Sunday, June 8, 2014

Movie and TV show reviews: Enlisted, Walking Across Egypt, re-discovering The Brady Bunch

It's summer and time for a more relaxing entertainment regime. Many of us have vacations, or slower schedules at work with flex time. Movies, tv, and books can be enjoyed more than they can during a busier time of year. I'm still reading the biography of Charles Spurgeon I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I also enjoy the summer season of television programs.

I look forward to Masterchef, a reality cooking show that is nicer with less profanity than Hell's Kitchen, a similar show hosted by the same chef, Gordon Ramsay. I also watch Food Network Star, though I quit watching mid-season last year when the candidate chefs were just terrible on camera and worse cooks. But here I am back again. Maybe this crop can bake a decent souffle. In both Masterchef and FNS they try to keep it family entertainment and there are just a few swears sprinkled here and there, and very few double entendres. Though I noticed last year Masterchef film editors emphasized scheming and conflict between chefs more than they have in the previous 3 seasons. Masterchef Junior, though, was a rare treat and truly inspirational! I can't wait until it's back later this summer.

I also enjoy Longmire, a modern cowboy detective series set in Wyoming. With a small change of
clothes and horses instead of trucks, these sheriffs could be from the 1800s. There's no swearing and only a little blood by cop show standards, but the main objection I have is the heavy emphasis in some episodes to Native American spirituality and its ritual practices, shamanism, and animal totems.

I also enjoy Motive, a Canadian detective show that is structured like Columbo. The audience knows right away who will be killed and who did it. It's fun to watch the detectives' thinking process as they gather clues and narrow in on the correct suspect. I like it because they always catch the bad guy. They also show a range of motives for murder, which to me, are true to life in showing how sinful humans are.

I haven't watched Duck Dynasty for a season or so, it seemed to me to be getting kind of contrived. But I see from the promotional ads that Gov. Jindal is going to make an appearance on the show this summer. And truth be told, I kind of miss Uncle Si. Maybe I'll tune in again.

That's pretty much it for me with broadcast tv. I have been getting back into The Brady Bunch. LOL. I know, I know. I watched it when I was a kid, mocked it when I was a younger adult, and now I've renewed my interest since the woman who placed the character of Alice, Ann B. Davis, died last week. She was a born again Christian, you know. One thing that Hulu and Netflix and Youtube has brought us is the ability to see the pilot episodes. I love that. Usually when a new show comes on I don't notice. Then by the time I do notice, because it is getting good reviews, or it seems that it has developed a pattern of good entertainment with no profanity or sexual innuendos (harder to find these days) several years have gone by and I never see the "beginning" or the pilot episode.
Bradys in 1969, season 1

The other day I watched the first episode of The Brady Bunch, aired in 1969. The episode features the marriage of Carol to Mike Brady. It's really cute. As a bonus, I enjoy seeing the styles of clothes and home decorations as well. I used to hate the furniture on the show but now I'm loving seeing the chairs, couches, etc. Maybe not so much the paneling in the den or the orange countertop in the kitchen, though, lol.

As a person who lived through the time period in which the show first aired, it's like a homecoming for me, yet also from this adult perspective, I enjoy seeing a culture that is long gone. What culture? A stable, loving family with a working dad and a stay-at-home mom, kids who like each other, and no swearing or sexual innuendo. It's a perfectly safe show. So far. Unless Carol dabbles with feminism later, we'll see.
Bradys in season 5, 1974

For example, the third episode was about the smallest girl, Cindy. She was thrilled she had won the lead in the school play. Her entire family was happy for her. The mom and dad encouraged her, and the siblings were excited to attend and applaud her on. However a set of circumstances arose where the venue was going to be too small to allow all the children's entire families to attend, and each play participant had to choose one.

This genuinely crushed Cindy, who became sick over having to choose. Overwrought with the weight of having to choose one parent over another, she dropped out of the play. I thought about today's sitcoms, where if the same thing happened, the child would be pitting mom against dad in order to grab every privilege and toy they could wring out of the situation. Rather than love being warm and genuine, today's show would present a greedy, manipulative child- and the show would be applauding their cunning. At the very least, it would not be presented as such a weighty matter but simply a personal dilemma to solve to the child's best advantage.

I finished watching the 2006 show "Ugly Betty". I'd heard it was a sweet, sensitive story of a plain looking girl trying to make it in the fashion magazine editing business. I watched the first 8 or 10 shows of the first season. Then I quit. The first three episodes were good, as advertised. A loving and supportive family of a Latina gal gets a job in Manhattan in an unusual way. Her sweet spirit and integrity were the hallmarks of the episodes.

