Friday, April 10, 2015

'The Book of Eli' Film Review

The Book of Eli is a 2010 post-apocalyptic, western, action flick about a man named Eli who in the wake of a nuclear war has been travelling across the United States from the East Coast headed to the West with a mission from God.

The Book of Eli does a fantastic job at entertaining it's audience through action sequences, the mysterious events surrounding Eli's book, and the secondary character arcs going on all around. But what ultimately sells me on this epic post-apocalyptic western is that the title character's mission from the Lord is to deliver the LAST copy of the Bible to Alcatraz where the world is re-building and books are being re-printed, the Bible included.

What I really enjoyed about this film is that Denzel Washington's portrayal of Eli is that of someone who actually cares about his mission from the Lord. He continues to press on no matter what and trusts completely that God will get him through anything. This is something so unheard of in most Hollywood films today. Eli protects his young friend Solara throughout the film and eventually inspires here at the end to go back out into the world and help others.

This review is going to be short, sweet, and to the point overall, but I want to ask a question first. If there are so many supposed Christians in Hollywood then why are there not more films like this? I don't mean violent action flicks, there's enough of those already, but smart, exciting, entertaining films that actually talk about God, Christianity, and the Bible itself. Back in the 50's and 60's we had films like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, now we have films like Exodus: Gods and Kings and Noah. Now, I have yet to see the first two films that I just mentioned, but in seeing the last two (and even though I liked the first of them) I am saddened that that is the best Hollywood can do in terms of bringing the Bible to like. History Channel's The Bible and it's sequel A.D. The Bible Continues (along with the film Son of God) have all done a fairly decent job at this so far, but why are there not more Christians trying to pursue film and television simply to share the Gospel message? Why do we let non-believers pervert what we believe?

That being said, The Book of Eli doesn't necessarily share the Gospel message with it's audience, but it instead shows how powerful faith in God can be and in turn how He provides and how powerful His Word is, even in the hands of evil. The whole reason the villain, Carnegie, wants Eli's Bible (which he later gets and finds out that it's written in braille so that he can't read it as Eli is blind) is because he realizes how powerful it is and that with it he can get anyone to do anything he wants. This is often times true as people throughout history have used the Bible to do evil things, think of the Catholic Church and what they did with the Crusades (I'm not saying everything that happened there was evil, but I certainly don't believe it was all good)!

Eli on the other hand has been wandering across America for 30 years, being lead by the Spirit, trying to get to the West Coast so he can deliver the Bible. Although he ends up loosing it to Carnegie, since he has been reading it every day for so long, he actually has it memorized. At the end of the film, Eli recites the entire King James Version of the Bible to a scribe who writes it all down (Genesis to Revelation) and then re-prints it.

Throughout the film, one of the hints to why nuclear war happened on Earth was because of the Bible in the first place, this is why Eli has the last one, the rest were destroyed. With everything going on in the world nowadays and the open tolerance towards sin and other religions while at the same time the more open hostility towards Christianity, it's not hard to see how this could happen in the future. I'm not saying that The Book of Eli is prophetic in any way, I'm simply stating that the setting of this film could very well be our own in less than a century. This is of course my opinion.

One of the biggest issues with the film that most Christian critics had was that Eli seems to kill people, a lot. He always kills in self-defense, yet he does it often throughout. Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. I know that Jesus told His disciples to carry swords and He obviously permitted them to have them (Luke 22:35-39), yet He also said that whoever lives by the sword would die by it (Matthew 26:52), which could easily be why Eli dies at the end of the film due to his injuries. We see that David, Samson, and other kings, prophets, judges, and leaders in the Old Testament were at times commanded to kill! Yet, in the New Testament we are told to turn the other cheek (you know, with the exception of Revelation where Jesus comes back and wipes out all evil everywhere on Earth...). I want to link two articles below that I think really helped me understand a biblical view of self-defense a lot better and although I'm not 100% sure on my stance on it, it's definitely helped shed some light on the issue:

Biblical Self-Defense

Can Christians Kill in Self-Defense?

