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'Paper Towns' Misses the Point of a Failed Teen Romance

Paper-Towns-Movie-PicturesThe trailers for “Paper Towns” lead you to believe Quentin’s (Nat Wolff) love for Margo (Cara Delevingne) is epic. It prompts him to do epic things because she is his “miracle.”

This sort of thing is nothing new, really. I’m a few years past beloved YA author John Green’s target audience, but even in the coming-of-age stories of my day, high school was a little more epic, first love a little more theatrical, and figuring out “who am I?” a little more narratively pat (with a beginning and an end point) than what I actually experienced.

That hasn’t changed in young adult fiction today, and Green’s “Paper Towns”—first a novel and now a movie—is a prime example. Youth is dramatic precisely because young people lack the perspective of experience: They’re doing almost everything for the first time. The best young adult novelists tap into that heightened drama.
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Harper Lee's Controversial Novel Challenges Us to Take Responsibility for Our Own Beliefs

51fGhOk4bLL._SX348_BO1204203200_Go Set a Watchman opens with 26-year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returning to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama, for a two-week vacation from her job in New York. There, she anticipates spending time with her 72-year-old father, Atticus, her judgmental aunt Alexandra, and her close friend and would-be fiancé, Henry, whom the novel assures us is “one of her people.”

Knowing who your people are, Jean Louise learned while growing up in the Deep South, is integral to who you are and what you believe. This adage will ring even more true when Scout learns some unpleasant truths about the man whom she—like so many of us readers—has adored and looked up to all her life: her father, Atticus.

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'Pixels' Is for '80s Kids Who Are Still Kids at Heart

Pixels-2015-Movie-PhotosOnly sloppy nerds can save the day when giant Pac Man ravages the streets of New York. No, you are not on LSD—this is the premise of a full-length feature film. Adam Sandler in all his glory, complete with five o’clock shadow, bedecked in his shabbiest shorts and polo shirt, strides into the Oval Office, insults the Joint Chiefs, and solves humanity’s problems. Sure, there’s humor, romance, a half-decent plot, and eye-popping ’80s video game action, but “Pixels” sets a record for silliness.

The film focuses on Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), a good, honest, gifted video game nerd who grew up playing Pac Man and has a knack for figuring out the patterns behind old-fashioned pixelated games. Today, he installs your XBox for a living. In short, he's a failure—until his childhood game skills become vital to national security.
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'Mr. Holmes' Gets the Important Things Wrong

mr-holmes-movie“Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales.” Thus Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson, criticizing Watson’s romanticized accounts of Holmes’s detective work in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.”

In the new film “Mr. Holmes,” an older Sherlock Holmes has this to say: “Death, grieving, mourning—they’re all commonplace. Logic is rare.” “Mr. Holmes” joins the debate that began between Watson and Holmes in Doyle’s stories and has raged through adaptation after adaptation: Human feeling and stories? Or logic? Or more specifically, what should we think about Holmes’s absolute conviction that only the latter should be considered?

Unfortunately, as it attempts to contribute to this debate, “Mr. Holmes” falls flat on its face.
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'Ant-Man' Focuses on Family

antman-scott-lang-and-cassieFor all its spectacle and heroics, more often than not at its core the Marvel Cinematic Universe is deeply concerned with the notion of family. This search for family—and by extension, a sense of belonging and purpose—often finds its initial impetus in the complex relationships between parents and children. From the rivalry of Shakespearean proportions that springs from Loki and Thor’s quest for Odin’s approval, to Tony Stark’s tension-riddled relationship with his father, Howard, these films resonate beyond the spectacle.

The heroes of these films are flawed, and yet these imperfect individuals answer the call to be brave, to stand in the gap for those who cannot defend themselves. “­Ant-Man” is arguably Marvel’s most straightforward examination to date of what drives the unlikeliest—and smallest—of individuals to rise above expectations and assume a heroic mantle of leadership.
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'Trainwreck' Tries to Have Its Cake and Eat It Too

ct-trainwreck-movie-review-amy-schumer-20150713_1After seeing “Trainwreck,” I think Amy Schumer might be the Nora Ephron of our era. Schumer’s brand of romantic comedy is far raunchier than iconic Ephron works such as “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally,” but ultimately explores the same themes, with a similar light touch and optimism for traditional happy endings.

