Dr. Marc T. Newman, president of MovieMinistry.com, helps Christians use film to reach others with the Gospel. He also teaches in the School of Communication and the Arts at Regent University.
Posted 9/13/13 at 9:27 PM | Marc Newman
I am a fan of the supernatural horror genre. Unlike many other types of films, supernatural horrow provides an near-instant gateway into deeper spiritual discussions. Whenever a film includes as a plot point a transcendent or hidden world beyond our own, discussions emerge about the plausibility of such a dimension, and the ways in which it might intersect with our own. And, of course, what does it all mean? I would love to tell you that Insidious: Chapter 2 is such a film, but it is not.
Insidious -- the first iteration of what now appears destined to be a horror franchise (it is leading the box office this week despite very mixed reviews) was a pretty decent horror film. Shot on a shoestring budget, it brought in $54M at the domestic box office. The sequel is likely to be number one over the weekend, but I doubt if it will play long. It's just another sequel trying to cash in on the orignial without bringing much (anything?) new to the table.
Insidious: Chapter 2 continues the story of the Lamberts, a family haunted by malevolent spirits who, in the first Insidious film, are trying to possess the body of their comatose son Dalton. We discover, from family friend and psychic Elise Reiner, that Dalton has projected his spirit into The Further, and that the souls of the departed are desperate to use his body for a second chance at life. Someone needs to go in and bring Dalton back. Well, of course, in the process of bringing Dalton back something went wrong -- and that is why we need the sequel. Despite the Lambert's belief that they had put their supernatural problems behind them, pesky poltergeists appear to follow them wherever they move. Time to bring back Elise.
Posted 6/17/13 at 3:49 PM | Marc Newman |
This is the End demonstrates that Hollywood gets so little right and a whole lot wrong about eschatology: the study of end times. The film does posit an actual Rapture, the reality of the demonic, the existence of heaven, the authority of the Bible (sort of), the damning power of sin, and the need for confession. But it also argues that certain good deeds are the way to heaven, that you can escape the tribulation and be raptured at any time after the initial event if you act right, that your rapture can be reversed, and that heaven is indistinguishable from the hedonistic Hollywood party that begins this film. This is the End earns its R-rating.
The movie opens with Seth Rogen picking up fellow actor Jay Baruchel at the airport. The two friends want to reconnect. They end up at a party at James Franco’s home, attended by a host of other actors. These stars, supposedly, are not playing characters; they are playing themselves. After indulging in drugs, Jay and Seth want cigarettes and snacks, so they walk to the local mini-mart. Oh, and the Apocalypse arrives. FULL POST
Posted 5/30/13 at 1:51 PM | Marc Newman
Being marooned, either on a desert island or in space, has a long literary and film history. There is something about the solitary individual (sometimes the small group) battling against his circumstances, knowing that no cavalry is going to arrive. When the stakes are “perform or die” you normally have captivating drama.
The pairing of real-life son and father Jaden and Will Smith in this summer’s sci-fi film After Earth plays on the marooned theme. The movie also attempts to communicate an environmentalist take on what the Earth might look like if the “human cancer” was excised for an extended period of time – in the future we live on a distant outpost. But the overwhelming focus of the film really is that of a father teaching his son what it takes to be a man. None of it involves chasing girls – and for that, we can be thankful.
The key lesson in After Earth is overcoming fear so that a man can complete his mission. Overcoming fear requires recognition, training, and engaging the will. FULL POST
Posted 2/14/13 at 4:06 AM | Marc Newman
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Just when my parents thought they could begin their "golden years" together, my grandmother was stricken with Alzheimer's. My father, Bud Newman, fulfilled his vow to his dying father-in-law, to bring my grandmother to live with them if she ever became too ill to fend for herself. As he was the retired military officer, and my mother worked full time, my father served as Grandma's primary caregiver. Not too many years after Grandma died, my mother was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer -- only three months from diagnosis to death. My father fulfilled another vow -- one he made on his wedding day -- to keep my mother in sickness and in health. For as long as he was able, my father cared for my mother at home, navigating the complex regimen that accompanies cancer treatment. My dad is the heroic lover.
Heroic love is scarce in contemporary film. You see glimmers of it in films such as Big Fish and even in the recent zombie love story Warm Bodies, and stupid versions of it in This Means War and the horrible film Savages. Heroic love is the love that everyone wants, but that few know how to give or get. It finds embodiment in the film that has become a Valentine's Day staple, The Notebook. FULL POST
Posted 1/10/13 at 3:02 PM | Marc Newman
At the close of each year it is customary for film critics and arts pundits to compile “top ten” lists, based on their ideas about what constitutes fine acting, solid screenwriting, or exceptional directing. But most people don’t minutely examine their entertainment choices this way. Often, people will simply say “I liked it.” They might not even be able to articulate just what it is about a film that moves them.
But I think I know.
What really grabs an audience is the truth. That may seem odd considering that all of the films on this list are fiction films, not documentaries; however, all of these films represent aspects of spiritual, moral, or ethical truth that rings true with those who see them. Just to be clear, not all truth is beautiful truth – there are ugly truths in this world that serve as cautionary tales. This list runs the gamut from big to micro-budgets, from musicals to historical drama to science fiction to animation. But the one thing all of these films have in common is that they are spiritually provocative. Here they are, bottom to top:
Posted 12/24/12 at 1:39 PM | Marc Newman |
You will not soon see a better film about redemption and its effects than Les Miserables. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, director Tom Hooper has brought the Broadway musical version of this tale to the screen in all of its ethical and spiritual complexity. Sure, there is romance and some revolutionary action (though the story takes place in post-Revolutionary France), but the focus of the tale is Jean Valjean.
