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‘The Good Lie’ Offers an Inspiring Portrait of Faith among Sudan’s ‘Lost Boys’

reese-witherspoon-in-the-good-lie(Note: This review contains spoilers.)

In the early 1990s, more than 3600 Sudanese refugees immigrated to the United States. “We did not know the world was big,” explains one of the “Lost Boys” the name given to this diaspora, “we only knew our village in Sudan.”

The new film “The Good Lie,” opening Friday, focuses on a small group of these Lost Boys, from their time as children forced to evacuate a village torn by civil war. They are orphaned and possess nothing but a cooking pot, a Bible, a blanket, and a few other necessities. The opening sequences of the movie take us through the barren desert to Ethiopia—which is then deemed unsafe. The children head across the desert en route to Kenya, the arduous journey taking its toll on their health and killing a few members of their group. In a moment of extreme and unsettling sacrifice, the eldest of the group, Theo (Femi Oguns), distracts the soldiers and offers himself as a child soldier to save his friends.

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How a Polish Jew Reintroduced Me to Jesus

booksThese days most will agree that Warner Stallman’s 1941 painting The Head of Christ—otherwise known as that blond-haired, azure-eyed Jesus your grandmother has hanging beside her dresser—represents a Caucasian (if not quite Aryan) self-delusion. It’s surprising how frequently this lily-white Messiah still rears His flawless complexion in popular Christian art and entertainment. I don’t mean Stallman’s painting itself, nor even its depiction of Jesus as an Isosceles-nosed Anglo-Saxon. Rather, I mean the ideal it represents, culturally, spiritually and historically.

This ideal shows up in the recent “Son of God” film, in which Diogo Morgado plays an Immanuel who could be my Uncle Howie dressed as a hippie for Halloween—in the midst, ironically, of an otherwise passably Semitic cast. But the Savior offered by a tattered paperback I recently picked up looks nothing like either American depiction. He is a profoundly Jewish Redeemer who may at first seem unfamiliar to Western Christian eyes. But as I came to realize, he’s far more like the real Messiah than Stallman’s painting or even the best film portrayals of my lifetime.

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'Person of Interest' and Female Moral Agency

Person-of-Interest-The-Devils-Share-Dont-fuck-with-Root-Amy-AckerJonathan Nolan’s “Person of Interest” returns to CBS tonight for its fourth season, and with it comes one of its biggest unresolved problems from season three. It’s still got its fascinating and highly relevant premise: A small group of vigilantes try to use an all-seeing surveillance machine to save lives. It’s still got all the dilemmas that result from that premise, and it’s still got the ethics and subtle sense of hope that point to the possibility of finding a way through those dilemmas. It’s still got most of its excellent core cast—Michael Emerson, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, and Sarah Shahi—though Taraji P. Henson’s conflicted police detective was regrettably killed off. In short, it’s still got a lot of what has made it one of the best (and most underrated) series on network TV.

But it’s also got Root.

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'The Maze Runner' Is Short on Surprises

mazefeaturedIf you’re weary of hearing a movie franchise described as the “next” big Young Adult sci-fi dystopia series, or yet another movie compared to “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” your mind won’t be changed by “The Maze Runner.”

In fairness, this movie has some unique twists on what is becoming a familiar formula: Young protagonist—in this case, a boy named Thomas—must try to escape artificial environment created by unknown powers. And for a film likely intended to launch yet another trilogy, it had a surprisingly satisfying story arc—especially as compared to, for instance, Divergent,” which barely had an ending).

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A Review of Simon Chan’s ‘Grassroots Asian Theology’

9780830840489As I have documented in the first two articles in this series, Christianity is expanding rapidly in the non-Western world. Once the destination of missionaries, regions such as Africa, Latin America, and Asia are now sending their own evangelists back to Western Europe and North America.

