Movie Review: The Case For Christ

Based on the book written by Lee Strobel, “The Case For Christ” pensively digs into Lee’s elaborate journey and bold attempt to disprove the legitimacy of the gospel claims that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Along the way, he faces the reality of witnessing his wife seemingly transformed by her newfound faith—and, ultimately, he discovers a truth beyond his wildest expectations. 

“The Case for Christ” is long overdue, and was incredibly refreshing to see on the big screen.

THE DEPTH OF SKEPTICISM

One of my personally favorite aspects of “The Case For Christ” was the relevant and very real skepticism. As a previous atheist myself, this entire film was extremely relatable as it pervasively and heavily questioned the roots and foundation of Christianity: Did Jesus raise from the dead? How can we know? Did Jesus even actually die

What tops off the heaviness in the film like icing on the cake is that it answers every last question with such refreshing perspectives and scientifically founded research by the world’s most renowned scientists, skeptics, and writers (obviously portrayed by actors here). No stone is left unturned—even in the sense that the pinnacle of all questions for the skeptic, “How much evidence is enough?” is given the time and space to breathe.

NOT TAKING SIDES

I appreciated this film’s ability to take belief in Christ as seriously as it took atheism, giving both points of view equal weight without trying to take sides. This approach allows the viewer to watch, observe, contemplate, and ultimately face the very difficult question: “What do you believe?”

While the film’s finale does have an answer for the main character (since this film is based on a true story and the events have already unfolded), it still leaves room for the viewer to decide for themselves what makes more sense, and which direction they would rather take the questions and answers. What is admirable about such a Christian film like this, and what is truly powerful in the end, is how this film’s message is not “Believe! Faith the right answer!” Rather, it is, “These are the facts, the evidence, and the answers to these questions. Now, what do you make of it?” In other words, by no means does this film try to claim that one way is right and the other wrong. There is simply, “If you don’t agree, how do you explain it, then?” For me, as an audience member, that gave the film stats for being confident enough not to need to be trying to prove itself.

A CHRISTIAN FILM THAT DOESN’T FEEL FORCED

Every conversation in this movie has a strong, welcoming sense of realism to it. There are the atheists and the believers, but Jon Gunn places careful weight into each scene of dialogue, balancing a story based on true events and grounding the conversations inspired by a man’s journey through controversy and doubt, surrounded by facts pointing in an unexpected direction and the egocentric tenacity to be right before being open-minded.

There have been several films that have tried to include the message of Jesus but awkwardly end up portraying evangelism as forced and overplayed. Sometimes the “evangelism scenes” have been so obvious as to be cringeworthy as the viewer sinks in his or her seat trying to escape the awkwardness of a camera centered on an actor’s face clearly reading dialogue that didn’t come from their mouthes first. In “The Case For Christ,” these issues are refreshingly replaced with genuine emotion and authentic angst. Here, believers do not produce cringeworthy moments. These scenes, back-to-back, are so natural as to be inviting. Each scene seems to point to the next without trying to hold your hand or convince you of anything. The script speaks for itself, and it does so flawlessly.

Once more I will add how atheism in this film is given the space to speak skepticism and scrutiny into the most scandalized and controversial story in human history—and, important to note, this is not done by making the unbeliever to be the “bad guy,” but simply as another curious character in the story.

Lee faces challenges of his own as his friends oppose his rigidity while he journeys to discover answers to the most difficult and straining Christian questions. What is so riveting about witnessing these questions unfold into deeper, more challenging questions and equally satisfying discoveries throughout the movie is how we are invited to intimately take part in these difficult conversations—drawn in by their relatability and firm grounding. Reason being, we would be asking the same questions if we had never honestly or intentionally pursued the answers of such a heavily influenced faith before, and we would be just as skeptical if we started off without any answers. Mike Vogel portrays this doubt and skepticism so naturally that it is a heart-wrenching, mind-bending experience to follow him through his story, realizing there’s no way around the facts; this helps the viewer both empathize with his frustration, while simultaneously and incorrigibly feeling inspired by the results. 

THE BEST LOVE STORY

The love story here is unlike any other we’ve seen before. An atheistic couple becomes traumatized when their daughter almost chokes to death before their eyes, and when a random Samaritan comes to their aid, their lives change forever. Lee’s wife (portrayed beautifully by Erika Christensen) is the first to feel the effects of the miracle and cannot let go of what has embraced her heart through the unthinkable. Her spirit is moved and transformed, and soon enough she is seeing everything differently through the eyes of a faith she never thought she would have given a second thought to. 

What’s beautiful is the way this transformation plays into her marriage with Lee, and their daughter. Throughout the movie, this marriage relationship is the framework for the story. As Lee chases the answers to the controversy of a resurrected Messiah to prove once and for all how hokey it is—his marriage is directly impacted by both his tenacity to be right, and his wife’s oppositional desire to draw him into the love that she has discovered by faith in the transcendent God of the Bible she reads. Experiencing their scenes together as their story unfolds is extremely moving, inspiring, heart-breaking, full of substance, and absent of any wasted time. Their marriage is portrayed with the realistically problematic characteristics of a couple experiencing the stress of disagreement and change, and simultaneously the desire to not lose one another no matter the cost. Truly, as a born-again Christian myself, watching this relationship on-screen brought tears to my eyes more than once as I carefully considered the reality behind every line spoken, every motive and every hope of each character, delicately and passionately moved for both of them to grow closer and not farther apart. 

