Category: Movies

Pixar has us coo-coo for Coco

Coco_(2017_film)_posterToy Story. Finding Nemo. Cars. Up. Wall-E. Iconic Pixar movies that defined the childhood of a generation, and gave parents precious memories with their kids. These films moved us in theaters, and babysat our children once released to home video.

With each classic Pixar released, it was hard to imagine that a better film could be made. Then, without fail, Pixar’s next movie would elevate the theatrical experience to the next level. Their latest release, Coco, is no different.

The film centers around Miguel, a 12 year old boy growing up in Mexico who dreams of being a famous musician, even though his family forbids music after his great-great grandfather abandoned the family to pursue a music career. Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular film/music star of the early 20th who died years earlier in a tragic stage accident. De la Cruz hailed from Miguel’s hometown, furthering the young boy’s fantasy that one day he could be as famous as the Mexican film/music icon.

Through a series of sordid events, Miguel comes to believe that he is the great-great grandson of De la Cruz, and when the local talent show begins at the town plaza, he tries to borrow De la Cruz’ guitar from his grave site. That decision sets off a chain reaction that lands Miguel in the Land of the Dead during the Mexican holiday of Dia de Muertos, the one day the dead can return to the land of the living to visit their descendants.

The adventure sees Miguel reunited with his ancestors, separated from his ancestors, and reunited with De la Cruz, where he learns what is truly important to him. His adventure changes the Land of the Dead, as well as the Land of the Living forever.

Coco is Pixar’s best movie yet, because it touches people of all backgrounds. There are characters with which kids, adults, and seniors can identify. If I could have taken my dog, there would have been a character for her. The movie relates to career successes, sacrifices for family, hopes, dreams and fears. There’s not one part of the human spirit, save for a connection to God, that this film doesn’t touch.

The movie experience was so uplifting that I stayed and watched the credits.

Among the many themes found in the movie, the one that really stood out to me was the need to be remembered. According to the movie, (and Mexican legend), on Dia de Muertos, the dead are able to return to the land of the living to visit their descendants provided that those descendants post a picture of them on an ofrenda, and remember them. This ofrenda also includes things the dead ancestor enjoyed during life, like food, or musical instruments.

Those in the Land of the Dead whose families do not post pictures or ofrendas to them are denied entry into the Land of the Living, and are stuck in the Land of the Dead without family or friends.

If no one on earth remembered you, then you also vanished from the Land of the Dead into non-existence. Therefore, it was important to each resident of the Dead to be remembered, and to have their family post an ofrenda in their honor.

Families in Mexico still celebrate this holiday. It speaks to the natural fear of death, the wish for an eternal existence postmortem, and the need to be remembered. It is on these aspects of the human existence that Coco spoke the most clearly. Coco also addressed our desire to remember our loved ones fondly who have passed on before us.

One of the most difficult things to deal with in life is death. It’s hard to face our own mortality, and it is hard to deal with the loss of a close friend or family member. Dia de Muertos is a way Mexican residents have learned to cope with the loss.

However, scripture tells us that we can all have an eternal resurrection if we know Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Scripture also foretells of a day described by African American preachers in the South as “That glad gettin’ up morning.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 says:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

The day is coming when the Lord will reunite us with our loved ones. Moreover, we will be reunited with the Lord Himself.

These promises are made to all who repent and trust Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Have you made that decision? If you have, then the biggest and best family reunion ever planned is coming your way.

Take heart. This life is merely a preparation for the next. Live accordingly.

Because America enjoys a good train wreck

Let’s be honest. America loves a good train wreck.

You may have heard of Amy Winehouse, but have you ever listened to her music? Most who read this know of Winehouse, fewer can recite her lyrics.

You never heard of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian before their sex-films were made public. Tommy Lee’s fame extended beyond his days with Motley Crue as his rocky relationship with Pamela Anderson kept his image on the front of tabloid publications everywhere.

While Lindsey Lohan had a good acting career as a child, most of her press coverage came as a result of her meltdown as she transitioned into adulthood.

These, and other celebrities plagued by personal calamities spawned gossip column articles, magazine covers, reality shows and movies of the week. So, it should come as no surprise that a movie detailing the saga of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan in the run up to the 1994 Olympics will hit theaters on Dec. 8.

I, Tonya chronicles the life of Tonya Harding leading up to the incident where a hit man hired by her bodyguard struck Nancy Kerrigan above the knee, bruising her thigh and taking her out of the USA National Competition.

