Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I've heard almost incessant raving reviews of this film (I think I heard one person say they didn't get what all the hubbub was about), but I have some trust issues when it comes to movies.  And films like this are pretty much why.  I think our culture has become a little too lactose-tolerant in our media diet.

Now, I enjoyed this film quite a bit; I think it was one of Marvel's best.  But until we all collectively admit that that's not saying very much, we will remain the cheese addicts that continue to fund these comical comic-book films and their exploits into Cheeseland.

Be forewarned that some stuff might get spoiled for you in this review.  Including cheese.  Lots of spoiled cheese.

The Good

The Worldview

Let's start with the good- and there was a lot of good to appreciate in this film.  When it comes to worldview goodies, this was one of the most message-on-its-sleeve films I've seen in a long time, and, contrary to the standard "follow your heart" hogwash, this film had a message worth sending: the dangers of liberty are far sweeter than the chains of security.  The Captain's refusal to abandon old-fashioned notions of liberty in the face of the ripped-from-the-headlines police-state methods of SHIELD and the peace-through-power methods of Hydra- and the fact that his stand is portrayed in the film as a good thing- makes this one of the most relevant sermons on liberty in the 21st century that I've watched in a loooong time.  As usual, Hollywood was able to preach their sermon without taking people out of the story; as not-so-usual, the sermon was a good one!  But the moral to this movie was not hidden in cryptic sophisms and symbols in the background; the message was clear, and has never been more relevant to Americans than it is today.  For this reason, and even if only for this reason, this film deserves a hearty round of applause from Americans who agree with Benjamin Franklin that those who are willing to give up liberty for security deserve neither.

"This isn't freedom. This is fear."
Captain America is my favorite "superhero" because, out of all of the others, he is the one man of strong moral character who does what is right because it is right and cares not what the consequences are.  Conversely, he doesn't pragmatically do bad things to achieve good ends, and he stands in the way of those who try- even if those who try are the "good guys." Of course, other heroes do these things, to some extent or another, but none of them do it for the same reasons and with the same conviction.

The scene where the nerdy computer tech says "I'm not going to launch those ships."  That was awesome.  We need more scenes and more films where regular people do not capitulate in the face of adversity.

In lots of action movies, the heroes steal cars (and everything else) and cause mass destruction and mayhem in the process, all without any apparent twinge of guilt, and certainly without repercussions.  This isn't heroic conduct.  Plenty of it still went on in this film, but a comparatively small amount of it was at the hands of the Captain, who, when he did hijack a car, told Natasha Romanoff to take her feet off the dash because they were borrowing it.  And with Steve Rogers, you can tell he actually means it.  I'd like to see more of this in modern action films!

The Art

Speaking of action.

This film has it.  Lots of it, and some of the best I've ever seen.  As usual with "superhero" movies, there was lots of CGI and plenty of explosions and crashes and yaddayaddayadda.  But this film featured more hand-to-hand, intensely choreographed, martial-arts-driven combat scenes than any Marvel film to date, and they were excellent.  Better than any I have ever seen before, in any film ever.  I'm now inspired to learn how to do a kip-up.

Even better, the martial-arts scenes didn't feel out of place (I'm looking at you, Taken 2), but flowed naturally with the story and in-between exchanges of gunfire.

And the Nick Fury car chase sequence was just as good or better than anything the Bourne films ever did, which is saying a lot.

Some of the acting was very good.  Nick Fury was much less of a source of corn than in The Avengers; less over-epic, more human and likable.  Whether this was a Samuel L. Jackson thing or a scripting and directing thing, I don't know, but it was a big improvement.

Robert Redford was stellar; by far my favorite performance of the film.

The music was very effective; while I didn't much care for Henry Jackman's score listening to it on its own, in the context of the film it drove the action very well.  I am not a fan of film sequels that switch composers, but I was so, SO happy that at least the main theme from the first film made one very clear statement at the beginning of the film.  Also, Jackman's chilling motif for "the Winter Soldier" was perfect.

