Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Movies (Page 1 of 2)

Paul, Apostle of Christ

Paul, Apostle of Christ | Now Playing In Theaters

Paul, who goes from the most infamous persecutor of Christians to Christ’s most influential apostle, spends his last days awaiting execution by Emperor Nero in Rome.

I went and saw the movie, “Paul, Apostle of Christ” recently. I thought it was excellent. The friend I was with said it gave inspiration to want to go back to read the Book of Acts. It did for me too.

What grabbed me most about it was the absolute faithfulness of the early Christians in the face of death every day. No wonder they changed their world, despite their flaws and the mistakes they made.

The movie followed closely to what we know of early Christian history, both from the New Testament and from other historical sources of the time. These Christians constantly thought of others even though their own life situations were fraught with peril. They were steadfastly selfless. They took in the poor and the sick just out of obedience to Christ. They were healthily obsessed with following their Master come what may. Nothing else mattered.

I need movies like this to remind me that my own struggles, though real, can be used to lead me to care for others and not worry or fear for myself. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where one of the Christians exhorts a younger Christian to not be afraid. We hear that phrase, “do not be afraid”, right through Scripture. We see it so much that we can lose its impact. But to these people who faced death every day in the face of a brutal Roman Empire that literally used them as human torch lights, burning them alive for the entertainment of others, and threw them to wild animals for the crowds, the words “do not be afraid” had meaning that went straight to the heart. They had unbelievable courage, they stood tall, unflinching, considering it a joy to suffer and die for their Lord. Wow! Could I do that?

Movies like this make me lament how comfortable I am, that too often I am way too concerned for my own petty self-protection than I am for following Christ in full surrender and submission. We get sucked into the mantra of looking after ourselves first and foremost, and in the process we lose what it is to live for Christ.

This movie showed that the early Christians were determined that literally nothing would stop them from preaching Christ. And that included taking in the stranger and the discarded that the rest of society considered worthless. They weren’t just preachers and they weren’t just on about social justice. They were all about Jesus. It was all one. It was their love for God, lived out in love for neighbour and enemy, that set them apart and eventually brought the collapse of the greatest empire ever known. Who would have thought it?

The lives of courageous love, commitment to non-violence and refusal to submit to any other king was the making of the Christian movement. This movie inspired me.

In a time when the church talks so much BS about “believing for success” and blessing theology, where it’s all about us, this movie showed that following Christ is done in suffering and brings suffering. It’s in the fire that genuine Christlikeness is forged.

There are not many Christian movies I have seen which are not cringe-worthy, but this one showed me the Spirit that filled Paul and those early Christians. I want that Spirit too.

Movie review – Hidden Figures

If you have nothing else on this weekend, go and see Hidden Figures. It’s a brilliant movie. Here’s my review of it for Sight Magazine…


In a word: Confronting “I found myself quite choked up most of the way through this movie, as it highlighted the cruel injustice that so many went through back then and that so many still go through today just because of the colour of their skin or their gender or their sexual orientation.

Jason Bourne and violence

Ok, here I go…I have to confess, Matt Damon is my man-crush. I love his movies and he comes across like a genuinely good bloke. So here is my review of his latest Bourne movie, Jason Bourne. It might not be what you expect…


In a word: Illuminating The Bourne franchise is back with this new instalment of the heroics of the maverick former CIA operative. This time Matt Damon is back as the title character, and he comes across as somewhat more world-weary than in previous Bourne movies.

Movie review – Money Monster


A movie which has the calibre of actors like George Clooney and Julia Roberts is one that usually gets my attention. And the fact that I am writing a review of it means that my hunches about the quality of this movie were not unfounded.

[pullquote]Money Monster is a critique of a society that has become numb to the influences of social media and a culture of violence as entertainment.[/pullquote]

Money Monster is a critique of a society that has become numb to the influences of social media and a culture of violence as entertainment. Clooney plays TV personality, Lee Gates, the host of a tabloid-style financial advice cum game show called Money Monster.

