Sunday, August 29, 2021

True vs. False Friendship and Resisting Temptation: A Faith- Based Look at an Episode of "Salute Your Shorts."

 Hi friends, and welcome back to the Nightcrawler Experience!
Summer's nearly over (At the school where I work, the school year has officially begun already), but since August still has a few days left, it's technically still summer, and I have a summer- themed entry on the Nightcrawler Experience for all of you.
 As you know, summer is the time when, among other things, kids and teens nationwide head off to summer camp! Admittedly, most camps cancelled everything last year due to the pandemic, but now that that's on its last legs, many reopened this summer!
To that end, I'll be looking at a pop- culture offering which takes place at a summer camp!

When I was a kid, there was a TV show on Nickelodeon that I liked a lot which dealt with summer camps, and I had been reminded of it recently due to my Instagram friend and fellow 90's nostalgia devotee Brett Wilson celebrating its 30th anniversary: It was called "Salute Your Shorts."
While it only ran for two seasons, it was aired in reruns for quite a few years after that, and was a very entertaining show remembered fondly by most people of my generation.
It takes place in a summer camp known as "Camp Anawanna," and centers around a group of young campers there and the various exploits and misadventures they have. While the kids were almost all cliched characters, they were nevertheless funny and likable. They included sports- obsessed tomboy Telly, smart- mouthed bully Bobby Budnick, gentle hippy girl Zeezee, the tubby but generally good- natured Eddie "Donkeylips" Gelfin, and hyperintelligent nerd Eugene "Sponge" Harris, among others, all under the watchful eye of authoritative head counselor Kevin "Ug" Lee (Ug- Lee, get it?). The show's title comes from the fact that Budnick likes to "Welcome" new male campers to the camp by hoisting a pair or two of the new guy's underwear up the camp flagpole.


                  (Hey, most camps have their strange traditions and hazing rituals; Credit for this image goes to the user ThrustSSC on the Nickelodeon wiki at https://nickelodeon.fandom.com/wiki/Salute_Your_Shorts?file=SaluteYourShorts.png)


I recently rewatched an old episode that I got a lot out of, called "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In."
In this episode, the two title characters both sign up for a big wrestling tournament held among the various camps in the area, in which the champions get a trophy AND a free lobster dinner at a fun seafood restaurant (Considering that the camp's normal food is practically inedible, that's an especially tempting prize). The others at first mock Donkeylips and Sponge seeking to do this, with Budnick referring to the two of them as "Moby Dick and Captain Wuss" respectively, but we quickly see that they actually are suprisingly good contenders; Sponge is able to use his brains and speed to take down anyone in his weight division, and Donkeylips' strength, endurance and sheer bulk make him practically unbeatable.
There's a big problem, however: The two of them may not be able to qualify for the wrestling tournament, as Donkeylips is five pounds heavier than the maximum weight limit, and Sponge is five pounds lighter than the minimum weight limit.
They refuse to give up, though, and the other campers do what they can to try and help Donkeylips lose enough weight and Sponge gain enough weight for them both to qualify. Meanwhile, Budnick pressures the duo into picking up a big food order for the other campers from a nearby burger joint so no one will have to eat the repulsive camp dinner, and they nearly get caught by Ug several times in the process. It all leads up to the final weigh- in and a genuinely heartwarming ending.

While not my favorite episode of the series (That distinction would go to the hilarious yet also surprisingly scary episode "Zeke the Plumber"), "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In" comes in at a close second. It really had a lot going for it:
First, there's the fact that Sponge has always been my favorite character on the show (He's the character I could relate to the most, especially when I first saw the show as a kid), and Donkeylips is pretty high up there too, as he tends to have most of the funniest lines and scenes in the series. So, an episode largely centering around the two of them is guaranteed to be a winner in my book.
This episode also sticks out in a very good way because it is a real turning point for Donkeylips. Up to this point in the series, he was usually just portrayed as the token fat guy and Budnick's goon; Here, though, we see that he is a much more complex character than that. He points out that he wants to enter and win the wrestling tournament not so much for the lobster dinner (Though he brought along a cool monogrammed claw- cracker for it), but more for the trophy. See, we learn that his parents are generally disgusted with him, and he only really impresses them when he brings home trophies, and wrestling is all that he's currently good at. With that kind of a home life, it's unsurprising that he is so desperate to qualify for the tournament. He also shows he has ambitions, as he at one point tells Sponge that he dreams of one day becoming a football player and having his face on cereal boxes.
As is usually the case for the show, there's a lot of humor in this episode. There's a funny recurring joke in which Donkeylips and Sponge high- five, then the small- framed Sponge loudly says "OW" at how hard the high- five was. There's also an amusing scene when Telly attempts to help the boys get into shape through a regimen in which Donkeylips must run a mile around the camp grounds, while Sponge sits in the bunk and eats twenty bananas. The sight of Donkeylips lumbering around camp as fast as he can (which isn't saying much) while Sponge forces down bananas is made even funnier by the silly, clownish music played in the background during this scene.
Another bonus to this episode is the surprising amount of action/ tension it has. This particularly shows during the segment when the duo have to pick up the other campers' burgers from the food stand and run into various major challenges. First, they nearly lose half of the money to pay for the order due to Donkeylips having a hole in his pocket. Then, they almost get nailed by Ug, who has a VERY strict "No outside food" policy and is the sort of jerk who practically leaps at the opportunity to punish the campers for any infraction (In season 2, Ug thankfully softens a bit, cuts the campers a little more slack, and becomes a funnier, goofier character in general). The whole scene really will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Lastly, it's also quite nice to see the genuine friendship that the two boys develop with each other, in spite of how different from each other they outwardly appear to be. They work together as a team to achieve their goals, look after each other, and encourage each other when things look bleak. It's a friendship that I'm happy to say they seem to keep through the rest of the series, as the episodes after this one often show the two of them getting along much better than they did in the episodes before it.

In short, "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In" is simply a great episode of a classic Nick show, well worth a watch. It should be available to watch on Youtube and Dailymotion, as well as on the streaming site Paramount Plus (Though there the episode's listed under its alternate title of "Cheeseburgers in Paradise"), check it out.



At least a couple Scriptural lessons occurred to me during a recent rewatching of "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In." The first is relating to loyalty and the difference between a false friend and a true one.
As I said earlier, one of the episode's main strengths is the really nice friendship that Donkeylips and Sponge develop with each other. This is in marked contrast to the MUCH more toxic "friendship" Donkeylips occasionally has with Budnick. That is one with Budnick pretty much always calling the shots, forcing Donkeylips to aid him in his assorted scams, pranks, and all- around meanness, with Donkeylips often ending up in big trouble as a result. A dialogue exchange in this particular episode as Budnick is trying to coerce Donkeylips and Sponge into picking up the burgers for him exemplifies this:
Budnick: "(To Donkeylips) Do you remember the last thing I did for you?"
Sponge: "(To Budnick) He got busted by Ug, and you ran!"
Budnick: "Yeah, well, this is different! If I don't get those burgers into camp by tonight, you're gonna be ground beef!"

