FLAG OF MY FATHER



FLAG OF MY FATHER is a gripping movie of one family’s struggle to reconcile differences when the patriarchal father passes away. Judith and her father share a close bond, that is not shared by her stepbrothers, in part because her father served in Vietnam, and she served as a nurse in Iraq. Her brothers have taken offense at the fact that the two of them share something which they do not.
When their father dies suddenly, the rivalry of the siblings comes out in the open. The father’s veteran flag on his casket is given to the oldest brother, which sets off the conflicts. Judy says she was hoping to have the flag because it means so much to her: as a daughter and as a former soldier.
As the conflict increases between the siblings, Judy begins having nightmares related to post-traumatic syndrome. In flashbacks, it is established that Judy was indeed a hero. The brothers suddenly discover a shocking secret about their father’s medals, but it may be too late for the family to reconcile.
FLAG OF MY FATHER is dramatic and well told. The story moves quickly, keeping the viewer’s attention. The battle scenes are very dramatic without being gory. The performances are very solid, led by William Devane as the veteran father.
There’s a strong Christian, moral message in FLAG OF MY FATHER. Heroism is extolled. Also, Judy goes back to save a fallen fellow soldier because, in her previous conversations with him, he had not yet accepted Jesus as his Savior. Also, several characters quote the Bible. Finally, FLAG OF MY FATHER has a very strong patriotic theme as characters discuss what the American flag means to them.
FLAG OF MY FATHER has some battle sequences that may be too intense for very young children. With that one caveat, this is a meaningful, inspiring family movie.

WALKING WITH THE ENEMY



Inspired by a true story, WALKING WITH THE ENEMY takes place during the final 18 months of World War II.
Hungarian leader Regent Horthy (Sir Ben Kingsley) sees that the Allies will eventually defeat Hitler’s National Socialist regime in Germany. So, he cuts ties with Germany. Because of his decision, Hungarian Jews are no longer protected and are seen as the enemy by the desperate Nazi soldiers.
Elek Cohen, a young energetic Jew, rushes from the city to his home village to make sure his family is all right. Upon arriving, he and all the other young men are forcibly sent to a labor camp. The Germans ruthlessly work the young men, killing anyone who becomes sick or is injured. When some Allies planes strike the compound, Elek and the prisoners have their chance to escape.
Once Elek gets back to his village, he finds out his entire family was relocated. Desperate to find them, he goes back to the city to see if he can find more information on where his family might be. In the city, Elek finds himself with a group of resisters who are forging passports for Jewish families so they can escape to Switzerland.
One day, a group of Jews are being led to a train for their impending execution. In an attempt to save them, Elek puts on a stolen Nazi officer uniform and uses his perfect German accent to order the soldiers to transfer the Jews to him. Miraculously, this works, and he is able to save many lives.
Reinvigorated to make a difference, Elek goes on dangerous missions posing as a German officer for the remainder of the war. The longer he goes, the more likely it becomes for him to be discovered. Along the way, he develops a relationship with Hannah, a young Jewish woman whose life he had saved.
WALKING WITH THE ENEMY is a very exciting World War II drama. The acting is powerful, and the sets and special effects are very impressive for an independent movie. The nature of the story makes it gritty and rough, but never gratuitous. The story moves quickly, but forgets to convey to the audience where they are taking it at times. Otherwise, however, the movie holds interest throughout.
WALKING WITH THE ENEMY has a very strong moral worldview with strong Christian elements. At the center of the story are Jews and Christians who risk their lives to save men, women and children. Inspirational and emotionally gripping, the movie is a testament to the impact one man can have against an evil empire. The violence, though not gratuitous, is still intense and warrants strong caution.

Snatching Defeat from the Blessings of Victory?



By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher, and Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor

Some Christians have launched several complaints and opposing viewpoints about the movie HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, which is based on a bestselling book about a little Christian boy who claimed he went to Heaven and met Jesus.

