the same narrative (the original Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, etc.) you’ll find the second is always the darkest (The Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers, Back to the Future II – the one where Biff controls the world). The reason for this is because this film is in essence the second act if you look at the films as one collective whole. Stories come in a number of acts. The act structure is simple. The first act is the opening, where everything is explained and the hero is given a task. The second act is the middle where the conflict occurs – this is a dark time where the hero may or may not be victorious. The final act is where the hero and company do final battle with the villain and eventually win. Again, this second film is the second act and therefore a dank view of the hero’s world.

Sit back and think of the second film in any series of movies and you’ll see this pattern emerge.

Cautions: There’s plenty of cartoon violence. In the beginning there are a couple scenes of horrific gore. A man gets his eye plucked out by a crow, for example. Following the very dark opening, the violence becomes more goofy. There’s no sexual imagery or cursing to be concerned about. The worst thing to be mindful of with this film is the backward worldview where good is bad and bad is good.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Pirates of the Caribbean The Curse of the Black PearlShould I see it?

Director: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly and Jonathan Pryce

Rated PG-13 for violence and frightening images

Buy or Rent This Movie HerePirates of the Caribbean The Curse of the Black Pearl

This is one of the best written scripts to come out of Hollywood ever. Screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott manage a complex plot buttressed by thrilling dialog. This is a great script if you are looking to instruct yourself in how to write for the movies.

The film itself is a fun romp. Johnny Depp steals the show in his now famous performance as the wobbly Captain Jack Sparrow. Bright, exciting and perfectly paced, this film is a great pick if you’re looking for something that will leave you upbeat.

Worldview: This sticky wicket here is the treatment of piracy. In the context of the film, it would seem that pirates are a rebellious but relatively harmless lot. With Jack Sparrow (who casually admits to being a thief, murderer and rapist in the film) shown in such an adoring light this film sells a low bill of goods. Be mindful that the overall point of the film is that doing evil is good and being good is stupid. Note when you watch the film who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. What are the qualities that make them who they are? You will find the film is more than it first appears.

Production Notes: I’ll continue with my gushing over the script for a bit. It is a fantastic work. Forgiving the horrible message, this script, on a technical level, is a marvel. It is perfectly balanced and is thoroughly thought out. If you have the DVD on hand, listen to the screenwriters commentary as the final credits roll. You will get a full version of the backstory* to this piece.

* - A backstory is, in essence, the story that happens before the story you’re viewing has begun. Star Wars would be the backstory to The Empire Strikes Back, is a clumsy example.

Cautions: There’s plenty of comical violence and some undead running around. The film is not littered with offensive acts of sexuality or violence. The core issue to contend with is the message of the film. Again, piracy is a good thing is the effective point of the piece. This selling of evil as good deserves some caution before you view the film.

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30 Movies That Matter

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

***This was originally posted at my now defunct site Nehring the Edge. I'm republishing it here as written back on July 31st of 2006. The points made below, I believe, are still relevant and the films I suggest remain worthy of your consideration.***

Julie Davis of Happy Catholic had posted a list of “movies hat matter”. This lists films she believes to have positive messages. This was a result of her review of the book Movies That Matter: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith, by Richard Leonard. Mr. Leonard’s book is one of many that push Christians to interact with the cinema and look for meaning in our films. While I strongly agree that Christians are required to interact with culture, I think we need to be careful with how we do it.

The most important thing a Christian can do when viewing a film is to understand what the film is saying to them. The problem is that we want to like movies we watch. Then again, as Christians we also want to remain committed to our faith. This duality often leads us to excuse the culture we digest. We either are completely dismissive of film (it’s just a movie) or we pick and choose the messages we claim a film projects. This is a common snare for Christians and I certainly find myself caught in this trap. It takes a great deal of patience and thought to avoid the pitfalls of cinema’s allure.

The idea that someone blows off cinema as being meaningless speaks for itself. It’s wrong, but it is obvious what I mean. Every film, from Citizen Kane to Dodgeball expresses a worldview and has a message it is putting forth. There is no such thing as a film that is “just entertainment”. This is a fiction people repeat out of either honest ignorance or as means to excuse their enjoyment in a particular piece. It is fair to consider films to be a little like commercial for worldviews. Like actual commercials a film presents an problem and the resolves said issue with the behavior they wish to support.