But then the show revealed a number of dark storylines. And by episode 10 I was overcome with darkness. Sure the sets were bright with pops of color and the wardrobes were brightly colored, but the show was dark, dark. Manipulation, scheming, homosexuality, lies, sadism, transgender, serial bed-hopping...Oy get me out of here. Sigh.

One television show I watched on Hulu was excellent. It's called Enlisted. Wikipedia's synopsis reports,
"Three very different brothers, each soldiers in the U.S. Army, find themselves all assigned to the same unit: the fictional A Company, 2nd Battalion, 618th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 18th Infantry Division (Mechanized), at the fictional Fort McGee, located in Florida. While the majority of the base is deployed overseas, the two younger brothers (Derrick and Randy) are assigned to rear detachment – the soldiers left behind to take care of the base. The oldest brother, Staff Sergeant Pete Hill, returns stateside from Afghanistan after punching a superior officer. He is assigned to supervise a platoon of misfits that includes his brothers. While working together, the brothers are able to renew and strengthen their childhood bonds."

The show has a small but hardy band of supporters, needed because the show was canceled. Boo. A show like Ugly Betty goes on for years but a show honoring enlisted soldiers is canceled right away. If you watch the  only ten episodes that exist, you're watching the beginning and the end of the show. The vocal group of the show's supporters was not enough to revive it, and it seems that the show will remain canceled for good.

I enjoyed the program because though some of it is silly, it never slides into mocking or hilarity at the expense of the soldiers. Overall the one thing that seems universally praised is that at root, the writers never make fun of soldiers, in fact, they portray serving our country as an honorable profession. The episodes I thought were the most affecting were 7 & 8, "Parade Duty" and "Vets". As far as culturally, some episodes show some cleavage, soldiers off duty drinking, and a few mild swears. Overall the bulk of the show is fairly clean, I thought.

A very bright spot was a movie that had been recommended to me called "Walking Across Egypt." It is a Christian movie involving a juvenile delinquent and a lonely older woman. The ever solid Ellen Burstyn is the woman who eventually takes in the troubled teen. Also starring is Judge Reinhold, Pat Corley as Sheriff Tillman Edward Hermann and Mark Hamill. The conclusion to the Wikipedia synopsis states, "Wesley (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), currently serving time in juvenile detention for a recent car theft. Mattie finds that this young man is just missing direction and believes that with a little insight on Christianity he can straighten up and fly right."

Themes are also Christian love, applying the bible to life, and hypocrisy. There are a few mild swears, included to show that the boy is a delinquent, lol. But that's it, nothing else objectionable. Watch, it's a sweet movie. It gives me hope that there still exist good movies to unearth and be nicely surprised by.

Here is a review of a current movie, Maleficent, from Good Fight Ministries. Your mind may at first balk at the lead sentence, but if you think it through you will see it is correct. Our pastor mentioned this last week. The themes in the Lion King for example, are anti-Christianity. Consider this overview of Disney movies in general before reading below specifically about Maleficent. It's from Berit Kjos in an article titled "The Spirit Behind the Lion King:"

"Betrayed, rejected, running from responsibility, growing strong through adversity... Disney's latest box-office hit, The Lion King, is full of Biblical parallels, colorful characters and personal struggles that help us identify with a lovable lion made in the image of man. But watch out! Behind the spectacular scenery and noble sentiments hides the timeless earth-centered view of reality that has always lured God's people from truth to myths. In other words, The Lion King - like Aladdin - demonstrates an alarming shift in values. While the old fairy-tale cartoons like Snow White linked sorcery to the evil characters, The Lion King uses tribal magic for "good."

Here are the first sentences of the Maleficent review. They echo the same sentiment, evil is now good. Though the words may seem jarring, they are correct. The drift from Disney's early days as reported in the above review of Lion King and reference to Aladdin is now ever darker as seen in Maleficent, as sin is wont to be.

Disney’s Maleficent Makes Satan the Savior
It is hard to overestimate Disney’s role in the moral decline of America, with its constant glorification of occult themes and its endless parade of train wrecks of child role models for millions of children (e.g., Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, etc).
...
The movie Maleficent is yet another example of how Disney influences millions of adults and children with darkness, by taking evil characters and making them into heroes and heroines. In Maleficent, Disney takes a notoriously wicked witch and turns her into a beloved character and even into the savior of the world. Maleficent is a movie that unfolds as though Lucifer were trying to tell his side of the story.

I don't watch much TV at all during the school year. The ads bother me, and there isn't much on that I like. Even PBS and The History Channel have a liberal agenda that ruins even the most vaunted of documentaries. By the time I get home from school in the afternoon, do my bible study, prayers, cook and eat dinner, and write a blog, it's time for bed. My remote control broke a few months ago and I haven't replaced it. There's no point.