See, Budnick is very much a "user," the sort of person who feigns friendship with others, but really only sees them as pawns to help himself get what he wants without caring how his actions affect them. Then, as we see here, when he gets called out on it, he shows his true colors by next resorting to outright threats.

Sponge, on the other hand, proves to be a true friend genuinely concerned with Donkeylips' well- being. He does all he can over the course of this episode to help Donkeylips keep his spirits up and focus on his weight- loss goal, acting as a great source of encouragement for the big guy. One scene that especially drives this home is near the episode's climax; After the incident with the burgers, the other campers then threaten Donkeylips and Sponge into ALSO helping to take out their garbage from it, like the wrappers and things. While they are walking to the dumpster, Donkeylips' bag gets snagged on a tree branch and tears open, with the wind scattering its contents all over the ground. Seeing this, Donkeylips miserably says, "GREAT! Just when things are going my way, I get this! GARBAGE! ALL MY LIFE IS GARBAGE!" Undaunted, Sponge calmly says, "So, pick up your life and stuff it back in its trash bag." Rather than let Donkeylips wallow in self- pity, Sponge did what a good friend should do under the circumstances, convince him to chin up and do what needs to be done. Because of that, they were able to pick up all the spilled trash just in time to once again narrowly avoid being caught by Ug.

Then, in the very end of the episode, when Donkeylips learns he made the weight limit and qualified for the wrestling tournament after all (The scale was off, and led him to initially think he didn't lose enough weight), he joyously says, "I get a trophy, AND the lobster?" Sponge then happily adds, "AND a good buddy to go with you!" Both boys came to realize that the true greatest prize of their efforts wasn't the trophy, the lobster dinner, OR getting themselves into better physical shape: It was the friendship they developed with each other.

I'd say these two contrasting friendships (The false friendship Budnick offers, and the true friendship Sponge shows) are a great demonstration of Proverbs 18:24, which says that "One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." We all need to try and recognize and keep away from manipulative false "friends" who just want to use us and lead us into trouble, and instead seek out true friends who will look out for us, encourage us, and help us become better followers of Jesus, and whom we can do the same for. 



Another strong Scriptural lesson that can be taken from "Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In" relates to determination, resisting temptations that could lead us astray or hinder us in achieving our goals. Since the previous lesson used Sponge as an example, it’s fitting that this one in turn should use Donkeylips. See, near the episode's climax, when Donkeylips and Sponge manage to get the other campers their food orders, the gang doesn't have long to enjoy them: Ug is soon seen walking in the direction of the bunk where they're at (That guy REALLY gets around). Budnick frantically tells the other campers to eat the evidence, so they all begin rapidly stuffing down their food. One of them gives Donkeylips a burger so he can help with this, but he refuses and says, "Not after all this hard work!" Considering that Donkeylips is a guy who LOVES food, for him to turn down a tasty burger, even when eating it would help save himself and others from getting in trouble, showed amazing restraint from him and determination to meet his weight- loss goal. That's a really good example for us as Christians. 1 Corinthians 1: 13 tells us that "No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." There are times when we can all be tempted to sin in various ways, or be distracted from doing good work. However, just because temptation emerges, doesn't mean we need to give in to it. Just as Donkeylips was able to resist the burger, so we too can resist the temptations that come our way, as the Lord Jesus loves us enough that He will always provide us with a way out, if we can only keep our eyes open to it.

In short, this episode not only is a lot of fun to watch, it can also show us as Christians the importance of avoiding fake friends and seeking true ones, and showing us how we can have determination even when tempted to go astray. I'd say those messages are as beautiful as a shiny wrestling trophy, and as savory as a lobster dinner!

That's all for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. Keep your eyes open for new entries I have in mind for the near future (i.e. My annual Halloween entries, I have some good ones I'm thinking of). Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Tolerance, and a Thirst for Knowledge: A Faith- Based Look at 'Luca.'

 Hi friends, and welcome back to the Nightcrawler Experience!
We will now be concluding our annual partnership with St. John's United Methodist Church by taking a look at the fourth and final film in their Summer at the Movies series. For this one, we will be checking out Disney- Pixar's brand- new animated coming- of- age film, 'Luca.'



              (Credit for this image goes to the user Xbox One User at the Disney wiki at https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Luca?file=Luca_poster.jpg)

In this movie, which seems to take place some time in the 1950s- 1960s, the title character is a humanoid sea monster, whose life at the start of the movie seems to consist of just helping to herd his family's flock of goatfish. However, he befriends another of his kind named Alberto, and that's when everything changes. We find out that, when their species leave the water and go on dry land, they become human, and change back when they get wet. Luca and Alberto defy the wishes of Luca's family by remaining on land, somewhere in coastal Italy.
To live their own way, they head to the village of Portorosso, intent on acquiring a Vespa scooter (Which they have deeply loved ever since they first saw it) and traveling together. To make enough money to hopefully get one, they decide to enter a triathlon race(And a very interesting sort of race, involving swimming, bicycling, AND pasta- eating) with the help of a spunky local girl named Giulia. They face opposition from the self- absorbed town bully Ercole Visconti, who has won the event several years in a row and intends to keep this winning streak up even though he is clearly too old for it. All the while, Luca's parents have come to land too, and are actively looking for him. Wedges are driven between friends, minds are opened to new possibilities, and the triathlon looms and leads to a funny and action- packed climax.

While not my favorite of the movies we looked at in this series (That honor would have to go to the previous film, 'Onward'), 'Luca' was still a very enjoyable and at times moving film.

One of its major pluses is the set designs, especially for Portorosso. You can tell the animators really did their homework, it looks just like how I'd picture an Italian coastal village from around that time period. It's also nice to hear how much of the Italian language they incorporated into the film's dialogue.

The music similarly fits with Italy nicely. The animation and character designs, while not as detailed as they are in some of Pixar's other films, are still unique and imaginative. I especially liked Giulia's design, such as her curly red hair.
Now, for the character run- down:

Luca himself was a nice enough hero, pretty relatable. You can see the balance between his cautious nature, and his curiosity about the surface world. Many of Pixar's protagonists are characters out to find themselves and gain a sense of identity, and Luca fits that perfectly.