Some of these come from Christians we respect highly, and others come from people who are unfamiliar to us and seem to have no faith credentials whatsoever except a trail of anthropocentric booklets refuting many books, movies and people by using practically the same arguments while ignoring the text. In other words, these folks use the unbiblical method of eisegesis, rather than exegesis to attack books, movies and people. As a former L.S. Attorney in the US Attorney’s Office SDNY, who later was saved by God’s grace alone, these attacks do not follow the rules of evidence which derive from the Bible itself, which is the Word of God.

With all due respect, the complaints and opposition to the movie don’t make much sense.

To prove this, let’s examine the two major complaints being made against the movie.

Perhaps the biggest complaint is the notion that, instead of looking to a movie like HEAVEN IS FOR REAL to define and affirm our faith, we must look instead to the Bible.

Well, duh!!! Isn’t that true of practically any movie? The only exception to that rule would seem to be a movie that’s just a word-for-word recitation of parts of the Bible, such as the 2003 movie THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. Of course, even if a movie directly quotes the Bible, someone still could complain that the movie doesn’t have the right translation or the right interpretation.

That said, we agree with this point. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL should not be used as a substitute for Scripture. However, the movie never claims to be a substitute for the Bible. Nor does it ask us to ignore the Bible or ask us not to use it as the ultimate authority on the Christian faith. That doesn’t mean, however, that the movie can’t be used as an aid to Scripture or as an aid to faith and evangelism.

In fact, on that point alone, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL has a lot of good things going for it.

For example, it affirms the existence of an afterlife, including the existence of Heaven. Second, it focuses on God and Jesus. Third, it encourages us to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Fourth, it encourages us to display love and acts of kindness overtly here on earth, including in honor of the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus commanded His followers in the Bible to recite.

Fifth, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL portrays a real body of believers who ask each and every question the critics ask without coming to the fallacious conclusions of the critics. After all, the entire story of the movie is the members of the congregation and outsiders trying to figure out if Heaven is for real and if the four-year-old actually saw the things he could not have known which he said he saw. As such, the movie has more content about church than 99.99% of the many movies ever made. Instead of positing an untenable answer as the critics have too often done, the movie points to Jesus Christ, the Creator, and says that when we love Him and our neighbor, we see a glimpse of Heaven, and when we hate Him and our neighbor, we turn toward making life hell on earth.

Best of all, the movie ends on the fact that Jesus Christ is real and true.

The second major criticism leveled at HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is that, while the Bible has several people, including the Apostle Paul, say they went to Heaven, no one returns to talk about their experience in heaven.

While it’s true that Paul says in the Bible that he was taken up to Heaven but never goes into details about his experience, it’s not true that no one in the Bible ever goes to or comes from Heaven and returns to talk about it.

In the first place, Jesus Christ Himself, who repeatedly says He came from Heaven and from the Father, talks about both Heaven and Hell a lot. He also talks a lot about God the Father and says that, if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the Father. Finally, in the Bible, Jesus gives us many details about the afterlife – enough details to know that Heaven is a really wonderful place, and Hell is a very terrible and terrifying place. Jesus also talks abut God’s Kingdom of Heaven on earth and encourages His followers in Matthew 6:33 to “Seek first the Kingdom [or rule] of God and His righteousness.” (Guess what? In its own way, using today’s vernacular, the HEAVEN IS FOR REAL movie does exactly the same thing! Imagine that!!!)

Secondly, the Apostle John says in the Book of Revelation that God gave him a vision of Heaven, and John describes that vision in very great detail in that book.

In other words, it’s simply not true that no one in the Bible ever goes to Heaven and comes to earth to talk about his trip!

Both Jesus and His “beloved” apostle, John, do exactly that.

As Christian scholar Gary Habermas has noted, near death experiences are, on the whole, a positive sign that there is indeed an afterlife, and that the biblical concepts of Heaven and Hell are not totally made-up fictions without scientific or philosophical foundation. As such, they refute atheism and scientific naturalism’s anti-supernatural bias.