An example of this that I like to use is from the original Pirates of the Caribbean. The problem is Will Turner wants to woo Elizabeth Swann but he is restricted by social rules. The answer is abandon society and become a pirate. In an actual commercial they present a problem (you’re hungry) and then they present an answer (eat of McDonalds.) Every film has this set up and resolution.

The more complicated issue is the picking and choosing of themes or philosophies. This is when Christians, in their attempt to find something nice to say about a piece will ignore huge parts of a film and clutch on to one positive aspect to make the whole piece seem wonderful. Forrest Gump is good because it tells the tale of a man fighting against his handicap and winning. Yeah, but the film is a post-modern screed which denies any order to the universe (therefore no God.) Christians love The Matrix because of the Christian references. They want the film to be a Christian analogy so bad they ignore such things such as the wanton murder of the “unsaved” and the fact that the evil computer created the original “Eden” matrix (this translates to the evil computer being God.) The examples are legion. We will say that a film that shoves existentialism, paganism or various other “isms” that are contrary to the Christian worldview are acceptable because they promote a narrow theme. I can say Bladerunner examines the nature of humanity and has really cool gunfire sound effects. Yes, but the piece as a whole denies actual existence. The main character turns out to be a robot so we are left wondering if anyone actually is human. This denial of existence is at the heart of the post-modern worldview. We must take the piece as a whole, not pick and choose like it is a buffet of ideas. You consume the whole thing, not just its parts. There are plenty of porn flicks out there that give great messages about “teamwork” and “doing unto others”. We need to be mindful of the whole piece not just its parts.

The above may sound like I’m a freak about content. In a way I am. In my eyes, a film is one of moral value if it promotes two essential things. 1) It supports and examines a Christian value. 2) It supports and promotes the Christian worldview. Everything else is philosophical weak sauce and should be digested with caution. A good example of a positive worldview is found in the works of Quentin Tarantino who lavishes his work with the teachings of our Lord. Just checking to make sure you're still paying attention. Tarantino is actually a moral retard and is one of the great turd merchants standing at the brim of this septic tank we call popular culture.

I am not one who believes that the presence of sex and/or violence immediately means a piece is unacceptable. Adult topics deserve adult honesty. If the story calls for nudity I say fine. If the story calls for violence, okay. I concern myself more with WHAT is being said. HOW it is being said takes a backseat (although it is not totally out of the equation.) I have been asked to offer my own list of “movies that matter”. Using my criteria I have isolated some films I believe are “good” for Christians.

I’ve decided the split my choices of “movies that matter” into three categories: Safe, Moderate and Are You Out of Your Head?

The Safe List are films that are commonly held “Christian-safe” films. The second group is the Moderate List. These are films that have some questionable content for many Christians such as war violence or sexual suggestions. These are more “mainstream” films that are not meant to speak directly to Christians but to a wider audience. The final group, or the “Are You Out of Your Head? List” are films that are not for kids and some adults. These films have harsh violence and/or sexual content. I believe they have more however. Sure they are rough but they have value. I say if we're going to set boundaries we need to know where they stand. As my pastor likes to say, “The site is called Nehring The Edge after all. If you need me to explain the final choices, let me know and we’ll have at it.

The Safe List

Coming to a church basement near you.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

The Mission (1986)

Chariots of Fire (1981)

The Spitfire Grill (1996)

Babette's Feast (1987)

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)-

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

There are plenty of “Christian” films out there today. The problem is that films like Left Behind, The Omega Code, Joshua and The Second Chance are simply not well made films. While they intend to praise Jesus they tend to bore or embarrass their audiences.

The Moderate List

These films that I believe support our way of thinking while they still entertain. They are in no particular order. If you haven’t seen these films, I recommend each one. If you haven’t thought of these film being worthy for Christians, I suggest giving them a second look.

O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)

This is the Coen Brother’s best piece and the only George Clooney performance worth noting. Strong Christian roots feed this humorous piece about a trio of escaped cons who find that no matter where you go God’s divine hand will find you.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Frank Capra and James Stewart provide a brilliant and uplifting look at the power of the individual. Stewart answers the call of his beliefs and stands for truth. This is an outstanding piece that shows that even a single voice can change the world.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The best war film of all time, hands down – no arguing. This film puts the discussion of a “just war” in real terms. While very gory, it violent for a reason. A great tool for debate and a masterful piece of filmmaking. Look for Tom Hanks in a Christ-like role as Capt. Miller.