Alberto is the right balance of funny and moving, and plays off of Luca well. While Luca is shy and cautious, Alberto is bold and daring, and encourages his friend to silence his fears and inhibitions with the funny mantra of "Silenzio, Bruno!" Admittedly, it's never specified who this "Bruno" was, but it still makes for a memorable phrase to help Luca (And all of us) keep fears in check.

Giulia makes for a good supporting character. She's brave, but also rather insecure, wanting to win the Portorossa Cup mainly so it'll make everyone in town start to like her for a change. It's nice to see her let her guard down and admit when she needs help, and then to see her open up a bit more to Luca and Alberto. She also has the amusing trait of often saying "Santo" or "Santa" followed by the name of a kind of Italian cheese when frustrated or impressed (i.e. "Santa mozzarella," or "Santo pecorino").

 Her father Massimo is a fun character too. He's big and tough and seems scary at first, but you soon see the good heart he has deep down. He's a real "Gentle giant" kind of guy. Even her cat, Machiavelli, provides a lot of laughs with how suspicious he becomes towards the boys (He quickly learns they are part- fish, and of course we know how cats feel about fish).

The bully Ercole is honestly kind of a lame villain, and I'd say one of the only real weaknesses the movie has. While Pixar's baddies usually aren't very memorable compared to the ones Disney produced (Though there are exceptions to this rule, such as Syndrome from 'The Incredibles,' Charles Muntz from 'Up,' and Lotso from 'Toy Story 3'), Ercole is particularly forgettable; He's just a generic spoiled, arrogant bully who bosses everyone around and pretty much demands that they all worship and fawn over him.

Nevertheless, 'Luca' remained a charming, entertaining film that I'm glad I got to watch in preparation for this series.


Now, for the theological meat of the matter:

As those who've read the devotional I wrote for Pastor Danny to pass out would know, I think the first Scriptural message that can be taken from 'Luca' is on acceptance of those who are different. While the humans of Portorosso initially feared and hated sea monsters (Luca's race) as deadly beasts that should be hunted, and Luca's family in turn initially hated humans due to believing that they were all heartless, fish- killing barbarians, each side eventually learns that the other isn't so bad and is perfectly capable of kindness and compassion, largely through the impact that Luca, Alberto and Giulia each have on them. It brings to mind Peter's comment in Acts 10:28 that "“…God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”  We, too, shouldn't look down on those who may be of a different race, nationality, or social class than ourselves, ESPECIALLY if they are fellow Christians. We are all children of God, who saw each and every one of us as worth loving and worth dying for to redeem.

Another faith- based lesson that could be taken from 'Luca' relates to being more open to the world around you. Luca knows very little about the surface world, other than what Alberto has told him about it, and much of that isn't very accurate. Giulia helps him to learn more about the larger world and even universe around him (Giulia has an interest in stargazing that she helps him to gain as well), and gain even more wonderful curiosity about everything he sees. As he discovers, one you start learning new and interesting things, it tends to pique your interest and make you want to learn even more! The pursuit of knowledge and keeping a curiosity about the world is a Godly trait. Proverbs 18:15 says that "An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge." God has created a beautiful world and indeed universe around us, and He wants us to learn as much about it as we can, so we can more effectively serve Him. It's why He gave us brains in the first place! Like Luca in the film, we should always seek to gain more knowledge of the things we see and hear, and find ways to put them to good use.

There you have 'Luca,' a nice addition to the Pixar universe that helps us see why we should be more accepting of others, and maintain a curiosity and desire for knowledge about the world God made for us. Bravo!

That's it for this entry of the Nightcrawler Experience, as well as for this year's partnership with St. John's UMC for their Summer at the Movies series.
However, as summer isn't quite over yet, I do have a couple more summer- themed entries in mind, keep an eye out for them to come out very soon. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Godly Love, Being Willing to Take Risks, and Dealing with Loss: A Faith- Based Look at 'Onward.'

 Hi everyone, and welcome to another entry of the Nightcrawler Experience!
Continuing my annual partnership with St. John's Untied Methodist Church for their Summer at the Movies series, we will now be looking at the third film in that series, another Disney- Pixar film from last year: The fantasy epic 'Onward.'



(Credit for this image goes to the user CrazyBob2014 on the Disney wiki at https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Onward/Gallery?file=Onward_Teaser_Poster.jpg)

This film takes place in a very unique sort of fantasy world. It has elves and dragons and unicorns and magic and whatnot, but it's also very modernized; Magic is rare and also seen as rather obsolete as technology has made everything much easier and more convenient.
In this world, we meet two elven brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot. Ian (Voice of Tom Holland) is very intelligent but also quiet, timid and socially- awkward, and we soon see that he has a talent for magic. Barley (Voice of Chris Pratt), in contrast, is loud, outgoing, and has a love of fantasy and gaming, but is also a slacker who tends to unwittingly cause a lot of problems for others. Ian is deeply embarrassed of Barley as a result of this, further contributing to his shyness and difficulty making friends. While their mom (Voice of Julia Louis- Dreyfus) does her best to keep her family together, things are made harder by the fact that the boys' father died when Barley was a toddler and Ian was just a baby. As such, Barley has only a few vague memories of his dad, and Ian doesn't have any at all. Both would give anything to see him again.
Things take a big change, though, when Ian turns sixteen, and is given a magical staff that their dad had apparently owned which was set aside until both brothers turned sixteen. As I said, we learn that Ian does have some magical talent, and they discover a spell he can cast that can restore their deceased father for one day. The spell goes wrong, though, as the rare Phoenix Gem that helps power it shatters, so it only brings the dad back from the waist down. Realizing that they need another Gem to complete the spell before the 24 hours runs out, the two brothers and their half- resurrected dad pile into Barley's beloved van Guinevere, and they set out on an adventure to find one in time.

I think I actually enjoyed 'Onward' even more than the previous Pixar film we looked at in this series, 'Soul.' While it's not as thought- provoking as 'Soul,' I'd say it's a good deal more fun and entertaining in general, and is just as poignant.
Over the course of the brothers' quest, they run into a number of perilous situations that provide for a lot of thrilling moments and action sequences, usually involving the brothers in Guinevere being chased by those who seek to stop them (First a hilarious gang of irate pixie bikers that Barley had unwittingly offended, then later by the cops). There's also a thrilling sequence in which they have to make their way through a dark tunnel to find the Gem, dodging arrow traps, a flooding room, and even a Gelatinous Cube (It's a LOT deadlier than it sounds, trust me)!
'Onward' also gains points for how cleverly it includes several different nods to various aspects of fantasy, from Dungeons and Dragons (i.e. the aforementioned Gelatinous Cube originates from that game), to JRR Tolkien's books (In a charming double- nod to 'Lord of the Rings,' there's a fast- food joint in the movie called "Burger Shire" whose sign boasts that it serves "Second Breakfast"), to many others. It's clear the writers of this film are major fantasy genre devotees who really did their homework on it.