The graphics and sets were outstanding and sometimes breathtaking; it was difficult to distinguish between CGI and reality throughout the film, and the interaction between the two was mind-blowing.

I really, really enjoyed the directors' style; sweeping, grand, colorful- the film was truly beautiful.

The comedy is also worth mentioning.  The comic moments throughout the film were made up of smart, believable, good humor, and they not only served to make the cheesy moments a bit more palatable but also made the whole thing more enjoyable and the people more relatable.  

"Don't look at me. I do the same thing he does, only slower."
The Bad

The Worldview

Total egalitarianism- no distinctions between the roles of men and women- is one of the strongest, most clear sermons that this film preaches, and it preaches it by example. 

The main female characters in the film only retain one aspect of femininity- their sexuality, which is played up and emphasized and used by them for their own advantage.  Beyond that, they are judged on their ability to, more or less, act like men.  It's not degrading to say that women and men were created for different purposes.  It is degrading to say that the things women were created to do are worth less than the things the men were created to do- and that's exactly what we see modeled in films like this.

This film has plenty of females in it, but very few ladies.  (The ladies I'm referring to are the extras in the crowd scenes.)

If there's a room full of people being tyrannized over by a group of big tough bad guys, 99 times out of 100 it will be a girl who whips out the gun and the ninja moves, breaks the spine of evil, and coaxes the whimpering men out from behind their desks, gently using her pink camo handkerchief to wipe the tears from their eyes.

Seriously, it's getting rather old, Marvel.

We're raising a generation of guys who no longer see it as their duty and know it as their instinct to step up and protect the innocent.  Should women do this too?  Of course!  But the role of defender is primarily a male role in Scripture (Nehemiah 4:14).  It should be normal and expected that if a bad guy needs taken down, any and every man standing in the near vicinity is ready to do the taking down.

There is a huge opportunity for Christian storytellers to resurrect this lost idea of manhood and womanhood being two different things.  We have to construct an alternative culture.  We have to present the beauty of the right way.  If all anyone ever knows is the wrong way to do things, we cannot be surprised when that is what their actions- and art- reflect.  It's harder to tell stories that show the power and beauty of a Godly, visionary woman of character- a wife, a mom, a homemaker, an Abigail Adams or Elisabeth Elliot- than it is to clothe an athletic woman in tights, choreograph an intense fight scene, and make audiences say "wow, she's awesome!"  But those are stories that need to be told.  American young ladies today need to hear about real women of strength, and look up to them, and realize the power that comes from living in such a way that others will say "wow, her God is awesome!"  Our stories must provide that influence.

The immodest, skin-tight garb that the women wear is old hat for superhero movies, but The Winter Soldier took it to another level, with a couple of shots slid in which were obviously framed for the sole purpose of drawing attention to the heroine's body.  Reducing her to her shape.  This is so degrading to women (not to mention it's certainly not edifying for men).

I thought it was disappointing and a bit out of character that they scripted a few swear words in for the Captain.

The whole relationship between Natasha and the Captain was a little ambiguous... not sure where they're going with that.

There was certainly a lot of violence, mostly of the comic-film sort.

Speaking of comic-films, there is a worldview issue that I would like to hear discussed more when it comes to any and all films of this genre.  What, exactly, is communicated by films like this, where "normal people" are passed over in favor of "superheroes"?  Are we in some way denying God's reality?  Is this a way to escape from the constraints that The Master Storyteller has put upon us and turn ourselves, for two hours, at least, into Batman, or Superman, or Ironman- someone invincible, all powerful, and amazingly good-looking in Spandex?

What are the edifying benefits of having these superhuman heroes, as opposed to telling the stories of real men and women doing real and amazing things for the glory and by the grace of God?  It's a lot more inspiring- and inspiring in a deeper, more soul-changing way- to read about Shackleton's voyage than to see Superman hold up an oil rig.  So are these comic-films fueling a modern-day flight from God's reality?  If the medium is the message, is the medium of fantastical super-films headed in the right or the wrong direction?

Overall, though, the worldview of the film was much better than most Hollywood productions.