However, these non-Western missionaries are not simply replicating the faith that their ancestors received a century or more ago. Instead, their Christianity has been indelibly impacted by their particular geographical and historical circumstances. “Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up” (IVP Academic, 2014) offers a description of how Asian concerns are shaping Christian doctrine and a prescription for how Asian Christians can be both faithful to the Bible and to their own cultures.
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What We Can Learn from the Final 'Atlas Shrugged' Film

atlas-shrugged-part-3-teaser-movie-poster-3Reviewers often mock Christian films as trite, cheesy, and lacking any subtlety, but “Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?” shows that atheists, too, can get so bogged down in their message that they forget how to tell a good story. “Who Is John Galt?” takes a classic novel and turns it into a tawdry, boring flick.

This film deserves its inevitable death in obscurity—not because many of the themes and ideas are morally questionable, but because the filmmaking is atrocious. Christian moviemakers would do well to learn from its mistakes, to strengthen the way we present the gospel in film. Read More >
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'Assault and Flattery' Tells the Truth about the 'War on Women'

9781476749600You’ve heard it said for some time now, and you’ll be hearing more of it as the next election cycle approaches: The GOP is waging a war on women. Republicans deny women their contraceptive rights and rob them of equal pay. At least, that’s what we hear in the media after Supreme Court decisions and before political races.

At worst, Republican policymakers are labeled misogynistic. At best, they are depicted as out of touch with the average woman voter. And the Democratic Party self-designates as the “pro-women” party without much dispute.

Regardless of its truthfulness, or lack thereof, this mainline Leftist narrative has proven quite successful. Consider the impact of “pro-women” speechifying for Democratic candidates in the 2012 election cycle. If the 2012 races are any kind of precursor to 2014, we can expect more of the same. “Women’s issues” will remain one of the hinges on which many votes are swung and some elections are won. On many levels, by and large it appears that Republicans are still unable to demonstrate that they are “pro-women,” despite the GOP’s best attempts to train their candidates on how not to talk about the issues.

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The Films of 1939, Part 9

ninotchkaA good Hollywood romance is hard to achieve—especially a good romantic comedy. Many prove not only trite and unconvincing, but hopelessly shallow, as the couple’s problems are mere clichés about men and women, rather than deep and personal problems.

But one of the many great movies from Hollywood’s glorious year of 1939 goes the extra mile here, setting a lighthearted romantic comedy against the darkness and danger of Stalin’s Soviet Union. To put it mildly, it includes the “something more” that rom-coms so often lack.

The title character of “Ninotchka,” an intensely dedicated Marxist from the Soviet government, falls for a man who embodies everything she opposes, a French aristocrat who has never worked a day in his life. The film artfully contrasts Soviet austerity with Parisian frivolity to create a striking and heartwarming story of two unlikely people falling in love. Read More >

'Calvary' Reminds Us of Powerful Truths about Justice, Vengeance, and Redemption

calvary-day7_0In recent years, abuse by the clergy has been in the spotlight. It is rare that a week goes by when a pastor, priest, or other person in spiritual authority is not arrested for illicit activities with minors or discovered abusing their influence in order to manipulate those in their flock for personal gain. One of the most notorious scandals in recent years is the abuse by priests in the Catholic Church, which led to a forceful outcry for justice.

But what happens if the laudable desire for justice is corrupted into a desire for vengeance?

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What Hatred Does to Us

Slide1229The fire crackled and smoked as Hatred rustled through his tools, apparently seeking one in particular.

“Here, use this one,” the hunchback snickered, “it’ll make him burn. He’ll cry real good!”

As I lifted the two-pronged fork by the firm steel handle, my eyes shifted over to the burning fireplace. A voice sobbed out from the chair in front of me,

“Please—don’t hurt me—please!”

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'If I Stay' Paints an Unrealistic Picture of Teen Romance

10471438_723657521026818_7515568877477314047_nThe only teen movie I ever loved was “The Princess Diaries.” It was hilarious and had a fake tiny European country of which Julie Andrews was the queen. But I also loved the romance. I have never watched “Princess Diaries 2,” as I refuse to watch any Princess Diaries movie without the character of Michael in it.