The movie chronicles the abuse she endured at the hands of her mother, her dysfunctional relationship with Jeff Gillooly, her struggle to rise to the top of the figure-skating world, the attack on Kerrigan and the fallout thereafter.

Previews of the movie show a jaded Harding character, played by Margot Robbie, struggling through life in the brash fashion that got her labeled as “white trash” back in the 1990s. The depiction of Harding in news reports, TV shows, made-for-TV movies and reality shows in the aftermath of the attack on Kerrigan is one of an unsophisticated white trash girl who somehow stumbled into the talent to make the world figure-skating stage.

The goal of each of these depictions is not necessarily to tell her side of the story, nor is it to tell Nancy’s side, but rather to present another train wreck for America’s entertainment. Judging by the trailers for I, Tonya, this next film promises to be no different.

The saga of Tonya Harding speaks to a blemish on America’s culture at large. The culture is content to thrust a person like Harding into the national spotlight for our amusement, with no regard given for her personal healing and well-being. We laugh at her failure, poke fun at her rural impoverished upbringing, mock her tears, and think of ways we could have done it better.

Such a cultural mentality is not only a shame, but falls into a category of evil described in Romans 1:31-32, “Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

Tonya Harding was a mess. I’d like to see a revived, redeemed and stronger Tonya emerge. But the fact that we are willing to sit back and find amusement in her demise places us in the same category as those who carried out the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. And folks, that’s not where you want to be on Judgment Day.

Charly’s attempt to engage culture

Over the past two decades, Christians and churches have sought to engage popular culture through music, movies and even through news media sites like The Stream.

Following the observation that movies bear more influence on American culture than the pulpit, the Kendrick Brothers and Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., produced a series of movies that gave us box office hits like “Fireproof” and “Courageous.” The movies, flanked by correlating Bible study curriculum for churches and small-groups, were tools in reaching many.

These efforts have led to the conversion and discipleship of many nominal church goers and fence riders, however, cracking the shell of the culture at large presents a challenge. While individuals are being reached through these efforts, the public at large is not.

My proof? In 1986, Top Gun was a box office smash. Americans lined up around the corner to see Maverick pursue his quest of graduating at the top of his Top Gun class. The movie, which featured many action scenes featuring the F-14 Tomcats and F-15 Eagles, wooed many young men into joining the Navy under the auspices of becoming fighter pilots.

Recruiters, seeing the opportunity, set up recruiting booths outside movie theaters, signing young men who were excited about the opportunity to fly the F-15 into hostile air to intercept Russian Migs. A cultural phenomenon was born.

Historically, the only time a Christian movie has generated a large-scale response was following the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” A heart-felt and detailed depiction of the Gospel is bound to elicit a reaction. No doubt about that. However, aside from the anecdotal stories of the criminal who confessed to a crime for which someone else was convicted, there was no shift in American culture. A large number of professed conversions came from that movie, but America’s culture still trended toward unGodliness.

If the purpose of Christian movies is to create conversions, or to call marginal Christians back to faith, then those movies are accomplishing the goal. However, if Christian movies are designed to sway the culture at large, we are missing the mark. And, until this week, I’ve wondered why.

Sunday night, my wife and I enjoyed some “date time,” where we sit down and watch a movie via Amazon Prime or Hulu. We found a romance movie called “Charly,” about a New York woman who visits family in Salt Lake City and meets a young Mormon, and the two fall in love. Charly convinces Sam, the young Mormon, to be more spontaneous. Sam leads Charly to convert to Mormonism.

The plot was good, the acting was good. The depictions of family and the importance thereof were good. What turned me off to the movie was when the film would unabashedly preach Mormonism. There’d be a Sunday School scene non-germane to the plot. The main character would try to preach it to his love interest. Those scenes disrupted the plot, and raised my antenna. I spent the rest of the movie looking for the Mormon innuendos.

Now, I mean no disrespect to my Mormon friends, but as a Baptist pastor, I have several, deep, theological differences with the Mormon religion. Having those differences brought to the forefront of my mind, I began to wonder if non-believers had the same reaction to Christian films as I was having to “Charly.”

Are Christian filmmakers hindering their influence on the culture by inserting outright Christian preaching into Christian movies? I don’t know, and I have no complaints.

However, as we produce Christian movies, let’s set our purpose before writing our script. Are we looking to influence society to adopt our values? Or are we looking for mass conversions. If mass conversions are the goal, then by all means, insert explicit Bible teachings. Do a movie about the Gospel, like “The Passion of the Christ.”

However, if the goal is to influence societal values, maybe embedding Christian values into the plot is a better way to go.