Saints and Soldiers (2003)

Not as marvelous as Saving Private Ryan (this is a small budget indie film,) this war film still makes the grade. Where does faith play its role in the midst of a world war?

Shane (1953)

One of the best westerns to ever see the screen, this film has stunning cinematography, effective performances and a great story. Christian symbolism abounds in this story of a stranger who arrives at a farm and is forced by circumstance to set things right.

About a Boy (2002)

To have purpose in your life, effect other people’s lives for the better. Hugh Grant changes gears and gives a likable performance as Will, a literally useless person, who changes when he is adopted by a boy looking for a mentor.

To End All Wars (2001)

Probably the best example of the effects of worldview ever put to screen. American P.O.W.s are tortured by their Japanese captors during World War II. The only weapon available to the Americans is their faith. The Japanese rely on their “honor”. Be warned, this is a brutal film and very hard to watch. The torture scenes are very realistic.

The Incredibles (2004)

In my opinion this is the greatest piece of animation in decades and the best film of 2004. This movie affirms the family, good over evil, and the wages of clinging to the past. It also makes the unflinching statement against the results oriented crowd. All of this and it is entertaining to boot.

Uncle Buck (1989)

Like About a Boy, this film supports the idea that one improves themselves by helping others. John Candy offers one of his best and most endearing performances as the kindly Uncle who has put off responsibility as long as possible. Very funny and pushes great values.

Amadeus (1984)

A great story of envy. F. Murray Abraham portrays Salieri, a gifted composer who is thankful to God for his talents until he finds that God has given the foul Mozart more. Unable to accept his lot in life, Salieri conjures an evil plot against God’s chosen one. Outstanding performances are buttressed by Peter Schaffer’s sharp direction.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Life is fleeting, use your time wisely. An intelligent script that is full of wisdom is good values inform this humorous piece. Robin Williams gives what is probably his best performance as teacher John Keating who teaches his students to live their lives with as much life as possible.

Signs (2002)

M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s creepy alien invasion story is an entertaining suspense film. Mel Gibson gives a strangely subdued performance as Rev. Hess, a man who has lost his faith after the death of his wife. A somewhat weak resolution attempts to spoil this otherwise well-conceived plot which speaks to faith and redemption.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

One of the scariest films in years. It’s scary because it takes the notion of possession and faith seriously. This piece is more of a courtroom drama than a horror film. Well written and expertly performed, this movie will scare you and get you thinking about the nature of evil.

The Exorcist (1973)

The best horror film of all time. Starkly realistic, William Friedkin’s film about the possession of a little girl still frightens today. A rare exception, faith is given a serious portrayal in this piece and is used to heighten the realism of the film as a whole. This is not for those who scare easy.

Hometown Legend (2002)

Fueled by well-written script by Shawn Hoffman and Michael Patwin, this is one of the better overtly Christian films made in recent years. While far from masterful, this is a good movie with good morals and strong Christian messages. If you’re committed to only watching “Christian” film, this is one you need to see.

Are You Out of Your Head?

These are not for the faint of heart and involve some very harsh sexuality and/or violence to get their point across.

The Road Warrior (1981)

Yeah, it’s hyper violent and has gay bikers running around with their butts hanging out. Don’t rent this one for the church social. I sincerely believe this film is a good look at worldview and sacrifice when viewed properly. Look at the differences between Mad Max (Mel Gibson) and Pappagallo (Michael Preston) and how they work in the world. If you’re still confused, click on the link below the title to be taken to my full review.

The Shining (1980)

Can you think of a better film that shows the results of a person obsessing on their works in this world? Evil gets a foothold on Jack (Jack Nicholson) when his obsession to create overcomes him while managing an empty hotel with his wife and psychic son. A great look at how evil can take root when we lose our way.

Se7en (1995)

Christians will turn from this one instinctually. If you’re capable of handling the violence, this smart film is worth another look. The morality at work in this piece is well thought out and worthy of discussion. Extremely well written and directed, this disturbing piece is far more than it first appears.

8mm (1999)

The real face of the pornography business is shown in the brutally realistic film. Nicholas Cage is private investigator Tom Welles who gets caught up in the terrible world of porn when he is tasked to investigate if a snuff film is authentic or not. This film will stick with you and probably not in a good way. I recommend it because it shows evil for what it is without dressing it up (until the unfortunate ending.) This one comes with a strong caution for content.