Schumer, who regularly skewers female stereotypes in her comedy, nevertheless in her first screenplay seems to share Ephron’s ideas of what women want. To shamelessly paraphrase “The Dark Knight, Schumer provided the romantic comedy our culture deserves, but not necessarily the one we need.
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'Self/less' Manages to Convey One Memorable Message about What Matters

selfless_2God created man. Man created immortality. --Tagline for "Self/less"

Death has some side effects. --Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, first. The film "Self/less" is really nothing more than a typical, by-rote thriller that barely scrapes the surface of exploring the ethical questions that are its selling point. It is a film that aims higher than it can actually attain with the rather predictable narrative with which it propels itself forward. The ideas—as is often the case—require more time to flesh out and be absorbed by the audience than the average two-hour runtime can afford.

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The Tempting but Frustrating Quest to Make Fictional Worlds Perfect

maxresdefaultSpider-Man is back. For the third time in a little over a decade, the web-shooting superhero is being rebooted for the big screen. After the February 2015 announcement that a deal with Sony would allow the character to finally enter the seemingly all-encompassing Marvel Cinematic Universe, extensive speculation ensued about the tone of the reboot and the actor who would take on the role.

Almost immediately, fans and press entities suggested potential choices, popular options being “Teen Wolf’s” Dylan O’Brien and Donald Glover of “Community” fame. Glover, in particular, garnered support from those who desired to see an African-American or other minority actor in the role. Instead, when Sony and Marvel finally made their announcement in late June, the role had gone to English actor Tom Holland of the critically acclaimed period piece “Wolf Hall.”

For some, the idea of a fresh face with whom many Americans are mostly unfamiliar was a welcome one; for others, Holland’s racial and ethnic similarity to what is perceived as the superhero status quo was deeply troubling, even enraging. The response to Holland’s casting echoed earlier responses to the casting of currently ubiquitous Brit Benedict Cumberbatch as both Star Trek’s Khan and Marvel’s Doctor Strange, roles that many fans and commentators felt should belong to minority actors.

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Longing, Forgiveness, and Freedom in 'Testament of Youth'

ToY.jpgThe new film “Testament of Youth” is based on Vera Brittain’s bestselling reminiscences of the Great War. Hers was the first widely read first-person account of the women’s experience, as World War I stole so many young British men from their homes and hearths and sent them to bloody deaths.

The film begins with a coming-of-age story. Young Vera (Alicia Vikander), her brother Edward (Taron Egerton), and their friend (and Vera’s almost-suitor) Victor (Colin Morgan) are splashing about, carefree, in a lake near Vera’s family residence in Buxton. Vera would like more than anything to follow her brother and his friend back to Oxford for the next term, and attend the ladies’ college there. Upon arriving home, however, she learns that money that would have paid for a semester of academia has been used to buy her a piano. Outraged, Vera makes a scene in front of her parents (Dominic West and Emily Watson) and stomps to her room. While her father worries Oxford will turn her into a “bluestocking,” Vera wants more than to “hitch herself to a man.” But at this point in her life, the best she can hope for is independent study and a proper marriage.
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A Fresh Perspective on Apologetics from Os Guinness

9780830836994Nothing frustrates me more than an inability to communicate. And, in this highly secularized culture dominated by anti-Christian values, being an effective Christian communicator has likely never been harder in the history of our nation. I hardly know how to approach apologetics and evangelism anymore. The amazing biblical truths I have to share hold such weight, however, that failing to present them to those around me is one of the worst failures I could possibly make as a disciple of Christ.

This frequently leads to a state of tension and a feeling of being stymied. No one seems to really care about truth anymore, and how can you explain the truth of God’s Word with people who think everything is up to opinions? No one wants to be preached at either, so how do you tell someone that their beliefs are wrong and that they need Jesus without offending them or scaring them off? And what if I’m an ineffective debater and can’t win any of the arguments? They’ll never come to Christ that way. It will only drive them away.