Now, for the character run- down:
Ian makes for a decent enough main character. He's very easy to sympathize with, things like his desperately trying to fit in while having to deal with his embarrassing brother and his own personal anxieties, his initial fear of learning to drive, especially on the highway (I can certainly relate to that from back when I was first learning to drive), and how much he misses his dad and is so sad that he never really knew him. Seeing him shaking off his cautious nature as he and Barley pursue their goals is always deeply satisfying. Tom Holland (Best known for his work as the MCU's Spider- Man) brings the right amounts of emotion for each scene he's in.

Barley, as some of you regulars to this blog may recall, was one of my top 10 favorite movie characters of 2020, and with good reason. I LOVED THIS GUY! He's incredibly funny in nearly every scene he's in, and manages to have some deeply sympathetic moments too (i.e. a scene rather late in the film when he reveals to Ian that he has another memory of their dad which he had never told him about, because it wasn't a good one). His adventurous spirit, exuberance, kindness to everyone, and just general good nature make him a character you'll quickly love. Even when he's screwing up, it's clear he's really got his heart in the right place and he still remains quite likable. Chris Pratt's awesome voice acting makes an already cool character even better! As a matter of fact, I'd say Barley Lightfoot is one of my favorite Pixar characters in general.

The boys' mom, Laurel, is an alright character. She starts the movie as just the typical "Animated movie mom" character, and it's a little sad that, while we clearly see how much the boys miss their father, we don't see much at all of her missing her husband. She may have moved on since his passing and found someone else (More on that in a second), but losing her spouse had to have still left her with a lot of pain to work through. Laurel REALLY starts to shine, though, around the second half of the movie, when she learns that the boys' quest could put all their lives in mortal danger and sets out to try and stop them. There, while we can still see how scared and worried she is for her boys, we see her developing incredible courage in all that she faces along the way.

A supporting character whose portrayal I liked a lot was Laurel's boyfriend, Officer Colt Bronco, a centaur police officer. It would have been so easy to make him just a dime- a- dozen "Mom's jerk boyfriend" character and/ or a dime- a- dozen "Mean, bullying cop" character, yet they dodged both of those with Colt; He seems to be a genuinely decent, well- meaning guy, and while he can get rather strict and does at one point present an obstacle to the brothers and attempt to stop them from completing their mission, he's just doing his job as an officer of the law and trying to help keep his girlfriend's sons out of trouble. Seeing him by the end of the movie lighten up some more and get along better with the boys makes him even more likable. Plus, he gets some more points in my book because I just think centaurs are cool in general.

One last character I'd like to talk about is another character from this movie who made my "Top 10 Favorite Movie Characters of 2020" list: Corey the Manticore. See, early in the film, the boys discover that the best way to gain assistance in finding the gem is by seeking out the "Manticore's Tavern." They go there, expecting it to be a cool, rough place, but find instead a goofy family eatery. As for Corey the Manticore herself, she was once a great adventurer, but is now reduced to running her restaurant and keeping her customers happy. Still, a pep talk from Ian helps her to regain her spirit of adventure. She eventually befriends Laurel, and helps her a lot in finding and at one point saving the boys. She has loads of funny moments, and Oscar- winner Octavia Spencer does a wonderful job voicing her.



There are quite a few Scriptural messages in 'Onward' that I can think of. The first, which I included in the devotional that I wrote and Pastor Danny circulated, concerned how Barley's flawed but genuine love for his family makes for a great summation of what Christian love as seen in 13:4-7 can look like. May we all love our families as deeply as Barley loves his. Even when we mess up at times like he does, we can still allow love to define all we do.

A second Scriptural message to be taken from the film is on courage and learning to take risks. As I pointed out when talking about Corey in my "Top 10 Movie Characters of 2020" list, what really helps inspire Corey to ditch the timid restaurateur she had become and regain the adventurous personality she once had is when Ian reminds her of a wonderful quote she herself had said while in her prime: "You have to take risks in life to have an adventure." She's not the only one who learns this, as Ian is in a way reminded of this great truth later in the movie; He, his brother and their half- restored dad are in Guinevere, trying to get away from a gang of extremely ticked- off pixie bikers (Every scene with these little guys is pure gold). Barley is still suffering the effects of a temporary shrinking spell and thus can't drive, so Ian (Who, again, is very nervous about driving) has to take the wheel. To escape the pixies and get back on their quest, they need to get on the highway, but merging onto highways is one aspect of driving that terrifies Ian. That, then, leads to this frantic exchange with highway traffic pouring in from the side, and the pixies hot on their heels:
Barley: "Okay, you're gonna have to merge. Speed up..."
Ian: "I can't do this!"
Barley: "Yes, you can!"
Ian: "I'm not ready!"
Barley: "You'll never be 'ready'! MERGE!"
Ian then hits the gas, and terrified though he is, successfully merges onto the highway and eventually helps them get away from the pixies.
As both Corey and Ian learn in the movie, taking risks and doing things that seem scary are the only ways to really get anywhere enjoyable in life. The Bible teaches this, too. So many people in the Bible took huge, scary risks in the name of serving the Lord, particularly the disciples of Jesus. In 1 Chronicles 28:20, King David tells his son Solomon, who was at the time trying to build an enormous temple to God, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord thy God is with you." There are Christians today in various nations who take immense risks by accepting and standing up for Jesus. We, too, may be called by God to do scary or risky things for Him, but He will get us through them and will never leave us or forsake us.

A final Scriptural message that I think can be taken from 'Onward' is on the nature of grief. We see how the family has dealt with the loss of the boys' father. It is a heavy blow for them all, especially for Ian who had never really known his father and wants so desperately to have some memories of him, but it's a blow that they eventually (Largely through this adventure they go on in the movie) learn to make peace with and move on from. By the end of the movie, we see that the brothers have a better relationship with each other and with their mom's boyfriend Colt whom they initially disliked, the mom has become more socially active, and they aren't letting their loss negatively impact their lives anymore. This calls to mind what Jesus said in Luke 6:21: "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." We as Christians know that, while we can experience deep pain and loss (I'm speaking from personal experience on this), the Lord Jesus Christ can help us all find comfort, get through it and move on, and live active, fulfilling lives in spite of our pain. We know that the pains of our Earthly lives are nothing compared to the endless joys that await us in Heaven, and that God can still enable us to make the most out of life even amid loss and setbacks; All we have to do is trust Him.


That's about it for 'Onward,' an awesome family film that teaches us what Godly love can look like, the importance of being brave and taking risks to serve the Lord, and how He can help us recover from loss. We've learned these lessons, now to paraphrase Barley, let's ALL go "'O' for 'Onward'" and put them to good use in our lives as we follow Jesus!