WHY YOU SHOULD SEE THIS MOVIE

Whether or not you are a Christ-follower matters not with regards to whether you should see this movie or not. By the time this movie ended and the credits rolled, I felt very grateful for the experience because I didn’t feel as though I was favored by the movie for being a Christian, and I didn’t get the impression that atheists were targeted or shoved into the corner and given some kind of speech or pep talk. This film speaks candidly, informatively, open-mindedly, and factually with evidence that has been retrieved regarding the resurrection, and the best part of this movie is the delivery: There is no preaching here. Yes, there are multiple scenes which take place in a church building, but these scenes are used in context. Rather than being “those scenes with the preacher,” these scenes are used for the purpose of motivation; we come to understand the lead characters on deeper level by seeing them interact with different environments as they try to discover more about this “Jesus” they have been introduced to through others.

I love how human this movie is, so down to Earth. There is nothing about this film that tries to be more than it is organically. This film is open-minded and simultaneously well-informed—so much so that the only debate is between the viewer and him/herself. 

PARENTAL ADVISORY

This film is rated PG, and just about all of the rating lends itself to the subject matter and thematic material associated with it. The rating is not so much referring to any viscerally inappropriate content. There are some hand-drawn images of the crucifixion and examples of various aspects of the flogging, and while they are not gratuitous, they do imply, unambiguously, what happened to Jesus in the last 12 hours of his life. Be discerning of whether or not your child can or should handle viewing images of crucifixion-related events–even if they are not portrayed with actors and gruesome effects/makeup. These images are, of course, brief enough that you could cover your child’s eyes and not have them miss several minutes worth of the film. There is also a scene of domestic drama late in the film which, for its own right, is certainly something to be mindful of for children who are sensitive to altercation. But, to be clear, there is no graphic violence, nor any obscene language. Lastly, there is a hospital visit scene in which a prisoner’s face is shown after a beating, and it may be slightly unsettling for young children. Again, please use your own discernment with regards to your child’s sensitivity. Other than these details, the film does not contain anything so inappropriate that a child would need to be shielded.

Overall, I give “The Case For Christ” a 5/5. There is story, character development, great writing, and fantastic delivery on all fronts. This film will challenge, inspire, and inquire that you question further anything you don’t understand. The film motivates us not to leave anything unfinished. Lee Strobel went to the end of his rope trying to prove the resurrection was a hoax, and ultimately, he was shocked to discover a different set of answers. That doesn’t mean you will as well, but it does mean that when we search for the answers, and if the answers themselves don’t seem strong enough, we can ask ourselves, “How much evidence is enough?” Even an atheist must take a leap of faith to believe there is nothing to believe. 

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Unravel

Movie Review: Logan

(THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW)

LOGAN

The soul of this entire film rests in two lines of dialogue from this movie, both of which will be explored in this article.

While the story behind “Logan” is ultimately about Wolverine helping a child cross a border into safe territory, the real story—and the message of the movie—lies within the character of Logan himself. As I watched this film for my second time, what didn’t hit me as strongly the first time was how metaphorical and relevant the message is for everyone watching. I’ll explain exactly what I mean by that later in this article. But to start off, Logan, at its core, is about humanity, and how we as humanity—when we strip away the belief in something greater than the meaning of our Earthly existence—cannot effectively explain why we even consider waking up tomorrow.

THE HUMANITY OF WOLVERINE

Throughout his 17-year-career as the Wolverine, Hugh Jackman continued to dig deeper into the identity of the character of James Howlett–Logan’s name before the adamantium claws came out. The more Hugh dug into the humanity of Wolverine, the less plastic-like and one-dimensional the character was and the more relatable and likable he became. The claws became heroic rather than horrific because Logan used them to save his friends and innocent people from the harm of dangerous enemies. In all the nine previous X-Men films which included Wolverine (two of those being cameos), Logan’s claws did more work defining him more than anything about his character. Marvel merely tickled the surface in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” inviting some backstory to complement the character leading the original three X-Men films. But even in “Origins,” Wolverine remained very close to the corner of the room, hiding the majority of his true colors in the dark. In Logan, James Mangold–the film’s writer and director—truly allows transparency to shine on humility of James Howlett, and we finally get to see the human behind the claws.

This, above all the other aspects of the film to be recognized, is what made this film not so much a Marvel comic-book adaptation, but more of a character study of the famous and well-recognized antihero. While there is still plenty of action, the true strength behind this film is the character development, and James Mangold does not hold back from telling a complete story. By the time the credits roll, we have learned something significant not only about Logan, but about ourselves—and this happens through sentimental, carefully drawn-out storytelling. 