One thing about this film that I feel the need to mention, which I didn't at the original time I posted this article but I'm adding in about 12 hours later, is that Eli can easily be seen more as an Old Testament judge or prophet than as a disciple or pastor. Throughout the film, he kills those who are harming others, miraculously survives a fatal gunshot wound for months, is blind yet fights like someone who isn't (or he's just Daredevil...), knows Scripture like the back of his hand, and prophesies when he and Solara will get out of bad situations. No one ever really thinks about what it would be like if biblical judges or prophets were present today, and I think that many people believe that they CAN'T be. But you see, based on Scripture I can't believe that to be true. Acts 2:17-18 talks about how in the last days that there will be MANY who will prophecy and see visions and dreams and it will be because of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:11 talks about how the Spirit has given everyone gifts and jobs, including prophets among pastors, teachers, apostles, and evangelists. I don't see Old Testament judges on that list, but I wouldn't rule it out, especially in post-apocalyptic times as seen in this film.

Overall, I really enjoy The Book of Eli. I remember my Dad and I watching it when it first came out on DVD in 2010 and until earlier this week I hadn't seen it since. It was good for me to re-watch it, it really helped re-ignite my passion for film and my passion for spreading the Word throughout it, though to be fair Exodus: Gods and Kings and A.D. The Bible Continues have also really helped with that recently. This film is a solid action flick with some deeper values and themes that run throughout, if you can sit through some of the violence that goes on (I mean hey, we read about worse things in Scripture...) then I would say this movie is a must see!

Rating: A-

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A.D. - The Bible Continues - Episode 1 "The Tomb is Open" Review

Two years ago, the History Channel brought us The Bible, the miniseries that started in Genesis and went through Jesus' death, ending with words from Revelation. Last year, parts of that miniseries, including unused footage, was edited together into the feature film Son of God. Earlier tonight, on Resurrection Sunday, NBC premiered the highly anticipated sequel series A.D. The Bible Continues.with the first episode "The Tomb is Open".

This episode opens up with Pilate sentencing Jesus to death, Peter denying him, and Christ being crucified on the cross. This was done very well. Although they changed the entire cast from The Bible to A.D., the story remains the same and if you've seen either The Bible OR Son of God, or even if you haven't seen either, it's a very easy story to jump into.

The thing that intrigued me the most about this episode was the politics involved. Something I never think about is all of the political activity that must have occurred due to Jesus... I mean, in this episode, we see Pilate and his wife talk multiple times about if it was right to have Jesus crucified at all! We also see Pilate struggle at the end with what Jesus meant by "Truth", which is something that I liked a lot because of going through The Truth Project twice over the past seven/eight years in which that passage of Scripture is the main over-arching theme.

We also see a lot of political talk among the Jews as well, specifically Caiaphas and Joseph of Arimathea. Caiaphas obviously was the one leading the charge against Jesus as his power was threatened, yet we see Joseph often defend Christ, even standing up to the High Priest to do so! Based on Scripture, all we know about Joseph is that he was a member of the Sanhedrin and gave Jesus his own personal tomb. One thing that was sad to me was that we did not see Nicodemus at all in this episode, and since this is the last time in Scripture we hear of him (when he and Joseph bury Jesus), it's doubtful we'll end up seeing him in A.D. at all!

This being said I really enjoyed what they did with Joseph as well as Pilate in this episode. It was very well done.

Peter was also very well done. I've heard the phrase said once or twice, "we're all Peter", and that couldn't be more spot on! At times in are life we're all like Peter, either we deny or avoid the topic of Jesus or we don't always believe that He'll do what He said He would, either way this episode shows a very human, very flawed Peter, and seeing as how he's revered in Catholicism, I think this is a really good thing!

Now, I don't want to and I'm not going to go into why Catholicism and Christianity are two different things and are not the same, they're not but I'm not going to go into detail here, but I AM going to talk about what I didn't like about this episode, specifically that it took so much influence (as The Bible and Son of God also did...) from the Catholic Church, mainly how they try and make Mary (Jesus' mother) more important than she was. Certainly she was at the cross and I have no issue with that at all, but I do hope she doesn't appear again because in Scripture (at least to my knowledge, correct me if I'm wrong) she does not.

