Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Unbroken in Theaters Now

After reading Unbroken this year, I was pretty excited to see the movie. It's just such an incredible story of a man who endured weeks adrift on a raft at sea only to end up being tortured in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. The book goes into so much more detail about the kind of man Louis Zamperini was and how that affected his outlook during his trials than a movie ever could, so whether you see the movie first or not, I highly recommend you also read the book.

As much as I like Angelina Jolie, I admit I was a bit worried about her directing this film. She's fairly new to directing, and she's a woman (*Gasp* Did I just say that?). I don't think I'm being biased to say that women generally have different viewpoints than men. We're wired differently with different interests and concerns, and I wasn't sure how that might translate to the condensed and adapted telling of a survival story. Granted, a woman wrote the biography and did a fantastic job.

When I saw the movie was rated only PG-13, I wondered even more. It's not that I necessarily wanted to see all the torture, but I felt that to be true to the book, the story warranted a stricter rating. After having seen the movie, I am conflicted about the rating it was given. I do feel like the hardships of the POW camp were downplayed (or perhaps it was just that the sheer amount of them described in the book couldn't make it into a 137-minute movie, thereby easing the intensity of the whole ordeal), but I also think the subject matter was intense enough to justify an R rating.

Bottom line, the movie is accurate but just doesn't convey how impressive this story really is. In that way, it is like a PG-13 version of the book. Whether that's due to directing or the medium the story is told in or the time constraints, I don't know. Where I think Angelina Jolie and the actors did a fine job is in bringing out the characters and the emotions of the story. Jack O'Connell is a great Louis Zamperini, and the story hones in on the key aspects of his character that got him through the war.

(SPOILER alert) Before the movie came out, I'd heard that it didn't portray Zamperini's faith enough. And his faith, especially at the end, is kind of what seals the deal on this book for many. It's that last punch that makes a believer like me giddy with emotion. But I think the movie did it just right. It foreshadowed it and then ended where it needed to at the end of his physical trials, leaving a footnote on a black screen to tell you about how his faith enabled him to survive and forgive after the war. I thought it actually made a pretty big impact like that.

If you want a story that's a celebration of life in the midst of some of the worst life has to offer, a true tale of courage and heart with a solid redemptive finale, take it from a fiction reader...fiction has nothing on this.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Hacker is the third installment of The Outlaw Chronicles, a young adult series by Ted Dekker. See my reviews of the other two books here and here. Each novel generally focuses on a new person, but in Hacker, we get to see the continuation of one character's story from Eyes Wide Open, the first in the series, while we are also introduced to Nyah, a seventeen-year-old girl who hacks corporations to blackmail them into giving her a job. Basically, she shows them their weaknesses by hacking them and then fixes the problem, all to provide for her mother, mentally impaired in a car accident. But when Nyah messes with the wrong people, she is forced to run to a person who turned his back on her, to Austin who is dying from a brain tumor. Together, they attempt the impossible to find a cure for Austin and Nyah's mother. It's the biggest hack of all, and the clock on each of their lives is ticking.

For whatever reason, this book didn't impact me as deeply as the other books from the series or as much as most Ted Dekker books do. Don't get me wrong, it was still entertaining and meaningful. But the message from each of these books (yes, Dekker always has a message, but his books usually don't feel preachy) is essentially the same with only little variances. And I got the message better in the other books, especially in Water Walker, which is perhaps my favorite of the three, the message being one about identity and who we really are beneath the costume of appearance, intelligence, or whatever else we define ourselves by. Maybe I didn't get into this one because of the hacking terminology. It intrigued me but was a little over my head. Maybe it was character. I didn't identify with Nyah as much as with some characters. Maybe it was the plot which, while it moved fairly well, lacked a certain edge I've come to expect from Dekker's books. Maybe all those were fine, and I just wasn't into it this time. I haven't been doing as much reading here toward the end of the year. My mind is on other things.

Regardless, the series is good, and if you really want to get the full picture, start with Outlaw, which is awesome and kind of sets up the series, though it's also a stand-alone book. I'm looking forward to reading A.D.30 next, also a recently published novel from Ted Dekker but one that I expect to be quite different from anything of his that I've read before. It's the perfect time to read the fictional account of a person who lived through Jesus' days as we head into Christmas. And even after reading Hacker, I'm expecting quite a lot out of this next one.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Movie Quick Takes

Movie-wise, here's what I've been watching lately: lots of post-apocalyptic (I'm also into the CW show The 100), a generous helping of science fiction, and plenty of adventure. Life has been hectic, but I didn't want to let these go by without at least a few words.

Interstellar (In Theaters)
The world is dying, overrun by dust storms. People survive by farming, but crops are still dying out. A group of explorers goes through a mysterious wormhole in space in search of a new planet to call home. A father must choose between his daughter and the survival of humanity. Cool science fiction taken at a slow pace that does not feel labored, and at three hours, it doesn't feel too long either. Explores love's power over even the dimensions of space and time. Great acting! Stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and a host of other A-list names, some appearing only briefly. Definitely one to see in theaters, but hurry before it's gone! PG-13.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (In Theaters)
Katniss must choose whether or not to be used as a weapon against the Capital as she joins the rebellion in District 13. Meanwhile, the Capital's weapon is the boy she loves: Peeta. The movie is well-made and provides an interesting look at propaganda. (We watch a movie about people who create propaganda for TV, and we get to watch them watch their own propaganda and see the fallout of it. And isn't the message of these movies a sort of propaganda in and of itself? Have we got the message, or are we just glorifying everything the story is supposed to be against?) It's true to the book, which means it's also very depressing. The politics are interesting, but the movie just doesn't have the action appeal of the other two. Jennifer Lawrence and her co-actors are great, as always. I could watch Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks in their roles forever. I was slightly distracted by any scenes containing Philip Seymour Hoffman, remembering how he died before filming ended and wondering which parts were affected by that. PG-13. Two hours.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Now on DVD)
In the future, the X-Men have nearly been exterminated by unstoppable robot creatures created using mutant biology. The only way to stop them is to ensure they are never created in the first place. So, Wolverine is sent to the past to Professor X and Magneto's younger days in order to stop loose cannon Mystique from making a costly mistake. Fun romp. Great characters. Needed more Quicksilver. Enjoyed it very much, but a month or two later, I don't have lasting impressions. PG-13. Just over two hours.

Snowpiercer (On DVD)
The world is frozen over, and the only people alive ride a 1000-car (supposedly 1001, at least in the graphic novel, but in the movie, it looks much smaller) train that never stops and completes one circle of the globe every year. A group living in the slums at the back of the train tries to force its way to the front. This two-hour movie is rated R and is dark, disturbing, and graphically violent (but no sex). Its bleak ending has the barest sliver of hope. I wouldn't watch it again, but I found it intriguing. What would a world like that do to a person's psyche? Everyone is just a little touched by insanity. Chris Evans (known for his role as Captain America) stars as a much dirtier, darker, grittier kind of hero.