That doesn’t mean near death experiences should be a substitute for biblical truth. However, nowhere does the movie HEAVEN IS FOR REAL claim that they are, or that it is.

Thus, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL actually re-affirms Christian, biblical faith. It doesn’t contradict it.

THE REAL WINNING EDGE: Episode 524



THE REAL WINNING EDGE is a valiant, youth-oriented series aimed at inspiring youth to achieve success through faith and values. Syndicated throughout the United States, each episode deals with several stories.
In Episode 524, the first story is about a positive rapper, Tyler Griffin. His father abandoned the family when Tyler was four months old. The family lived in a rundown area. At the age of 9, he got inspired by rap music. He soon did a song that was used as a commercial for a local politician. His positive rap brought him into contact with major acts such as the Newsboys. His goal is to honor God, and he sets a great example for children who are musically talented, especially forgiving his father for abandoning him.

The next featured person is an athlete, Crystal Kalogris. Crystal is a great BMX rider who overcame a serious injury to become a national champion. Her success is due to the support of church, prayer and determination.
Finally, the last story is about Jimmy Mosqueda, a talented motorsports engineer who first discovered his talents in high school. He has helped some of the leading racecar drivers succeed, and he finds his help in the Bible.
THE REAL WINNING EDGE has a very strong moral worldview with strong biblical principles. It has no negative content except for minor references to self-determination and self-improvement. Otherwise, it shows that success is best achieved through faith and values.
A couple members of the Newsboys Christian group and racecar driver Jeff Gordon are featured in Episode 524.

True Love vs. Stockholm Syndrome: Does Hollywood Know the Difference?



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By Amy Swanson, Contributing Writer

A friend of mine shocked me recently when she pinpointed the exact moment when she “fell in love” with Sandor “The Hound” Clegane from HBO’s GAME OF THRONES. “He grabbed a man by the throat and lifted him off the ground with one hand and with the other hand reached into the man’s stomach and pulled out his guts!”

That’s nice. . . wait. . . what?  When did that become romantic?

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, women fell for the men in show business with nice eyes and a velvet voice like Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. As if that alone wasn’t intimidating enough, when did alluring take a turn for the dark and violent? How seriously should we take it?

Today, some of the best writing is on television. Rather than introduce, deepen and arc a character over the course of a two hour movie, television allows a beloved character to evolve or devolve over the course of many years. More like real life. Real life characters in impossible or unthinkable circumstances, that is.

Hollywood’s devolution into gritty realism has churned out several TV series with dark yet moral undertones. MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, GAME OF THRONES, THE WALKING DEAD, and THE BATES MOTEL, to name a few, tell morality stories by putting their characters in situations where all moral authority, save the divine, has been removed or the stakes are so high that morality seemingly no longer matters. With obstacles of authority removed we are now granted secret access into the true soul of a human being. If you don’t have to face immediate consequences for your actions, what would you do? Who are you versus who are you really?

These story themes can open up some great discussion about morality, redemption and human nature, but extreme caution must be exercised as we examine these complex characters in moral flux. We all love our anti-heroes and tragic villains, but, if we are going to practice wise discernment, we first need to understand why we like these characters as much as we do.

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological condition usually associated with victims of prolonged kidnapping or domestic abuse. It is a form of traumatic bonding where emotional ties develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats or threatens the other. Moviegoers seek to empathize with characters in this exact kind of scenario. Therefore viewers are just as subject to succumbing to this moral confusion as the character in the movie.

The positive emotional connection occurs when after prolonged negative treatment the abuser makes a turn. He does something positive or the victim learns something they didn’t previously know that makes them pity him or see him in a different light. It doesn’t have to be much, no more than a bread crust of kindness after a feast of cruelty. The victim is so shocked by this crumb of mercy they erase all feelings of hatred for their abuser and replace them with feelings of compassion, admiration and sometimes even romantic or sexual attraction. Full on Stockholm Syndrome is a form of mental slavery that involves physical abuse, so to say that Hollywood is intentionally inflicting this abuse on America would be stretching the point. Still, the earmarks are there and should be taken into consideration.