The Art

The feminism that saturated the worldview of the film also damaged its artistic value. The women in this film are a steady source of cheese because they are just.  So.  AWESUM.  Favorite feminicheese moment was when two guys broke down the door on Agent Hill, maybe 30 yards away from where she was, and she didn't hardly look in their direction, fired off two rounds from her little handgun, and went right on with her business, never breaking a sweat or showing a twinge of emotion on her "I am the coolness" face.  If it had been a bad guy making that shot, and two good guys coming into the room, the bad guy could have had two fully-automatic shotguns and a bazooka and he still would have missed.  If it had been a more believable actor making that shot as a good guy, he or she would have had a startled reaction, ducked behind cover, and fired until making sure the threat was nullified.    Not Agent Hill.  She's too cool for, you know, realism.  She's a machine.  The same is true, of course, of Natasha Romanoff, and even of the blonde girl who, at the end of the film, is shown hitting bullseye after bullseye before we pan up to a shot of her facial expression.  Which was also "I am the coolness."  Corn-E.

But this is all true of the guys, too, and I'll get to that in a minute; the bad art here specifically related to feminism is that it's just not realistic.  There's a reason special forces only take male applicants. 

That said... this film contained enough cheese to feed an army of super mice, and that was definitely not just the ladies' fault.   Like this guy:

Epic bad guy pose.
I like to call him The Winter Cheese.  Everything was an epic moment with him.  Standing up was an epic moment with him.  Slowly he rose from the asphalt, never raising his head from behind the veil of hair until his body was fully erect, presumably to preserve chiropractic form and awesomeness.

Seriously?!?  A normal person wouldn't do that.  Therefore, cheese.

Cool face-covering mask.  That's epic, except that it apparently serves no purpose (like Bane's did) except to delay the plot twist for a little while.  Normal people don't wear face masks for no reason.  Helmet, yes.  Face mask, no.  Therefore, cheese.

Another issue de la corn was the invincibility of everyone.  (Though I'll grant you that it was far better than Man of Steel.)  Falling from buildings, getting shot and stabbed and beaten and going through car wrecks and nobody ever has any long-term negative health problems resulting.  Nick Fury even dies and he's still not dead.  

Marvel has only successfully managed to kill off one primary character in all of the mass mayhem they've orchestrated in their films.  And that was by being stabbed... once?  Poor Agent Phil.  He didn't get the SHIELD invincibility memo.  Of course, he's probably still alive in some underground cave and will come out of cryo-freeze in a future Marvel film.  "Agent Phil: The Summer Civilian."

Constantly denying realistic consequences not only gets old; it cheapens the film, because the storytellers are not willing to force the audience to deal with deeper emotions, and eventually it becomes "the boy who cried wolf."  "Oh, sure, Captain America has been shot 18 times, stabbed, burned, crushed, and thrown out of an airplane, but... it's a Marvel movie.  He'll be OK somehow."

That really makes it hard to get emotionally involved in the struggles of the heroes.

I thought they were going to let us really be sad and feel the loss of Nick Fury, and for the period of time where he was dead, the film was more powerful for it.  But no, we have to stay superficial, and just when we were about to really pull on those heartstrings, the movie says "just kidding."

There were holes in the story big enough to fly a helicarrier through.

For example... Natasha Romanoff disguises herself as a diplomat to go to a meeting.  Only problem is... what happened to the actual diplomat?

Or how about Nick Fury, who has just been through a car chase involving multiple collisions and an explosion which flipped his car upside-down, but he's able to use some laser-digging thing to dig through the roof of the car, through the pavement, and make a tunnel into the ground, at a pace so fast that apparently The Winter Cheese figured it wasn't worth pursuing him (even though Fury would be trapped in there and one hand-grenade dropped down the opening would finish the thing), and without having to actually move any dirt (apparently he vaporized it, or something).

That's pretty impressive.  Or maybe it's just...

