Sunday, February 21, 2016

Movie Review- Risen

Follows the epic Biblical story of the Resurrection as told through the eyes of a non-believer. Clavius, a powerful Roman Military Tribune and his aide, Lucius, are tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and preventing an uprising in Jerusalem.

This is by far the best Biblical-based movie I have ever seen. The filmmakers did not feel the need to over-embellish or "re-imagine" the true events in order to create an entertaining story. Instead, they filled in the details of the story and found a creative new way to tell it by using the perspective of an outsider.

This movie made me think. Seeing Clavius struggle to reconcile what he thought he knew, with what he was seeing and experiencing to the contrary was really amazing. Imagine being a foreigner who had not been immersed in Jewish history and prophecy, nor have you heard anything about this Nazarene man until you are tasked with finding his body. It is a whole new ballgame.

The setting of the movie was perfect and authentic. It was dusty, dirty, and hot, mingled with an earthy kind of beauty that was spectacular. The people were dirty, sweaty, and looked very normal. The filmmakers did not try to make the crucified bodies, or anything other bloody and dirty aspect seem neat and tidy. They showed it for what it was without being unnecessarily gory. I did wince many times when watching this film, but that was entirely appropriate given the subject matter.

The characters were solid. Clavius was a very driven individual, but he wasn't one dimensional. You knew from the very beginning that he was human. His character arc was very consistent and believable.

The disciples. Oh goodness, this is how Bible stories should be told! The disciples were adorable and hilarious. Indeed, I did not expect to laugh as much as I did when watching this film. The writers did a lovely job mingling humor with the serious events of this story. It's easy to get the impression sometimes that people in ancient times were all solemn and serious, and only focused on life and death issues. But people are people, and God gave Mankind a sense of humor. The disciples were just that, they were people living in a rough time who needed a sense of humor to brighten up their life.

This entire movie was consistent, well-rounded, and left me feeling very satisfied. I highly recommend it to believers and non-believers alike.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Character Files- Owen Grady (Jurassic World)

First character file: Owen Grady.

Cute, unassuming, and as brave as they come.

Funny, charming, totally awesome and yet humble, Owen Grady was one of the greatest aspects of Jurassic World. Chris Pratt owned this role like nobody's business, making Owen into a instantly likable guy who you were rooting for from minute one.

He was real. His facial expressions of sheer terror, intense determination, and utter disgust made his face like a moving landscape. This is a guy who reacted pretty rationally and normally to the nightmarish situation that we only visit in, well, movies.

Best Moments

He's the alpha for a group of raptors. *mic drop* I was really feeling a bit of Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon coming through in this moment. It was really special.

There is a gentleness in his actions, even though he is dealing with dangerous animals. It reveals this character's tender heart.

The chaotic scene when one of the pterodactyls has Owen pinned down, and in a massive explosion of adrenaline, Claire takes it out with a machine gun. The look of utter astonishment and intense admiration on Owen's face it just priceless. It says, "I am SO attracted to you right now!"

Leading the raptors into battle. Even in the movie Owen realizes just how incredibly awesome that moment is. If you watch carefully you can see a hint of his smile right before he revs up his engine and begins the chase.

Best Quotes

Claire- "What kind of man shows up to a date in board shorts?"
Owen- "It's Central America. It's hot."

Claire- "The park needs a new attraction every few years in order to reinvigorate the public's interest. Kind of the like the space program. Corporate felt that genetic modification would up the wow factor."
Owen- "They're dinosaurs. Wow enough.
Claire- "Not according to our focus groups. The Indominus Rex makes us relevant again."
Owen- *chuckles* "The Indominus Rex?"
Claire- "We needed something scary and easy to pronounce. You should hear a four-year-old try to say "Archeaornithomimus".
Owen- "You should hear you try to say it."

(now I REALLY want to hear a four-year-old try to say Archeaornithomimus.)

Claire- "So, you can pick up their scent can't you? Track their footprints?"
Owen- "I was with the Navy, not the Navajo."

(he's so not full of it, he's hilarious)

Owen- "You'll last two minutes in there, less in those ridiculous shoes." (Hallelujah! Someone pointed out the idiocy of that poor woman's footwear.)
Claire *removes belt, rolls up sleeves, ties blouse*
Owen- ? "What is that supposed to mean?"
Claire- "It means I'm ready to go."
Owen- "....okay."

(Yeah, I don't get it either buddy.)

Owen Grady is bigger than merely an awesome protagonist, he also represents the voice of reason and the balance in this movie. Jurassic World was more than just a movie about a dinosaur escaping and going on a rampage. Many deep political and spiritual questions were actually raised in this movie. The different characters voiced many views to one very basic question: how do we value life?

Claire, despite meaning well, had very little connection or regard for the people or the animals at the park. Everything was a number, an asset, or a liability in her mind. They were items that she could control, regulate, and predict. Owen serves a guide to lead her to both an understanding and respect for people and animals. She is a changed person by the end of the movie.