Body Heat (1981)

Not for everyone, this sometimes too blunt film shows the underbelly of sexuality. William Hurt and Kathleen Turner star in this steamy film noir piece about a man who will do anything to feed his lust. One of the better films of the 80’s, this movie speaks to the moral consequences of immoral behavior. Be warned, the sexuality portrayed in this film is very graphic.

Auto Focus (2002)

Probably the best view on the effects of pornography on the individual. Greg Kinnear portrays Bob Crane, best known as Hogan from Hogan’s Heroes. Crane who is at the top of his career takes a nosedive when pornography and his sexual desire takes over his life.

Those last few ought to kick up the comment count.

Agree with my picks or not, it is crucial for Christians to be mindful of the entertainment they devour. Although I suggest some films with sexuality and violence you must protect yourself. Obviously, if viewing rough content easily sways you then you shouldn’t. Do not take my endorsement of some films with sex and/or violence to mean that I don’t have any criterion at play here. The worldview of a film is a critical thing for us to be wary of but it is always important for us to be cautious when we open ourselves to sex and violence. Watching questionable material does have its effect and we shouldn’t be dismissive of it.

Drop me a line if you disagree with my choices or my way of thinking. Better yet, let me know if I have missed anything.\

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Learning Remote Control Control: Cinematic Slobs and Cultural Gluttony

I’ve spent some energy hammering on Christians who scurry into their cultural caves any time someone offers to take them to a movie. There are many reasons why being over protective of your senses is detrimental to a full Christian life and one should hold their fears at bay. Film is a beautiful art that can inspire vast audiences and influence how they see their world.. I think it is one of the wonders of our age. We should watch film with care with our eyes looking through the lens of our faith.

Homer Simpson couchThere are many that look at the expanse of world cinema’s offerings and fail to see a rich buffet expressing the thoughts and dreams of humanity. Many only look at the menu stemming from Hollywood and think the movies are little more than a mountain of quickly made Happy Meals. These folks do not take cinema seriously and are likely to spout “it doesn’t matter, its only a movie”.

It’s never – I’ll say that again because it is important – NEVER just a movie.

Those who do not take their consumption of film (and television for that matter) seriously have a greater chance of falling into consuming anything that come across. If movies don’t matter then why would it matter what they watch? It doesn’t have an effect, right? There are many who stuff themselves on media. They binge on films without concern to their content or intention. As long as they are entertained, they are happy.

Believe it or not, gluttony is a bad idea.

As we continue with this site, I’ll explain in detail exactly why movies matter. The short version is that they literally explain you world to you and have an affect how you conduct yourself both externally and internally. If you don’t believe films have an effect directly on how we behave or have any impact on the condition of our souls then answer this – is it bad to watch porn? If you believe (correctly) that the consumption of pornographic imagery erodes that the heart and mind of the viewer then you have already conceded the projected image can affect the audience. Still clinging to the notion that films have no deeper impact? Answer this – tell me what you know about the old West? Dinosaurs? Space travel? The Scottish fight for freedom from Britain? Honesty, give it some thought. Now, how much of what you know comes directly from movies that you have seen? Most likely, a great deal.

A person is lionized when they have a movie made about them. When greats pass away like Ray Charles or Johnny Cash their status in our culture is confirmed when a movie is made about their lives. These memorials are international events that serve to praise the life of the talented. Important events like D-Day, the Holocaust, September 11th and others likewise are given updated gravity when films are made showing their place in history. We look to these films to learn more about these people and events. The films we watch however are controlled filters that fail to give full explanations and descriptions. We walk away with the ideas the filmmakers designed for us to have about these events. Consider Oliver Stone’s JFK. His conspiracy piece about the assassination of JFK was littered with inconsistencies and outrageous claims. Many watched his film and were moved to consider his kooky theories. If films can be used to praise cultural figures and alter the way we perceive our collective past do you honestly think they don’t change the way we see our present and futures?

Films do have an impact on how you think and by extension how you act. It is not a coincidence that our society has coarsened as our entertainment industry has lost the ability to restrain itself. I firmly believe that Hollywood is not reflecting our society any longer. It is the opposite that is true. We react to what is put before us. If we consume a diet of scatological comedies (meaning poop and potty humor) we shouldn’t be surprised that we will begin to repeat low brow jokes in private. If we watch a heavy amount of horror films, our chances of have more fleeting thoughts of committing violence will increase. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the cause and effect.