Speaking of aged dairy deliciousness, Marvel's got a big problem on the horizon.  They cannot keep up this raising-of-the-stakes forever.  In Hulk, a monster in the streets.  In Thor, an invasion by aliens. Captain America, Hydra's invincible army.  Iron Man- well, they've kept those stakes pretty believable, thankfully.  The Avengers, more and badder aliens and a helicarrier.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier- three helicarriers, each armed with weapons designed for mass extermination, by the command of the same dudes he beat in the last movie!!! 

And then in the easter egg scene, we see the same dudes that he's beaten in both movies... WITH THE ALIEN'S STICK!!!  And the guy says "this isn't the age of heroes... it's the age of miracles!"  OH NO!!!

That sums up Marvel's problem.  "Not just heroes, but superheroes.  Not just superheroes, but aliens.  Not just aliens, but miracles.  Not just miracles, but..."

It's already starting to get ridiculous.  I think this is probably tied to my question about the value of comic-films.  Once we leave the boundaries of reality and start to find satisfaction in the super-real, I think the long run effect is similar to that of drugs, sin, and adrenaline rushes.  It always has to be more, bigger, better.  Films like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Saving Mr. Banks find their meaning and the emotional impact of the story by taking us on a journey within the reality that God has placed us in and giving us another look at it, taking us a bit deeper into it, getting us a little more excited about it, giving us a greater appreciation for it.  But with movies like The Winter Soldier, where the satisfaction seems in some ways to be derived from how unreal and fantastical the story is- if every one has to get more unreal, more far-fetched, even broader in scope- if that is our standard of measure, we will reach a point where the only way a sequel can be better than the prequel is if it is also worse.  Because we aren't connecting with hearts and minds anymore- only bodies.  It's only a physical rush.  Kinda like rock music over against classical music.

OK, moving on from that, the bad guys are amazingly skilled in the million ways they find to miss the simplest targets.  It's really quite impressive.  I couldn't miss that shot if I tried.

I thought the film was too long by about four scenes; there were multiple points where it could have ended satisfyingly and powerfully, leaving the viewer wanting more, but instead they went with the "give the audience everything" approach.  I think a couple of good points for the film to end would have been:

- on the shot of Captain America laying on the shore where he had been dragged by The Winter Cheese

- after the Captain said "on your left" in the hospital room

Either of those would have concluded the story well, but left the audience saying "NOOOOO!!! It can't be over yet! Give me more!"

Which is always a good thing.

In Conclusion

If you like superhero movies, action flicks, and cheese, this is about as good as it gets.  I enjoyed the film a lot, and look forward to seeing it again, but while it's one of Marvel's best efforts it did not transcend the stereotypical limitations of the comic film and give us a story that takes us on a real and deep emotional journey.  Lots of fun, lots of flash-bang, a good message, but, unfortunately, not much more than that.

I will say, though, that if I ever pass you when I'm out running, it will most likely be...

"On your left."


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Exclamation Points

I've been blessed with amazing parents.  Sometimes I take that for granted.  As I get older, I begin to see that my parents are (gasp!) not perfect; sadly, because of my own sin, I am often like a man who leaves a five-star, fifteen-course meal and is only able to remember that the waiter forgot to put lemon in his glass of water.  Because I fail to see with the eyes of honor and of love and of a child who never questions that "my daddy can whoop your daddy," I so often miss opportunities to praise God and admire my parents.

It's not just a matter of imperfection, either.  I've always lived in a Christian home.  I've always been homeschooled.  From Square One, the reality of God and His Word has surrounded me.  I don't know what it's like to be fatherless.  To have parents who yell at each other.  To wake up every morning wondering if Mom will still be there, or if she's finally made good on that threat of leaving.  My parents aren't perfect, but as far as imperfect parents go, they are among the best.  Yet because I have dined at this five-star, fifteen-course meal every day for twenty years, I am too often deadened to the delicious taste and the amazing, deep satisfaction that it offers.

This isn't to say that I don't appreciate it- praise God, I do!- but rather to say that I don't want to be among the number of sons who realizes, as they say goodbye to their father or mother for the last time, that they didn't appreciate it enough.