Gates has recently given advice to his millions of viewers to buy shares in a company called IBIS Clear Capital, whose share price subsequently tanks. As a result, the people who took the advice of the popular Gates lose millions of dollars. One of those people is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who lost his life savings of $60,000 after listening to Gates.

Distraught and seeking answers, Budwell infiltrates the show as it goes live to air, pulling a gun on Gates and holding him and his crew hostage, as millions of viewers around the country watch on.

Stories like this have a tendency to follow a certain script. Generally, the loner feels ripped off, takes someone hostage, and the plot goes back and forth until the “lone nut” is taken out by authorities and normality is restored.

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The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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The redemptive oddity of Alan Turing

Enigma-plugboard“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

And so – as this tagline of the brilliant movie, The Imitation Game, describes – it was with Alan Turing, the man who was abnormal, who was different, who no one imagined anything of.

This man, it turns out, was responsible for shortening the Second World War by two years and for the saving of 14 million lives. How’s that for a boast when you get to the Pearly Gates?! (never mind some suspect theology behind that last statement, but I think you get what I’m trying to say).

The Imitation Game is the story of this man who did what no one thought was possible; breaking the Nazis’ Enigma code during World War Two. Brilliantly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Turing’s social awkwardness is revealed during his school years as he is bullied by his peers. It is during these years that he also strikes up a close friendship with fellow student, Christopher, a friendship that also reveals Turing’s homosexual orientation.

The team of codebreakers at Bletchley Park (where Turing built his magnificent machine) have become famous in the last decade or so for their contribution to winning the war, but it is Turing himself who is the hero of this story. This is a wonderful tale of how it is not always those who we think will be the heroes who actually are. The heroes are often those considered most unlikely by the majority.

The wisdom of the world is often foolishness to those who live in reality. And so it is that Turing, with all his social awkwardness, his arrogance and his stubbornness, is the one who is – quite literally – the mastermind behind the shortening of the war.

This movie also highlights many ethical dilemmas for those who fight the good fight. Just after Turing breaks the Enigma code, he and his cohorts realise that there is a ship that is about to be bombed by the Germans in a matter of about 30 minutes. It turns out that that very ship has, as one of its passengers, the brother of one of the Turing’s colleagues who helped break the Enigma code.

The obvious solution is to notify the Allied authorities to get the ship out of the danger area so it will not be sunk. Turing though thinks otherwise. The reason becomes clear in the movie, but it is a poignant moment which highlights the fact that issues of morality and ethics become much more than mere issues when someone we know is right in the centre. When they become personal, then principles suddenly seem a bit cold.

It is this very problem that occurs with the revelation of Turing’s homosexuality. Whatever our views on homosexuality, they seem to change when there are people we know who have a homosexual orientation. If we have any compassion, it is then no longer merely an issue. It is no longer distant; it hits much closer to home because it is now about someone’s life. It is in situations like this that we see that Christian faith is not about principles but about love.

And so it is that this movie highlights the tragedy of Alan Turing’s life. Forced to go onto hormonal therapy to “cure” his homosexuality, the full extent of the inner torment that Turing faced is distressingly revealed at the end of the movie. The man who saved 14 million lives and shortened the war by two years ends up taking his own life at the tender age of 41 because he can no longer cope with the demonisation he is forced to endure because of his sexual orientation.

Sadly there are Christians today who will still demonise the Alan Turings of this world over their sexual orientation, while conveniently overlooking the fact that he saved the lives of 14 million people.

It is those who are not considered normal by the world who God uses to perform the greatest acts of love. As Turing’s close friend Joan Clarke (played elegantly by Keira Knightley) affirms towards the end of this excellent movie,

“No one normal could have done that [broken the Enigma code]. Do you know, this morning… I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work… a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. Now, if you wish you could have been normal… I can promise you I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”

And, as St Paul so brilliantly says, “now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love”. When we see love in the Alan Turings of this world, rather than abnormality and oddness, we will all better reflect the image of God in which he was made.

Engaging the flood of controversy over Noah

NoahThere has been a lot of controversy over the Noah movie, mainly from Christians. The controversy has been around the fact that the movie doesn’t follow the biblical story in many ways. In fact it has a bit of a Lord of the Rings feel to it, particularly with the inclusion of the rock-like creatures called the Watchers.