Also, I have to talk about this briefly just to get it out, is John supposed to be black? I'm not being racist or anything like that, but I know with The Bible, there was a lot of outcry about every character being played by a white British actor. In A.D. however, they fix that problem by making Jesus be played by an Argentinian and John be played by someone of African decent. The funny thing is, is that most people just didn't want these characters to be played by white people, so many said that they should be played by those of Jewish heritage, yet with A.D.'s first episode now out, I haven't heard or seen anything about people wanting the actors to be Jewish... Must be okay now because minority actors are playing these characters. Either way, it is what it is and I'm very happy with who they have playing both Jesus and John but I just think it's interesting comparing how people responded during the premiere of The Bible to now people responding during the premiere of A.D..

The ending made me very happy too! I have to say, it was very cool to see the angel come down from Heaven to remove the stone for His Lord to walk out. The special effects done on the angel making the background light look like wings was very creative and really neat to see!

Overall, I'm very happy with the first episode of A.D. The Bible Continues, and I cannot wait to watch the second episode, "The Body is Gone", next week on NBC. It's so encouraging that this series premiered on Easter Resurrection Sunday as was claim that "He is Risen" and here, at the end of the episode, we see that He has. God bless you all, I hope you've had a fantastic Resurrection Sunday, and I hope you will enjoy A.D. as I have so far!

Rating: A(D) - see what I did there?

Happy Resurrection Sunday!


Friday, April 3, 2015

'God's Not Dead' Film Review

"Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in Heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before me, him will I also deny before My Father which is in Heaven." - Matthew 10:32-33

Last night before going to the CrossLife Seder, I decided to watch God's Not Dead for the first time. I recently just got God's Not Dead on DVD through the Newsboys store as they were offering the film on DVD as well as their album also titled "God's Not Dead" for like $16. I really like the Newsboys and I wanted to see this film, so it was not a purchase I was going to miss out on. But enough about that, I want to talk about the film.

If you haven't seen this film, I suggest watching it before reading this review as I WILL be talking about the contents of the film in detail. You have been warned.

Before I get in depth into this film I want to explain two things. One, I want everyone to know how real this film really is. People in public universities really DO get put on the spot when it comes to their faith! They really do get weird looks and are judged, even by the church, for standing up for the Lord. Although this film isn't based on a specific true story, there's no doubt that the events in the film, specifically with Josh, are true in and of themselves. Secondly, when reviewing this film, as I am a film major at a public university currently, I am doing to be reviewing the stylistic choices the film makes at times though my goal here is more to talk about the contents of the film and not the aesthetics of it.

Let's start with Josh's Professor Jeffery Radisson. Him telling his students to immediately come to the conclusion that God is dead is a very bold move on his part, even if he didn't realize it. Like every scientist and philosopher who immediately dismisses and rejects the concept of God, he will one day have to face the consequences of that choice. Though in this case, the professor DID accept Jesus as his Savior and Redeemer in his final moments of life. I thought this was a really cool way to bring his character arc full circle as we see him at the beginning of the film trying to bring everyone down with him in his quest for vengeance against God but then we finally see him humble himself, admit he was wrong, repent of sin, and believe in Christ thus saving him from the Wrath of God that would have been thrust upon him because of his rebellion. What a beautiful way to end the film to be honest!

But let's back up for a bit, I like how Radisson challenges Josh throughout the film by solely using science as his source of knowledge and fact, when in reality that is as much circular reasoning as Christians using the Bible is! I love the scene where Josh actually points this out during the second lecture he gives (at least I think it's the second one). Eventually, at the end of the third lecture, Radisson pushes Josh into a corner which makes Josh as his teacher the question, "Why do you hate God?". After three times of asking, Radisson finally admits that his mother died of cancer and that he blames God for that happening to him.

