Monday, September 30, 2013

Double Movie Review: 101 Dalmatians - Animated Versus Live Action

The Stories: A single man and woman are brought together by their two dalmatian dogs. After their owners marry, their dogs have puppies, and both dogs and humans are happy until the puppies vanish. An evil woman has stolen the puppies in order to make clothing from their soft and unique fur, and it’s up to the two dogs to rescue their puppies. Such is the simple and somewhat strange plot of both the original animated classic and the more recent live action version of 101 Dalmatians.

My Thoughts: I had fond childhood memories of the animated version, but the live action version made little impression on me as a child. Recently I decided to watch the two and compare them. Which is better? Both films are fun family adventures. While the animated version has some plot holes and runs out of steam towards the end, the way it wraps up the story makes more sense than the live action version.

On the other hand, up until it falls apart towards the end, the live action version has a stronger plot. Cruella deVil is a memorable villainess in both films, but of course it’s the cute dogs that you’ll remember the most. As to whether animated puppies who talk are better than live action puppies that don’t, and which film has more amusing hijinks involving the puppies and other animals, it’s pretty much a tie.

Overall, I found the animated version to be the most charming, largely because the ending was better written and thus the movie didn’t end on a disappointing note. If you’ve seen them both, which is your favorite?

Content Overview: Both films are safe for most viewers, though the crazed villainess and other scary elements, such as criminals who plan to skin puppies, might bother some children. The live action version had much more kissing, and if I recall correctly, the animated version had an immodest advertisement.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: John Ploughman’s Talk by Charles Spurgeon

In this amusing series of rambles, Spurgeon gives plain advice about life to the average person, telling things as they are, warning of vices, giving encouragement, describing common problems and blessings that people may encounter, with all of it pointing to the importance of faith and personal responsibility.

The book is filled with thoughts such as these:

“To know how to read and write is like having tools to work, but if you don't use these tools, and your eyes, and your ears, too, you will be none the better off.”

“A home should be a Bethel, not a Babel.”

“If we never have headaches through rebuking our little children, we shall have plenty of heartaches when they grow up.”

“The way to avoid great faults is to beware of small ones.”

The way that Spurgeon tosses in numerous common sayings tends to not add much to his own witty thoughts, and sometimes even distracts from what he is saying. But, that said, it is still pleasant to read, since Spurgeon’s insight frequently reveals itself--just in a slightly less effective way than in his usual writing style.

Those who are fans of Spurgeon’s writings will probably be curious about the rustic way of writing that he adopted for this book, and want to read it for that reason. For those who are new to his writing, his sermons would be a better place to start: Charles Spurgeon's Sermons

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Movie Review: The Guns of Navarone

The Story: Some of the best Allied soldiers, each of whom has a special talent, are called together for a seemingly impossible mission: To infiltrate a heavily guarded island held by the Germans and destroy the dual anti-ship guns that can sink any battleship which gets near the island. They have only a few days to pull it off, or else thousands of Allied soldiers will be trapped on a nearby island.

My Thoughts: This war movie is excellent in just about every aspect. The story is fast-paced and filled with suspenseful and elaborate action sequences. Its exploration of the darkness and the flickers of light that exist in war adds a lot of depth, and it’s not often that a film can be this entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

It also focuses just as much on character development as it does on explosions and fights. The characters are a memorable bunch, and while they are rough around the edges, they try to do what’s right even if they occasionally fail. The special effects are sometimes dated, but that’s only a minor flaw in this classic action film.

Content Overview: While little blood is shown, the grim tone and pervasive violence might bother some people, but morality and hope balance it out. There’s a small amount of mild swearing. The back of a woman’s dress is ripped open, briefly revealing part of her bare back, but the scene is non-sexual in nature.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: The Villains of Horror

Horror is a genre whose antagonists are divided between the speculative and the terrifyingly real. On the one side are vampires, ghosts, Lovecraftian dark gods, and all sorts of fantastical creatures of the night. On the other side are serial killers and other chilling dangers that we might see on the nightly news, such as killer bees.

These two sides are not opposed to each other. They are both filled with nightmarish characters who have only one purpose: To frighten, harm, and if possible, kill any humans who they can get into their malevolent grasp.

Some people may wonder why horror authors write about such grotesque characters. If an author has the right motives, one of the reasons he will delve into the darkness is because, whether they are real or imagined, the villains of horror remind us that we all have a real villain in our own lives: The devil.

The original villain

The devil is the original villain. He sucks the life out of people like a vampire, seducing them into sins that destroy them. He haunts them like a ghost, reminding them of past sins and continually seeking to tempt them.