I will return to Logan, but there is a point that must be made before I continue which will add layers of depth to our understanding of the beautiful, rich story behind Mangold’s film.

HOLLYWOOD’S SUBSTITUTE FOR GOD

Secularism runs rampant in Hollywood, and it sells in abundance. What do I mean? When most Blockbuster films feel the need to tease audiences with sexual promiscuity/innuendo even in just the trailers themselves to get the viewer’s attention, that says a lot about Hollywood’s opinion of society. Same thing with violence—there’s a reason there is so much killing, torment, bloodshed and vindication in films: These themes sell without much effort—people will pay to see more.

When I was watching the trailers before Logan played, I realized something—there are so many films being made now about “life beyond Earth,” the most recent of which to advertise such an idea being “Life,” (coming out soon) with Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, among several others. The trailer itself portrays the story of a crew in space who find life on the Moon and then realize it’s evil, but only after it’s too late. Hollywood’s definition of anything mysterious and supernatural seems to be that it is evil, dangerous, and to be feared. It advertises the unknown as scary, intimidating, and threatening. First Hollywood approaches the idea of “life beyond Earth” as inviting, adventurous, and even swooning—as if to say that the discovery of “what lies beyond” is meant to whet our appetite for the metaphysical and supernatural, feeding our frenzy to understand what we cannot explain. 

Another film being advertised is “Alien: Covenant,” where “The path to Paradise begins in Hell.” While this “sells” because it carries elements of mystery, thrill, and action, it still flaunts Hollywood’s classic slogan to use religious parlance in a non-religious setting where unbelievers can be entertained by the idea the words conjure up while distorting the foundation for which the words naturally belong. In other words, movies like “Alien: Covenant,” and advertising horror films like this in such a way only distorts the viewer’s perception and opinion of spirituality by connoting the stoic use of religious paraphrases to the idea that faith is a joke. 

Being as Hollywood is not founded in Christianity, their answer to the unknown is that it is either evil or non-existent; they either mock it or connote the notion of a spiritual realm with something unpleasant and treacherous. There is no middle-ground where there is a loving God in a place where souls are forever encompassed by eternal happiness and an inimitable, foundational joy—not without facetious jokes and harmfully mistaken distortions of exegesis (the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of Scripture). Hollywood creates dialogue Jesus might have said in order to use it in a situation where they know the audience will roll their eyes and scoff. This is Hollywood’s sarcastic depiction of God, Heaven, and all-things spiritual.

THE INFLUENCE OF FILM

Furthermore, Hollywood knows people watch movies—that there are many people in this world who worship movies like gods; claiming the fantasy of the film-world defines and explains the reality we live in outside the theater or our own homes. For example, people 9/10 times will reference a movie or a scene from a movie to clarify a point about a real-life situation. This speaks loudly for how much people depend on movies for something to cling to in order to define their perception of something, or to explain their beliefs. They’ll reference character dialogue or a storyline as if talking about their next-door neighbor, despite the character’s dialogue fictitiousness and their never having actually known the person. This is how real film is for many people.

For another graphic example, take The Matrix. The Columbine shooters took from both the wardrobe and the main concept behind The Matrix and claimed to be “waking people from their dream” when killing students and teachers at their high school. Now, please hear me, this is not a bash on The Matrix films; this is a point about how seriously people take movies to define life outside of the movies. When we take films too seriously and relate to people we have never met while believing what we watch draws a clearer picture of our world than our personal experience—we misunderstand how ironically the opposite is true: Filmmakers take from life to create movies

A filmmaker who is capable of writing a script that ultimately ends up resonating with its audience is a job well-done—but to glean cinematic history to define our culture, our political opinions, our love lives, and even our belief systems—that is going too far. Film is used to influence, that is case in point. But to reference film as a reflection of reality is paranoiac and illusory. 

BRINGING LOGAN BACK

So, what does any of that have to do with Logan, you ask? The movie isn’t as much about helping the little girl, Laura, cross the border to safety; it’s about Logan’s introspection and realization that life without meaning isn’t worth the struggle. How does a mutant view the concept of life’s meaning any differently than a human? That’s exactly the point: A mutant doesn’t view it differently at all. Logan is James Howlett without the claws; a man with a story, a family, several lifetimes worth of experience and pain, and then claws. Logan, the movie, isn’t so much a comic-book Marvel film, but a story about realizing that life must have more substance to it than who we get along with, where we work, and the circumstances outside of our control. 

CHARLES XAVIER

Patrick Stewart has several fantastic, meaningful lines of dialogue in this film as Charles Xavier—or Professor X, as fans would say. I will not spoil your opportunity to experience them without watching the film first, so I will only touch on the one that is most pertinent to this article. 