This is the point where I want to stop for a moment and consider something. There's a line in the film where Radisson says that "the most devout atheists were once Christians", which is actually true! Charles Darwin himself was a believer until his daughter died, and, like Radisson in this film, he turned and cursed God, refusing to follow Him anymore. How many people who go to your church now would also turn from God if something like this happened to them? Better yet, would YOU turn from God if this happened to you? I would hope not. Recently, my Dad suffered a massive heart attack (you can read the full testimony here if you'd like) and I know that although it was a hard time, my family still trusted in Jesus, even if others around us were loosing faith. What would you do?

But going back to the film, I find it extremely interesting that Radisson, once realizing that his life is coming apart, realizing that maybe God does actually exist, completely changes his mind on who God is, eventually leading to his salvation at the end of the film as he runs to find his former girlfriend Mina. Which brings me to my next tangent...

In the film, we have TWO, not one, but TWO characters who are unequally yolked with someone. Both Josh and Radisson. Josh's girlfriend Kara actually dumps him immediately when he accepts Radisson's challenge to defend God. Now, there are multiple levels of issues here so let me start with the most obvious, this girl has a Jezebel Spirit.

What is a Jezebel Spirit?? Well, for those who don't know, Jezebel was an evil, wicked queen who lived during the time of her nemesis, the prophet Elijah. Elijah defeated Jezebel on multiple occasions, but her threats to destroy him actually sent Elijah away in fear, even though he knew that God could wipe her out. You see, both Jezebel and Elijah had specific spirits set upon them, one by Satan and one by God. The Jezebel Spirit and the Elijah Spirit. John the Baptist was occasionally called Elijah because he had received the Elijah Spirit from God! The same goes for Herodias with the Jezebel Spirit, who ultimately had John killed. The point is, a Jezebel Spirit is a spirit that uses feminine charm and female empowerment/domination over men to achieve her own goals. Check out this video for more:

So, we know that Kara had a Jezebel Spirit and was not right for Josh at all, good! But let's look at the other relationship in the film, that of Radisson and Mina. Right when we find out that Mina is a Christian, this should immediately be a red flag. 

Let me explain something here, when she says, "I'm starting to feel like I'm unequally yolked...?", the CORRECT phrasing here should be "I AM unequally yolked, this is over." 2 Corinthians 6:14 is extremely clear when it says, "Do NOT be bound together with unbelievers..." Other translations say "unequally yolked". This isn't something that's a suggestion, this is a demand from the Lord. He is telling us how we need to conduct ourselves in terms of our dating, marriage, and just relationships in general. Now, let's be honest here, NONE of us can fulfill the Lord's commandments 100%, there is ALWAYS going to be something that we will mess up on or not get right, but as Philippians 3:12 says, "Not that I have already obtained this, or am already perfect, but I press on to make it [as in perfection] my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own." We don't have to get everything right, but we need to be trying our best.

You see, both Josh and Mia were unequally yolked in this film, and both eventually got out of these relationships, which is great! But the danger here isn't them getting out of the relationships, the true danger of being unequally yolked with someone is that if they don't believe in Christ then they will not view marriage the same way we are called to, as a picture of Christ and the Church. I've seen too many of my Mom's friends and heard stories of countless others who's marriages have ended in divorce because they were unequally yolked (which is also a sin by the way, unless the spouse leaves you or kicks you out, then it is on them because you continued to fight, 1 Corinthians 7:11-15 covers this). My point is, these relationships were bad for the start, and regardless if you're physically or emotionally attracted to someone who's a non-believer (like Mia was) or regardless if you met at a Christian conference/concert and the other claims to follow Christ (like Josh), you need to make sure you're equally yolked (and that doesn't always mean the person just has to be a believer, look at their theology, convictions, lifestyle, etc.) before jumping into a relationship.

But let's move on from this topic as that tangent went on a little longer than I originally had hoped.

The side-plot involving Dean Cain as Mina's older brother was honestly something that seemed there simply to have Dean Cain in the film. Essentially, Cain's character is a terrible person, but he has a really good life! His mother on the other hand is a believer, yet she has dementia and continually forgets who her kids are. When Mark, Cain's character, confronts his mother about this she simply tells him that sometimes Satan makes terrible people happy so that they don't have the opportunity to see God and break out of their prison cell, even though the door is wide open. It was a very powerful scene even though this was probably the weakest plotline of the film.