"Grandchildren are the crown of old men, and the glory of sons is their fathers." (Pr. 17:6)

"Her children rise up and bless her..." (Pr. 31:28a)

Psalm 71 makes a beautiful and poignant statement about the duty of Christians to praise God for Who He is and for what He has done.  This is a primary way for Christians to glorify our Heavenly Father (also see 2 Cor. 4:15).

Are we not to do the same for our earthly father and mother?  Are we not to thank them and to bless them?  

This is why Mother's Day and Father's Day are so important.  I have been convicted of my failure to put the emphasis on these days that I should.  I have often neglected to buy gifts, make cards, do the sweet nothings, because it just didn't seem like that big of a deal to me.

Yet these are opportunities.  Memorial stones.  Exclamation points on the end of the 5th Commandment.  I don't want to miss them; I don't want them to pass me by like shooting stars in the sky above a text-messaging teenager.  

Praise God for His rich mercy, both in covering over and in sanctifying my weaknesses!

But, O God, give me the grace to take advantage of the opportunities that I do see!  And to see them more and more!  

Every time I write that card or buy that gift, that's another reinforcement of a habit and culture of honor.  A 5th-Commandment culture.  A blessed culture.  May God give us the grace to make that the culture of our homes.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go fill out a Father's Day card.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Love Thyself

2 Cor. 1:4: "...who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

It has been said that "you can't give what you don't have;" this thus explaining why we must love ourselves before we can love others, and presumably in this case why we must be able to comfort ourselves before we can comfort others.  But that is an unBiblical interpretation of a potentially true statement; "you can't give what you don't have" is true indeed, and we cannot give to ourselves what we do not have within ourselves any more than we can give it to others.

What's more, Scripture never says "love thyself."  We already love ourselves too much; learning to love myself is learning to be selfish, and that doesn't help anyone.  That's not really love at all.

No, we cannot give what we do not have; we must ask it of God, and as He loves us, we can love, and as He comforts us, we can comfort.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Desire and Reality

When I write music, many times I can hear in my head what I want the music to sound like.  I'll get excited, hardly able to bear the fact that before I can write the glorious conclusion that's already ringing out in my mind I have to write all of the music that will get me from where I am now to where I want to be then.  There is a gap, however temporary it may be, between my concept and the realization of that concept.

I was thinking about this yesterday, in light of all of the attempts to get computers to better understand us; maybe one day they'll get to the point where they are installed in our brains and all we have to do is think and they will do what we are thinking.  (Not saying I would want this to happen...)

So much of technology works to shorten that gap, and the shorter that gap becomes, the more powerful the person with the idea becomes; the less there is to overcome in bridging desire and reality, the more reality can be conformed to desire.

Yet, even then, the gap remains, because for our concept to be realized we still have to define it, to flesh it out, to make it realizable.  I doubt that Bach had a picture in his mind of "Invention No. 1 in C Major;" he had to figure it out, come up with the melodies, construct the harmonies, analyze the counterpoint.  So even if a computer could realize our thoughts instantly, we are constrained by our own finitude to work over the course of time.  We cannot go directly from concept to realization; we must do some amount of construction in-between.

And this, I think, is part of the power of God; for Him, "My purposes will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure;" "For He spoke, and it came to be."  

For the Almighty King of the universe, there is no gap between desire and reality.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Music Update

It's been a while since I've posted about my musical happenings.  Well, except for the post right before this.

Over the past month-and-a-half or so, I've had the pleasure of collaborating with friend and fellow composer Bradley Jamrozik on the score to the upcoming Border Watch Films documentary Refracted Glory.

Today we released the first official tastes of the soundtrack- including the first piece I've ever written with live violin.

The LORD blessed me with the opportunity to work with a dear friend, Matthew Duran, on this track; he is a very gifted violinist, and I'm thrilled with the end result of our collaboration.

Also check out Bradley's excellent track, and stay tuned for more updates from the Refracted Glory team!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Album - "Providence"

Now available from www.resoundingmusic.com - Music from the Founding Fathers Project which blends the stereotypical fife-and-drum sounds of colonial America with the heart-on-sleeve passion and orchestral grandeur of modern film music.

