Facing the Giants
Facing the Giants is an overtly Christian movie, unapologetic and fully loaded with spiritual messages. Despite a slow beginning, some moments of bad acting and phases of heavy spiritual "preaching," the film presents some advanced spiritual truths. I say advanced because most people who call themselves Christians never get out of morality mode. While good morals are a nice thing, it is not what walking with Christ is all about. Look at the parables and lessons Christ taught his disciples in the New Testament. He continually called them away from the empty task of honing their good works and led them into the adventure of stretching their faith. And still, having read those passages from childhood, many Christians today never manage to make that important leap either.
Surprisingly, the film addresses the meaning of life and encourages believers to step outside their comfort zones of self-promotion. Coach Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick) fails time and again to achieve success according to his own and others' standards. Only when he hits bottom and turns his life over to the use of God does he experience anything meaningful and successful in his life. That doesn't sound like too complicated a spiritual truth, does it? Well, maybe not in theory, but in practice, most people never go there. Those that do, experience the unmistakable work of God in their lives - on both a small and large scale. Like Coach Taylor, they see and live out things that are absolutely surreal (like the student revival meeting on the football field). Ask anyone who has had a true life change as a result of their faith in Christ and you'll be amazed at the stories they have to tell.
The ending initially seemed a little hoaky since Coach Taylor received everything he ever wanted. But as I thought about it more, I couldn't deny the truth behind it. All I had to do was look at my own life and the many, many ways God has met my needs and unspoken desires through the years. Not only has he met, but he has exceeded most of them on a regular basis. This is also true of the lives of my dearest, most faith-driven friends. There definitely seems to be a link between glorifying God over self and experiencing a full, redeemed life. Oh, that's right - it's a promise from God, right there in the Bible..."Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." I'm not saying life won't have its trials, but I am saying there's a principle in the Bible and in this movie that's worth giving some thought. Maybe success is neither defined nor achieved in the ways we tend to think.
In the end, this film left me with mixed emotions. Its direct, unfiltered Christian messages coupled with a predictable plot progression make the film seem like it belongs less on the silver screen than in the church recreation center on a Saturday night. Nevertheless, the messages are so powerful and so true, I can't help but be excited that it actually opened in theaters this past weekend. After all, why keep a good life principle to yourself? Why hide it behind the confines of church walls? Why NOT pass on the good news of the promises of God? If one person's life is challenged and changed by this film, then I give it a resounding 10 - regardless of anything my movie critic mind might find wrong with it. Despite any shortcomings, it manages to tell the truth about God and what he can do in our simple little lives. And that's something we all need to hear.
"Tell me again, what's impossible with God?" - Coach Taylor, Facing the Giants
Nacho Libre is typical Jack Black, although it’s a bit more of him than most viewers probably have ever seen. Not only do his outlandish costumes accentuate his… well, delicate?... body, every scene is filled with some kind of antic, expression, or over-dramatized accent that makes Jack Black king of clean comedy. Reminiscent of Inigo Montoya (Mandy Pantinkin) in The Princess Bride, Jack’s dialogue convinced me for at least ninety minutes that he was a genuine Mexican. Despite it’s exceptionally fun and entertaining nature, I was still quite conflicted about writing this review. I couldn’t nail down what bothered me about the film’s message. Maybe it didn’t clearly support any one of my beliefs (too easy, though). Maybe there were mixed messages (definitely that). Or maybe it reminded me of how infrequently I seem to get on God’s agenda (most likely option).
The story suggests that God and Nacho have different plans for Nacho’s life. Nevertheless, many pieces of those plans intersect and overlap. As if Nacho has a “glimpse” of what God wants of him, he heads off in several directions to make sense of his destiny. His efforts to find his calling, though, cheat him out of a genuine relationship with God. But, to be fair, don’t we all cheat ourselves out of the incredible life God has for us? Our vain attempts to define Him (and our world) constantly deter us from understanding His true character through a daily relationship. And herein lies the “But God” concept. We try to put God in a box with definitions and expectations, BUT GOD keeps busting that box wide open with his majesty and wonder, his ways that are not our own.
1. Man tries to segregate people by faith groups. Nacho (Jack Black) and Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez) banter back and forth routinely throughout the film about the fact that Esqueleto believes only in science. Nacho, a man of faith, blames their corporate failure on the fact that Esquesleto doesn’t believe in God. In one hilarious scene, he baptizes Esqueleto to save his soul from imminent death in the ring. Locked into his dogmatic practices, Nacho misses God’s passion for Esqueleto.