In a world of positive and negative charge, human beings naturally gravitate towards the positive. Therefore, if we increase the psychological negative pressure, the positive charge seems more positive without actually being increased itself. This psychological sleight of hand makes it easier for the writer to employ the Save the Cat technique.

Factual or fictional, Stockholm Syndrome has its positive effects. It keeps the victim and the character alive. It shines a ray of hope into an otherwise dark character’s story. Perhaps, even someone such as this can be redeemed or even saved! The odds are usually an even 50/50 he could go either way so any moviegoer will wait with baited breath to see how his story turns out. This is positive.

However, there is also negative. If the character has to do something positive to turn our hearts towards him, he must then go back to doing something negative to keep us guessing. If extreme negative makes the positive seem more positive, then exaggerated positive makes the negative seem less negative. As Hollywood Stockholm Syndrome engages, we make excuses for bad behavior and pathetically justify human vices. This can ultimately lead to us rationalizing away the sin lurking inside us. The Culture-Wise Christian must know the difference between God’s sanctifying love and Stockholm Syndrome.

TRANCENDENCE



TRANSCENDENCE rises above the typical pyrotechnics of recent science fiction to deliver a very thought provoking look at science getting out of hand. Fairly clean, well made, and acted, it literally asks, “Do you want to make your own God?”
Johnny Depp plays Will Caster, a brilliant scientist pressing the frontiers of artificial intelligence. Rebecca Hall plays his fellow scientist wife, Evelyn, who loves the possibility of using artificial intelligence to cure cancer, end poverty, and clean up the environment. Their charmed life is shattered when some radicals who believe artificial intelligence is dangerous shoot Will. Will survives the shooting, but the bullet turns out to be highly radioactive.
As Will’s life slips away over a month’s time, Evelyn decides to try to save his mind by uploading it to a computer. She and their friend, Max, succeed, even when being attacked by radicals trying to stop them.
When Will’s uploaded to the Internet, his powers expand exponentially. He’s able to study the entire world’s surveillance cameras and alert the FBI to where the anti-technology people are hiding. He even discovers ways to regenerate severely injured bodies and give sight to a man born blind. However, there are drawbacks to such power. He knows everything about everyone. Also, those he has healed have super strength and live almost as his drones. In fact, he uses nano-technology to connect all of them to him through the Internet.
With Max’s help, the FBI decides to work with the anti-technology radicals to stop Will.
It’s actually refreshing to see a science fiction movie where a major threat to life on earth is not posed by Godzilla, evil Transformers, or any huge flying objects going around destroying cities. In an age when government agencies have access to every phone call or mouse click, and enemies can be taken out by soldiers at consoles controlling drones, this is a movie that will make you think. Do we want a cure to cancer if the price is programmed cells? Do we want more security if the price is the complete elimination of privacy?
Early in the movie, Will is asked if he wants to play God. This is a valid question. Will was working on “transcendence,” which he considered the use of supercomputers to add powers beyond the imagination to an uploaded human mind. Consider the similarity. God knows our every thought. God knows our motives. God made children who scrape their knees to regrow perfect skin. God made mankind capable of building artificial intelligence, atomic bombs, and surveillance cameras. We are living in a time when we expect technology to find astounding cures, but also to build ever more horrifying weapons. We live in an age where a small gift to a politically incorrect cause can cost you your job 15 years later. We live in an age where information gathered by the IRS and other government agencies can trigger politically motivated audits and prosecutions.
TRANCENDENCE does a wonderful job of causing viewers to think. How far do we want technology to go? What keeps it from being misused? Can it be stopped? Should it be stopped?
Those who obey God will use technology as God desires. Those who disobey God can misuse technology in frightening ways.
TRANSCENDENCE has a less than satisfying resolution, along with a couple possible plot holes, but the trip there is some of the best science fiction in years. It has less foul language and less violence than most of today’s science fiction movies. Not a single block of a major city gets blown to bits, but the world is radically changed.

