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Inception

This is not a big shocker here if you have been following this blog for very long! This is a must see movie, a solid piece of film art. I’ve written on it here, here, here, and here.


Shutter Island

You’re likely thinking: “DiCaprio in this guy’s top 2 movies of 2010? What is he thinking!” I’m thinking this is a solid movie that has grown on me. I love the end when seen in light of the hope that the gospel offers. Apart from the gospel, there is no hope – your choices are numbness (alcohol, sex, legalism, or a lobotomy) or despair, especially in light of a severe loss. I also appreciated the theme of self-deception and how so many times you can just be blinded to the fact that the people you see as your enemies are actually the only friends fighting for you and believing in you. Is Ben Kingsley’s Dr. Cawley an enemy or friend? You’ll have to watch and see. This is not a horror flick but a psychological thriller with some disturbing scenes and definitely a darkness to it. You’ll feel like you got punched in the stomach after watching it, but it’s worth it if you can see the beauty of the truths so elegantly on display.


Get Low

This was not a much publicized film and did not end up playing more in the smaller independent theaters. The only reason this isn’t higher than 3rd is because the first two are so excellent. Duvall and Murray are academy award winners and at their best but Black makes this movie for me. Read my full review here.

Crazy Heart

This movie came out right before Christmas last year but I lump it in with 2010 since that’s when most of us saw it. Jeff Bridges is unbelievable in this movie as the alcoholic aged former country star hitting rock bottom. He was so good that in the first half of the movie, my wife was simply grossed out by how genuinely wasted and skeazy he was. The academy award for best actor that he earned for this movie was well deserved. Be sure to check out my original thoughts here. Heads up on 2 scenes with sexual content that are easy to see coming and easy to fast forward through without missing anything important.


Toy Story 3

Is it me, or has every single dude I’ve talked to about this movie told me about how it took nearly everything they had to keep from weeping at the end of this film. That includes me. I nearly bawled at the end. That final scene is the epitome of bittersweet and genuinely heartfelt. I never thought an animated movie could have that effect but this movie did.


The Book of Eli

Denzel kicking the snot out of baddies, eluding the fantastically evil Gary Oldman, and trying to finish his mission to take the Bible to the west: what more could you ask in a film? What haunts me about this movie is brutality and depravity unleashed. This is no movie for the faint of heart or if you’re looking for a pick me up on a Friday night. There is hope, but it is not in this world.


Iron Man 2

Combined with the first Iron Man, this saga has been very entertaining, well acted, and a strong microcosm of how the gospel works into our lives. I discuss it here and here. Watch James Harlman’s (of Mars Hill) here:

Overall, there were some very good films this year, seriously. What’s coming in 2011? At first glance: a ton of sequels. We’ll see what early 2011 movies pop out of nowhere like Shutter Island, Book of Eli, and Crazy Heart did this year.

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December brings a whole host of DVD releases as Hollywood tries to get as many into stores as possible prior to Christmas. Check out my thoughts on the movies I’ve seen or had reliable recommendations on. Again, if you want to know how I evaluate movies and media, check my Film & TV Mini-Manifesto.

Eclipse (Dec 4)


Twihards and TwilightMOMs will be stoked for this release in the battle of Team Jacob vs Team Edward with a nice battle tossed in at the end for the dudes including some dismembering and decapitation of various unnamed vampires. Definitely the best film of the series (yes, I’ve seen all 3) and probably the most fast-paced and least painful for bros. You know my thoughts on Twilight overall from “The Edwardian Conflict” and The Gospel According to Twilight” and, again, the movies can barely do the books justice. Look for the picture of glorified divinity in the good vampires and the concept of the eternal family. Ultimately, Team Jacob can only offer a finite relationship while Team Edward represents eternity and glory. Let’s move on.

Inception (Dec 7)


This is easily the best movie I’ve seen all year in a year of some really good ones (Shutter Island, Get Low, Crazy Heart). It’s a tour de force that you’ll have to watch multiple times. Nolan is simply phenomenal in how he doesn’t settle for some action flick with an original concept but pushes into the heart of man. I can’t speak highly enough of this film and how I see the gospel woven into the very framework. My post on the father themes in this movie is the most popular post by far of my blog (1/3 of the total hits in November!). Read it here. Read here for a fuller preview prior to viewing.