During a quiet point in the film, Charles and Logan have helped a family and their horses off of the freeway and the family offers them dinner at their home in gratitude. After they’ve eaten, Charles says to Logan, “Logan, this is what life looks like; people care about each other. You should take a moment and feel it.” This is HUGE for Logan because, as those who have watched all of Hugh Jackman’s portrayals of Wolverine know, Logan is not very interpersonal at heart; he doesn’t show himself emotionally. He’s more blunt, straight-forward, stoic, and bitter; a raging tornado—whereas someone like Charles is something like that of a cool river. When Charles says this, it is not to mock Logan or to express scorn, but to teach. I also believe that line could be said for many viewers who are watching, a reminder that home is where people genuinely care about you, where they look after you, love you, and do what they can for your best interest. This is foreign material for Logan to comprehend, and when it is spoken, the words do not so much reach deaf ears as they do a disheartened, distraught heart full of pain, regret, shame, bitterness, and stoicism—and Hugh does a phenomenal job portraying a character hearing these words after having experienced and survived as much pain as such a character in such a fictitious world would. 

LOGAN SPEAKS TO THE WORLD

In another powerfully moving scene, Logan has been in battle, and is talking to another mutant. What he says is something I believe we all need to hear: “Don’t become what they made you.”

While he’s literally speaking (per context of the scene) into the situation of having claws and a name notorious for violence and a temper—I also found that he could be metaphorically speaking into the hearts of viewers in the way we depend on the world to define us. Like I mentioned earlier, we use film as a strong means of influence. We also look to culture, politics, music, books, and other places. Sometimes we “look” so hard that we fall face-first into the fantasy world and forget that our book is still open. While this topic could certainly open a new article of its own, I have written about identity before—and what is important to note here is that if we shape our identity by the world, then we are really a reflection of the world, not an exemplary role model in the midst of it. Logan, when saying those words, speaks into the truth that no one has to be anything outside of who they want to be. We all worship something, our choice is what we worship.

If we worship vengeance, bitterness, and rage, then we live the life of the permanently damaged, unable to choose to see how beautiful life really is. If we worship entertainment, we forget what reality looks and feels like. When we worship power and status, we forget the humility of recognizing we aren’t the only ones who exist on planet Earth. Logan’s words (written by James Mangold himself) remind us that we are not who the world says we are or what the world influences us to believe about ourselves, we are who we say we are.

As a Christian, myself, I believe I am who God created me to be, and the world does not always speak into this place. In fact, the world taunts that place repeatedly, hoping to dismantle the faith of someone like me (and millions of others) and jar us back to the place it considers to be reality. But the world wouldn’t make any sense to me without God, and less sense yet without Him having sent His son, Jesus, to do what He did on the cross and rising from the dead, sending eternal ripples throughout history. The world wants me to believe I have all I need in the power of my body and mind to be whole; but if I believed that then I wouldn’t be able to form a viable explanation for the existence of shame, guilt, sin, and the need for justice; not to mention the hope of an eternal home where shame, guilt, sin, pain, and death no longer exist. The secular world (Hollywood) mostly preaches of a humanity where religion is target practice for crude, convoluted jokes, and where sex and violence are a necessary means to enjoy oneself in this life. Logan’s words remind us we don’t have to listen to people who believe that. We don’t have to be someone that somebody else says we are. And I believe there is truth to that; in fact, I believe that is the very heart of this film, and for that matter the reason why, so far, this is the best film of the year. 

PARENTAL ADVISORY

There is absolutely no reason to take a child to see this film. A child wouldn’t understand the message I’ve explained in this article, let alone would (or should) a child be able to handle the graphic violence and pervasive language. There are f-bombs throughout the movie, and the violence is wincingly graphic at times. I don’t even need to go into detail here. The film is incredible, but absolutely inappropriate for children. To truly capitalize on the R-rating, the director even gratuitously throws in a teenage girl flashing a character, which has no purpose in this film other than to gavel the R-rating. I’m not telling anyone what to do with regards to protecting your children’s minds, but I highly, strongly urge parents against allowing your child to see this film until they are older. It’s just unnecessary. 

I would give Logan 5/5, because the story, message, action, and writing flow so naturally throughout that it’s even worth another viewing. I highly urge adults to watch this if you’re a fan of Hugh Jackman, any X-Men related stories, and James Mangold as a director. I doubt you will be disappointed. 

If you like what you’ve read here, and you would like to read more, please follow my blog and pass word along. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017.. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think would benefit, and feel free to write in the comments below–I would love to hear from you! May God bless you!

Pattern

Movie Review: Manchester By the Sea

This is only the third film I’ve personally seen Casey Affleck in outside of the Oceans Eleven trilogy (although I do not remember his role in those films), and I can easily say this Casey had me a little concerned he was actually experiencing some kind of depression during this film—but I say this as a compliment to his portrayal of Lee in “Manchester By the Sea,” a film about loss, family, and the brittle reality of watching life trickle down the spectacles of self-deprecation. 

Make no mistake, this movie runs at the rhythm of watching paint dry. But we’re talking about complementary high-grade paint. What I appreciated about the snail-race pace is that it helped embody the sensation of everything slowing down, just as the reality might actually play out for characters such as these in such a sensitive situation.