BUT GOD looks on the heart of each individual as worth of reaching. When the two men enter a crisis of faith, they journey to find “the way of the eagle,” the wide path, if you will. When it proves false, they face an allegiance dilemma. What’s next for their faith? God ultimately changes Esqueleto’s heart and draws Nacho back to his roots. Rather than simply dismissing people because they have not yet believed, God desires to find and captivate the hearts of the lost.
2. Man tries to find his purpose without God’s revelation. Consumed by the desire to win and become the greatest fighter in the world, Nacho forgets that his original intent in wrestling was to provide food for the orphans. Throughout most of the movie, Nacho’s quest for purpose is thwarted by financial success, career failure, and a misguided pursuit of power and fame. His efforts to find direction in life ultimately fail.
BUT GOD reveals a more fulfilling purpose in life than any man can discover on his own. Nacho, discouraged and disillusioned, finally asks God, “Why did you give me this desire to fight and make me a stinky fighter?” Only then does God show Nacho that his desire is for the orphans to receive provision.
3. Man tries to use God to accomplish his objectives. Now claiming that God is on his side, Nacho boldly states that God will help him win a match so that the orphans can have a better life. But, is he just using his faith to achieve his secret goal (to feed his ego)? As is so typical of real life, Nacho fails miserably.
BUT GOD uses events and people to accomplish his greater will in everyone’s life. Rather than getting on Nacho’s agenda, God creates a supernatural event after the fight where Esqueleto is overcome by compassion for a mistreated orphan. Esqueleto’s unlikely response propels the second-place loser, Nacho, into the finals. Because of the way this plays out, Nacho’s heart is humbled and everyone receives a piece of the blessing.
4. Man uses success to glorify himself. Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera) warns that the problem with the luchadores (wrestlers) is that they become false idols for the kids, but also adds that it’s okay to fight if it’s for a good cause. Skipping the whole idolatry part, Nacho gets his head straight about giving the money to the kids, but fails to see the idolatry issue through. The final scenes show Nacho’s picture painted on the bus and the kids chanting “Nacho, Nacho!” Though it’s a feel good ending, Nacho becomes the idol that the sister warned about.
BUT GOD uses man’s failure to reveal his perfect Son. The story doesn’t follow Nacho’s life after his great success, but imminent failure is likely. No man can withstand the expectations of others. No man can lead a perfect life. Honestly, we are no different than Nacho. No matter how pious any of us are deluded enough to think we are, we forget that we are broken vessels. Though we desire positive, spiritual things in life, we (like Nacho) are equally tortured by desire for the things of this world. Though we seek to help the less fortunate, we are helplessly given over to pride and self-preservation. Anyone who reads the Bible will soon discover that even the best of us pale in comparison to Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.
I’m still not sure if I was more enchanted by Jack’s fantastic curly fro or distracted by the mixed messages I was getting about faith in Nacho Libre. I loved the movie, to be sure. It was worth my $8 to be entertained by Jack Black for the evening. And as for the mixed messages, they are more true to life than I would like to admit most days. As humans, we miss out on seeing the God who so tenaciously pursues us. And yet, He still sees fit to reveal himself to us. I’m thankful that God doesn’t get on my agenda, but waits patiently for me to respond, all the while whispering gentle invitations to know him better.
Kid Video - Booples
Booples: How can I best explain this series?
The characters look like a cross between the Simpsons, Teletubbies, and Hershey's kisses; they sound like the guys from King of the Hill; and they say things you might expect to hear at an Awana meeting. Really fun combination!
This funny little indie cartoon exhibits the typical problems of a first-time film. The characters move very little, scenes are repeated, songs are repeated, and there is a general lack of a compelling story line. But what do you expect for a series that targets ages two through four? Despite all of it's shortcomings (and most indie cartoons have these very same problems), I did appreciate several things about it.
1. It's funny. Despite the simple content and messages, the voices and characters made me laugh. I had to go back and read the return address on the DVD to find out where these guys were from. Texas, of course. And honestly, the characters grew on me. The second time around, the funny little "old guy" voices transformed into "fun, quirky voices" that my kids seem to love.
2. It's simple, yet complex. The stories are VERY short (five minutes each), and deal with one simple issue each. This keeps the focus on the main idea. At the same time, they deal with complicated issues. The stories use concrete images to demonstrate traditionally complex spiritual concepts. Finding a straight path, loving God by loving others, and materialism vs. treasures in heaven are complicated issues even for adults.
3. The Bible is the authority. Instead of using a person to teach the biblical truths, the spiritual guru of the film, "Baaa" (an appropriately named sheep), whips out his Bible and reads from the source. This is a good lesson to children that people aren't the ultimate authorities for their spiritual walks. Without overtly saying so, the story reinforces that people should always go to the Bible first with their questions.