I say this not to tout myself, but to set up the next comment. During the summer, especially the first week of summer vacation from school, I have a tendency to make up for it. I binge watch on my laptop. Because of the release from any schedule at all, it is actually easier to let bible study slide, and to tune in and mindlessly watch a show that I can view for its entire run. That's what happened with Ugly Betty. I watched a bunch of the episodes in a row.

In 1977 Jerry Mander, an advertising executive in San Francisco, published his book, "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television." Before we had the internet, men like Jerry Mander were the internet. They presented material that bucked the status quo and the only places you could find such material were dark and dusty book shops with towering aisles of precariously placed books. I loved it. These books and magazines in obscure independent bookstores provided to the marketplace of ideas concepts that were untouched from the pollution of societal norms. In 1977 the idea of eliminating television was intriguing to me. I read his book.

The argument I often gravitate to, though it is no less incriminating that the other three arguments, is the biological argument.

The biological argument against television is summed up here:
Argument 3 – TV physically conditions us for authoritative rule Here are some phrases commonly used to describe watching TV. It ’s a hypnotizing, energy- sucking, brain-washing, vegetative, concentration-killing, addictive, zombie-like, mind- destroying, mind-numbing dream-state that is a stupefying, cognition-killing, mesmerizing, colonizing, isolating, meditative, and yet somehow relaxing activity. And so we like it. NIH did a 3-year $5 million study on the effects of TV.  TV was found addictive and hypnotic. It stops thought similar to brain-washing; the study also noted other physical effects. The President suppressed the study and commissioned another group to re-do it. In 1977, Marie Winn wrote a book with anecdotal evidence of TV’s effects call ed “The Plug-In Drug.” It asserted that TV viewing by children was addictive, turning them into passive, incommunicative “zombies” who couldn’t play, couldn’t create, and couldn’t think clearly; they couldn’t solve problems and couldn’t fill their free time. It broke down family communication, and filtered even direct affection through the TV, to everyone’s harm. It is an instrument of “fixation technology,” and it aids in implanting imagery in the viewer.

After so many episodes of Ugly Betty I felt terrible. It was like when you diet and don't eat sugar or fat for a long time, and then you do, your body rebels in the instant overload. Absorbing so much sinfulness at once, albeit unwittingly, I ended up jumpy, nervous, at sixes and sevens, couldn't concentrate, and was very unhappy. Add to the likelihood that any television show will contain at least some elements of sin, and the spiritual layer of jumpiness and unhappiness increases exponentially.

None of this is news to any Christian. I did decide to quit watching the Betty show and to quit binge watching and to structure my day more formally so that I could accomplish good things for the kingdom and not devolve into a mind-numbed, unproductive puddle by the time school rolls around again.

Of course, the irony is in relating all this, it's still a blog post about movies and TV. Movies and TV are here to stay. Back in 1977 when Mander made his arguments, cable TV hadn't become the monolith it is now. Unlike the old days when all one had to do is unplug the TV and throw it onto the sidewalk and that was that, we now not only have television but laptops, iphones, and google glass. I know I'm going to watch something this week. It's the same for most people. After the yard work is done, and the kids are put to bed, and the bills are made out and the phone calls are finished, my eyes are tired and reading isn't an option all the time. It's easy to click on the remote and settle back into watching the tube. So if I'm going to watch something, I can decide to limit the amount of time I do, carefully decide what I watch, and scrupulously review beforehand what I choose to put in front of my eyes. My mistake with Betty was that I didn't do that. And I paid the price.

I hope my review of these few shows, Enlisted, Walking Across Egypt, Brady Bunch etc would spark your interest and perhaps you might find them suitable for your own entertainment fare. My goal of course is to reduce my TV watching to zero. By the grace of the Holy Spirit these days I am listening to more sermons and good music than I am watching TV or movies, a dramatic shift from even three years ago. Sanctification in progress, an eternity to get it right.


11 comments:

  1. ...and then there are sports. You got me started, Elizabeth--nice goin'. =;)

    I teach English in Taiwan, where the entire population of 23 million became screaming Yankee fans a few years back because of pitcher Wang Chien-ming. As a result, I can turn on the television and stumble across a Yankee game (live or replay--it doesn't seem to matter), and I am instantly sucked into an epic battle of Good (the Yankees) versus Evil (whatever gaggle of losers they happen to be playing). And when lucidity returns, I am mystified how something so meaningless can bore its way into my consciousness and take on world-altering importance.

    Ditto for NBA basketball, Grand Slam tennis events, etc.

    Although I am quite certain I am the only one out there reading this blog to whom any of this applies, one little tip I found seems to snap me out of it. I imagine I hear the trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 fame, and I'm like "Lord, wait! There's two on and two out in the ninth! Just a second!"

    Thanks for letting me share. I'm getting better.

