Who is the true star of the new version of Ben-Hur? The same ancient champion who should be the hero of all our lives?
Are you tired of all the remakes and reboots and rehashes at cinemas? Well, perhaps it's time we blamed ourselves for the same old, same old...
An intense, multi-angled war movie poses an ethical dilemma that proves how hard it is to live right, all the time.
New release Miracles From Heaven should stir us to consider whether we REALLY believe in what seems unbelievable.
Looking ahead at several love-themed new shows on TV this year, it seems we still haven't found what our hearts are searching for.
What's worth spending your grey matter on this year?
What can a R rated Western tells us about justice, forgiveness and equality for all? Loads.
Is it illegal to illegally download? That's not a trick question.
This involving drama about a real-life struggle for equality stirs the pot of how we should make a stand.
by Mark Hadley
In my youth I was a devil-may-care filmgoer, happy to risk a ticket on anything. I was an explorer and just as keen to discover a Bolivian Film Festival as a new blockbuster. Now I’m the father of three young boys. I'm still an explorer, but more the sort that took his family West. Like most mums and dads, I have to choose my path to the cinema more carefully – for their sake. There’s usually only one shot to get it right per holiday, and I’m keen to avoid casualties. I’ve come to the conclusion there are three things every parent will want to keep in mind this break: the movie, the mayhem and the message…
Star Wars VII : The Force Awakens
It’s 30 years after the events of The Return of the Jedi in that ‘Galaxy far, far away…’ and though Emperor Palpatine and the villainous Darth Vader are dead, the Sith are far from becoming history. Enter Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke who’s seeking to hold together the remnants of the empire with the Stormtrooper legions known as The First Order, led by Kylo Ren.
Kylo has embraced the dark side of the force, but is opposed by a new band of heroes including a reformed Stormtrooper called Finn, a desert scavenger called Rey and a hotshot Resistance pilot called Poe. Together they reunite with old allies of the force – Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia – to reintroduce the universe to the benevolent power at the centre of all things.
As a movie The Force Awakens has strong credentials. The franchise is finally out from under the sometimes cloying influence of George Lucas and safe in the hands of tested sci-fi director J.J. Abrams. All hopes are pinned on him producing a reboot of the 38-year-old franchise that will prove as successful as his rethink of Star Trek.
Wise parents will be ready with an after-conversation about the force. Lucas’ original idea aligned the Jedi power with the Hindu life force that unites all things. However, since taking over the franchise, Disney has used cartoon properties like Star Wars Rebels to translate the power to something more like self-confidence. “You’ve got the potential to be amazing!” – so long as you couple this talent with really hard work. It’s worth getting ready to remind kids the key to their real strength comes from. Not the force but, “With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” 1
The Good Dinosaur
“What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct?” That’s the premise for Pixar’s next big animation, The Good Dinosaur. Its story takes place in an alternate timeline where those terrifying lizards of old have evolved into a thinking society of sauropods. When a young Apatosaurus called Arlo gets lost in the woods, he finds himself as scared as any young child separated from his parents. But while trying to find his way across the Clawed-Tooth Mountains, Arlo befriends a human cave boy whom he christens Spot. Humans, having never risen to become the dominant species, occupy something of a wild creature status. Yet a single act of kindness establishes a whole new relationship between these two species. Their journey to Arlo’s home will bring them in contact with dinosaurs who are anything but good - and the greatest enemy of all, Nature. However together they’ll forge not only a path across the wilderness but a friendship that will change them forever.
As a movie, The Good Dinosaur has faced down extinction several times. Originally planned for 2013, it’s undergone a change of director as well as a complete re-write. But the basic premise remains. Story creator Bob Peterson says, “It’s time to do a movie where you get to know the dinosaur. What it’s really like to be a dinosaur and to be with a dinosaur.” These evolved creatures aren’t walking around on two feet and wearing clothes, but their features have been progressed and softened to allow expression and speech in a way that is a million years away from Jurassic Park – which, in part, suggests the mayhem the film will produce. Prepare yourself for a very predictable line of action figures, games, plush toys and happy meals to be released in conjunction with the film.