That's all for this entry of the Nightcrawler Experience. Come back next Wednesday, as we'll be finishing up this year's Summer at the Movies series with one more film. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Finding Purpose and Dodging Distraction: A Faith- Based Look at 'Soul.'

 
Hello everyone, and welcome back to another edition of the Nightcrawler Experience!

This is part two of my four- part annual partnership with St. John's United Methodist Church for their annual "Summer at the Movies" series.
For this installment, we will be looking at quite an interesting one: Pixar's splendid 2020 offering known as 'Soul.'

This movie is the story of Joe Gardner (Voice of Jamie Foxx), a fortysomething man living in New York City and working as a middle- school music teacher. He wants more out of life than that, though, and deeply believes he's meant to be a full- time, professional jazz musician, and he has the amazing piano skills to back it up. Nobody's ever really given him a chance at that, though.
One day, though, he finally gets that chance, as he lands a gig performing alongside an incredibly respected jazz musician named Dorothea Williams. Shortly after getting this news, however, he falls into a manhole (Even in moments of bliss over your dreams being fulfilled, you've still got to watch where you're going), which puts him into a coma and sends his soul off on a kind of conveyor belt to the "Great Beyond." He doesn't want to move on when he's so close to achieving his dream, however, and so he instead finds himself in the "Great Before," an area where young souls develop their personalities and prepare to come to Earth and start a life.
One soul Joe meets here, known simply as "22," has been in this area for thousands of years. In spite of countless mentors throughout history (Including some pretty well- known deceased public figures), she dislikes Earth and refuses to become a fully- developed soul and head down there. Joe figures that she could be his ticket back to Earth so his soul can get back in his body and wake him up in time for his gig.
A mix- up finds Joe and 22 on Earth, but not exactly in the way they'd hope. This leads to a struggle to set things right, some great revelations and both characters learning more about what it means to truly be alive.


'Soul' makes for another incredible creation of Pixar's. I think I'd compare it the most to 'Inside Out,' in that it takes a massively complex topic (The human subconscious for 'Inside Out,' elements of esotericism for 'Soul'), and yet presents it in a way that's easy for kids and others in the audience to understand. It's won a ton of awards, and it's easy to see why.
The visuals are great, both for the scenes in New York City and its various locales Joe lives in and interacts with, and for the "Great Before" and other such spiritual locations. So many colors and environments are presented, it's almost overwhelming.

Also, another plus to 'Soul' is, as you can probably guess for a movie in which the main character is an aspiring jazz musician, the musical score is flat- out gorgeous. There are loads of incredible pieces of jazz music (ranging from Joe just playing on his piano, to the scenes with Dorothea Williams's entire band playing), and also some more soft, simple compositions for the scenes in the various spiritual locations. It's a feast for both the eyes and the ears.
A small detail I liked about 'Soul' is a quick but quite touching little "Easter egg" they threw in: In 22's sort- of house/ base, we can see one wall is littered with name- tag stickers of 22's past mentors, none of whom were able to help her discover her purpose or seek to go down to Earth. There are some famous celebrities among those names, and others I'd never heard of. One that's seen pretty prominently is "Joe Ranft." This may not be a name any of you recognize, but he was one of the people who basically built Pixar animation in its early days. Joe Ranft was a major writer and story supervisor for most of their early films, co- directed one, and voiced a few characters for them (i.e. He was the voice actor for Heimlich the caterpillar in 'A Bug's Life' and Wheezy the squeaky toy penguin in 'Toy Story 2,' among other characters), before being tragically killed in a 2005 car accident. So, I thought including that little nod to him in 'Soul' was a very nice gesture.

Now, for the character run- down. It's not often that an animated kids' movie has a fortysomething man as its main character, yet Joe Gardner makes for a wonderful main protagonist, likable all throughout. He wants for his life to be worth something, and since jazz music is his passion, figures that succeeding in that field is the only way to achieve that. It's easy to root for him in all he does, with all the hard work and frustration he faces in pursuit of his dream. I found myself relating to him a lot, as I too still struggle at times with finding my own calling in this world. Jamie Foxx brings a ton of emotion to his voice, as well. It's clear how much he invested in his performance of this complicated character.

22 was a little annoying at first with her grumpy, confrontational attitude, but she grew on me a lot as the movie progressed and we got to see some real depth from her. She also had a lot of funny moments, usually involving her struggles with various aspects of life on Earth. Tina Fey's voice performance gave her a lot of charm and made her lines even funnier.

Another supporting character who I liked a lot was a guy named Moonwind (Voice of Graham Norton) a hippie mystic sign- twirler who helps out Joe a lot over the course of the movie. This guy is constantly funny and interesting to watch, you never want to miss a moment of him.

One final character in 'Soul' who deserves mention is Joe's mother, Libba, who runs a tailoring business and is NOT supportive of his pursuit of becoming a full- time musician. Admittedly, the "Closed- minded parent who attempts to discourage their offspring's lofty dreams"- type character is a trope that's used a lot in movies, but Libba makes it actually believable. She's not trying to be mean or ignorant, she just thinks that Joe would be a LOT better off instead becoming a full- time music teacher, as that would provide him with a lot more stability and financial security. It's an extremely understandable concern to have that you can easily see where she's coming from with, and it makes her and Joe finally reaching common ground on the matter and seeing eye to eye on things late in the film become all the more satisfying and heart- warming to watch.



Now, for the real theological meat of the matter.
While 'Soul''s portrayal of esoteric theory and views on things like the afterlife aren't exactly in line with Christian theology, I still think there are some solid Scriptural messages that can be taken from it.

In my devotional which Pastor Danny helped pass out for the screening at the church this evening, I bring up that arguably the main theme of 'Soul' is finding one's purpose in life. Joe starts by feeling that his purpose is simply to become a professional jazz musician, but eventually finds that is only one part of his life's actual purpose. I point out that God gives a great purpose and calling to each of us who follow Him through Jesus, and that He will eagerly guide us towards this if we let Him. As proof of this, I bring up Romans 8:28, which says that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” The true purpose God has for us is to help spread His Word and build His Kingdom, and He gives each of us a unique calling to help pull this off.



I think another Scriptural message that can be taken from 'Soul' is to not be too consumed or overtaken by worldly issues and concerns. One area that Joe comes across on his journey is an area known as "The Zone," a place where living souls can briefly enter when the pursuit of their passions put them in a sort of euphoric trance. You know how, when someone like for instance an artist or athlete truly gives their all to what they are doing and does something incredible with it, they can be described as being "In the Zone"? Well, in this film, their souls briefly enter this particular area during those moments and seem to sort of float around in there for a bit before they return to reality.