4. The songs were awesome! After the second viewing, I had the main choruses memorized (with no effort, mind you). The songs are catchy enough to not drive you crazy after 10 viewings, and the main choruses are Bible verses. This is a fantastic asset for parents wanting to teach their kids scripture memory. My daughter is highly uninterested in academics (as are most three year olds), and this is a great tool to help her memorize verses without the potential for failure. Atter 100 viewings, she'll know them by heart. She has the Veggie Tales and Barney songs memorized, why not a few Bible verses?
5. A calming effect. This is an interesting observation about this series, or perhaps about the Bible in general. Most days when my daughter watches videos or shows on television, I can barely peel her away. She screams and whines, argues and becomes belligerent with me because I won't let her keep watching more shows. That in itself mystifies me. What is it about television that causes that effect? I don't know yet. Nevertheless, for two days in a row now, I've noticed her disposition was different after watching this show. She seemed calmer and less worked up when it was over. She still wanted to keep watching, but she wasn't angry or aggressive with me. Very interesting. I can only guess that it's the simple, calming nature of the show or the fact that the Bible is being read. I don't know. Maybe you can tell me.
As I've said before, my daughter is the litmus test of a great children's video. Although she was more interested in playing during the songs yesterday, she did wake up asking to watch it today. And to my surprise, she asked me if I would like to be Toodle Boople and she could be Poodle Boople while we played today. Those names ARE fun to say!
I give it a thumbs up, but with a note to parents. Because the show deals with complex spiritual issues, you will need to stop in to explain some of the things they see. Though it appeared simple to me at first, my daughter had a lot of questions about the stories. I loved her curiosity and the opportunity to share spiritual insights with her. But for the parent who wants a "hands off" experience for a little free time to yourself, you may save this one for a day when you're in a better mood.It's worth checking out for yourself - you can hear a sample song and read the synopsis for each story at www.Booples.com.
X-Men 3: The Final Stand
Many things about this film impressed me, but I walked away mostly impacted by Jean Grey. Sitting comfortably in my seat of expectation, I surmised that the primary forces for good and evil would be as clearly defined as previous X-Men films. The "Last Stand" would simply be the final battle of wit and will between Xavier and Magneto. From that comfort zone, the phoenix, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), arose from the flames of predictability and hung her allegiance in the balances.
Jean Grey really becomes the ultimate villain. She is a force that we the viewers have little capacity to imagine. Rather than being the ultimate evil creature, she is an all-powerful goddess with no defined conscience. She is terrifying, angry, and limitless. Her uncontrollable passion or rage can be ignited by the slightest word or deed of her inferiors. Jean Grey is fickle and conflicted - equally capable of benevolence and evil. Instead of giving us the worst villain imaginable, X-Men 3 gives us a villain we cannot imagine.
Worse than being eternally evil, Jean is eternally unpredictable. When Xavier explains the process he once used to help Jean control her power, Jean ceases to be a known entity. Although part of her can be understood from the past (Jean), the largely unknown side of her mind (Phoenix) is capable of anything. In one scene with Wolverine, she reveals her erratic nature. Wracked by grief over her destruction of a life, she claims, "Kill me now before I kill anyone else." But as quickly as Wolverine suggests that Xavier can help her fix the problem, she screams, "I don’t want to FIX it!" Knowledgeable of the power she has to destroy, she is also jealous to keep that power.
Worse than being extremely powerful, her power is uncontrolled. When Xavier meets Jean for the first time as a child, he challenges her, "You have more power than you can imagine. The question is, will you control that power or let it control you?" Skip ahead 20 years to the classroom at the school. Xavier teaches his students about the use and misuse of their powers. He drills them on ethical behavior. Then later at the most crucial moment of his life, he challenges Jean again, "Don't let it control you." In actuality, we spend the majority of our time hoping and wishing that Jean will gain control of her power. We know that even her good energy has a destructive effect.
Worse than being resolute in her ways, she is influenced by others' intentions. Despite her profound ability to read and understand men's motives (exposing Xavier’s desire to control her for good as equal to Magneto's desire to control her for evil), she still chooses to operate under the influence of others' motives. When Magneto offers to endow her with great power, she follows her lust for destruction. Yet, when Wolverine pleads with her conscience, she responds with reason and good will.