What about the message? Generally speaking, I'm cautious of any film with a prehistoric storyline because it inevitably involves a plot that uses Godless evolution as its foundation. However, the dinosaur thing is only scenery for a story Pixar has been telling since Woody and Buzz Lightyear bounced on to our screens. An unlikely friendship is the key plot device and though the production may lack any acknowledgement of the Creator, Christian mums and dads will have no trouble pointing out His definition of real commitment. “Greater love has no one than this,” says Jesus, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Arlo and Spot both have a chance to demonstrate that message, though neither will rise to the level of sacrifice Jesus made for kids and parents alike.
Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie
Charles M. Schultz’s beloved cartoon strip has finally made it to cinemas. Snoopy and Charlie Brown has already done brisk business in the United States and it certainly looks like 20th Century Fox has a hit on its hands.
Brown has fallen head over heels for the Little Red-Haired Girl who has moved into the neighbourhood. He’s desperate to gain her attention and manufactures a string of opportunities to impress her, including a talent show performance, a dance recital, even a War and Peace book report. But what Charlie Brown is best known for is his unbroken string of bad luck. Each time, it turns his best plans upside down – “Good grief!” – and wrecks his relationship with his myriad of pals. The good news for Charlie Brown, though, is that's not the end of the story.
As a movie, Snoopy and Charlie Brown is great fun, though on the mayhem side it might tempt some kids to be more inconsiderate with their pranks than they should be. However the message is sound. Schultz was raised in a Christian household and spent many years involved with the church. The net effect is that Peanuts presented many pictures of life consistent with Christian theology. Consequently, Snoopy and Charlie Brown is built around a philosophy central to the Gospel. In the end the Little Red-Haired Girl chooses Charlie Brown, not because of Snoopy’s dancing lessons or his debatable achievements but because of his servant heart. She praises him for being an honest, caring and compassionate person, and so fulfills Christ’s revelation that it’s not the biggest, brashest or bravest who will win in the end: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” 2
Goosebumps books have been crowding kids’ shelves since the early 1990s with 62 titles in the series, the vampire’s share being written by American author R. L. Stine. This January, it will finally make its way to the cinemas in the form of a Jack Black comedy aimed at late primary and early high school kids.
Goosebumps falls into the children’s horror genre, though the content is tamed to the level of thrilling rather than nightmare inspiring. Teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his mother Gale (Amy Ryan) move from New York to the fictional town of Madison, where they discover their neighbour is the legendary R. L. Stine (Jack Black). Zach breaks into Stine’s house, thinking he is rescuing the man’s daughter. What he discovers is a library full of Goosebumps manuscripts where the fiends are forcing themselves out of the pages. As werewolves, yetis and killer gnomes rampage across the town, Zach and Stine realize they must write a new book to trap the malcontented monsters if they’re ever to live normal lives again.
Goosebumps is holiday fun on the level of Gremlins, Frighteners and Frankenweenie. Prepare yourself and your kids for lots of jumps but little in the way of blood. Stine attributes the success of his stories to his determination to avoid death, drugs, depravity and violence. But also be ready for a conversation that puts the supernatural in the correct perspective. In his own mock horror, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote that humans generally make one of two mistakes when dealing with the supernatural – concentrating on it too much, and ignoring it altogether. The most important thing to convey to your children is that though there is a spiritual world that operates alongside our own, it too is controlled by God. Whatever devilish forces might exist, they were conquered at the cross and Christ now rules over them. Any Christian facing that sort of fear, faces a defeated foe.
Starring Jurassic World, The Gift, Bridge of Spies, Inside Out and The Martian
by Ben McEachen
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. From online ads to window displays, the trappings of Christmas remind us it’s time again to give gifts, eat too much and argue with relatives we’ve avoided all year.
Not being cynical about Christmas can be a full-time job. Joyfully celebrating the reason for the season gets smothered by credit card ker-chings and the stress of entertaining. Commercialisation and consumption can choke the Jesus out of Christmas, leaving us to suspect it is only an elaborate scam for our dollars.
