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A New Sci-Fi Film Struggles with the Big Questions

transcendenceAt 10:55 p.m. on Friday I had half-drafted a review of “Transcendence” in my head. It was going to be positively glowing. And it was going to run something like this:

“Transcendence” opens to an un-Internet-ed dystopia. Smartphones litter the streets, and shopkeepers prop their doors open with computer keyboards. “The internet,” Max Waters (Paul Bettany) tells the audience, “was meant to make the world a smaller place, but actually the world feels smaller without it.”

We travel back five years. Max is watching his friends Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall) present on artificial intelligence at a technology conference.

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In ‘Heaven Is for Real,’ a Little Boy Brings Heaven Back to Earth

HeavenBased on the book of the same name, “Heaven is for Real” tells the true story of a young boy’s account of his visit to heaven. That’s right. His visit to heaven.

If you’ve read the book, you’re familiar with the details: Todd and Sonja Burpo were a devout Christian couple living in Nebraska with their two kids, pastoring a church, and involved in their community. In 2003, their family was hit with some serious health and financial difficulties. Just when they thought the trying season was coming to an end, their three-year-old son, Colton had to have an emergency appendectomy. His life hung in the balance while he was on the operating table, and his parents cried out to God and asked friends and family to pray for them while they waited at the hospital, helpless to do much else. Colton came through the critical surgery and normalcy seemed to be restored. That is, until he began to tell his parents about his trip to heaven.

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'Nefarious' Shows the Horror of Sex Trafficking -- and Why We Must Look upon It

220px-Merchant_of_SoulsOver the last handful of years, human trafficking has taken center stage on both the national and international level. The conversation is no longer restricted to human rights workers on the frontlines or grassroots activists; more and more churches, communities, and young people, are raising awareness -- as well as money -- in order to fight the selling and trading of life.

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls” is a documentary that examines human enslavement and trafficking specifically through the lens of the sex industry. Produced in 2012 by Exodus Cry, a Christian nonprofit organization, the film opens with some powerful words by 19th-century author Victor Hugo: “We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.”
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'Captain America' and the Good in This World

tumblr_mym8omKI7E1r0ecrho1_500Look at the promo picture at the head of this article, and you will see the conflict at the heart of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” captured in one image. Captain America’s iconic “mighty shield” is being used as a weapon against its owner, just as the technological powers of S.H.I.E.L.D. are being used to track down and even kill the heroes it comprises, along with the very people it was intended to protect.

If you remember how the previous “Captain America” film ended, you know that Steve Rogers (Captain America, played by Chris Evans) has been resuscitated after decades in a coma. Rogers is introduced in this new film as very much the strong superhero, but equally a man out of his time. There is an exhibit about him in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where he can see grainy footage of his now dead or dying friends in their youths. He has created a list of things to get caught up on after the 60 or so years he was out of commission. He is nostalgic for his old time, and uncomfortable navigating the new one.

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Rating: 5.00
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The Films of 1939, Part 4

Wuthering_HeightsClassic stories are often called “timeless,” but that’s not always the most accurate description. Literary classics go in and out of fashion just as clothing does; what’s considered a literary masterpiece today may have been considered barely respectable by yesterday’s academics and readers, and vice versa.

Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” is a perfect example. When this passionate, violent novel was first published in 1847, many found it shocking. Even the novelist’s own sister, Charlotte (author of “Jane Eyre”), was taken aback by certain aspects of Emily’s work. Somehow, the fiercely private daughter of a Yorkshire clergyman—a young woman who had little formal education, seldom left home, and died at the age of 30—had managed to produce a strikingly original but profoundly unsettling love story.

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Of Chameleons, Swans, and Sir Alec Guinness

alec-guinnessOne of the finest actors of the 20th century was also one of the most elusive. Sir Alec Guinness, born 100 years ago today, had the chameleon-like gift of disappearing completely into each character that he played. So completely, in fact, that this very prominent actor often appeared to be hiding in plain sight.