The Promise and Dangers of New Technology: Behind the Scenes of TRANSCENDENCE with Johnny Depp



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By Carl Kozlowski, Contributing Writer

Ever notice how annoying people are getting with their connections to computers? Everywhere you turn, people have Bluetooths that attach to their ears or Google Glass devices that provide an instant video stream of what our eyes see to the World Wide Web. At what point, do we have to stop and say, “Enough’s enough?”

The new movie TRANSCENDENCE takes a powerful look at that dilemma, serving up frightening questions through the context of a thriller about a scientist named Dr. Will Caster, who is at the forefront of research into artificial intelligence (otherwise known as A.I.). As played by Johnny Depp in a rare role that doesn’t require absurd costumes or makeup, Caster seems to be a nice enough guy who just wants to continue mankind’s progress towards ever-greater scientific accomplishments.

However, there are protesters who fear that A.I. will enable computers to someday surpass the human mind and take control over their human masters. So, Caster finds himself shot by a radioactive bullet that will kill him over the course of a mere month. As he wastes away, leaving his wife and research partner to grieve and wonder what might have been both in their marriage and their life’s work, Caster suddenly arrives at a drastic idea.

He wants to see if he can upload his own mental and spiritual consciousness into the giant computer system that drives his work, just as he had managed to upload a monkey’s consciousness into earlier research. Figuring he has nothing left to lose, Caster attempts the experiment and finds that it succeeds. However, this creates a whole new set of problems when he realizes that his brilliant mind can now be immortalized. That sense of power sets him off on a dangerous path in which he tries to place whatever is good for himself ahead of what’s good for everyone in society.

Thus, TRANSCENDENCE sets a powerful string of moral quandaries presented to viewers. Could they manage to use the same powers for definite good, or would the temptation for greed, selfishness, and other forms of evil take over?

“I thought there was something beautiful to the idea of the film,” said the movie’s star, Johnny Depp, who recently appeared at a press junket for the movie that Movieguide® attended.

“I thought there was something very beautiful to [director Wally Pfister’s] idea, a certain disintegration to the character and watching him go out. There’s a progression to him being uploaded to the computer, and then once inside, he could become anything.”

At first, Will appears younger when his face appears onscreen to talk with his wife and other partners, as a measure of the perfect man he appears to become through his moment of transcendence. As anyone who follows the evolution of A.I. in the real world fears, such a moment could also lead to very dangerous consequences for mankind.

“[Director Wally Pfister] has spoken to a lot of high up scientists and scholars, so knowing that a great bit of the tech is active, actually happening, and the tech we’re talking about uploading the human consciousness to is probably not that far away,” Depp noted. “They’re all agreed about it happening, just a matter of when. A Caltech expert told me 30 years.

“It was terrifying to learn that scientists we spoke with felt that what we’re heading towards a crash with technology and that the next phase of our evolution will involve machines,” Depp added. “The questions I asked professors was, if we were able to take consciousness and the mind and transfer, would it include our emotions? They said yes, but whoever is doing the hard drive will have some effect on what carries over. It opens up a lot of fascinating questions.”

Interestingly, Depp doesn’t consider himself a tech wizard at all.

“Things go wrong all the time, especially between me and technology,” Depp said. “I’m too old school a brain to figure it out. Anything I have to attack with my thumbs for any period of time makes me feel stupid, so I try to avoid it as much as possible.”

One other aspect of Depp’s experience with TRANSCENDENCE also blew his mind. A recent trip to promote the movie in China gave him his first glimpse behind that most complex and contradictory of nations, giving him both good and bad things to mull over.