If you watch everything you conserve nothing within yourself. When you fail to control yourself when engaging the culture you have handed yourself over to those who will play to your base urges. Hollywood is an industry and they will be more than happy to make a buck off of you. The easier the sale, the better. Selling a guy Die Hard or The Transformers is easier than selling him Tsotsi, The Decalouge or Citizen Kane. They do not care about you or your soul, they only care about your wallet. It is like walking down the street and eating from whatever vendors you come across and expecting to remain healthy. It’s not going to happen.

In addition, when you fail to control your intake you’re allowing all matter of worldview and content to enter into your brain – without consideration. It is not sinful to see sex and violence. Sin comes into play by how you react to it. If you allow questionable material into your mind without confronting it with the light of Christ then your chances of reacting to it in a sinful matter (obsessing over sexual imagery or pleasuring yourself in the pain of others, etc.) increases.

It is only by having control BEFORE we consume media, and then reflect AFTER we’re done that we can expect to manage ourselves in a Christian way.

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Evan Almighty (2007)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Evan AlmightyShould I see it?

Director: Tom Shadyac
Written by: Steve Oedekerk
Starring: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham and John Goodman

Rated PG for scatological humor

Buy or Rent This Movie Here

Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) begins his new position as a Senator. After moving his family into a posh development he gets visited by God (Morgan Freeman). God asks him to build an ark and to warn the world of an impending flood. The remainder of the piece focuses on Evan building his ark while also deciding if he should sign piece of environmental legislation being pushed by the senior senator from his state (John Goodman). Evan begins to take on the physical appearance of Noah while animals begin to swarm around him and his ark.

This is simply a bad movie.

This is the costliest comedy ever made with a budget upwards to $175,000,000.00. This proves that all of the money in the world can’t fix bad ideas. Even as a simple distraction, a cinematic bauble, it fails to please. I’ve seen screen savers with more narrative punch.

The premises are interesting but left relatively untouched. Instead of playing off of the comedy that is inherent, a materialist being confronted by God, the film delves into poop humor and groin shots. Its not that I’m completely against a good, solid groin shot gag or a poop joke for that matter. These things do have their places. In this instance however, its just too much salt for the soup. Furthermore, they make strange decisions such as Evan taking on the physical appearance of Noah as he continues to work on the ark. There’s no reason given for this transformation and it comes across as a forced gag that doesn't resonate. It’s a hollow joke which doesn’t play.

Worldview: The central question posed is how one can find happiness. In the beginning, Evan is consumed by his position and material goods (including his looks). Under the gentle coaxing by God, Evan reconnects with his family and nature and finds real happiness.

This overarching concept is then buttressed by an environmental subplot involving Evan signing a piece of legislation that would open portions of the national parks to developers. All of this is handled with some caution until the final act.

***SPOILER WARNING - the ending is given here***

In the end, the ark is built just as a damn breaks and floods the valley where Evan lives. The ark is then shuttled by the flood to a balcony of the Senate where the questionable bill is about to be signed. God allows the flood to occur to stop bad law making. It is important to note the flood is not one of vengeance but one made by man. This of course then puts the question of how far does our free will extend into play.

Jesus is not present in this piece nor is he referenced. Given the story and how it is expressed, this is not a “Christian” movie. This is more of a “Jewish” one. There are Biblical elements at play but they are not fully realized and come across as concessions more than lessons. This is a “spiritualish” film, meaning it wants to appear Biblical without the commitment.

This film has caused quite a stink in Christian circles because of the presence of God (Morgan Freeman) on screen. Many have quickly dismissed this film based on the low brow humor of its predecessor Bruce Almighty. Others have claimed this piece runs afoul of the Second Commandment:

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments. - Exodus 20:4-6

While having Morgan Freeman on screen portraying God in a dumb comedy may make some uncomfortable, I don’t believe it breaks the law. We are not asked to worship this image. While he imparts wisdom not spoken by God, we understand he is Morgan Freeman and not actually the real deal.

Another concern is the revisiting of God being involved in a flood when he promised not produce another one. In the context of this film he doesn’t make the flood, we do through our actions. Problem solved.

Cautions: Given their lack of depth combined with their need to be completely family friendly, the filmmakers go wall-to-wall poop jokes in this film. Why is it that family films always have to have poop and fart jokes these days? This goes hand in hand with the sexual innuendos that most family fare now has to contain in order to amuse the adults. While this film avoids sexual humor, you will gag on all of the feces gags.