It’s mind-boggling to realize that the same man played Dickens’s sinister Fagin in “Oliver Twist,” Chesterton’s gentle Father Brown in “The Detective,” the menacing yet hapless Professor Marcus in “The Ladykillers,” the tragically self-deluded Colonel Nicholson in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” the bumbling butler in “Murder by Death,” and the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars.” It isn’t just that the personalities are different. Everything is different—the walk, the mannerisms, the posture, the demeanor. It’s as if the actor transforms himself into a different person every time.

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‘Noah’ Brings Together Legend, Controversy, and a Surprisingly Biblical Message

noahIt’s in our consciousness, our folklore, maybe in our very cells. We fear endless water. Hundreds of flood legends deluge historians, starkly similar despite coming from cultures separated by eons and continents. We dream about drowning almost as often as we dream about snakes and falling. And according to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, there’s a good reason. These are shared if distorted memories of an event—one tied closely to God’s plan of redemption and our ultimate fate. But the stories we tell each other may reveal more about ourselves than they do about history. Openly unbelieving Hollywood director Darren Aronofsky makes that clear with his latest film, “Noah.”

Few movies have been subjected to so much critical adjudication beforehand. Months ahead of its theatrical release, Christian ministries, pastors, magazines, and radio hosts were handing down their verdicts on Aronofsky’s adaptation of Genesis 6-9. The majority seemed to agree: “Don’t believe the advertising, this is cinematic blasphemy!” A few urged caution and forbore judgment. I’m glad I was among the latter. This film is no shirt-tucked-in portrayal of the Bible’s account. It is, as Greg Thornbury writes at The Gospel Coalition, an exercise in midrash. But what makes it remarkable is just how fully it reveals what even the secular heart knows about itself—and how Russell Crowe’s Noah preaches Christ without even trying. Read More >
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Marriage and the Church, Part 3

image001141978: The stats were clear. Almost half the people who got married in the U.S. eventually got divorced. All that fancy flutter of gowns and grand ballrooms, champagne toasts, and vows at the altar ended up in the trash bin of unmet promises. Worse yet, Christians were not exempt.

It would be different for me. My childhood sweetheart and I waited until after college to please our parents and do the responsible thing. We skipped to the altar with stars in our eyes and the full assurance that ours was a marriage made in heaven.

No one could have ever convinced me that my wonderful husband might cheat and run off with someone new just two years after we vowed to love and to cherish.

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Rating: 5.00
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‘Divergent’ Is an Enjoyable Film—with a Muddled Message

trisandfour3In many ways, “Divergent” is the best-scenario example of a movie based on a popular Young Adult novel: It rewards the fans by staying loyal to the book, features a terrific cast with enough variation to reward any audience, and builds on all the best parts of the story . . . all without managing to actually be a very good movie.

But consider the source material. The problem with coming-of-age-in-a-future-dystopia tales these days is they are all trilogies, and most of them don’t have enough plot to avoid sprawl. Rather than coming of age, the heroes and heroines slowly ease closer to adulthood, usually stalling in their growth somewhere in book two, then make a questionable leap to the author’s idea of maturity in the last few chapters of the final installment, apparently to avoid alienating the Young Adult audience.

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'Muppets Most Wanted' Doesn't Live Up to Its Heritage

300px-Muppets_Most_Wanted_UK_posterA longtime Muppet fan, I celebrated their return to the big screen. The child in me, the one who woke up early on Saturday mornings to watch “The Muppet Babies” and “Muppet Show” reruns, greatly anticipated a heart-warming tale starring my familiar, favorite characters. I expected celebrity cameos, toe-tapping tunes, and corny jokes along the way, but above all, I expected an important life lesson. I didn't expect to be utterly disappointed.