“It was amazing on a cultural level, with just constant information, with something new everywhere you looked, something interesting,” he said. “I found a real warmth in the people and quite a turnout wherever we went, but there were also a lot of strange things that went down that I’d rather not talk about because I value my life.

“But the strangest thing, amid all the foreign culture I’m being enlightened by, four little Chinese boys dressed in priest outfits come out on stage at an event,” Depp said. “Transcendence comes out written on their heads in four Chinese characters, they shaved one of them each onto the little boys’ heads and brought them onstage with me. Little boys brought on stage with the name of a movie shaved into their heads – yeah, it scared me a little.”

Depp also spoke at length about his next big role, portraying the colorful real-world mobster Whitey Bulger, who recently was arrested and convicted for an array of crimes, including murder, after decades on the lam. That role would represent another distinct turn away from the characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tonto whom he has relied on playing for the past decade, and towards a more mature style that perhaps reflects Depp turning 50 and becoming newly engaged to actress Amber Heard.

“There’s actually a lot of parallels between Whitey and Will Caster, because it’s about how people think they have the power to do anything,” Depp said. “It should be a little vague – is he losing it? You could make an analogy to a security guard who three weeks before was mowing lawns for a living but as soon as he puts a uniform on he’s the overzealous guard.

“Is there something lying dormant in the man? Does it appeal to him? Does it change him? You don’t know,” Depp said wryly. “Once Will’s in the computer, as he’s growing at a rapid pace – does any bad person think they’re doing bad? Historically most think they’re ok, but of course a few were off. By a lot! So when Will was dedicated to the cause and the feeling that he was God. Nothing on earth is more powerful than you.”

Just as Christian leaders and other moral and ethical teachers around the globe have had to reformulate their decisions on what constitutes a just war in an age of carpet-bombing possibilities, or what constitutes extraordinary care in an age when machines can take on more and more survival functions for people, these questions of computer power and where it is leading mankind will present many dilemmas in the coming years.

Ultimately, TRANSCENDENCE is just a thriller, albeit a thought-provoking one. Depp and his director, Wally Pfister, are not required to lead viewers to a definitive answer, just to open the door of possibilities and ask viewers to think long and hard about the road we are on in human society, and to remember to not lose sight of moral truths and biblical principles in the pursuit of faster, better, stronger modern comforts.

“We’re hoping to create ambiguity in this film,” Depp concluded. “If you’re able to do this [upload a dying person’s mind and emotions into a computer], is this the fair and right way to do it? Technology is reshaping itself radically every day. If you’re in that situation with a split second decision of promise to save [people], this movie asks would you do it, or is it too big a risk?”

TRANSCENDENCE opens nationwide Friday. Before you pay your money, please check out Movieguide®’s review of the movie here.

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL at the Box Office



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The Christian move wins again. This time the $12 million budgeted HEAVEN IS FOR REAL trounced the $100 million budgeted TRANSCENDENCE on Easter weekend. TRANSCENDENCE opening in over 1,000 more theaters and did about half the business. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL earned $21,500,000 while TRANSCENDENCE brought in only $11,150,000. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL averaged $8,895 per theater, TRANSCENDENCE $3,227.

This is the second shocking success in two months. GOD’S NOT DEAD with a budget of $2 million came in 10th in its fifth week in release and has now earned $48,327,000. It should soar past the $50 million mark this week.

The controversial NOAH movie, with a $125 million budget, came in ninth this weekend and has now made $93 million in the United States and $290,674,000 worldwide.

SON OF GOD, the reworked story of Jesus from THE BIBLE series that was such a hit on the History Channel, came in 19 in its eighth week of release and has almost made $60,000,000.

Next to come will be MOM’S NIGHT OUT on May 9, which, strangely enough, is being marketed as just a family comedy, playing down its Christian content.

There’s more to come after that. In years past it was a delight to get one or two profoundly Christian movies. This year has been amazing.

 

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