In a post-Christian culture like ours, do we as believers really have a right to expect that a movie about a biblical character be accurate? How can we talk about movies like this in a way that best promotes the Gospel?

About 20 years ago there was a major controversy in Australia when a piece of art called Piss Christ was put on public display. Specifically designed to shock, the artwork had the desired effect. Christians across the country were horrified by this piece that showed a crucifix submerged in a vat of urine.

How dare this person who calls himself an artist offend the biggest religion in the world by depicting Jesus like this? The outrage reached the media as people debated whether or not Piss Christ should be banned.

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The engaging intensity of Captain Phillips

This movie surprised me. I didn’t think it would be as good as it was. When I saw what it was about I thought it might be interesting to go and see, but I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to do so.

Coming out of the movie, the reason I found myself surprised was because of the intensity of how the story was told. Captain Phillips is highly engaging from start to finish. Even though you know how it’s going to end (based on the fact that it’s a true story), you’re never quite sure what is going to happen next.

The story starts out with Captain Rich Phillips (played by Tom Hanks in a masterful performance) flying to Salalah in Oman for his next assignment as captain of the ship, Maersk Alabama. This next trip will be to Mombasa in Kenya, traveling around the Horn of Africa, an area notorious for raids on ships by Somali pirates.

In the meantime we are taken to the desperate lives of would-be Somali pirates, impressionable young men willing to do anything to get in on the mega-cash on offer from their bosses. I have learned from those who have experienced poverty that it makes you do things you wouldn’t do in your right mind. It is said that desperate times produce desperate measures. These young Somalis, easily seduced by the promise of big dollars, will kill to get the money they want to get them out of the miserable existence.

The selection of the team of pirates to do the next job seemed almost farcical. It reminded me of the way you used to pick teams for a game of footy at lunchtime in primary school. People were basically shouting, “pick me, pick me!” as the captain moved amongst them seeing if they were up to the task.

The suspense in this movie really starts when the four pirates chosen for the task make their way out to the Maersk Alabama, traveling as it is like a black sheep away from the rest of the flock, away from other ships in the area, and therefore vulnerable to attack. Phillips soon realises that the four people coming out to him are pirates, and starts using his considerable guile to outwit the potential attackers. Knowing his ship hasn’t got the speed to outpace the pirates, we soon see that Phillips is not naïve about what he needs to do in this situation. Cunning as a serpent, he eventually tricks the pirates into giving up the chase. The battle has been won…for now.

Phillips’ crew soon remind him though that the pirates will be back, and sure enough, they are. And this time they don’t back off. Thus starts the life and death game of how to survive four men with machine guns taking over your cargo ship. This is where Captain Phillips and the crew of the Maersk Alabama realise that this is for keeps.

As the movie takes its twists and turns, with Phillips using more cunning to communicate with his hidden crew to outwit the pirates, the suspense grows as we cannot be sure how this is going to end. Soon though we see the US Navy get involved, and as with many things American, this is where it gets bigger than Texas. Continue reading

Movie Review – Les Miserables


If you wanted to find an illustration of what the Gospel is, you couldn’t do much better than going to see the latest film version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. As old as this story is, this is the first time I’ve ever been through it. I have never finished reading the book, nor have I ever seen a film or performance of this most incredible of stories.

The Gospel comes out in this story as powerfully (perhaps even moreso) as it does in C.S. Lewis’Chronicles of Narnia. The overarching storyline is one of grace compared to law. The first clear sign we see of this is when the convict Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) is caught stealing a whole lot of silverware from a priest who has given him lodging. Dragged back in disgrace to the priest’s house by the police, the priest remarkably says to Valjean that he forgot to take the fine candle holders, and gives them to him as well. Struck by the unfathomable mercy and forgiveness shown him by the priest. Valjean becomes a changed man, rebuilding his life to eventually become mayor of a small town. From petty thief to an honest and good man, Valjean begins to love because he is first shown love (1 John 4:19).

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