24: Season 8 (Dec 7)


I had to call this release out. Is this Jack’s last hurrah? Is it just a prequel for a big release movie? Season 8 became fascinating to me once I connected the dots that this was the final season of the series. No one is safe. No line is too far for Jack Bauer. I hated how it finished but I really loved it once I had a chance to think about it. Jack Bauer represents who we want to be while at the same time manifesting the darkness inside of us that we all know is there. My reflection on the series and finale are here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Salt (Dec 7)


I have not seen this film but felt like I should plug it simply because I have not heard a bad thing about it. The previews only show scenes from the first half of the movie and it looks like the previews way overplay the sex – from what I can tell it’s a very clean movie but for language. Watch James Harleman’s thoughts on the film below. I look forward to seeing this movie.

Other releases include the final installment (hopefully) of the Shrek saga (Dec 7), the highly rated (97% on Rotten Tomatoes!) war documentary Restrepo (Dec 7), the looks-disappointing A-Team (Dec 14), the heavily recommended
Despicable Me (Dec 14), and Wall Street 2: Greed Again? (Dec 21. The original was one of my dad’s favorite flicks).

UPDATE (1/3/11)

Salt: My wife and I enjoyed this film. By the middle of the film, I had no idea what to expect. I loved the husband and his humble confidence as well as his relentless pursuit after her to win her.  I loved how everything wasn’t necessarily tidied up at the end.

Restrepo: Simply incredible documentary that will enthrall you and break you. It follows a platoon of soldiers deployed in the insanely intense Korengal Valley of Afghanistan for a year. The scene in which one soldier is killed (off camera) and seeing the response of the other soldiers will change how you think about war. This is a must see documentary, very well done, very objective, and will increase your respect and honor for what our soldiers endure. Beware of the language if you’re sensitive to that, I’m not sure if I’ve heard more f-words in any movie (even Tarantino’s films) ever. This film is worth watching though, I highly recommend it.

Update (1/28/11)

Despicable Me: I enjoyed and laughed frequently in this movie. Steve Carell is so funny as Gru and Jason Segel is so over the top as Vector I laughed whenever he came on screen. The end is predictable and I appreciate how they don’t even try to explain the origin of the minions.

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If you’ve been reading this blog then you just had to know this post was coming. Here are my criteria:

  1. Rewatchability
  2. Gospel and redemption themes
  3. Quality of acting and characterization

Here there are, purely in alphabetical order, these are my personal top 9 films.

Chariots of Fire (1981)


This movie can feel slow at times but I don’t care, I love the contrast of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrams. Eric runs for God and finished his life as a missionary to China. Abrams runs almost purely for himself, to prove himself to all others. The movie is so well done though that you find yourself rooting for both of them. It’s also a rare movie that has a Christian figure so winsomely portrayed and speaking the Bible. Plus, you can’t forget about the classic opening and closing sequence with the Vangelis theme song. The movie has an 86% rating at Rotten Tomatoes

Cinderella Man (2005)


Cinderella Man is one of the most rewatchable movies we own. That may just be me, but I have watched this movie a bunch of times simply because I don’t get tired of it. I love the story of Jim Braddock, his relationship with his family and his wife. I love the set up and the final fight against Max Baer. Redemption, suffering, and good marriage themes are all in this one along with the boxing. It is at an 80% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

City by the Sea (2002)


City by the Sea is a relatively obscure movie; I rarely meet a person who has actually seen it. Rotten Tomatoes and critics likely didn’t help as it only has a 48% rating! But I love the father son dynamic and issues in this movie. I practically weep at the movie climax. The bitter sweetness of the ending is so good. A demonstration of our inability to outrun our sin just adds to it all.

The Dark Knight (2008)


You knew this would end up on my list after I wrote this. This is one of two Christopher Nolan flicks on my list and I’ll give you 0 guesses as to what the second is. The Dark Knight is a gut punch. I have no other way to describe what you will likely feel the first time you see it. It is dark. Evil is overwhelming. Can good win? Can a city overcome its dark side? Can a hero even survive without becoming a villain? Just watch it. It currently has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s only the second highest on my list! I highly recommend listening to the short message given by James Harleman (of Mars Hill) on this film.