When Lee learns of the death in his family, his already nonchalant character sheds one more layer of its purpose away in the desultory extremes of subtle grief and inner agony. His backstory (which is implied was only back some years) eventually reveals where his self-deflation began, and why he walks around with such glumness in his eyes. This sets up a layer of empathy for the viewer, and also creates the appropriate palette for the dry humor to come later. The remaining portions of the film are used with sensitive consideration to explaining “what happens next” with both Lee and his younger brother, Aaron (played by Patrick Hedges), as well as the remainder of a family left like delicate debris in the wake of a tornado. 

About half-way through into 2/3 of the film, the humor really picked up for me and I found myself laughing at some of the darkest but most empathetic humor related to such a broken-heart stricken family. Most of the humor is admittedly derived from the cringe-worthy social ineptitudes of Lee. There are also many scenes where the dryness of reality is expressed so unapologetically as to be risible. One such moment happens when Lee is giving Aaron a chance to decide whether or not he wants to get out of the car, to which Aaron replies “Let’s just go.” The ambiguity of this moment propels Lee to begin driving away while Aaron opens the door, and the amalgam of Lee’s panic with Aaron’s surprise opens the space for humor which can only be appreciated when understanding each character’s motivation and perspective. Truly, this brief authentic moment was implemented so naturally that it became the first laugh out loud moment of the film for me.

The heart of this story is not-so-ironically found in Lee’s depressive state of mind, drawn out but seasoned with carefully chosen dryness and good intentions. The message of this film, which is not as obvious as it is subjective to the viewer watching, claims itself during the in-betweens of the story, finding itself not encouraging or motivating, but simply speaking and waiting. “Manchester” speaks, it listens, and waits—and if you laugh, it smiles. When you wait pensively for the next moment to take over, it blinks and keeps going. The heart of “Manchester” is simply that it has heart, defined by its authenticity and commitment to telling itself without asking whether or not you mind.

What I enjoyed about this film were the nuanced relationships. There are so many familial relationships that, whether throwing curveballs or drawing a tears—so much can be appreciated about the rawness of emotion drawn from each conversation; the sentiment of desire for healing and restoration when the floodgates of pain and self-deprecation push back with the brute force of self-denial. Lee’s portrayal character in particular is breathtakingly painful to watch, and in this nerve-pinching portrayal is a beauty not demanding emotion but nevertheless forcing it from you simultaneously. 

Parental Advisory:

“Manchester” contains a pervasive amount of F-words throughout—so much so that most of the R-rating simply applies to the vulgarity. There are two brief bar fights that, while in some ways provoke laughter, are violent due to the thematic understanding of their context; insofar that the story behind each scene develops in-between, which would need explanation to a young child. The theme of sexuality is also played with in multiple scenes involving teenagers and is heavily insinuated. Two such scenes reveal teenagers bared down to their underwear; therefore, this is ample reason to warn parents from making the mistake of renting “Manchester” on Redbox, Netflix, Raku, or otherwise—and running into these scenes having to explain to young ones why you may or may not believe this is appropriate for them to watch. While “Manchester” is simplified by its plot and relationships, its themes are mature, and for this reason I strongly urge parents to watch before deciding to allow younger kids to view, depending on how important you feel it is to shield your kids from exposure to promiscuous sexual behavior and vulgar language. 

I would rate “Manchester By the Sea” 4/5 stars, given there isn’t really a strong message, but in place of a message there are a number of strong performances and an extremely relatable, poignant story. 

If you enjoyed reading this and you would like to read more, please follow this blog. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please share this with anyone and feel free to write in the comments below if you have something you’d like to add or share. I would be glad to read from you! Have a blessed day!

Rhythmic

Movie Review: John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick Chapter 2 is a stellar film on many levels, all of which I will dive into throughout this review. I will mention the paucity of issues I had with this film towards the end, as well as my Parental Advisory section. As a means of respect to my readers, there are no spoilers in this review

Chapter 2 follows on the heels of its predecessor with an entertaining helicopter view of a city car chase. Let me say first and foremost that the action in this film is exquisitely done from start to finish, and as someone with a major in film studies, I was incredibly impressed with every action scene in this film. 

The film briefly recaptures the remnants of the original John Wick story: John’s dog—his last gift from his dead wife–was murdered, and John is on the verge of completing his spree of vindication on all of his enemies. Upon completion, a former colleague of John’s past arrives and brings him a request he can’t refuse–but he still does. This costs him,  and a new story is born. Chapter 2’s story begins here. Honestly, a 10-year-old child would understand the story of this movie because of its simplicity, but the content of this movie is far too mature for any 10-year-old

Again, the action is exquisite. Not only the gun fights, but also the choreographed fight sequences between Wick and his many enemies. Just when you think you’ve seen the “highlight fist fight,” another one shows up and is just as entertaining, if not more. When I say entertaining, I’m not referring to the glorification of violence (as I am a Christ-follower and I do not believe violence is the solution the world’s plethora of problems), rather, I am referring to the value of the work that went into making these fights appear realistic and painful by the cast and crew of the film’s production. I was particularly impressed with one of the fight scenes which ended soon after a fall down some stairs. Now, I’m quite confident stunt doubles were used since this looked incredibly painful for the main actors to be falling down stairs, but I couldn’t tell because only the close-up shots revealed the actors faces clearly. Again, state of the art choreography in this film brings the brutal reality of the world of assassins to fruition on-screen. 

