Thursday, August 30, 2012

Movie Review: Supercop

A policeman with skills too large for his small assignments is sent to help with a dangerous mission. He quickly finds out that while his skills are impressive back at home, they aren’t quite as impressive among the best of the best of law enforcement. As he goes undercover and helps a powerful criminal escape from jail as part of an operation to bring down an even more powerful criminal, his skills will be tested as never before.

Supercop is typical of Jackie Chan’s good movies: Generic story, minimal characterization, and plenty of humor, all of it held together by slick action sequences, cool stunts, and the star’s charm. The bad English dubbing is, as usual, part of the fun. If you’re looking for an action film with a masterful story and vivid characterizations, look elsewhere. The Fugitive, for example. If you’re looking for just-for-fun entertainment, then Supercop fits those qualifications.

This film should never have been rated R. Aside from a few “f” words in a rap song that plays briefly in the background, content is all of the PG-13 variety or below, and the song seems to have been added solely to get this film an R-rating and make it “cooler.” There’s a handful of other swear words. Violence is pervasive, but mostly bloodless, and sometimes involves women in combat roles. It’s implied that the protagonist is living with his girlfriend and all that entails. Some characters are mistaken for prostitutes and propositioned by a criminal. Various women are seen in immodest clothing. Also of note is that going undercover requires some actions that are not always explained morally, but since the general tone is one of morality, it’s not much of an issue.

(c) 2012 Jonathan Garner

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

After a plane crash strands a dozen or so boys on a tropical island, they at first have fun in this new environment. They form a community and make plans for building shelters and keeping a fire burning to signal rescuers. However, the laziness of many of the boys leads to these plans falling apart. A rivalry between the leader of the boys and another boy who obsesses over hunting continually grows more tense. As time passes and the boys in general become more and more like savages, the few boys who retain bits of civilization try to survive and hold onto hope.

As anyone who knows a bit about this book might can guess, this isn’t a happy story. The tone is grim and doesn’t make for pleasant reading. However, the nightmarish feel also makes it compelling since you will want to see how it ends. The prose is vividly written, but sometimes feels detached, while the story flows at an erratic pace early on before smoothing out as the story goes along.

The savagery that takes ahold of the boys is disturbing, and occasionally seems implausible, but for the most part one can see how something like this could happen to those who let go of their values or have no solid values to stand on. As such, it can be read as a reminder of the importance of Christian principles that stay the same in every situation. Unfortunately, the author’s lack of Christian faith and the relentless darkness of the story muddy things up.

The main content issues potential readers should be aware of are violence and darkness. Boys are brutally murdered by other boys, and once this is described in flashes of gruesome detail. Hunting is described somewhat graphically. The cruelty of some of the boys and their eventual descent into murderous savagery might be too much for some readers. There is a bit of mild swearing. Most problematic of all, the story seems hesitant to offer any hope, and thus is probably not worth the time of anyone except those wanting to read it for literary research.

(c) 2012 Jonathan Garner

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review: The Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne

After their ship is wrecked during a storm in the Pacific Ocean, three young men learn to survive on an exotic island. They quickly discover that their new home is almost a paradise, with all sorts of indigenous food and colorful animals, and good weather other than the occasional storm. While they dream of going home, they enjoy themselves in the meantime, having all sorts of adventures on the island as they explore the many wonders it holds. Their peaceful life is shaken after a boatload of vengeful cannibals chase a boatload of rebel cannibals to the island and a violent battle occurs on the beach. The young men take the side of the rebel cannibals and help them overcome their pursuers. In gratitude, the cannibals do not harm the boys. After the cannibals leave, the young men return to their peaceful life, until the coming of a pirate ship permanently ends the peace on the island and plunges them into the greatest danger yet.

I found this book to be surprisingly enjoyable to read, considering its age. The protagonists were likable and had unique personalities. While descriptions of flora and fauna and philosophical musings sometimes went on awhile, they were written in such a pleasant style that I never found them to be boring. The story itself rambled around a bit, as is common for this type of adventure book. The rambly plot flows smoothly for most of the book, then gets a little shaky towards the end, and finally is harmed a bit by a deus ex machina ending. However, the various adventures of the boys are so entertaining overall that the fumble at the end did not seriously harm my enjoyment of the book. With some tweaking to the ending, it would be easy to imagine this book as a film. Christianity is presented positively and clearly in this book, woven in as an essential part of the story rather than just tossed in.