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  2. Not much into movies ~ old retro sitcoms myself! Easy to get tired of, but little else on the tube holds any interest for me. Good site that "Good Fight" ministries (with an excellent review of the newest Disney WITCHCRAFT movie!) However, as I was going down their list of articles, unfortunately the site is VERY AGAINST a pre-trib rapture!!

    The IRONY of that? He pastors a church called, "Blessed Hope Chapel"!!

    I do know what you mean though about controlling our time better!! For me: if I'd spend half as much time actually reading the Bible as I do running around to all the prophecy sites!! ~ I'd be soo much better off!!

    REDEEM THE TIME is a scary command in my opinion (probably b/c I stink at it!) but WANT to do better!! Amen!

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  3. Thanks Reva and Greg, good words from both of you. I appreciate it.

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  4. Elizabeth! When I was a little girl I used to page through my grandparents' photo albums and inevitably I'd get to a page with pictures of Alice from the Brady Bunch standing around their pool. My grandparents said she visited their church in Florida and stayed with them for a couple of days. They just called her Ann, of course, not Alice. :) When I read that she died I was texting a friend about our family's little brush with fame and laughing about it, especially now that I'm all grown up with 3 sons and 3 daughters wondering why I don't have Alice. Thanks for the tidbit about her being a born again Christian. I was curious as to why she had visited my grandparents' church. Guess I could have checked Wikipedia but it was much more fun learning it from you. Melissa S.

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    1. FUnny about your grandparents! I read that Ms Davis left Hollywood behind eventually and devoted herself to her church and a quiet life. She was unmarried and ended up moving in with her pastor and his wife, and several other older single Christianmladies. It was the pastor who had found her. He said in an interview that she wasn't Hollywood at all, what you saw was what you got. And she gave most of it up. Except her Porche ;)

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  5. Just watched Walking Across Egypt. Great movie! Thanks for all you do Elizabeth, I read your blog everyday. God Bless you, and have a beautiful day !!

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    1. You're welcome Karmen! I'm glad you enjoyed the movie :)

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  6. Another outstanding blog Elizabeth!
    You always seem to write about the very things that are on my mind or that are a concern to me.
    It's like having another like-minded kindred spirit out there.
    I gave up TV years ago, before I was a Believer even. It just made me ill, all the debauchery and annoying commercials.
    I do have Netflix on demand so I can choose movies to watch.
    It's so true, any media, if not checked, can become a mind-sucking, time wasting compromise of your life.
    I know there are probably many good shows and educational channels, butI am not willing to wade through the junk to get to them.
    It's freeing not to have TV!
    Thanks to you Elizabeth, yet again,for being spot on with your posts and so biblically learned and authentic!
    You are so appreciated, especially in these dark and deceptive last days!
    Lord bless you,
    Heather

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  7. Thank you Heather! I agree, it would be freeing to dispense with a television in the house. You're a more mature person than I, because I know this but haven't had the courage to make the jump yet :)

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  8. Hate to burst your bubble....but we talk about the good old days when shows were "clean." Well, not so fast...I think we were being set up. Here are just a few examples. In the 60's we had The Andy Griffith Show, in the 70's it was The Brady Bunch, and in the 80's it was The Waltons. All very popular shows, family shows. Many people love them and watch even now. They are all considered to be above reproach. What's the problem? Every single one of these shows had a sodomite(homosexual) main character. Jim Nabors (Gomer) lives on a plantation in Hawaii, and has for years, with his now "wife." Robert Reed (father on Brady Bunch) died HIV positive in 1992 and Will Geer (Grandpa on the Waltons) was a sodomite activist and a former lover of Harry Hay a radical homosexual Marxist. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg. We need to wake up. On another post you said Beth Moore was wrong in everything she said in her so-called commissioning. I agree with you mostly, but I do know that one thing at least was right - we do have an enemy. We forget that. And this world is under his control for the time being. He is both stronger and smarter than we are. He is actively working and deceiving millions.

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    1. You mean...gasp!... the actors playing those parts were...SINNERS? My bubble is burst!

      LOL, anonymous, it is a tragedy that the actors you mentioned were homosexual, and when they died if they had not repented, they would be in hell now, as it was for each of the actors and actresses who played those parts.

      However I disagree with you that the shows weren't cleaner. They were. None of the story lines that I can remember or have seen recently, featured homosexual characters, nor did they heartily applaud the activity in any of the story lines.

      The stories presented were full of family values, clean living, and remorse when sin did occur. Story lines are the opposite today. Clean living is mocked, and no one usually shows remorse over sin. So in that regard, it was the good old days.

      If you watch a movie or a tv show, do you investigate the biography of the actor to make sure they are living a Christian holy life so when you watch their movie or show you can be assured it is clean? When you choose a book, do you do the same for regarding the author? There is a line to be drawn in separating from the world, and living in the world and not being of it.

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