Inception (2010)


I have already written 2 blog posts (“Must See Film” and “The Idea that Changes Everything”) on this movie and it’s not even on DVD yet. Inception is a great concept and story with piercing father/son themes, interesting characters, and is a movie with just so many figurative and literal levels. It is currently at an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Les miserables (1998)


Les miserables is based on the powerful and highly praised musical of the same name which is based on the book by Victor Hugo. This movie is all about 1 question: What is grace? From the priest to Valjean (Liam Neeson) to Javert (Geoffrey Rush), the question is what is more powerful and effective: grace or the law? When I first saw this movie, I was just stunned. My friend and I were literally speechless until halfway through our car ride home when finally he simply belted out “WOW! THAT IS GRACE!!!” I can still vividly remember that evening and moment as if it happened yesterday. This great film is at a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Natural (1984)


Part of why I appreciate this movie surrounds the memories I have of watching it many times with my dad. I still have faint memories of seeing it in the theater with him when it first came out. The redemption story of this movie grows on me every time I watch. I love how it ends (not merely on the famous home run scene!). The last time I watched it was probably my favorite. It’s also a classic baseball movie. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 81% rating.

Rocky II (1979)


This is another one that I have fond memories of watching with my dad. Honestly, Rocky II moves so painfully slow. But it all comes down to one moment. You see this one moment and you’re all in and you’re fired up. If you come across this movie on cable, you’ll wait or keep checking back just for this moment on forward. Yeah, it’s over the top but can you, men, say this scene (with Eye of the Tiger playing in the background) does nothing for you? It’s at a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Star Trek (2009)


This one probably surprised you. It surprised you unless you’ve seen it, that is. JJ Abrams did such a fantastic job with this movie. Sacrifice, fathers, friendship, and redemption are all mixed in to one great story to reboot this franchise. I love how Pike and Spock’s dad are pivotal for Kirk and Spock and how we get to see the growth of Spock and Kirk from boys to guys to men. The parallel characterization of these 2 men is super well done. It’s an extremely entertaining and rewatchable movie. It’s all about family with a mission. One more likely surprise: this is the highest rated film at Rotten Tomatoes on my list, now at 94%. James Harleman also discusses this movie here.

Honorable Mentions: Shutter Island (2010), Empire Strikes Back (1980), Hoosiers (1989), Glory (1989), Taken (2008), Shawshank Redemption (1994), Gattaca (1997).

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“What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”


I’ve seen Inception twice now. I wrote an initial guide to the movie here. I think the second time was the best and even now I’ll be anxiously awaiting the DVD release or maybe even the $2 theater! I’ve had numerous discussions with friends that have seen it, I’ve processed it a lot, and now I’m ready to dig into a more spoiler laden analysis as to why I loved it and what makes it such a powerful piece of art. There are so many things you can talk about with this movie but I am going to focus on just one theme, the one that continues to stick with me and move me to Jesus, and even helps further enlighten the Gospel for me. This will be full of spoilers so turn away now if you have not seen this movie, it won’t make much sense to you anyway!

They are fully persuaded of Christ’s love and good-will to them, but the difficulty they have is whether the Father accepts them and loves them… Such thoughts ought to be far from us. – John Owen

The Inception


Peter Browning: I just don’t know. He loved you Robert, in his own way.

Robert Fischer: His own way? At the end he called me into his deathbed, he could barely speak but he took the trouble to tell me one last thing. He pulled me close and I could only make out one word, “disappointed”.

Robert Fischer, excellently acted by Cillian Murphy (The Scarecrow/Dr Crane in Batman Begins), is son of Maurice Fischer, head over a multi-billion dollar energy company. Maurice is near death and Saito hires Cobb and company to attempt to implant an idea to get Robert to do one thing: break up his father’s company after the death of his father. The characters discuss how they can even do this. What idea will they try to plant? How will they implant it? It has to be simple and Robert has to desire for it to be true – redemption and catharsis are significantly more powerful in how they impact us than some negative thought. Cobb and Eames quickly seize upon one idea: affect the perception of his relationship with his father, Maurice. When Maurice dies and they enter the dream world with Robert, Robert confesses that he had a terrible relationship with his father and that his father barely expressed any love towards him at all. His last words to Robert were “Disappointed.” Robert’s relationship with his father is completely broken and when they engage in the dream world with Robert, you find this really does hurt and crush him. That word, “disappointed,” sticks with him.