While The Coral Island has a reputation as a “children’s classic,” it is worth noting that the violence in this book can get somewhat graphic. Cannibals slaughter each other in various gruesome ways. Once their enemies are dead, the cannibals sometimes chop them up, cook pieces of them over the fire, and eat them. The dark pagan practices of the cannibals are referenced and occasionally witnessed. The pirates are violent, too, though not as much as the cannibals. Characters are wounded in numerous ways. There is also some lesser content worth noting: The cannibals are sometimes referenced as being nude. Racism, including one racial slur, appears occasionally among the villains. The combination of all this violence and darkness may be too intense for most children and even some teens and adults. However, due to the morality of the protagonists and the healing that is shown as found in faith in God, the book exudes hope rather than darkness.

(c) 2012 Jonathan Garner

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Childish Ways

Picture by Elizabeth Liberty

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. -- 1 Corinthians 13:11

How do we decide if certain things are childish? As Christians, we want to be responsible teenagers and adults. But does that mean we have to leave behind things like climbing trees, enjoying walks in the rain, playing with puppies, and using our imagination?

Since I am a relatively young man, this subject comes up a lot among my friends, and I think I have a good idea of how to decide whether something should be left in childhood or can be taken with us through the teenage years and even into adulthood.

To start, this verse from 2 Timothy 2:22:

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Notice that it doesn’t say flee all of youth, but just the evil desires of youth.

Next, a verse that is popular among the young, 1 Timothy 4:12:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 

These two verses show quite a bit of what being an adult is about: Pursuing righteousness, faith, love, peace, and purity, and making sure these things show in our life, including the words we say. How do climbing trees or walking in the rain or playing with puppies or using our imaginations get in the way of those things?

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.

When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 

And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them. -- Mark 10:13-16

It is clear from the Bible that a child-like faith is seen as a good thing, because it lacks the skepticism and fear that is common among adults. Children can just believe. Since a child-like faith is good, why not a child-like joy in the simple pleasures of the life God has given us?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! -- Philippians 4:4

If such a joy affects our ability to be responsible and righteous Christian adults, then yes, it is a problem that must be dealt with, and is not a good thing. It is rejoicing in ourselves rather than rejoicing in the Lord.

But if our joy brings only good, then who can question it? If it is looked down on by people who think you are “too old for such things”, why should you care, as long as you know it is not affecting your pursuit of the Biblical definition of adulthood?

Certainly, there are some activities so juvenile that they should be avoided by adults and we must use discernment about such things. However, there are also some activities that are wrongly stigmatized as childish by adults who have pushed aside the good parts of youth along with the bad. King David danced for the Lord in a way that was not “dignified,” and was judged wrongly by his own wife for it, while God approved of it.

May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful. -- Psalm 68:3

There is nothing inherently immature about someone who climbs trees, enjoys walks in the rain, plays with puppies, and uses their imagination, as long as those things do not interfere with the pursuit of righteousness, faith, love, peace, and purity. This doesn’t mean that you have to do them, only that you can if you want to and are able to exercise discernment regarding them.

If you are worried about whether some things you enjoy are too childish, give them a simple objective examination. If they are not too ridiculous and pass the Biblical criteria for adulthood, then never worry about them again without significant cause.

Adulthood isn’t about being solemn, but about being responsible and righteous. Let your thoughts go to praise and thanksgiving to God instead of to being self-conscious, and know that He is pleased with your joy.

Are you one of those who worries about whether something you like to do is too childish?

*All Bible verses are from the NIV.

(c) 2012 Jonathan Garner

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Movie Review: Courageous

Four policemen excel at their jobs, including battling with violent drug dealers. But after one of them loses a child, they realize that they have not been excelling as fathers to their children, and decide to change this. One of the fathers writes up a resolution for them to be great rather than just good fathers, and with another father joining them, they sign it and set out to live up to their promise to their children.

What sounds like it could be a sappy drama is actually a quite solid drama that has plenty of action and comedy sprinkled throughout. The opening scene of this film, and a humorous scene later in the movie, are more effective than just about any scenes I’ve seen in years from Hollywood. As Sherwood keeps growing as a film production company, I’m interested in seeing if they can fully live up to this potential. This film is safe for most viewers, with some mild violence, intense scenes, and mature themes.

(c) 2012 Jonathan Garner