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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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Changes Worth Celebrating in the CBA

woman-reading-on-a-cold-day-beach.jpg.pagespeed.ce.nixvATQKv6Recently Mike Duran wrote a piece for the popular site Novel Rocket that spoke to some of the limitations of Christian fiction. Duran discusses, among other things, some of the classic novels appropriated by today’s Christian readers for their obvious theological message. He wonders if they would have trouble finding their place on the Christian Bookseller’s Association (CBA) roster during a current publishing cycle.

I write not to argue Duran’s point, but rather to expound on a commonly held belief that Christian fiction as a whole is a place for that which is squeaky clean, saccharine, and sweet. Further, I write to inspire those Christians who may have written it off to consider re-engaging.
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‘Ragamuffin’ Artfully Portrays the Life and Faith of Rich Mullins

Ragamuffin_DVD-CBA-copyThe music of the late Rich Mullins has always touched me. Twenty years ago he provided the soundtrack of my childhood. Those were the golden days of “contemporary” Christian music, and for me, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and especially Mullins evoke a time when life was simple and faith came naturally.

I never knew much about the man whose dulcimer and acoustic guitar now take me back to yesteryear. I sang along with him about the prairies calling out God’s name, the color green filling Irish fields with praise, and the chariot of fire he hoped to borrow from Elijah. Now I know that the eternal peace and faith his music conveyed rarely hinted at the restless heart and struggles with doubt that punctuated Mullins’ life.

Seventeen years after his death, this musician who built a career making comfortable Christians squirm still has a lot to teach us—particularly as believing artists search for their role in a changing culture and young evangelicals question middle-class Christianity.
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'The Hundred-Foot Journey' Is a Celebration of Both

NEzzwzr4HLebCG_1_4Hassan Kadam’s (Manish Dayal) introduction to the power of food as a vehicle of life and memory first came from his mother (Juhi Chawla) in the family kitchen. His family’s restaurant was his school, and the streets and markets of their Mumbai home were his texts—the meats, vegetables, and spices the components of his would-be livelihood.

But everything changed when his family’s restaurant home became the scene of a fiery riot that claimed the life of his mother. Seeking political asylum, Hassan’s Papa (Om Puri) packs up his family and they immigrate to England, the first step on a long journey in search of a new home and purpose. It’s a journey that holds the promise of making or breaking Hassan’s future, for the self-described cook with the inherent natural talent of the world’s finest chefs must decide what he where his heart lies: in the riches and acclaim of the world, or the promise of home found in every one of his mother’s treasured spice jars and family recipes.

Based on the novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a refreshingly heartfelt, quiet little film in the midst of a summer blockbuster season more often than not defined by noise, fury, and non-stop action.
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'Guardians of the Galaxy' Is a Breath of Fresh Air for Marvel

guardians-galaxy-movie-previewIn a summer full of superheroes, last weekend saw Marvel unleash arguably its riskiest film yet. “Guardians of the Galaxy,” based on the 2008 comic, is the tale of a ragtag band of space-traveling misfits: a pirate, an assassin, a muscle man, a genetically modified raccoon, and a sentient tree . . . hardly the brand of superhero one has been conditioned to expect from Marvel’s recent efforts.

But in the grand tradition of science fiction epics that started with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars and continued through the 20th century with the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, “Guardians” is a smartly executed blend of Marvel’s hero brand and space-opera tropes. And though they’d be the last to admit it, Star Lord Peter Quill and his motley crew are a powerful illustration of the longstanding power and appeal of the heroic journey in faith and fiction, and a breath of fresh air at the same time they’re part of Marvel’s proven formula for cinematic success.

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The Films of 1939, Part 8

2_Victor_Fleming_The_Wizard_of_Oz_DVD_Review_Judy_Garland_PDVD_009The Wizard of Oz” is the first movie I can remember seeing. Alas, I remember very little of that first exposure at age four or five. When I sat down to watch it again recently, my head was filled with all the cultural associations we now have with it.

The music and characters have become part of our collective consciousness. We sing the songs in choir in high school. We don’t need any context to understand a quote that comes up randomly in conversation. “The Wizard of Oz” has been remade and rewritten and re-sequeled and prequeled to death. One of my favorite pieces of science fiction is a vaguely steampunk miniseries version of “The Wizard of Oz” called “Tin Man.” Another sci-fi favorite, “Stargate,” references the movie so many times I’ve lost count. Internet memes make fun of its logical fallacies. The book and musical “Wicked” completely turn the story upside down and make the Wicked Witch of the West a sympathetic character. Even if you’ve never seen the movie before, still, if you decide to give it a try, very little of it will be entirely new.

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'Wish I Was Here' Inspires Old-Fashioned Heroism in Postmodern Times

wish_i_was_here_-_h_-_2014I don't entirely know why I love Zach Braff, but I do. He walks the line between absurdly immature and completely grown up in a way that is charming rather than irritating. Other people must feel the same way, because they funded his movie idea. "Wish I Was Here" is a Kickstarter project. I hope the people who paid for it were as pleased with the outcome of their investment as I was.

"Wish I Was Here" opens with a Scrubs-like daydream sequence. Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is imagining he's a Space-Knight. (Which is apparently a real thing? I'm not as nerdy as I pretend to be.) He tells us that he and his brother always wanted to be heroes when they were little, but "maybe we're just the normal people—the ones who get saved."

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