Robert Fischer: After my mother died, you know what he told me? “Robert, there’s really nothing to be said.”

Peter Browning: He was bad with emotions.

Robert Fischer: I was eleven.

In level 1, Eames (disguised as Browning, Maurice’s chief adviser and Robert’s godfather) starts to try to convince Robert of one thing: his dad really did love him. Eames wants to change Robert’s perception and believe that his father was not completely who he thought he was. Robert wants to believe this! He loves his dad, never wanted his relationship with Maurice to be broken! But at this level, there’s no way Robert can believe it. Level 2 is all about getting to level 3 and convincing Robert that Browning is trying to deceive him, trying to steal from him, and that there really was something else to Robert’s father. In level 3, after a whole lot of action, Robert takes the bait. He relives the scene with his father from before, only this time it’s different. This time, his father (merely a projection in his dream) doesn’t just express the word “disappointed” but tells him that he wants his son to be his own man, and shows him a pinwheel from Robert’s childhood, expressing satisfaction with who his son has come to be. It drops like a hammer on Robert. Maybe his dad actually loved him! His dad was only disappointed that Robert was trying too hard to be like him. Robert absolutely breaks down and this new perception seems to carry all the way through. His countenance and his whole life seem to change in one fell swoop.

Maurice Fischer: [trying to get his words out] I was dissa…dissapoi…

Robert Fischer: I know dad. I know you were disappointed I couldn’t be you.

Maurice Fischer: No…no…no..no! I was disappointed that you tried.

The Idea: Your Father is Not Who You Thought He was


What a powerful vision from Christopher Nolan. How do they change Robert Fischer’s life? They do it by changing his father. They completely transform his perception of who his father was and they provide for a restoration. Of course, in the movie, this is all a lie. Their motives are for selfish gain not for Robert.

But what if it’s the truth? What if we’re all living with a false vision of who our real father is and was? What if our father is not who we think he is? What if the key to restoration and transformation in our lives is understanding who our real father is?

He’s not a voice in your head,

He’s not the father you fled.

He’s not the things that they said.

He’s raising up the dead.

– Caedmon’s Call, “Raising Up the Dead”

Even if we had a great dad, don’t we still long for something more? This world and everything in it never seem enough. To top that, we seem to have this darkness within us that we just cannot shake. God feels very distant from us and it all feels like a fog. How could He love us? How could He not be disappointed with us? Does he even care? Isn’t he much of the cause of all my pain and misery? Praise Jesus that our Father God is beyond all of that! Praise Jesus, our God in heaven, is not who we always thought he was. He is our perfect loving father who is not distant, does not sleep, does not get frustrated with us, is always pleased with us yet never satisfied, and is gentle and tender towards us in Christ Jesus.

Be fully assured in your hearts that the Father loves you. Have fellowship with the Father in his love. Have no fears or doubts about his love for you. The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him is not to believe that he loves you. – John Owen

Beyond our earthly fathers, we have a Father who sacrificed His only eternal Son for our sin and separation that our relationship with Him would be restored once and for all. Our earthly fathers were meant to point to Him. But they were never Him and never could be.

Sin makes the sinner unlovely and undesirable. There is nothing in the sinner that could arouse love in God. Yet it is as sinners that God loves us. Not only when we had done no good, but when we were polluted in our own blood. – John Owen (based on Eze. 16:6)

Your true Father is not “disappointed.” He loves you. He paid a price to adopt you. He is waiting for you. He is not who you thought He was.

Let us remember how eager and willing He is to accept us. – John Owen

More good posts on Inception worth reading:

Cinemagogue (James Harleman/Mars Hill) Series:

Dream a Little Dreamscape of Me

Waking From Inception

From Cliffhangers to Topspinners via INCEPTION

Subjecting Yourself to INCEPTION

(INCEPTION) “This is the really REAL World…”

“True Inspiration” versus INCEPTION – does it exist?