Hoskins has a great admiration for the power and strength of the animals, but he has no regard for their life or for the life of the people at the park. He literally smiles at some of the footage of people screaming in terror as they are literally being picked apart by flying dinosaurs. Even Misrani, who desires for people to enjoy his park, is disconnected from the fact that the scientists in his lab are creating new lives. Creatures who live, breathe, and think, and not just park attractions. It is only after a murderous monster has been created that Misrani realizes the callous attitude and lack of responsibility he has displayed.

Owen Grady is the character of reason who has a proper value and respect for life; both for the animals and the humans. He is the alpha of the raptors, he has a relationship with them, but he is also aware of the fact that they are animals with separate instincts that he cannot control. He sees these creatures as living animals who should not be used, like Hoskins desires. Nor can they be controlled, like Claire believes.

His priority of life is people first, then animals. Owen is the first one to call for the park to be closed. He warns against sending a team out after the Dinosaur with non-lethal weapons. He heads out into danger to help Claire retrieve her nephews without a second thought. Throughout the movie, Owen protects Claire and the boys as if they were own.

All of the death and destruction that happens in this movie is the direct result of failure to value life. Owen provides many solutions and all of the perspective in this movie as he has a correct view of life and how to treat it. At the end of the movie, he and his people are still standing because of who he is.

He's no Romeo making lovey dovey speeches beneath a balcony. He's not going to keep quiet about ridiculous fashion choices. He'll run for his life from angry dinosaurs and then punch the people responsible.

This guy will show up to your first date in board shorts with a bottle of tequila. He'll laugh when you say something stupid and call you on the carpet when you are dead wrong. When you ask him "So what do we do now?" He'll grin like a kid and reply, "Probably stay together. For survival."

But so long as that guy in board shorts is Owen Grady, there is no way you can lose.

What aspects did you love about Owen Grady? What thoughts did you have after seeing Jurassic World? What would you have changed? What was your favorite part? You can tell me in the comments, or you can connect on Facebook and Twitter

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Character Files- Introduction

What is one of the greatest elements of a good story?

It's as obvious as the nose on your face: good characters.

He may be a sad, strange little man. But he's one of my favorites!

A good character consists of someone who brings emotion out of you. A good character is a protagonist that you cheer for with all of you heart. A good character is an evil villain that causes you to grind your teeth and sends shivers down your spine. A good character is someone who begins as an unlikable, worthless individual, and ends as one of your best friends.

We were in love with this scoundrel from minute one, still, he was arguably a better person by the end.

A good character stays with you for longer than the amount of time you spent between the pages of their book. A good character rises up in your mind as you live your everyday life. A good character enables you to draw parallels between them and other individuals you meet in reality.

A good character is your friend even when you are 100 years old.

A good character becomes a friend, an ally, a family member, or an enemy.

"Which one am I?" We don't really know at this point, Loki, but we still love you. <3

A good character can make or break a story. Even a story with a somewhat dull plot can keep your interest if you are deeply in love with the character. We are instinctively drawn to root for persons who capture our interest and connect with our own hearts.

This is the beginning of a new series of mine in which I will explore some of the greatest characters in both books and movies. Characters, even fictional ones are a great way to connect with other people in your own world. The fact that two people are drawn to the same character can be a link that can lead to communication and friendship.

Great characters can bring us together, great characters can divide us, a great character can change our lives forever; and a great character can reveal the best and the worst parts of who we are as people.

Join me as I share about some of my favorite characters. And who knows? Maybe they are your favorite as well....

....and this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Book Review- A Stand At Sinai (The Promised Land Series)

Jarah, Ezra, Ada, Eitan and all our other friends from A Cry From Egypt join us again in one of the most thrilling eras in history. A Stand At Sinai takes the Israelites from the crossing of the Red Sea, through battles with the Amalekites, an Israelite wedding (wonder who?), the giving of the Ten Commandments - and the temptation of the Golden Calf.

I waited eagerly for this book for two years. Granted, it was out earlier than that, but unfortunately, this author does make it a little difficult to have easy access to buy her books. However, even after two years of waiting, I was not disappointed with the end result.

A Stand at Sinai picks up just a few weeks after the end of A Cry From Egypt. The Israelites are beginning their long journey through the desert wilderness. This book is at least twice as long as its predecessor, which was fully necessary in order to flesh out the story properly.

Just like with the ACFE, A Stand at Sinai takes you out of the sky and puts you on the ground in the Israelite's sandals. I think that many of us read the account of the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land with disgust towards the nation of Israel, their fickleness, and their short memories. We think, "How on earth could you turn away from God after all that He has done for you?" I have often thought that I wouldn't have been that foolish and fickle, I believed that I would have stayed strong.

But here's the truth: I wasn't there. I wasn't the one walking for hours on end in a hot, thirsty desert. I wasn't hungry, I wasn't scared. I didn't lose loved ones to attacks from the Amalekites. And to top it all off, many of the older generation turned away from God. It terrifies me to the core of my being to imagine what it would be like to have many of the trusted elders in your life, the people you have always relied on to be strong, suddenly turn away from the God they taught you to trust.

