Review: Fireproof (dir. Alex Kendrick, 2008)

Two years ago, there was a big controversy when Facing the Giants, an ultra-low-budget movie produced by a church in the Bible Belt, was rated PG, allegedly for its spiritual content. Pundits and politicians railed against the MPAA and its ratings board for its perceived bias against religious themes, and moviegoers rallied to the film’s defense at the box office, making it one of the most successful Christian movies of all time. But as the debate over the movie’s rating subsided, another controversy emerged. Some Christians praised the film for its positive, family-friendly values, while others condemned it as bad art, a bad story badly told that would only encourage the worst artistic instincts of the evangelicals who saw it.

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Interview: Kirk Cameron

Kirk Cameron may be best known as a former teen idol and as one of the stars of the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains. But over the past decade, he has been cultivating another, very different fan base, as the star of several Christian movies — including the Left Behind series and Miracle of the Cards — and as an evangelist with The Way of the Master, a ministry he shares with Ray Comfort.

Cameron, who turns 38 in October, became a Christian while still in his teens, and he has been married to the actress Chelsea Noble — who he met when she guest-starred on Growing Pains — since 1991. He recently published a book about his life and career, called Still Growing: An Autobiography (Regal).

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Indiana Jones and the Deadly Blather / Notes on the devolution of a franchise.

“Didn’t any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?” So said Indiana Jones to a couple of bemused military intelligence agents in Raiders of the Lost Ark, easily the top-grossing film of 1981 and one of the greatest action movies ever made. And thus producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg seemed to make explicit what had only been implicit in the handful of films that they had made over the previous few years — films that had captured an entire generation’s spiritual imagination.

Lucas, of course, had helped to revive interest in the power of myth with his space-opera throwback, Star Wars (1977), and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980); the latter was particularly heavy on the spiritual development of its hero, Luke Skywalker. Some Christians, keen to capitalize on the franchise’s popularity, even went so far as to draw extensive analogies between the first movie and the biblical narrative; the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was betrayed by his disciple, and died, and continued beyond death as a counsellor to Luke was, of course, key to their interpretations.1 Spielberg, for his part, had directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, re-edited and re-released in 1980), a film about aliens that spoke very strongly to the longing for enlightenment from above; in both images and dialogue, the film even made indirect references to the story of Moses and his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.2

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The Church Behind Fireproof / How a Baptist church in Georgia became a movie-making mecca

For several years the members of Sherwood Baptist Church have had a vision: “To touch the world from Albany, Georgia.”

And thanks to the power of mass media, this church of about 3,000 members — located in a city of only 80,000 or so — has been able to do just that.

Through its media ministry, the church has already produced two feature-length films with an all-volunteer cast and a mostly-volunteer crew. Given their incredibly low budgets, both films — especially Facing the Giants — have been enormously successful, in theaters and on DVD. Both films have also been distributed to over 50 countries around the world in a dozen subtitled languages.

Now the church is putting the finishing touches on its third film, Fireproof, which opens on September 26. This time the folks at Sherwood are working with a budget of $500,000 — still peanuts by Hollywood standards, but five times the budget of Giants — and they even have a professional Hollywood actor, Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains and Left Behind fame, in the lead role as a firefighter whose marriage is in trouble.

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Review: Tropic Thunder (dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

Very few people saw Empire of the Sun when it came out 21 years ago, and possibly even fewer people remember it. But the effects of that World War II film — one of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated efforts — live with us still. It introduced the world to a 13-year-old kid from Wales named Christian Bale, who has since conquered the box office as The Dark Knight. It also featured a young man named Ben Stiller, in one of his very first roles, as a prisoner of war named Dainty. And it was while working on that film that Stiller first got the idea for Tropic Thunder.

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Review: The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008)

FOR YEARS, the people who write the Batman comics and movies have been drawn to the theme of insanity. The Joker is wild, of course, and so are many of the other villains; and it is often suggested that a billionaire like Bruce Wayne must be crazy on some level too, if he feels compelled to wear a bat-shaped costume every night just so he can prowl the streets looking for criminals to terrorize.

Thankfully, the two Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan have so far avoided this cliché. Instead of dwelling on the inner psychology of Batman, they have explored the social implications of the character, using him as a lens through which to raise profound questions about the nature of authority, the value of myths and the lengths to which any civilization should go in protecting itself from evil.

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