The language is tame and there isn’t a butt or nipple to be found. This film is safe for all ages but certainly not all sets of I.Q.s, Children will probably become bored, as will the adults, with the long spans of needless talking (without being funny).

Scott Nehring Good News Film ReviewsRelated Reviews:
Another Steve Carell movie
Get Smart (2008)

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Ransom Fellowship

I've discovered an interesting and helpful resource when it comes to Christianity and film.

Ransom Fellowship is "...the writing, mentoring, and speaking ministry of Denis and Margie Haack, under the direction and oversight of a Board of Directors. We are committed to the four d’s: developing discernment and deepening discipleship."

They have many thoughtful reviews (far less belligerent in tone than my work) and offer useful advice on watching and discussing film.

HT to Dr. John Seel Jr. for leading me to them.

The G-Rated Christian: Part II: If you keep your head stuck in the sand which part of you is facing the rest of the world?

This is the second part of my look at Christian cultural cave dwellers. Click here to read the first post, Does God Call For Us to Become Ned Flanders?

When I am speaking with a Christian who retracts at the idea of watching movies, I will hear the usual complaints. They will condemn Hollywood for all of its transgressions. It is a place loaded with money grubbing whores who will sell our souls at a discount. Christians will often cite their reasons for not watching movies to be that they don’t want to sin, they don’t want to be tempted, they don’t want to become too comfortable with leisurely activities. One thing I rarely hear about is the world at large. More often than not, Christians tend to speak of cinema as individuals and not as a part of this world. We do not live in bubbles, although many Christians seem to want to have it that way. We live in this world. It is part of our job, while were are here, to help clean things up around here. Film can and will help in getting this work completed.

One aspect of hiding oneself from the box office, or neutering ones’ entertainment choices to items that never get more intellectual than children’s shows is that you are out of step with the rest of the world that surrounds you.

By the way, the verse you’re probably thinking of right now is Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Yeah, I know we’re supposed to keep our eyes on the prize and not the Oscars. Keep with me for a while more. If a Christian fails to remain connected to the culture in some fashion – I’ll say that again because it is important, in some fashion – they will not be able to speak the language of those around them. This is an entertainment based culture. For better or for worse (okay, just for worse) we engage each other by means of our entertainment. Today, people discuss television shows and movies the way other generations would speak of the weather. Many people can hold complete conversations using little more than movie quotes and references. Trust me, its possible, my brother-in-law is the king of doing this. If Christians turn away from the culture they lose the ability to fully understand what is going on around them. If we don’t know what is going on, if we don’t speak the language, how can we possibly expect to have effective missions?

In Acts 17:16-23, Paul preaches in Athens. What does he do? Athens is a cultural capital lost in a swamp of theological musings. At the time numerous idols are erected and worshipped. The place, while beautiful and vibrant is spiritual dead. Paul doesn’t meander in, see the pagans and then throw run away crying. What does he do? He enters Athens, investigates and comes to understand their arguments and thinking and the proceeds to change their hearts by speaking their cultural language.

Acts 17:16-23
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the Godfearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.
18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

In this passage we see that Paul, being of strong faith, is able to engage in a non-Christian culture on its own terms. He works to understand and then moves to turn it towards Christ. What would have been the result if Paul would have simply took his blocks and went home like many Christians demand we do today?

I need to be explicit now. I am NOT saying Christians need to immerse themselves in crass culture. No, you do not have to see the Saw films, you do not need to sit down and watch a box set of Sex in the City. My point is that we need to carefully try to understand the wider culture. It is not sinful to consume material, which does not cause harm, to remain relevant in this culture. If your faith is strong, you can see opposing worldviews and not be swayed. Learn to read culture and you can actually see opposing worldviews and see ways to change them. Keep hiding and you abandon your post. If we continue down the path of avoidance at all costs we have abandoned the non-believers to the worst possible fates when it was within our power to help. I can’t think of any less Christian than that.

The G-Rated Christian: Part I - Does God Call For Us to Become Ned Flanders?

Ned FlandersProtecting oneself from temptation and slipping into sin is a constant battle all Christians understand. Some of us are quite weak and the slightest push in a particular direction will lead them to a fall. We are also prompted to refrain from luring another into sin. These issues pose a constant discussion in Christian circles as to what is and what is not permitted while leading a “Christian life”. In this culture of leisure we are particularly exposed to more temptations than previous generations. As it turns out its easier to be tempted to watch a Hollywood bimbo jiggle her wares in some movie if one doesn’t have to waste time doing things like keeping their crops alive or fending off disease and invading armies. The advances in technology and science ease our lives and we’re finding that, like Chaucer said, "Idle hands are the devil's tools". In other words, many find it hard to remain good while living in this great age.