One of the many facets of this film that I appreciated was its use of on-location production value; there are hardly any scenes in this movie that I would be able to guess were shot on studio sets with dressing and props. Most of the film’s production appears on-location, giving the world of John Wick a broader scope of reality. This is not a film careening on a narrow budget limited within apartment complexes and side alleys—it’s out in heavily populated areas mid-day with everything operating as if we were right there with them. The value of this alone is worth capturing the attention of viewers uninterested in some cheap film about the same ol’ story. Chapter 2 certainly delivers even on its production value, and that is commendable. 

Another aspect of this film that I appreciated quietly was its humor. Chapter 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously; there are moments of humor sprinkled in that are so fitting that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in the theater. While John is beating men to a pulp outside, their leader nervously awaits what will happen next while listening the sounds of grunting men outside his office door. His reactions are timed so perfectly that I couldn’t help but find humor in the horror of his expressions. These uses of humor were appropriately used likely to balance out the brutality of the fights and the consistent action throughout the film. For a two-hour action movie, a grand 3/4 or more is spent on action alone; that is both incredible and incredulous without going overboard, and Chapter 2 does this flawlessly. 

My one only issue with John Wick Chapter 2 was some of the dialogue. In particular, the dialogue for Keanu Reeves as John Wick himself. I have never considered Keanu Reeves to be a complex actor of multiple nuances, and I do not think his roles appear to be very challenging psychologically, but more physically demanding due to the fights (The Matrix trilogy is a great reference for this comment). The acting here is just about the same; there is little challenge for an actor to put on an assassin’s countenance and pretend to have lost his dog and wife with some pained expressions intermittently between action scenes, a reminder of his humanity beyond his career. The writing for Keanu is just predictable and cheesy, although it is fitting for such a film. For example, “You tell them if they come for me, I will kill them. Every last one of them. I’ll kill them all.” It’s extremely cliché and taken from an old mold of action films, but nevertheless it’s befitting given the circumstances. I’m not putting Keanu on the bench, I’m simply stating that the writing could have at least slightly benefitted from some attempt to be more original.

To reiterate, I am a Christ follower and I do not write this review to encourage people to go watch the movie because of all the violence. I write this review to explain the strengths of the production value, and to inform audiences that the entertainment value of the choreography, principal photography, and story alone are worth the appreciation. That said, I will close with my precautions. 

Parental Advisory

Chapter 2 is brutal and bloody; bones break and every punch or kick in every fight is shown without any jarring camera movements. This filmmaking decision leaves room for the viewer to fully experience every punch, kick, bullet, and grunt of the actors. Heads are shot at point-blank with graphic results. It’s extremely violent. Not Hacksaw Ridge war-carnage violent, but still graphic. Not only would I strongly urge caution against any young children viewing this, I would also heavily urge parents to take strong caution against taking their teenage kids to see this simply due to the nature of the violence in this film. A lot of influence derives from watching stylized gun fights and carefully planned choreography implemented by talented actors and hours of practice. When teenagers watch this, not all of them consider the ramifications of mirroring this type of violence in the real world, and they take the fictitious character of someone like John Wick to heart, thinking it justified to go on a killing spree. As someone who believes in Christ as my hope in life, an educational experience, and a tool belt of common sense to know how film is entirely separate from real life, I am able to watch a film like this and be unaffected by the violence because I know how everything in film works. Many a teenager who does not have this perspective might view a film like this and try to re-enact what they see. For this reason, I strongly, heavily urge parents to consider extreme caution with their kids watching this.

For the rest of us who know the world of film apart from the world outside the movie theater, I highly recommend taking yourself to see John Wick Chapter 2, especially if you enjoyed watching the first movie. Without watching the first, this film will make much less sense, though it may be enjoyable simply for the reasons explained in this review; not to mention there’s an actor which was nice to see acting alongside Keanu again since The Matrix films. Go ahead and watch to find out for yourself. 

Overall, I would rate John Wick Chapter 2 5/5 stars.

If you enjoyed reading this and you would like to read more, please follow this blog. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please share this with anyone and feel free to write in the comments below if you have something you’d like to add or share. I would be glad to read from you! God bless you all!

Movie Review: “Fences”

“Fences” is a film that stays with you because of its powerful message, but it also eats at you because of the heavy subject matter. After the long lapses of drawn out monologues by Denzel’s character Troy, we start to unveil and receive the hearts of the other central characters; such as Troy’s humble and assertive wife, Rose (portrayed flawlessly and poignantly by actress Viola Davis), their brave, bold, and endearing teenage son (portrayed by talented Jovan Adepo), Corey; Troy’s mysterious and distant son Lyons (portrayed by Russell Hornsby), and the stellar performance of mentally challenged Gabriel (portrayed by Mykelti Williamson).