We need an antidote. An injection of gospel goodness. But where from? How about some of this year’s most notable movies? While none of them aim to be Christmas Day sermons, they offer memorable opportunities to ponder and discuss key elements of Jesus’ all-important birth.
The fourth visit to the world of Jurassic Park was 2015’s most successful film. Almost $1.7 billion came Jurassic World’s way, despite repeating many elements from earlier Jurassic films. One of these elements was “playing God”. Like other movies this year (Chappie, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Jurassic World hinged on people trying to create and control lifeforms.
We don’t even have to watch these films to know things go bad, quickly, when humans play God. History tells the same story, such as the Old Testament’s reports of dire consequences for trying to overthrow God.
The perils of playing God in Jurassic World should have us breathing a sigh of relief about Jesus’ arrival. Read the first chapter of Luke and marvel at God being God in his selection and sending of the Saviour we need. No human has the power, intellect or love to do such a thing.
Christmas is a wondrous time to see, through Jesus, that only God is God.
One of the year’s most underrated yet affecting films was written and directed by Australian actor Joel Edgerton. He also stars as a strange bloke who brings presents to a married couple. These unexpected presents reveal secrets about past sins committed by the husband.
A tense, unsettling movie about how we treat each other, The Gift does on a micro scale what Jesus does on the macro.
A present from God in an unexpected package, Jesus reveals the full extent of everyone’s tainted past. What he reveals is, when it comes to our relationship with God, we are all variations on the imperfect husband in The Gift.
Bridge of Spies
Based on a Cold War true story, Tom Hanks plays and American lawyer who defends a Russian spy. This mature, gripping spy drama is more about moral choices than explosions. Seeing a man stand up for his enemy is one of the most powerful elements of Bridge of Spies.
Another true story is the original Christmas baby came to make a stand for his enemies. Anyone against God is Jesus’ enemy and, shockingly, that’s every single person. Our selfish hearts turn from God and this makes us his enemies (Romans 5:10, Colossians 1:21). Gulp. Despite that, Jesus was born to offer God’s enemies the real hope of intimate connection with the heavenly father (Romans 8:14-30). Incredible.
Spending a few hours with an astronaut (Matt Damon) stuck on Mars was not as boring as it sounds. Blending science fact and fiction into an entertaining expedition, The Martian is an inventive yarn about the hope of survival. Despite the money and effort required to rescue the stranded astronaut, a team dares to go after him.
The rescue effort is laudable but The Martian can only hold our hope as a possibility. In provocative contrast, Jesus came to seek “the lost” (Luke 15), rescue them from far worse than physical death and offer a guaranteed hope of eternal survival. Repeat: guaranteed. Will happen. Won’t fail.
Pixar’s latest animated adventure caused quite the stir this year. Children and adults hugged the highly imaginative portrait of how emotions play a huge part in everything we do. With intellect off in the background, Inside Out’s journey of emotional development centred on Joy accepting Sadness.
Jesus doesn’t just call for an intellectual response to his offer of eternal life. He calls for wholehearted love and devotion. The kind that demands all of us, from the inside out. When we respond like that to God’s Christmas present, it’s not about joy accepting sadness as in Inside Out.
Instead, our deserved sadness at disappointing God gives way to joyful acceptance of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus.
That’s a gift we all should want for Christmas – and forever.
A Christian satire reminds us of why investing in God seems so foolish.
Mark gets close with a journalist who delved into humanity's dark heart, to emerge with a revolting yet riveting documentary of extraordinary impact
Welcome! To the latest in a growing list of children’s films that have been turning our notions of villainy upside down.
Never mind the on-screen stunts and revs. The real risk lies elsewhere.
Chevy Chase's super-duper awesome 1980s holiday movie has been rebooted. Does that mean spending time with your family has also been rebooted?
Woody Allen's latest film, Irrational Man, is a philosophical delight of intense challenge to a core issue we all face: do we practice what we preach?
When is an euthanasia movie not an euthanasia movie?
Imagine you could actually lead a better life... but that gain comes at someone else's loss. Would you still take it?
This excellent portrait of an ageing super-sleuth doesn't aim to be a Christian film but Sherlock's realisation is a Biblical one.