Enter Os Guinness’ newest book, “Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.” In this book, Guinness acknowledges the fact that Christians have forgotten the art of Christian persuasion, even though now—in the age of the Internet—effective communication is more crucial than ever to our witness. He urges a reunion of apologetics and evangelism, saying that they should never be treated as completely different entities. Rather, these two disciplines must go hand in hand, because our goal as Christ’s disciples is to win people and not arguments. Persuasion is an art that requires a lot more than a simple cookie-cutter approach. We’re dealing with people, not play-dough.
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With All Its Faults, America Still Deserves Our Respect

9151451-new-tattered-flag-When I got up this morning, the first day of the extended Independence Day weekend, #NothingMoreAmericanThan was trending on Twitter. You can probably guess the general tone of the tweets without my help, but I'll give you just a few examples anyway:

#NothingMoreAmericanThan invading sovereign nations and killing half a million innocent civilians

#NothingMoreAmericanThan incorrectly using "freedom of speech" to justify hateful, bigoted and harmful "opinions"

#NothingMoreAmericanThan being "pro-life" but love guns and hunting animals

#NothingMoreAmericanThan Wrapping all your prejudice, bigotry, homophobia, etc. in a flag made in China and calling it "patriotism".

Happy birthday, America.
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Two New Versions of 'Madame Bovary' Miss the Point

bovaryBeautiful and boring, the new adaptation of “Madame Bovary” from director Sophie Bartes does a severe disservice to one of the great works of 19th-century literature. Perhaps that’s because, whereas the book's depiction of its central character has a satirical edge to it, the film’s creators don’t seem to understand why she might be worthy of satirizing.

The whole point of Gustave Flaubert’s most famous novel is the danger of getting caught up in romantic daydreams at the expense of everyday life. As a member of the realist school of thought, he was showing what unrestrained romanticism can do to a person. Thus, in the book, we’re told early and often that Emma Bovary is mad about romantic novels and takes them far too seriously, with the result that she has a badly distorted image of what life and love are supposed to be like. As Karen Swallow Prior puts it in "Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me":

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Thinking Through the Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage

ID-100256429This symposium consists of both statements sent directly to the Colson Center, and excerpts of articles published elsewhere. Keep checking back for updates, as we will be adding more statements over the next few days!

Ryan T. Anderson, The Daily Signal:

"We must work to restore the constitutional authority of citizens and their elected officials to make marriage policy that reflects the truth about marriage. We the people must explain what marriage is, why marriage matters, and why redefining marriage is bad for society."

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'Inside Out' Has an Upside-Down View of Man

Inside-Out_1000Have you ever wondered where those voices inside your head come from? Have you ever thought maybe—just maybe—you're not imagining them?

Well, Disney-Pixar wants to introduce you to those voices—in the form of tiny people—in their new animated feature “Inside Out” (rated PG). It may be a movie for kids, but like most children's stories that tug on adult heartstrings, this one has a lot to say about the grown-up world. Fair warning, though: These voices inside your head can get a little emotional, because—well, that's what they are.

Using a visual metaphor that's as delightful as it is creative, the animation veterans behind everything from “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” to “Finding Nemo” and “Up” make it look easy. Despite a five-year dry spell broken only by “Brave,” which disappointed many fans and critics, Disney-Pixar is proving they're still the best team in animation. And if this film ages, as most of this studio's work does, like a fine wine, then “Inside Out” will take its place in the pantheon of Pixar's most iconic hits.
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'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' Offers a Powerful Story with a Weak Source of Hope

lead_960Boasting a filmmaking style similar to that of the much-loved, much-hated classic “Napoleon Dynamite,” the new movie “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” features an off-beat mix of crude high school humor, adolescent awkwardness, and touching moments. Even though off-color jokes and bad language nearly drowns out the characters and themes, this summer flick still manages to pack a punch with its moving story and unabashed examination of the human experience. Despite a plethora of tear-jerking moments, this film has its share of laughs and manages to leave its audiences with a sense of hope and beauty—although the reason for that hope and beauty receives no satisfactory explanation within the movie itself.

The unlikely star of this film is Greg (Thomas Mann), a high school senior. Self-diagnosed as “terminally weird” and “innovatively stupid” when it comes to relationships, Greg survives by flying under the radar. He makes himself visible just enough to be accepted by each of the diverse cliques at the school but not enough to actually consider anyone his “friend.” Greg even insists that Earl (RJ Cyler), his only actual friend, is just his co-worker. Since kindergarten—when Greg’s wacky sociologist father (Nick Offerman) first introduced them to foreign films—Greg and Earl have been making cheap parodies of classic films together, so Greg can get away with calling him that.
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