 There's a dark side to this, however: The ground of this area is crawling with "Lost souls," horrific beings that are the souls of people who let their anxieties and obsessions overtake them and disconnect them from life. An example of this that we see turns out to have been a hedge fund manager so obsessed with making a trade that his soul was briefly turned into one of those monsters, mindlessly chanting "Make a trade, make a trade" over and over while lumbering across the astral plane (Don't worry, he is freed from this by Moonwind and a couple fellow mystics).
Jesus Himself warns believers to avoid letting themselves be caught in this sad state. People who allow themselves to be overtaken by their obsessions and temporary stresses can easily be seen as embodying what Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower, found in Matthew 13:1-23, specifically embodying the seeds that fell among thorns: "The seed falling among thorns refers to someone who hears the Word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the Word, making it unfruitful." Becoming too caught up in petty worldly matters and concerns, letting them become single- minded obsessions, greatly hinders our witness to others as well as our own personal walks with God. It keeps us from focusing on important, eternal things because of how preoccupied our minds have become with comparatively minor, temporary things. Fortunately, just as the hedge fund manager in 'Soul' is freed from his lost state with help from Moonwind and restored to his old self, when we at times get too caught up in worldly concerns and obsessions, Jesus can free us from it and return us to the state we're supposed to be in, if we just ask Him.

There you have 'Soul,' a marvelous, fascinating film that can show us how to avoid pointless worldly distractions that ensnare us and truly find the purpose that God intended for each of our lives.

That sums up this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. Come back next week when I'll be examining the next film in this series St. John's UMC is putting on. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Trust and Unity: A Faith- Based Look at 'Raya and the Last Dragon.'

 Hi, friends, and welcome to another edition of the Nightcrawler Experience!

I am pleased to say that with this entry, this blog is again partnering with St. John's United Methodist Church for their Summer at the Movies series! For the next four weeks, they will be screening a movie each week, with me supplying both a devotional about the movie to be passed out at the screening, and an accompanying blog entry on the Nightcrawler Experience to reveal even more theological lessons that can be taken from the movie.

For this first week, we will be looking at Disney's newest animated feature, 'Raya and the Last Dragon.'


(Credit for this image goes to the user "Sonic the H fan" on the Disney wiki at https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Raya_and_the_Last_Dragon?file=Raya_and_the_Last_Dragon_Poster.jpeg)

This film has a pretty detailed plot/ backstory: Once upon a time, the land of Kumandra (Located somewhere in Southeast Asia) was ravaged by these evil spirits known as the Druun, which can turn people, animals and dragons into stone. The final dragon, Sisu, concentrated all her power into a magical gem that she used to banish the Druun. This revived Kumandra's people, but not the dragons. The people of Kumandra then turned against each other to try and gain control of Sisu's gem for themselves, and ultimately divided into five tribes: Heart, Fang, Spine, Tail, and Talon (Named after their respective locations along a long, dragon- shaped river).
Centuries later, Raya, the young princess of the Heart tribe, has been trained and appointed as the new protector of the gem. Her father, Chief Benja, earnestly believes the tribes can be united again, and to that end, invites leaders of each of the other tribes to come to his palace for a friendly dinner to hopefully help improve diplomatic relations between the five tribes. Things turn ugly, though; The gem is ultimately smashed into five pieces with each tribe greedily grabbing a piece, causing the Druun to reawaken and begin ravaging Heart before then moving on to the rest of the land. Raya's able to escape before the Druun can turn her to stone, but her father's not so lucky.
Some years after that, Raya is now a young adult, attempting to use Heart's piece of the gem to find and reawaken Sisu. She does so, and the two of them set out to gradually recover each of the other four pieces of the gem, which currently remain in the possession of the leaders of the other four tribes, who won't exactly be eager to part with them. They figure that if they can reassemble the gem, Sisu can use it to defeat the Druun for good, and again restore everyone who's been turned to stone.

 Sisu isn't quite the invincible force that Raya envisioned, but she still proves to be quite useful to the cause. They also meet a very interesting assortment of allies along the way: A young boy from the Tail tribe named Boun who uses his boat restaurant to help provide them with river transport since the Druun cannot cross water, an adorably devious baby con artist (Yes, you read that right) from the Talon tribe named Noi and her monkey friends, and a towering but good- hearted Spine warrior named Tong.

 On their mission, they have to avoid Raya's rival Namaari, princess of the Fang tribe, who learns of Raya's mission and is determined to get the gem pieces herself.


I must say, I was a lot more impressed with 'Raya and the Last Dragon' than I thought I'd be. From the initial trailers, I was afraid it would just be yet another over- the- top "I am woman, hear me roar"- type film (Don't get me wrong, I'm all for women empowerment and all, but in recent years, films featuring this theme have started becoming really repetitive, as well as preachy in how that message is presented; Even the best and most noble of messages can start to leave a bad taste in one's mouth if forced on us too constantly or too heavy- handedly), and one which would take itself way too seriously. I am pleased to report I was wrong on both counts. It contains LOADS of tension- taming humor throughout it to keep from getting too serious for its own good, and while Raya is a strong and inspirational character, the "Girl- power" angle isn't done in a preachy way.

It has a lot of great action in it, too. Each scene with Raya going into the base of one of the tribes and retrieving one of the pieces of the gem has some form of unique yet quite thrilling action sequence in it, all amazingly animated.
Now, for the character run- down:
Rather than making Raya some dime- a- dozen invincible perfect heroine, she actually has some flaws and depth; It was at least partially her fault that the gem was broken and the Druun reawakened, due to her trusting someone she shouldn't have, and she consequently wrestles with both her guilt over that and her newfound inability to trust anyone. Seeing her gradually learn to trust others and strive to achieve her father's dream of reuniting the nations of Kumandra is quite satisfying. While Raya isn't one of Disney's best heroines, she's still a good addition to their ranks who's enjoyable to watch.

Her pet/ primary means of transportation, Tuk Tuk (A creature that's sort of like a cross between an armadillo and a roly- poly, but grows a LOT bigger than either of those creatures) is a delightful creature. He has some funny moments, usually involving his love of food and how easily distracted he is, and also proves to be VERY useful to Raya. What's more, he gets extra points for the fact that his assorted grunts and roars are done by one of my favorite actors, Alan Tudyk, who I'm delighted has become such a staple voice actor for Disney over the last decade or so (He's voiced characters in every Disney animated movie from 'Wreck- it Ralph' up to now, and voiced characters in a couple of Disney's animated TV shows, AND was the voice of Iago the parrot in the live- action 'Aladdin' movie they made two years ago).