Now let's move to Amy. Amy, Mark's girlfriend until she tells him that she has cancer and he dumps her (like I said, terrible person), is a left-wing blogger who loves to rip on Duck Dynasty and apparently Christianity. We see her confront Willie and Korie Robinson before they get to church. I have to be honest here for a second though, although I am a fan of Duck Dynasty and I think their family is both hilarious and awesome for having fun and yet standing up for their faith in Jesus Christ (as they do pray in Jesus' Name in every episode), I have to say that Willie kind of acted a bit goofier than he maybe should have. Now, I know that's the type of person he is and I love and respect that, but at the same time Christians have a hard enough time trying to get people to take them seriously without scenes like this.

Eventually, Amy breaks down, looses it, and in an attempt to make herself feel better, she ambushes the Christian musician group Newsboys right before their concert that night. But instead of following through with her original plan to try and discredit them, her story ends with them praying with her for healing of her heart, mind, soul, and body, which is an awesome testimony to who the Newsboys are as individuals and as a group who wish to glorify and honor our Lord and Savior (which they do at the end of the film with the song's "The King is Coming" and "God's Not Dead (Like A Lion)").

There's also a character in the film named Martin. Martin is from China and Josh's lectures on God are is first experiences with God, Christianity, and Jesus which cause him to wonder who God is. Throughout the film, he begins to research God on his own, and at the end of the film when Radisson's class is to give an answer to whether or not God is dead, Martin is the first to stand up and say "God is not dead!" Josh even brings Martin along with him to the Newsboys concert at the end of the film (a ticket meant for his former girlfriend Kara... Ha ha ha!)

Finally, we get to I think the most intense plotline of the film, that of Ayisha, a former Muslim who secretly converted to Christianity and has been hiding it from her father for over a year. When he finds out, he beats her and throws her out of his house. Though this is extremely hard for her, she refuses to give up her faith, just as Josh refused to, and at the end of the film he also see her at the concert.

Now onto what ties the whole film together. David A.R. White's character of Reverend Dave is seen being the one to remind Josh that if he doesn't confess Christ before others, that He won't confess him before the Father (Matthew 10:32-33). Rev. Dave also counsels Ayisha when she is kicked out of her home for her faith and was actually the one to lead Radisson to Christ as he witnessed his car accident and got there in time to share the Gospel once again. Rev. Dave, although trying hard to go on a vacation throughout the film, wanted important work, and he found it in this film.

I want to say this, I really do like this film. I like the message that God is NOT dead and that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! I love this a lot! I'm not a fan of the Catholicism used in the film (how many times to I have to say Catholicism is not Christianity? Same does for Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, but this isn't the point), or the product placement for Duck Dynasty or the Newsboys (though I will say, overall I liked both their roles in the film as I think it may have helped people who were interested in Christ to look somewhere in our pop culture to find Him), and obviously there's the whole Jezebel Spirit and unequally yolked issues, but here's the thing, at the end of the day, if this film help's lead someone to Christ or at least makes them start to think about Him as Lord and Savior, then it's done it's job. I can't ask for more than that.

Overall, God's Not Dead is a well done film by PureFlix that shows the very real struggles of a college student standing up for his faith (I do wish we would have seen Josh's interactions at home with this though...) as well as others around him struggling to follow Christ in our fallen world as well. It's well directed, written, edited, and the music is pretty great. Definitely check out the soundtrack to the film "God's Not Dead (The Motion Picture Soundtrack)" as well as the Newsboys' worship album also entitled "God's Not Dead", they're both great! I know that there is going to be a God's Not Dead 2, so I hope in that we will see more of Josh's struggles with his faith on his campus, Ayisha's with her family, and potentially Martin, Amy, and Mark's road to salvation! And hey, maybe Rev. Dave can finally get a vacation!

Rating: A-