But thinking about the new teen movie “If I Stay” makes me wonder if there isn't something to be said for the reality check that “Princess Diaries 2” is, because high school romance is not as significant as both the original “Princess Diaries” and “If I Stay” make it out to be.

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'When the Game Stands Tall' Focuses on What Really Matters

when-the-game-stands-tall-600x317I’ll admit right up front that I am not your typical sports movie fan. That’s mainly because I’m not your typical sports fan. When someone tells me about a high school football team that had its 151-game winning streak broken, my immediate reaction is to shrug and say, “Hey, they had to lose sometime.” The pathos of such a situation, which apparently can reduce grown men to tears, is pretty much lost on me.

However, I’ve been a Jim Caviezel fan ever since “The Passion of the Christ,” and I appreciate the fact that the actor has continued to look for projects with integrity and heart. His new film “When the Game Stands Tall is, without question, one of these. Though at times it suffers from trying to follow too many plotlines, which results in a lack of narrative drive and dramatic tension, the film still quietly makes its point in a real and heartfelt way—and somehow manages to make even a non-sports-fan get a little misty-eyed.

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The Hellish Logic Behind Modern Man's Unbridled Embrace of Evil

IMG_7708“The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” 1 John 5:19

A spot of color in the corner of the Dead Letter Bin caught Angus Bartleby's eye. An envelope had somehow gotten entirely wedged in a crevice. As he worked it loose, he saw it bore a blue stamp with the image of King George VI. The postmark read May 1943.

“Well, I'll be jiggered,” Bartleby exclaimed. “It's been jammed in there for over a year.”

As he examined the envelope, the glue gave way and the letter inside fell to the floor. He would have simply tossed it in the rubbish, but the quaintness of the lettering, handwritten in dark crimson ink, gave him pause. “I suppose there's no harm in scanning a few lines,” he told himself. And with that he began reading words that neither man nor angel had ever laid eyes on: Read More >
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'Boyhood' Mixes Life's Rawness and Grittiness with Hope

14233-1The purpose of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is to realistically tell the story of a boy, Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), from the age of five to 17 by filming the same actors over a period of 12 years and adding to the script as the years progressed. This technique brings the rawness of normal life to the screen in an unexpected way. As the viewer, you are in the moment with the actors and the developing stories of the individuals. As you see Mason age, you also see the important things in his life take shape, and questions that were small in the beginning bloom into something unexpected.

Mason, Jr.'s story begins at the age of six, where he lives in Texas with his single mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister, Samantha (Lorelai Linklater). Olivia is overwhelmed with the responsibility of having two children before she had a chance to experience life. After the children’s biological father, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke), returns from an extended stay in Alaska, Olivia decides to move the children and pursue a degree at the University of Houston. Mason, Jr., fears that his father will not be able to find him, since they had only been reunited recently. Since the relationship between Olivia and Mason, Sr., is very strained, the best his mother can do is reassure him that their Dad can find them through their grandmother or by calling Information.
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'The Giver' Warns Us of the Consequences of Forgetting

harvey-weinstein-forced-the-giver-movie-to-change-the-books-endingYears before “Dystopian Book Adaptation for Teens” became a Netflix category, Lois Lowry dreamed of a world without painful memories. I first experienced her novel “The Giver” in my early 20s when I taught eightth grade, and I fell in love with the story for the questions it raised. Though frequently banned in schools, it seems to be a favorite book among teachers, so it’s not surprising that a teacher, the wife of Walden Media President Micheal Flaherty, influenced the company to pursue the book. (You can read my interview with Flaherty here.)

It could not have been in better hands. Director Phillip Noyce along with writers Michale Mitnick and Robert Weide created an adaptation that remains true to the essence of the story; however, they were not afraid to take the liberty to interpret ambiguous scenes. The final result is a movie that I honestly believe is better than the book. Read More >
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