Valjean is a convict. After serving nineteen years in prison at hard labor for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, he is released -- but can find neither work nor kindness. Valjean becomes a drifter and a vagrant, sleeping on the streets, constantly exposed to ridicule and brutality. But, by an act of grace, Valjean is approached by a concerned local bishop who invites him to come into the church where he might find rest and food for his body and soul. Desperation overcoming wariness, Valjean accepts the kind offer. But in the night, he cannot resist stealing the silver from the sanctuary and running away. What happens when Valjean is arrested for this crime and brought back to face the bishop sets the stage for the remainder of the film. FULL POST
Posted 7/23/12 at 3:16 PM | Marc Newman |
Movie theaters are supposed to be a place of escape – for at least a couple of hours -- from the challenges of everyday living. But for the victims and their families and friends in Aurora, Colorado an act of horrifying violence shattered the illusion. Right now they are the center of attention, feeding a 24/7 news cycle. But when the media senses issue fatigue in the minds of its nationwide audience and shifts away to newer, fresher stories, the pain that began in the early morning hours last Friday will linger. For many, it will never go away.
There might be a time to talk about guns, violence in the media, and appropriate types of punishments for the people who commit such heinous crimes, but right now the best response is to mourn, comfort and pray. For those who have lost a family member, friend, or co-worker, we are truly sorry for your loss. We hope that friends and family members can give comfort to the grieving and the wounded. We pray for strength and perseverance for you. Your grief will still be fresh long after the news reporters fade from view.
How does one make sense of the violence perpetrated upon unsuspecting, innocent people? Where is God when evil appears to triumph? Does He even care about us? If Job, the most righteous man who ever lived, can ask such questions, I think that God may understand if some of us are asking them now. FULL POST
Posted 7/12/12 at 4:36 AM | Marc Newman
According to S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury in The Avengers, sometimes battles are simply too big for us to fight on our own – for those times, we need superheroes to step in and fight for us. But in the universe of The Amazing Spider-Man, it isn’t that the forces arrayed against the humans are too powerful for us to handle, it is that the authorities that should be in place for our protection have failed. The world Peter Parker inhabits lacks potent authority, and, in watching it, one gets the sense that he is – for the most part – on his own. If there are problems, it is up to him to fix it. This might not be the recipe for a feel-good summer film, but it does correctly identify the ingredients that makes The Amazing Spider-Man ring true for some of its viewers.
When Authority Fails
The problem of impotent authority is global in The Amazing Spider-Man. Early in the film – before a single Spidey-sense is tingling – viewers watch a high school lunch scene as the older, larger, stronger athlete Flash, humiliates a young high-schooler. Peter Parker – who, in this incarnation of the Spider-Man saga, is portrayed as a photographer for the student paper – is ordered by Flash to commemorate the boy’s shame in Kodachrome. When Peter refuses and dares to ask Flash to stop manhandling the other boy, Flash comes unhinged. What follows can only be described as a brutal beating. Flash knocks Peter to the ground and then begins viciously to kick him. Only the intervention of Gwen Stacy – the nerdy/cute debate team captain – saves Peter from a trip to the hospital…or the morgue. FULL POST
Posted 6/25/12 at 8:06 PM | Marc Newman |
You wake up one morning and discover that the only safeguard standing between you and impending death has been obliterated. Death is coming. It is relentless and swift. You have three weeks remaining. Suddenly, years lose their meaning. Every second counts. How will you spend them? This is the scenario constructed in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Critics could easily accuse the film of being confused – it has a hard time figuring out if it wants to be a romantic comedy, a raunch-fest, or a serious drama. In actuality, this array of responses might be precisely how different people might really react if they knew that the world was to be destroyed in the very near future. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World does not provide an answer to the problem of annihilation, it just describes possibilities – and, as a result, for those who see it, it may become one of the most personally illuminating films of the year. What would you do if you knew you were going to die?
Fair warning: the following analysis contains a number of major spoilers that have to be revealed in order for the arguments presented to make sense. The goal here is not a review of the film, but a way to use the film to engage viewers with a discussion about life, death, and what comes after. FULL POST
Posted 6/22/12 at 2:12 PM | Marc Newman |
What are life’s most pressing questions? According to Peter Weyland, head of the Weyland Corporation which is funding an inter-stellar space voyage, they include: “Where do we come from? What is the soul? What happens when we die?” Seeking answers to these questions represents the initial reason behind a trillion-dollar space expedition in the film Prometheus. Millions of theater-goers are encountering these questions this summer for eight to fifteen dollars at their local multiplex. All three questions represent the kind of thought-provoking inquiry that should occupy us in our most introspective moments and amidst our deep conversations with like-minded friends. The answers Prometheus offers represent a cautionary tale, but it does not follow that those who see it must come to similar conclusions. Prometheus, in its quest for God, is looking in the wrong place, searching with the wrong tools, and seeking the right end with a wrong attitude. Fortunately, we need not look to cave paintings to locate an appropriate roadmap to God.
Looking in the Wrong Place
Prometheus tips its hand in the opening, 2001: A Space Odyssey-like creation sequence. An alien craft deposits what appears to be a kind of human on the surface of a water-rich, but otherwise barren, planet. Removing the top of a canister – the top is crafted with a curious design that represents a tree (the tree of life?) – he drinks the contents, convulses, dies, disintegrates, and seeds the planet with the DNA from which all subsequent life springs. FULL POST