Sisu makes for an excellent supporting character. She has been worshipped as this all- powerful being for her initial defeat of the Druun, but it turns out that she was just the deliverer of the gems' power, with her siblings (Who were then turned to stone) doing most of the actual work in channeling their magic into it. This gives her a lot of insecurity, but she also has an adorable amount of wonder relating to the world around her. A scene in which she discovers that things could be bought through credit is hilarious, and a great indictment of the attitude that many today can have regarding it. She also proves to be a surprisingly good source of wisdom and guidance for Raya along her journey. Next year, Sisu will almost certainly be making my Ten Favorite Movie Characters of 2021 list, she's practically got a reserved seat there!

The other friends Raya makes over the course of her journey are all delightful as well. Boun brings a good amount of humor and his boating skills certainly make him a great asset to them over the trip. The baby con artist Noi and her monkey friends are such a hoot to watch, cute and funny in literally every scene! Tong is generally pretty funny too, and becomes increasingly likable and sympathetic when he lets his tough facade drop a little and opens up to the others. Much like Raya and Sisu, these different companions have all lost loved ones to the Druun, and do a lot to help Raya in her quest to help restore all of them.


As I indicated in my devotional that was passed out at the screening, the central theme to 'Raya and the Last Dragon' deals with trust. These problems within their nation started when the people of those different areas stopped trusting each other, and Raya learning to trust others is what ultimately saves the world. 

I pointed out that we need to trust others more, and ESPECIALLY put our trust in God. I used Psalms 56:3 ("When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.”) and Proverbs 3:5-6 (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”) to help drive this point home.

However, I'd say that is certainly not the only valuable Biblical lesson that can be taken from 'Raya and teh Last Dragon.' Another important one I can think of is on the importance of unity. People can do so much more when they forget about their differences and work together to achieve common goals. Raya and her friends help show this in the film's climax, when they (Characters from each of the tribes) help to evacuate a village before it's overrun by the Druun, saving countless lives and providing everyone there a perfect glimpse of the strength of unity in action.
Raya's father Chief Benja also makes a wonderful statement earlier in the film, when speaking to the other tribe leaders: "We can tear each other apart, or we can build a better world." There is so much truth in that statement for all of us. Over even just the last year or so, we have witnessed horrific division among the American people, and pointless social unrest and destruction breaking out nationwide. This needs to stop, with people of all races, genders and political persuasions needing to do what they can to encourage peace and unity. I regularly pray each day for this country, that its people could learn to come together in unity and thus build a better world for all in spite of their differences.

This is most definitely a Biblical lesson. Ephesians 4:3 says of believers, "You are joined together in peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue in this way." The body of Christ's main strength is in how diverse it is. It unites people of different races, cultures, and ethnicities, and with a whole multitude of different strengths and talents they can bring to the table. We have some who are scholarly, while others are better at worship. We have some who are skilled at prayer, while others are more about action. That is exactly how God intended it to be. This enables the church to better serve God and help to build His Kingdom on Earth, which is why peace and unity in the church and all around us desperately need to be encouraged.

 John 10:16 says that there is "One flock and one shepherd," we as believers are all part of the same flock in the eyes of our shepherd, Jesus. We need to avoid petty squabbling over our differences, and focus on the common goal of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as we can.


There you have 'Raya and the Last Dragon,' a very fun and exciting new addition to the Disney library which teaches valuable lessons about the importance of trust and unity.

That's all for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. Come back next week when I'll be tackling the next film that St. John's will be looking at in this series. Until then, take care, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Answered and Unanswered Prayer, Tolerance and Deeply- Rooted Faith; What I Learned From an Episode of "Daria."

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Nightcrawler Experience!
This is a little something I meant to publish last September, but I kept getting distracted, then worked on other entries for a while.
As you can probably guess, between the rampant shutdowns due to COVID- 19 and the fact that summer break meant I couldn't do any of my usual work as a teacher's assistant, I had a LOT of free time last year from April through much of August, and as you can tell from my previous entries around that period, I did a good deal of binge- watching during that time.
Among other things, I watched an entire animated TV series over the course of a couple months that I hadn't seen in at least ten to fifteen years: The MTV show "Daria."
(Meet Daria; She looks like a cheerful sort, doesn't she?)

This show was a spinoff of "Beavis and Butt- Head" (Daria was a supporting character on that show), but the similarities end there. "Daria" is funny, but often in a much more intelligently- written, sophisticated way, and it could at times tackle serious subject matter.
The show ran from 1997- 2002, and centers around Daria Morgendorffer (Voice of Tracy Grandstaff), an intensely brilliant yet unbelievably cynical teenage girl who at the start of the series has just moved to the suburb of Lawndale along with her family: Workaholic mother Helen, high- strung and rather childlike father Jake, and perky but quite flaky younger sister Quinn. Daria soon becomes friends with a similarly- minded young artist named Jane, and most episodes deal with the two of them trying to get through the monotony, frustrations, and flat- out idiocy of high school and suburban adolescence in general.
I'd had the complete series of "Daria" on DVD for a few years (I got it for a great deal in some Black Friday sale), but had never actually watched the DVD set until just this last summer. Having watched it now, I can say it still holds up amazingly well all these years later! It doesn't really feel dated, and many of the points it raises over its five seasons are still quite relevant today. Its theme song by Splendora is really cool, too.
The humor in "Daria" is always great, largely in the form of Daria and Jane's witty and cutting remarks and commentary on everything around them. I'm not sure if there was even a single episode that didn't have me laughing hard several times.
The supporting characters on "Daria" are a lot of fun to watch too, such as Quinn's friends in the high school's Fashion Club who are even more shallow than her, the sweet yet dopey cheerleader Brittany and her brainless jock boyfriend Kevin, and the school's rather psychotic history teacher Mr. DiMartino (This guy needs anger management therapy in the worst way).
In my summer binge- watch of this show, I saw an episode that dealt a little with the subject of faith in a mostly good way: The Season 4 episode entitled "Groped by an Angel."

After watching a TV program dealing with people having encounters with guardian angels, Daria's sister Quinn has a slight spiritual awakening as she begins to fervently believe that she has her own guardian angel looking out for her. This belief is further strengthened when she escapes a couple near- disasters (i.e. Getting up from a chair seconds before a chandelier falls on it, and refraining from having her usual salad dressing as part of her lunch one day then discovering afterwards that the dressing in question had gone bad and made some other students sick). All this is to the great annoyance of Daria, who is a hardcore skeptic of such things.