What I loved most about “Fences” was its heart. Behind every scene of elongated confabulation, there is heart and intention. There are a limited number of main characters, which is one of the greatest strengths of a film like this. “Fences” is not a film about baseball, and it’s not about racism or politics. Based within only walking distance of the film’s opening scene, “Fences” takes the heart farther than the eyes, capturing the spirit with the challenge of the family drama, focused on the message of the veracity of character and the loyalty of blood.

In past movies, Denzel has seemingly adhered to his pro bono work of a classically laid back fellow, sauntering without worries. In this film, although there is still a strong undertone of Washington’s past performances, Denzel provides a stark new facet of himself—the broken heart of a man who’s sacrificed his life for family, and is so doing, destroyed himself over the course of a family’s lifetime. There is an extremely sentimental backdrop of character-development that I deeply appreciate about this film, mostly in the respects of Denzel and Viola’s work as a married couple fully encompassed in the heart-wrenching pain of time and secrets.

Viola Davis’s talents are golden and brilliant in her portrayal of Rose, whose heart is emboldened with loyalty, promise, and the subtlety of hope. Undoubtedly, her scenes with Denzel are worth the price admission by themselves, truly revealing the broad scope of her daring ability to be vulnerable and emotionally resilient, and held strong by a heart left to fend for itself by the convolutions of this world.

I was amazed and impressed with Mykelti’s touching portrayal of Gabriel, the mentally challenged brother of Troy. With a heart of gold defined by faith, his character is the most refreshing yet causes the most ruefulness due to his condition. His dialogue and inflection imitate the reality of his experiences, as he causes us to genuinely smile and yet sigh out of sympathy.

The pertinent and extremely real theme of “father and son” is incarnated here, brought to the light with painful precision by Denzel and Jovan. Their scenes together are by far some of the most emotionally tense scenes between any father and son in any movie, with the battle of time, culture, and prejudice weighed against them both. Matched with the scenes of Troy and Rose, these scenes build up to create an array of poignant, tense, and yet satisfying scenes of emotional exhaustion; refined with the reality of familial atrophy, distance, and the weight of living under the roof of a God believed to be assigning turmoil with punitive judgment.

Truly, this isn’t even a film only about family; this is a film about faith—where the image of God is clearly distorted, misunderstood, and dramatically misinterpreted by the lies of the world and the deviations of equality. Though this is not a film about racism or prejudice, these themes are implied throughout and utilized to as a means of allowing the audience to understand the context of the world these characters live in. The real message sneaks behind every argument shared between Troy and his various family members throughout the movie. The heart of “Fences” lies in these dialogues, the message carrying itself even into the instrumental score of the credits.

I highly recommend seeing this on Redbox if you missed it in theaters. Though the introduction can feel tedious for a good half an hour (unless you enjoy hearing dialogue about baseball and alcohol), the central story does eventually pick up and become the central focus of every conversation. This is where the movie’s ingenuity is ignited.

Parental Advisory: 

This film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references. There are about three references to sexual conduct dispersed sporadically this film; quick and brief, yet still adult-only when understood in context. Most of the purpose of the rating is due to the drama of the altercations throughout the movie. This film centers on the strained relationship relationship between a husband and wife, and a father and son. These themes are emotionally heavy and can be taxing for the viewer. Children under 13 will likely misunderstand what is happening, and therefore would not take anything useful away from a film such as this. Adults will appreciate the honesty and rawness of the actors’ performances, but children will likely get confused and bored from a film made with 98% dialogue. The 2% I will not reveal here, but I will say it is quite impactful with what happens. I would highly recommend this film for its vulnerable performances alone, and for its strong message about family.

If anything is to be taken from “Fences,” I would say it’s a lesson in familial love, making sure every moment counts; living in the present, showing you care, allowing others to be free and creative, and choosing selflessness for the sake of familial unification. This film reminds me what it means to love; to truly love, and not because of what the film shows, but because of what it intends to teach.

I give Fences 4/5 stars. If you like what you’ve read here, and you would like to read more, please follow my blog and pass word along. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. I do hope this review aids you in your decision whether or not to view this movie. May God bless you!

Movie Review: “Split”

Readers, this is new. You’re familiar with me writing solely spiritual-related material. Though I will most heavily continue to focus my articles on faith, purpose, and our journey of life, I will start sporadically including movie reviews in the mix. Here is the first—my review for M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split”. If you’re interested in seeing it, I provide a spoiler-free review below to aide in your decision-making. 

Undoubtedly, this is on par with my second favorite film by M. Night Shyamalan, The Visit, right after The Sixth Sense (everyone has their favorites—). The Village is quite easily my least favorite (I’m sorry to The Village lovers!) of his past films.

While there are the strengths, there are also the weaknesses. I would say there is a fair ratio of pros than cons, but we’ll start with the cons and end on a good note.