Perhaps what he loves most of all is to get us to worship him instead of God, promising endless pleasures that he will never deliver. He’ll dangle sinful bait in front of us, set his hook, and then starting reeling us towards hell.

The devil, like a serial killer, tries to murder your family and friends and neighbors and even you with lies that cut deeper than the sharpest knife. He’ll say that God isn’t real, that the Bible can’t be true, and that sin won’t hurt you. Hell is filled with human trophies from his ongoing killing spree.

Like killer bees, he buzzes all through our lives, stinging us with trouble and tricks, trying to take our eyes away from God. He promises honey, then paralyzes us with his venom, and pours bitter sticky consequences down our throats to try to make us choke to death.

Anyone can become a villain

One of the tricks the devil tries to pull is to make us into villains like him. He wants to turn us into vampires who suck the life out of people with cruel words. He wants to turn us into ghosts who haunt others with bitterness and selfishness.

He wants us to see ourselves as gods and get us to look down on others with pride and hatred. He wants to turn us into serial killers who slaughter each bit of our innocence and righteousness with blades of lust and greed.

He wants us, like killer bees, to gather into mobs of self-righteous sinners who tear down the truly righteous and who push other sinners into deeper sin. If we fall for the illusions of the devil, we’ll become monsters just like him.

If all the villains of all horror stories ever written were combined, they would still not be as diabolical as the devil himself. All villains owe their villainy to their dark master, for they display some of his hellish characteristics.

The devil beside us

Christian horror should remind us to watch out for the ways the devil tries to lead us astray, whether it be through tempting our hearts with his own whispers, or through sending a variety of angels of light to try to lure us into unending night.

Whether the villains in horror are speculative or based on real threats, they give us a glimpse of what the devil is truly like. This should not lead us to despair at such evil, but should instead cause us to lift our eyes to the light and salvation of God.

Though the devil is beside us, God is not just beside us but within us, and He will watch over us and help us resist temptation. God wants us to do our best to fight and destroy evil with the sword of His Word. Ultimately, Jesus will return and cast all evil into hell with the devil.

Christian horror must not have monstrous villains for the fun of it, but for what such villains can teach us about the devil, about ourselves, and about salvation. We live in a sinful world, where a villain wants to destroy us and will try to recruit us to be villainous just like him. Thankfully, we have a Savior.

Do you agree?

The previous article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: The Wages of Sin

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: The Homelanders Series by Andrew Klavan

The Story

After waking up strapped to a chair and about to be killed, a teenage boy escapes from his captors, only to discover that he has lost his memory. As he tries to discover how he ended up a captive, he finds that not only are the men who captured him on his trail, but that he is also on the run from the police, who believe he murdered his best friend. With nowhere safe and no one to help him, he tries to evade the agents of both the good and bad guys as he searches for a way to prove his innocence, recover his memory, and defeat an organization that wants to destroy America.

My Take

After hearing quite a few friends rave about this series, I was eager to read it, and snatched up all four books when they were on sale. The first book, The Last Thing I Remember, was mostly an excellent thriller, though it weakens a bit towards the end. However, since the story continues through the next few books, I assumed that this would not be a major flaw, and kept reading the fast-paced story.

In the second book, The Long Way Home, the action sequences were just as solid as in the first book, and were more realistic than many action scenes in entertainment these days. The characterizations were good in the first book, and they continue to deepen in the sequel. As with the first book, the ending was a bit weak, but it was obvious by this point that this was due to the episodic nature of the series, which was building up to the big climax in the last book.

The third book, The Truth of the Matter, reveals a lot more of the information that the protagonist has lost, and if you have enjoyed the series up until this point, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a relief to read a book series that actually promotes good values, with characters who are truly heroic in spite of their flaws.

As I expected, the last book, The Final Hour, provides a big climax for the series, with things getting even more tense than before. While any of the books in the series might not seem that impressive in and of itself, all four book read together combine into an exceptional adventure that is well worth reading for any fan of action and thrillers. The author has a better understanding of the way the world works than most authors seem to, and this, along with a variety of other virtues, give the series a depth and warmth that is often lacking in modern fiction, even in otherwise skillfully crafted stories.

Content Overview

Not surprisingly, violence is pervasive, but it is not graphic. There is no swearing or other problematic content. Things can get intense, and some adult themes come up, but teen readers and older will be fine it. The series is clean enough that parents might even consider giving it to mature children who are advanced readers. I highly recommend this wholesome and well-written thriller series to everyone who’s interested, and I hope it reaches many more readers.