Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Review: Deadfall by Robert Liparulo

The Story: A bow hunter and his friends head out into the wilderness of Canada for a vacation, settling down near an isolated small town. Unknown to them, a group of outsiders has taken over the small town and cut off its ability to communicate, planning to use the town as a testing place for an experimental and extremely effective new weapon. When one of the hunter’s friends is killed by the weapon, he and his remaining friends join up with some people from town to try to find a way to stop the outsiders from slaughtering everyone in the area.

My Thoughts: The plot of this novel intrigued me, and the author mostly made it live up to its potential. Aside from an ending that feels a bit rushed, this is an excellent thriller, filled with well-written action sequences and moral depth. Many scenes that could have been fairly conventional are given twists that, along with the fast-paced storyline and the thought-provoking exploration of despair and depravity, elevate this above the average thriller. While its spirituality is perhaps a bit too vague in some areas, it presents many aspects of a Christian worldview with skillful subtlety. This book, with its explosive and deep story, could make an amazing movie.

Content Overview: It has two things that are unusual for a book from a Christian publishing company: A bit of mild foul language, and violence that is intense and brutal, though not graphically described. Some readers might find the deaths of more than one main character and the dark tone too grim and disturbing, but the book ends filled with hope.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Movie Review: Gladiator

The Story: When the Roman Emperor secretly chooses a noble general to be his successor, the emperor’s son is enraged, and murders his father to be able to claim the throne. He then sends soldiers to murder the general and his family. The general escapes from his executioners too late to save his family, and gives up on life, which leads to him becoming a slave. In slavery, he is forced to be a gladiator, a twist of fate that, due to the emperor’s love of violent games, will bring him face to face with the evil emperor once more.

My Thoughts: This historical action film was a huge box office success, and it’s easy to see why. It has memorable characters, from the heroic general who is brutally betrayed and seeks vengeance to the spoiled brat emperor whose wickedness causes great suffering. The story, about an enslaved gladiator daring to defy the most powerful man in the world, is compelling. The action sequences are elaborate, yet add to the story rather than being the main attraction.

Despite being two and a half hours long, this film moves at a fast pace, and I actually wish it had been a bit longer, since the ending felt a bit rushed. How things wrap up is not entirely satisfying, but it is not enough of a problem to seriously harm the film. Overall, Gladiator is exceptionally well-made, and seems guaranteed to become a classic. It’s also one of the few R-rated films that shows enough restraint for me to be able to recommend it.

Content Overview: The violence is intense and bloody, and while it doesn’t get overly graphic, it might be too much even for some adult viewers. Several mild swear words pop up. A few sexual references appear, including about incest, prostitution, and rape, and though not all of them are mild, none are explicit. The paganism of Rome and surrounding cultures, and its spiritual implications, affect a significant amount of the story.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review: The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur

The Message: In this book, John MacArthur says, “The way Jesus dealt with His adversaries is in fact a serious rebuke to the church of our generation. We need to pay more careful attention to how Jesus dealt with false teachers, what He thought of religious error, how He defended the truth, whom He commended and whom He condemned--and how little He actually fit the gentle stereotype that is so often imposed Him today.”

My Thoughts: This short book brilliantly illustrates the points the author made in the above quote. It does this by surveying the ministry of Jesus from beginning to end and detailing the way He preached. Sometimes what He said was gentle, and sometimes it was harsh, as His wisdom deemed necessarily for each situation. As the author noted: “We can learn a lot from observing how Jesus dealt with false religion and its purveyors. The boldness with which He assaulted error is very much in short supply today, and the church is suffering because of it.”

In addition to being an effective Biblical defense of the necessity of standing strong for truth and sometimes telling hard truths that are sure to offend, this book is also fascinating as an overview of the life of Jesus. It puts together historical facts from the Gospels that I hadn’t realized before, and I enjoyed this just as much as its promotion of the proper view of truth. The only flaw is that the way the author repeated the same conclusion again and again got a bit repetitive, but this is a minor flaw, and I highly recommend this book.

Content Overview: This book is free of content concerns.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie Review: The Phantom

The Story: A flamboyant and ruthless criminal mastermind begins taking over New York City, though one of the city’s biggest newspapers is opposed to him. When the criminal starts searching for three skulls that can harness unimaginable power, his henchmen cross paths with a ghostly figure who’s supposed to be dead, which causes the ghostly figure to leave his jungle lair to battle against the criminal mastermind and his diabolical plans.

My Thoughts: I don’t know why, but I tend to find superhero movies boring. This is one of the exceptions. Superhero films can easily take themselves too seriously, or alternately be too over-the-top. Aside from a few momentary slip-ups, this film is just old-fashioned fun that is neither pretentious nor mere fluff, and sometimes has the feel of a less morally-conflicted Indiana Jones movie.

The Phantom himself has a lot in common with the light-hearted heroes portrayed by Erroll Flynn in films like The Adventures of Robin Hood, and that’s a good thing. Many of the action scenes, including one in a neat underground castle with a moat filled with sharks, are more memorable than it seems like they should be. And that sort of feeling pretty much sums up this film: It’s far more enjoyable than it seems like it should be.

Content Overview: After quite a bit of swearing early on, foul language is mild for the rest of the movie. Some mild innuendo and other mild bad behavior pops up a few times. Ambiguous mystical elements play a significant role in the story. The violence that is shown is not graphic, but the implications are sometimes more gruesome than usual for a PG-rated movie.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos

The Story: When a mad scientist and an android move into his neighborhood, a neighborhood watchman isn’t sure what to think of them. Soon he's dragged with them into a zany adventure with a werewolf who’s searching for salvation from his curse. A crazed monster hunter, zombies, and many other unique characters will help or hinder them on their quest.

My Thoughts: This novel claims it is “ferociously funny,” and I have to admit, it was one of the most amusing novels I’ve ever read. Comedy seems to rarely translate well to novel form, and this is one of the exceptions. Managing to be funny while having a horror-oriented plot is also unusual, since horror and comedy are not easy genres to mix.

The way the monsters are used to support the theme of Jesus saving us from our darker selves was well-done, and while I occasionally had a quibble with a theological point, overall the theology was sound enough that the amusing humor was not soured. Anyone who likes comedy, light-hearted fiction, or the milder side of horror will probably enjoy this wild book. And it is, of course, a must-read for anyone who likes horror comedy.

Content Overview: Violence and scary scenes are common, but they tend to be goofy and relatively mild, so anyone who’s not especially sensitive to horror will probably be fine with it. Fornication and other adult subjects are vaguely referenced a few times.