My first problem with Split was the humor. This may just be an opinion of my own so take it as you will, but I feel Shyamalan’s use of humor was underdeveloped and a bit distracting from the overall tone of the film. In Split, we come to enjoy watching (through genuine intrigue of the talents of James McAvoy) the main “antagonist” (Or protagonist? You decide) and his multiple identities, therefore the humor here is nearly required to provide balance and interject some humanity to the incredulousness. The problem here, however, is matching the humor of the story with the humor of the audience, and I get the impression Shyamalan has trouble understanding how to connect the two; he seems to either provoke humor for the actors on-screen to enjoy themselves, or the characters’ dialogue is so forcefully intended to make us laugh that it undermines the humor altogether; like a comedian telling a joke and pausing to wait for the crowd to start laughing. It is this forced intentionality that ultimately spoils the end result, making the humor feel more embarrassing than befitting.

Another example of the humor gone wrong is the unbalanced proportions. For example, there is a brief moment in the opening scene when a main character so blatantly jokes about her dad’s driving skills that it’s hard not to assume we’re “supposed” to laugh, immediately ruining the humor with a wince of awkwardness—like saying “Ha ha, funny,” just to say it. After this moment, the only evident humor occurs during some later moments with McAvoy’s multiple personalities—but clearly the humor in these scenes is intended to be our reaction to examining his extremely unusual character, not so much any humor related to the story the character is a part of. In other words, the humor and the story seem separate, therefore the humor is distracting rather than complementary. Lastly, the humor isn’t dispersed evenly throughout, making the few and far in-between moments seem unnatural.

Secondly, the nature of this movie primarily revolves around the idea that a man with 23 identities can morph into something inhuman and monstrous. That alone would cause anyone’s eyebrow to raise superstitiously. Easily, this is just Hollywood bait posing as a reason to see the movie (And guess what? It worked!). The trailers all made it obvious that the selling point of the film was “the beast”—not even so much the multiple personalities. The movie slowly narrows its attention from the various characters embodied within “Kevin” (McAvoy’s main self), skinning the fat away until all that’s really emphasized is that a beast is coming. As much as this builds suspense, it also feels a bit cartoony since it is not relatable to the majority of viewers. Tied to point number two of the cons is that this movie ultimately has no underlying message. There is nothing remotely challenging about this story; nothing for anyone to take home with them; there isn’t any psychologically soluble about viewing Split; as soon as the credits starting rolling during my screening, everyone immediately stood up and walked out. Ultimately, Split is a fun pop-corn flick with a great actor in the lead role. Which leads me to my third and final main con.

The one thing that stood out most as a letdown about Split is the number of identities we actually get to see. We are manipulated in the trailers, led to believe there are 23 different identities within one man who we will get to see. Wrong. Of the 23, we get to personally watch about 8, 4 more heavily for the first 3/4 of the movie. 4 out of 23. As much as watching McAvoy portray 4-7 different people is, others may enter the theater expecting to be amazed with 15 more, and they will be sorely disappointed. All that said, McAvoy does a phenomenal job in this role, truly nailing every facet of each character portrayed in the man named “Kevin”. In fact, that is my first choice for pro number one.

In the lead role, James does an impressive job juggling not just 7 names, but seven diverse personalities, each replete with unique accents, body language, facial expressions—the whole nine yards. Very impressive. At almost 38 years of age (looking quite young still), James certainly has tricks up his sleeve and flawlessly implements them without so much as a second out of character. In every moment his eyes are 100% committed to story-telling, wrapping the audience around the horrifying reality of a man stuck with 23 different minds.

Second to note is the story-telling itself. Shymalan does a fine job swiftly implementing the story beginning with a birthday party, and transitioning into the horrors of Kevin’s multiple personalities as they undulate through him, carefully unwrapping each scene by scene until the drum roll is over and and we’re eagerly awaiting what will be revealed after the clash of cymbals. There are twists, and though they are not draw-dropping or truly mind-boggling, they are interesting enough to leave us feeling as though the story of Chapter 1 has been efficiently unraveled without forcing the viewer to watch the paint dry.

Finally, for anyone, like me, who believes in shielding certain content from children of the appropriate age, I want to provide precautions for the parents out there who need to know whether or not to take their children with them.

Parental Advice: This film is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language. Without spoiling the movie, let me warn you that this film is not for children under 13. Understandably, there are many movies with a PG-13 rating only for a few F-bombs (if you’re complacent with your child being exposed to vulgarity), but this isn’t one of those. The theme of pedophilia is used quite heavily, teenage girls are shown in their underwear for large portions of the film, and cannibalism is also implied more than once. The film grows more violent in the third act, and I would say this is disturbing enough for the film’s rating on its own. Though the scenes referred to here are not extremely graphic (much is implied off-screen), thematically, this material is quite heavy and not suitable for young children. For the theme of pedophilia alone, I would strongly urge caution.

Altogether, I would give this film a 3/5. The acting is impressive, the story is satisfactory, even if the humor is entirely off-beat and there is some disappointment in the paucity of personalities than was advertised in the trailers. The ending alone is quite a nice surprise for some of you who are a fan of Shymalan’s earlier works, and here is where I will stop.

To read more, please follow this blog. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog, Twitter at LPBlog2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to share this and write in the comments below–I would love to hear from you! God bless you!!