Buy it here.

Hear it here:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

A while back, Dad and I went to see the first one.

Today, we went and saw the second one.

Spoilers ahead, y'all.

The Art

The Good

The graphics were very good; the computer-generated baboons were realistic enough to not be distracting (which is tough).

It has to be hard to try to create a sequel that keeps the promises and fulfills the expectations that the prequel creates without feeling like an unnecessary "hey, the last one made money!" rehashing of the same old stuff.  The team behind Catching Fire did a passable job doing so.  While the scenes in the arena got a bit long in the tooth at a few points (monkeys instead of dogs, poisonous fog instead of Tracker Jackers, yadda yadda), there was enough newness to the story to still keep the film interesting, enjoyable, worth watching more than once- and certainly enough to catapult into another sequel (but only one more, please).

Speaking of the newness, I really enjoyed the interplay between tributes; lots of very interesting and engaging stuff there; it was fun watching people who would seem to be bad guys turn out to be good guys in the end, and while I saw most of it coming, it was actually kinda nice how it was hinted at throughout the film instead of going for the rather cliché, totally unforeseen twisty conclusion.

The arena design was very impressive.  Unique and interesting.  That place would make a very fun playground.

The music (James Newton Howard) was very good, as usual.  His composition style is very tasteful and almost dream-like in its smooth simplicity, and it fits the rough, almost surreal wold of The Hunger Games very well.  I did notice that the score sounded very similar to the first one, and while I enjoy continuity between films I would like to hear at least a little bit of variety.  But the scene with the kettle drums during the procession- A. Mazing.

The costume design was excellent, and while many films have excellent costume design that is hard to notice because it is so excellent, Catching Fire does not suffer from that problem.

The acting was all good, but this time around I was more impressed with Josh Hutcherson's abilities as an actor than I was in the prequel.  Jennifer Lawrence also did an outstanding job, and, since she is the film's central character, she had plenty of time and a huge variety of situations in which to display her acting abilities.

The variety of characters was nice, and the filmmakers managed to make the list of tributes in this film zany without being (very) cheesy.  Having a tribute pool that wasn't made up of just teenagers was also very nice.

The Bad

That said, it would have been nice to see more interaction, more inter-relational story- more Dickens.  We can get deeper than flirting and petty quarrels.

I will be addressing the romance issues in the worldview section below, but seriously, please, enough of the kissing and drama and stuff.  That's not what I came to the film for.

There were some moments of cheese, too; manufactured crises and miraculous solutions that pushed the limits of believability.  Combine that with "I almost lost you" romantic goop and it was definitely not helpful to the story.

As I mentioned above, at some points the film got a little old, because I had seen it before in the prequel.  The obligatory arena action stuff was far less engaging than the political espionage b-story.


I have three more words to add regarding the credits music. James, Newton, Howard.

The Worldview

The Good

I really enjoy the socio-political commentary that The Hunger Games provides.

Everything from the shallow, external-focused, plasticized facade of American culture...

...to the media wars waged by totalitarian governments...


...to the power of fear, hope, and the smallest symbols used wisely.

Eventually, the tyrants who put themselves in the place of God will be dethroned.  I'm really enjoying watching that happen in the world of Panem- and I'm also enjoying watching it happen at every stage in history, and continue to happen today.

This film provides a powerful and self-conscious example of the communicative power of aesthetics- down to the clothes that we wear.  It all sends a message.

Peeta seems a bit more manly this time around; less dependent on Katniss to take the lead, and more decisive and in charge.  It still would be nice to see him kill a few more baboons or something, though.

Katniss showed a good deal more selfishness and weakness in this film, and while I wouldn't consider those admirable qualities, it was nice that the film is not presenting the "teenage heroine who fixes everything through her super-genius-overwhelming-beauty-physical-prowess-invincibility-in-combat-amazingness."  Katniss seems real.  After watching the first film a few times, I began to like her a little less.  In this film, while not really becoming more likable, she became more lovable, because we got to know her a little more and see her struggles.