While technically a sequel, the film directed and written by James Bobin (with Nicholas Stoiler) only loosely connects to the previous one. Walter, a new character introduced in the 2011 movie “The Muppets,” returns as an official Muppet. In the previous film, Walter is the Muppets’ biggest fan, but this time he plays a minor role, existing only to move the plot along. This time around, the bad guys take center stage.

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An Interview with Scott Klusendorf, Part 2

outreach2John: What does an “apologetics” pro-life case look like given today’s cultural landscape?

Scott: First, in a culture steeped in relativism, it’s vital that we change how people feel about abortion as a predicate to changing how they think. For years, advocates of legal abortion were winning because the pro-life movement allowed them to frame the debate as an issue of “choice.” Americans love “choice.” Our only hope of victory was to change the subject and compel the public to consider what’s being chosen.

However, that shift cannot happen as long as abortion’s victims remain invisible. Pictures reawaken moral intuitions and make evil concrete. As Gregg Cunningham points out, when you show abortion pictures, “abortion protests itself.”

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Marriage and the Church, Part 2

Learn-the-Basics-of-Guitar-Playing“I’ve been on this lonely road so long. Does anybody know where it goes? . . . Crowds of people shouting how they loved the show. They don’t know.”

The Carpenters, “Road Ode,” 1972

Bundling up in an Eskimo-style jacket with bulky mittens and a scarf, I stood on the beachfront promenade in Manasquan, New Jersey, 20 years ago from the day I’m writing this. I’m not exactly sure why my mind keeps traipsing back to that snowy season at the shore, but this morning I am reminded of the constant yearning I experienced back then and the way that longing was finally put to rest.

1994 was a time of hyper-busyness. As a part of a music team in a large church, I had the joyful responsibility of helping to spur on the congregation toward greater surrender of our hearts to the Lord. “Worship leaders,” they called us, leading through song and lifestyle toward deeper and deeper dimensions of connection with the King of the Universe.

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'Veronica Mars' Shows a Depressing Lack of Growth

veronica-mars-movie-poster-main(Note: This review contains some minor spoilers.)

“Veronica Mars,” the new film based on the beloved TV series, is created for fans by fans: the result of a Kickstarter campaign that supplied it with the funding it needed to go into production. In this, it excels. It knows what fans of the show want and gives it to them.

This is especially true of eternal bad boy Logan Echolls (Aaron Dohring), the tough-on-the-outside, marshmallow-on-the-inside kid with a troubled past. Spend any time on the Internet and you will encounter vocal fans who have always wanted to see more of the star-crossed love between rich-boy Logan and pariah Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), daughter of Neptune, California’s, most notorious private investigator, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni). Logan, again, becomes the center of Veronica’s universe and the story revolves around her sacrifice to be at his side and constantly come to his aid.

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A Closer Look at 'Let It Go'

frozen_let_it_goIf you have seen “Frozen” and loved it, this is a “spoiler alert” like no other. I’m possibly going to ruin the movie for you forever.

The song “Let it Go” has been bothering me for months.

It’s not so much what Elsa says, as what she doesn’t say. She speaks of a newfound “freedom” in her ice castle, but with a sub-zero regard for responsibility or concern for the impact of her actions upon others.

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An Interview with Scott Klusendorf, Part 1

Rubin07_0John: Thinking big picture, how would you summarize the history of the pro-life movement from 1973 to present?

Scott: I see several clearly defined stages. First, there’s the awakening stage, or, if you will, the pre-court era from 1967 to January 22, 1973—when the Supreme Court handed down its abortion decisions Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. During this stage, the pro-life movement was primarily focused on state issues. Indeed, between 1967 and 1972, a majority of states were heavily lobbied to liberalize their abortion laws, but only 19 did so—thanks in large part to efforts by local right to life activists. And of those states that liberalized their laws, not one arrived at the sweeping judgments of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which, for all practical purposes, legalized abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy. In short, these early pro-life activists fought hard at the state level to limit the damage done until the Supreme Court undercut their efforts in 1973.

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