The Hebrew people were just that, they were people. They were inconsistent, they were foolish. Sometimes they were brave, and sometimes they were cowards. They were hungry, they were thirsty, they wanted to provide for their children. They wanted a place to call home. Welcome to the human race, for this is all of mankind. If I had been in their sandals, whose to say what I would have done. I really hope that I would have made the right choice, but a bit of reality has since taught me that I would have had to struggle and fight to make that good choice.

Auer yet again puts you right in the situation with Jarah and those around her. Jarah struggles so much in this book. Her faith is stretched to just about every limit there is. She desperately wants to do the right thing, to be a support to her family, and she dreams of a future in the Promised Land. I understood many of her struggles personally, having faced my own version of them. There is quite a bit of character development and growth that takes place in all of the characters in this book, particularly the younger generation. Several strong characters in particular take very defined stands for their faith, even after they have been dealt terrible blows, they continually turn their face towards Yahweh and resolve to follow Him, even if it breaks them.

I was deeply inspired by this book, and I felt that it came at a very pertinent time in my life. Many of my young adult peers are being tempted with the world, and some are falling away from their faith with God and running eagerly into the dark arms of the world. Its scary. I have sometimes asked myself the question, "If there was a room full of people, both strangers and beloved friends and family alike, and I was the only one who was willing to stand with God, would I be able to do it? Even if it meant walking alone in terms of human fellowship." The thought of being like the younger characters in this book who are losing their elders is even scarier.

And yet, just like the characters of the book, I keep coming to this conclusion: where else is there to go besides God? He is Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega, I AM, He is Yahweh. Where else would I go? The answer is no where. When hardship strikes, when trials come, when the pain deepens, there is no where to run to but to the Lord.

One of the most magnificent scenes of this book takes place at the foot of Mount Sinai itself. The moment when Yahweh descends upon the mountain and speaks to His people. I have a deep desire to experience something like that. Can you just imagine what it would feel like to have the ground tremble, and to hear loudly the voice of God? It is so awesome.

My only critique of this book is yet again the cover art. The artwork is beautiful, but it gives this book the feeling of a children's book. And while children could certainly read and enjoy this book, the story and writing is capable of entertaining and feeding a wider age range. I think the author may be limiting her audience with the cover art.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. It is so rich, it will encourage you in your faith, and it will give you that earthy and full-detailed picture of what it would have been like to experience this event firsthand.

Check the book out here on Amazon, or on Hope Auer's website. You can find this gifted author on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review- A Cry From Egypt (The Promised Land Series)

Jarah was a slave in Egypt. It was a dangerous place to be. The work was exhausting and her family was torn between the gods of the Egyptians, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And her brother....would his Ada be given in marriage to an Egyptian in the palace? Would they ever be free?

Adventure, excitement, love, and faith come together when Jarah and her family find themselves at the culmination of four hundred years of history.

I loved this book! Growing up I learned about Moses and the Plagues in greater depth. I was utterly fascinated at the intricacies of this monumental time in history. Discovering that each plague had a specific meaning involving one of the Egyptian gods made me even more in awe of the incredible intelligence of God.

As wonderful as history books and the Biblical account are of this unique period of history, most of them are an overhead view. A big picture look at this memorizing story. A Cry From Egypt takes you out of the sky and puts you right on the streets of Ramses and Goshen.

Jarah is a very sympathetic and relate-able character. I have never in my life experienced the kinds of hardships that she and her family endure. Pain, hunger, being beaten within an inch of their life. Having no power over their own lives. Still, somehow, Auer managed to create a connection between my 21st century struggles as a Christian trying to follow God with those of a 12 year old slave girl in B.C. Egypt, who is struggling to seek and follow Yahweh.

Another incredible aspect of this book is the plagues. In all other accounts, we only get the big picture of what the plagues would have been like. Bloody river, frogs, flies, bleh! Even one of my top movies The Prince of Egypt relegates the plagues to a montage scene with some really epic music. But we never really get to feel firsthand what it would have been like to experience the plagues.

But through Jarah's eyes, and the eyes of her family and friends, we finally get an on-the-ground perspective of what the plagues would have been like. I found myself full of compassion for the Egyptians and Israelites both. For the Israelites, because they were still affected by what happened to the Egyptians; what with Pharaoh increasing their workload, and suffering great cruelties upon them. For the Egyptians, because they suffered and lost so much because of their leader's hardened heart. Auer does a wonderful job of humanizing the Egyptians, and you feel their pain deeply.

My only critique of this book would be the cover art. It is very clearly hand done, which while not bad, it does give the book more of a homemade, unprofessional feel. If I didn't know that this book was such a treasure on the inside, I would be tempted to pass over it as a half-way finished work of art. The phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" really isn't applicable in the world, because guess what, we do judge books by their covers. If I see a polished cover that excites me, I am for sure going to make an effort to read that book. But if I see something that looks amateurish that fails to create emotion in me, I will pass the book over. I do not mean anything offensive personally to the artist, the artwork is not bad in general, but for this context, I believe it cheapens the book and lessens the appeal.

I recommend this book to children and adults alike who love historical fiction and want to dive more deeply into one of the most awesome stories of the Bible! You can find it here on Amazon, or, on Hope Auer's website. You can also check her out on Facebook and Twitter.