Reacting to the flood of media we have experienced over the last 50 years, many have opted to take the road of least resistance. To them walking with Christ means one must refrain from watching movies. Many contend that any non-Christian flavored media is sinful by nature and should be avoided. The problem with these points of view is that they do not promise the favor of salvation. Only grace affords us that. These positions usually derive more from a stance of legalism than actual acknowledgment of Christ’s love. If one chooses freely, and for good reason, to avoid these things I support them fully. Again, many of us are burdened by weaknesses and anything people can do to shield themselves is a benefit. Those who blindly follow doctrine and haven’t bothered themselves with investigating these issues for themselves – well, you and I will disagree. I will never stop you from your choice, but we will disagree on your decision (or lack of a decision as I would contend.)

The common tract with Christians is to rely on the ratings system as a means to decide which films are permitted and which ones should be avoided at all costs. Some only see G-rated films while more allow PG (and the occasional PG-13) movie to be seen. The usual rule is that R-rated films are off limits and inherently sinful.

This is wrong.

Without going into the details of how or why the ratings system was developed in the late 1960’s (I’ll get into that in another post,) I first have to say that the ratings system is by no means a proper judge of the spiritual value of a film. If a Christian is only interested in avoiding content such as nudity, sexual scenes, harsh language and violence, then yes, the ratings will work. The problem is that the ratings do not cover CONTEXT. Example: there is a difference between the shower scenes in Schindler’s List and the one in Porky’s. One (Porky’s) was performed to illicit lust in the audience the other (Schindler’s List) was done to show the horrors of the victims of the Holocaust and the cruelty of the Nazis. Both scenes show the content of full frontal nudity but the context is very different. Both are R-rated films. A Christian who refuses all R-rated movies is casting out the good with the bad for the sake of simplicity. I personally think Schindler’s List is a brilliant film that any adult Christian should see. It is an intelligent and moving piece that juxtaposes the worst of human endeavor against all that is good in the human heart. Spielberg’s frank imagery is needed to make his point. While Spielberg is not a Christian, we can still look at his work and its effect in the light of Jesus and ask does this film with all of its graphic scenes follow Ephesians 5:11 “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” I say yes. By getting a clear idea of the crimes committed and the impact felt by its victims Spielberg did fully expose the evil in the Nazi world. We, as an audience, are made aware that these were events are more than just paragraphs in our history books but were experienced by living people, children of God, who were slaughtered by the minions of the devil. One following the rules of the ratings system throws out important works out of laziness not righteousness.

For those who cite verses such as Psalm 11:5 “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” or perhaps Romans 12:9 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” or any of the other verses urging us to only view what is beautiful, I agree with you. These verses should be tightly clung to whenever one looks over their choices of entertainment. This said, we should not simply decide that what is “good” or “beautiful” always equates a sanitary view of the world. In my opinion, sanitizing this world to make it appear sinless is a lie. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure lying isn’t a Christian tenant. Yes, there is beauty in this world but there is also sin. To promote a view of this world where sin is not treated seriously is wrong in my estimation. We are to “take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5 and “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) we cannot do this if we simply avoid the unpleasant things so we don’t have to give them consideration.

What we need to be careful of is the celebration of sin or the promotion of it. This is where you will find the cautions listed above will have more effect. The love of showing and experiencing violence is the difference between things such as the violence in Saving Private Ryan and the violence in Hostel. If a production blurs the distinction between the right and the wrong (Pirates of the Caribbean for example) or drops all pretensions and comes out on the side of evil (Mr. Tarantino, I’m looking at you) we should tread very lightly if at all. I will go further and say that the avoidance of culture by Christians has lead to the rapid decline of our society. Perhaps we should look at why Christians have fallen back on the ratings system in the first place. As Christians continue to pull away we have seen the abandoned culture fester in the hands of those left behind. Without Christians engaged in the culture we allow for those consumed by evil and the things of this world to take control. The explosion in porn, torture films and crude behavior in popular culture should not surprise us. The only thing we as a collective condone is condemnation of non-Christian thought. If we are disengaged then we don’t have a voice in the culture. If we don’t lead they won’t follow.

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