INCEPTION, Reformed (for the last time)


Others:

Inception and the Gospel (written by an old friend of mine)

Lessons in Shared Dreaming (The Rabbit Room)

Dreaming Unawares (Damaris)

Truth and Consequences (World Magazine)

Inception (Christianity Today)


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Last night, my wife and I saw “Inception,” another brilliant film with depth and strong meta narrative themes by Christopher Nolan, director also of “The Dark Knight” and “Memento,” as well as “The Prestige,” all excellent films. Inception was an unbelievable movie and completely lived up to my expectations. If anything, it went deeper than I thought it would. I don’t want to act as a spoiler but I simply wanted to give it a shout out and lay out some basic themes to look for. This movie, just as The Dark Knight, can feel really dark to viewers, on top of the mental engagement needed to keep up with what is happening in this mind-blowing imaginative masterpiece, so I think having some themes to keep an eye out for may be helpful.

Themes to Watch For


1. A man as a husband and father

To fail as a husband or as a father is extremely crushing and humbling to a man. Watch for this in Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Dom. You can hide this hurt or harden your conscience or disengage as a man, but you know this statement is true. Our identity is impacted by these failures. The hardest part is that there is no avoiding it. I am a sinful father and husband. Will I wallow in it and let guilt and my failure control me or will I trust Jesus in The Gospel as my much needed Savior? Will I accept my sin and see my darkness as it is and walk in humility to let Jesus change me and The Holy Spirit fill me? This might be the most difficult thing you face as a man.

2. How your father impacts so much of who you are

This is an obvious theme that the characters even discuss regarding Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer Jr. (the mark of the inception). Who you see your father as is huge in your life. Time and time again I see this in myself and in my wife and in my friends. It can be so frustrating at times especially if you were exceptionally wounded by your father because you can feel like you cannot change it. But ultimately we all have to go through a process of replacing the perceptions of our earthly father with who are Father God is for us. We all have to let God be our perfect, loving, primary Father. This is no simple process.

3. Let The Gospel be that “idea”

“What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.” – Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)

What is that idea for you? It’s simple really. What idea dominates you? What is it for Robert Fischer Jr.? What is it for Dom Cobb?

4. Do we actually believe that we are entirely physically beings?

The depth of our minds displayed in this movie is insane and feels true. Can we really believe we are all matter and just brain? Do we really think that our ability to generate a reality in our minds actually evolved over millions of years? It’s laughable. The ability to think and create is the most powerful “physical” evidence for me that evolution is a crock and con.

There is so much you could discuss with this movie. One last thing that I appreciate about this movie along with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, is that the basic concept of this movie would be enough to make a movie out of and a cool movie at that. But Nolan is not content with that. Nolan seems to want to push you to think about our depravity and who we are, to think about the fathers and family, and to wrestle with what it means to care for others and sacrifice for them. I don’t know where he stands with Jesus but, wow, does he seem to grasp some powerful meta narratives that stir us because of how God wired us and what He desires for us.

Movies are Modern Art

We, as a culture, watch a ton of movies. Music and movies are the mainstream art of today. We hardly read but are significantly visual. Don’t just sit back and passively watch movies, especially a movie like Inception, to check out and vegetate. Honestly, it won’t be refreshing in a right direction. Engage with why the movie stirs you, with why movies like Inception haunt you, and engage with The Gospel. If you go see Inception, let God use it to edify you. Then draw out these spiritual themes for those of us struggling with or who have never grasped The Gospel.

Thank you, Christopher Nolan, for this creative, original movie of depth, for giving us helpful imagery and pushing us to think and not simply escape for 2 hours.

Thank you, Father God, for creating us in Your own image, with the ability to think, with the mental capacity to generate imaginative realities that help us understand who You are and to give a tiny glimpse of Your infinite capacity. You created the universe with merely a Word, with merely a Thought. I was a thought in your perfect mind that became reality and You loved me before I even existed in physical reality. You had a thought and plan in Your perfect mind to send Your only Son to suffer a horrendous death for me long before I even moved a muscle.

For my further analysis with spoilers, check out this post: Inception: The Idea that Changes Everything

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