Jean Grey is the antithesis of all we believe to be good and true about God. It's difficult to imagine an all-powerful, angry God, although Jonathan Edwards' sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," gives us a nice taste. And it's even more frightening to behold on screen. The swirling debris, black eyes, and strained blood vessels (special effects get MAJOR kudos) that came with Jean's wrath called me to a gratefulness for the God that I know. What if God was unpredictable and we could never know his character or intention for our lives? What if his power was greater than his ability to control it? Worse, what if he based his decisions for this earth on the whim of the latest influence? I shudder to think of what the world would be like if he took my advice half the time. I'm glad God has a mind of his own, and it gives me great comfort to read passages like the ones below that reveal God’s character.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever." Hebrews 13:8
"For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love." Psalm 33:4-5
Now, I'm not trying to tone down God's wrath and power. By all means, he promises to destroy his adversaries one day. Nevertheless, it is not his ultimate will that we die apart from him. 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise [to come again], as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
In this muted, toned-down world of mediocrity, X-Men 3 reminds me that God has the power to destroy, and to save. And it inspires me that he chooses to save, despite our ignorance of him (we are like the lady who locks her car door after Magneto moves the bridge). It's good to know we can rely on his unfailing love, his controlled providence, and his resolute will to prevail against all the evil this world offers up to him.
—2. Cast and Crew
—3. Photo Pages
—4. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—5. Posters (Soccer Photos)
—6. Production Notes (pdf)
—7. Spiritual Connections
—8. Presentation Downloads
Santiago’s dad: “That’s how things get better! That’s how you measure a life!”
Santiago: “It’s your life, not mine.”
Measuring life. For that task, there seem to be as many measuring sticks as there are people. Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) faces a challenge much greater than winning soccer matches. He must confront the issues of personal and corporate significance if he hopes to succeed.
Several themes permeate this film, some predictable, some unlikely and truly surprising. To be honest, I expected a B-rated film that cheated us out of character and plot development. I predicted the typical “American Dream” story where a poor barrio immigrant is snatched from poverty and leads the US team to the World Cup in less than a year. That’s how American off-brand sports films tend to work. However, Goal! surprised me with its candor about the nature of life and success. Three primary themes of the film explore traditionally “un-American” truths.
First, "God gives success in whatever form it comes". In the barrio, an ex-scout watches Santiago play. He asks the coach who taught Santiago to play like that. The coach replies, “God taught him that.” The scout offers him a trial in England, but Santiago’s efforts to start a professional career in soccer are unsuccessful. He tries, but even getting to Europe proves to be a challenge. Worse, when he gets there, he fails time and again. Only with the help and faith of others does he make it to each new level of success. Santiago acknowledges along the way that God is managing his life. He tells his girlfriend that she’d have to ask the saints why he had to come so far to play. He also says at a point of grave failure, “I don’t know why I thought I could do this on my own.” Even in trials, he never abandons his faith. At the end of the film, he makes the sign of the cross as a barroom full of people pray for his success. Unlike the traditional American Dream story, Santiago’s success comes from above.
Second, "Personal passion is better than fame and fortune". Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola), the big shot who joins Newcastle United before Santiago shows up, is vilified by fans of the team. His love for endorsements and frivolous living garner insult from true football lovers. Santiago’s girlfriend, Roz Harmison (Anna Friel), fears that he too will change into a Gavin-like star if he makes the team. She says, “I don’t have a problem with footballers. I have a problem with fame.” In typical American films, fame and money are the brass ring of success, but Santiago represents a more grounded perspective as he matures throughout the movie. Though he has his moments and trials, he ultimately sees through the temporal nature of outward success. As he reminds Gavin, “We’re one step away from being busboys.”
Third, the messages, “Dare to Dream Big” and “Hard Work Achieves Success” are common American themes, but most films subscribe to one philosophy or the other. This movie allows for individual choice, which says something bigger than either of the messages alone. Santiago knows that life must hold more than being a lawn maintenance worker, while his dad believes in the value of working hard to make small steps in life. In the second scene of the movie, Santiago lies dreamily on a floating chair in the middle of a client’s massive pool. In contrast, his father calls him back to reality and everyone climbs back into the work truck. These two oppose one another on this issue throughout the film. The interesting thing is that both men succeed in their own right, which begs the bigger question…
How do you measure a life? It’s a great question to ask. Do we measure our lives by how we accomplish success or by what we define as success? Do we succeed by following our passions and living a life we love, or by achieving fleeting rewards like money and power? Do we measure our lives by what we’ve accomplished on our own, or by the continual acknowledgement of what God has done on our behalf and the talents he has given? Santiago seems to land on the spiritual side of the fence in his segment. The word on the street is that this is the first film in a trilogy. I’ll be anxious to see how Santiago continues in his development. How will he define success and will he actually arrive at a “better place?”
This is a surprisingly good movie. It goes a lot deeper than most sports and hobby related films bother to go. The characters are realistic and the acting is well done. Though the ending is predictable, the events leading to it aren’t typical. That means it will be entertaining for those who aren’t even soccer fans. And honestly, as a 32-year old soccer-player, I’m grateful that this film didn’t diminish my favorite sport. There’s nothing worse than a bad movie about your favorite hobby. I’m looking forward to the next installment…