The Bad

Catching Fire seemed to push the content envelope, if not intentionally, certainly noticeably.  The bleeped-out F-words, the scene in the elevator which provided me with wonderful opportunities to study the theatre wall, and the statement about being an object of public lust were all a bit unexpected after the complete lack of such content in the first film.

Any review of The Hunger Games, I or II, would be remiss if it failed to address the problem of the killings.  It seems that the thought never crosses anyone's mind, even in the midst of uniting against the Capitol, that "hey, we could just, like, not kill each other!"  While we still see remorse and concern for the taking of life, we don't see anyone really refraining from taking life because of that remorse or that concern.  Killing people is just kinda assumed.

The ethical question of "why not?" which the first film failed to answer finds no more resolution now than it did in the first; if there is no God, there's not really any reason or rule for any of the ethical decisions presented in the film.

Also, Peacock-boy needs to put a shirt on... and a few ladies in the film could benefit from doing the same. The skin-tight clothing craze is something I'm quite tired of, speaking of modesty (I'm looking at you, Marvel.  You too, DC.).  Karate masters have done über-demanding physical feats for years in loose, flowing garments.  If our filmic heroes were really that good, they could do the same.

Aside from being a teen-centric, love-triangle-infused drama, The Hunger Games and Twilight have at least one other thing in common- they both found a convenient and justifiable way to get the heroine and a very good looking guy her age sleeping in the same bed.  For Bella, well, she was cold.  It was necessary for her health.  For Katniss, well, she was scared.  It was necessary for her sanity.

Which brings me to one of my biggest problems with this series- a problem which I failed to address in my review of the first film.  The world of The Hunger Games is built on a very implausible, very carefully constructed set of assumptions and events.

Every year, one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each district is chosen at random, put on public display and worshiped as demi-gods, and then thrown into a giant computer game in which they must kill each other or be killed- all without any choice on their part.

This provides a field-day for the teenage imagination, and the most dangerous part about it all is that given the circumstances, anything imaginable is pretty much justifiable.  You can pretend to be in love with whoever you want, because it might save your life.  You can kill people, because it's self-defense. You can be alone with the woman of your dreams day-in and day-out because hey, you're from the same district, and you need each other.  CPR and cleaning the blood off of her face (gently and tenderly, of course) and tearful embraces are all fair game.  You have to stay with her all night, because she's scared, and she asked you to, and what kind of jerk says "no, grow up and get over it"?!?

And technically, it's true; if I am by some act of Providence stuck on a desert island with a young woman my age who stops breathing, I'm not going to forgo doing CPR because it might ignite the fires of passion.  Goodness.  Grow up and help the girl.

So with the rest; self-defense is Godly and Biblical.  Putting on an act to save lives is perfectly fine, as the Hebrew midwives can attest.

But God bringing those situations to pass in His Providence is one thing.  That might happen, oh, once in a million teenagers, and when it happens, we can act in wisdom under the guidance of Scripture like responsible adults.  That's a far cry from building the perfect fantasy world in which the hormone-filled romance-hungry teenage mind can lawfully do all those things which we'd just love to be able to get away with if the situation arose.  That's a very dangerous thing.

Dear Christian young people, we cannot allow Hollywood to set our thought patterns.  Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ is not just about not thinking bad stuff- it's about thinking good stuff.  Daydreaming about rescuing Katniss or being rescued by Peeta, being worshiped by the upper crust of society or followed by the rebels who need a leader- it's a waste of thought-time that needs to be redeemed.

There's a real world that needs leaders.

Hollywood puts out a steady stream of opportunities for us to find temporary emotional satisfaction in... whatever.  Be a fan.  Watch another movie.

We don't have the time to do that.  There's a war on.  And we certainly don't have the time to let the time spent watching movies leak into our daydreams and thereby spend even more time watching movies- this time, with ourselves written into the script.


Saving Mr. Banks was better, but Catching Fire was an acceptable sequel to the first film in the series, and certainly left me ready to watch the next one.