Things come to a header one night as Daria and Quinn are both invited to a party being thrown for the cheerleader Brittany by her doting father to celebrate her managing to get her cumulative GPA up to a C- (For someone as dim as Brittany, that IS an achievement worth celebrating). While there, Quinn gets soda splashed on her new jeans in a VERY embarrassing spot, if you get my drift. Quinn then further embarrasses herself by accidentally shattering a mock- crystal cheerleading bullhorn Brittany's father gave her as a gift at the party. Quinn suffering all this causes her catty frienemy Sandi (A young lady who's pretty much the ultimate textbook definition of a "Mean girl") to mockingly say that perhaps Quinn's guardian angel has abandoned her. Quinn begins to take this to heart, and understandably feels miserable about it. Daria, after having a lengthy conversation on the subject with their mom, gains a newfound sense of tolerance and encourages Quinn to not let a single bad evening cause her to lose her faith.

One problem I had with "Groped by an Angel" is with the scenes involving Brittany's younger brother Brian. While we had scenes with him in earlier episodes that show he's an annoying pest, in this episode he crosses the line into an obnoxious, screaming little brat, and the scenes with him will thus REALLY grate on you.

Other than that, 'Groped by an Angel' is a VERY entertaining episode. It is filled with one funny line after another, usually from Daria (i.e. When asked if she believes there's anything watching over them, she responds, "Well, there's the IRS, and those guys with the black helicopters."), and it does at times grapple with some deep concepts. It's also easy to feel both for Quinn with the spiritual awakening and test of that faith she goes through, and for Daria's general annoyance at how Quinn's experiences cause her and others around them to start flat- out obsessing about angels.
There's also a rather funny subplot in which Quinn's three idiotic quasi- boyfriends Joey, Jeffy and Jamie start wondering about Quinn's supposed "Guardian angel." When one of them explains that a guardian angel is "This dude who follows you around and makes sure you don't get into trouble," another chimes in "Oh, like a parole officer!" They then decide that this "Guardian angel" must be a sicko peeping on their girl, and things kind of go from there.
What also works about this episode is that it's explained that Daria and Quinn's mom Helen is a spiritual person as well. If it were just Quinn, some viewers could say that the episode paints a negative portrait of believers, that it implies they are stupid or naive. However, while Helen may have her flaws (i.e. Her workaholism often preventing her from being there for her family as much as she knows she should be), stupidity is NOT one of them. For all her neuroses, she is still a quite intelligent, level- headed woman, so showing that she is a believer too made things a little more balanced.

Even though "Groped by an Angel" is at times critical of the concept of faith, I believe there are some nuggets of Scriptural wisdom to be found in it if you know where to look (Bet you never thought that could be said of an MTV show):
The first I can see concerns the matters of providence and prayer, both answered and unanswered. Quinn came to believe that her guardian angel would always be there to protect her from any harm or anything bad happening, only for her to then have such an awful night at the party. This, as I said, greatly shook her newfound faith. Daria, however, in talking to Quinn about it near the end of the episode, gave a short but extremely astute answer as to why her guardian angel didn't protect her from the humiliations at the party, especially her destroying the mock- crystal bullhorn: 
"Maybe the angel didn't think saving an overpriced, undeserved knick- knack was the most efficient use of his time."
I think that really was a good point. Divine intervention is meant by God to serve a higher purpose and aid in building His Kingdom on Earth, and simply protecting that tacky piece of junk from being shattered wouldn't really serve ANY kind of Godly goal.
See, God DOES dearly love us and CAN intervene, at times in miraculous ways, when we are most in need (I've personally witnessed this several times). However, that doesn't mean He will constantly do so to prevent us from ever being so much as inconvenienced in any way.
It calls to mind James 4:3, which says about unanswered prayer, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." Quinn merely seeking to avoid embarrassment and protect that stupid bullhorn would not have done anything to advance God's plan for the world, and us as Christians often praying for things merely to advance our own immediate, selfish desires would be much the same way. Just because you get hit with hangups and don't get everything you ask for doesn't mean God doesn't care or isn't there; It likely just means that what you want wasn't part of God's plan for you, at least not for the moment.

Another Scriptural lesson I can think of that can be taken from 'Groped by an Angel' is on the subject of tolerance for those with differing beliefs. While Daria remains a skeptic on matters of faith, the conversation she has with Helen helps her to realize that she can hold to that, but still at least tolerate Quinn feeling differently on the matter. She sums this up when she then tells Quinn in the end of the episode, "I think what makes sense is to believe whatever makes you feel best." That may not exactly be a complete slam- dunk theologically, some kernels of truth can be found in it; See, while we as Christians should believe and stick to the core tenets of our faith (i.e. That Jesus is God's Son and the only way to Heaven) and not compromise what we believe in just for the sake of unity, we should most definitely have tolerance for other Christians with minor differences in beliefs from ours (i.e. Those in other Christian denominations, such as Baptists vs. Methodists).
It calls to mind a story relating to Jesus in Mark 9:38- 41: "'Teacher,' said John, 'we saw someone driing out demons in Your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.' 'Do not stop him,' Jesus said. 'For no one who does a miracle in My name can the next moment say anything bad about Me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in My name because you belong to the Messiah will not lose their reward.'" What matters is that we are believing in the same Savior. 

Last but not least, "Groped by an Angel" teaches us an important lesson on the importance of developing real depth to one's faith. Quinn's newfound beliefs are shown to be as shallow as most other aspects of her character; She believes in angels, but doesn't seem to let it really translate into a belief in God (The one who MADE the angels and rules over them) or any kind of real theology. Her beliefs are limited to her just thinking that angels are out there and are always looking out for her. With beliefs that shallow, it is unsurprising that they are heavily shaken by their very first trials (Her humiliating experiences at the party).
 In this sense, Quinn can be seen as representing what Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23, specifically the section about the seeds that are sown on rocky soil, quickly sprout up, but then are withered by the sun since they could not grow deep roots: "The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away."
God doesn't want believers to simply stay the way they are, theologically speaking, to remain in what one church I'm familiar with once called "Christian Kindergarten": He wants us to become stronger, better believers as time goes on, who can better spread his Gospel to all around us. When we come to faith, we need to properly strengthen it and develop solid roots to it through such means as worship, studying the Bible, coming to the Lord in prayer, reading solid yet understandable theology books (I have some good recommendations in that regard, if anyone's interested), and learning from other believers. In this way, our faith can grow stronger every day, and withstand even the worst of trials.

So, that is about all I have to say about that episode. It helps us remember truths about answered and unanswered prayer, shows us to have more tolerance of those whose theological beliefs may differ somewhat from ours, and inspires us to better grow in our faith and thus become stronger believers. I'd say those are messages that even someone as cynical and skeptical as Daria could agree with.

That's about it for this episode of the Nightcrawler Experience. Keep your eyes open for new entries, I have a few ideas I'm working on. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

My Favorite Movie Characters of 2020, and What We Can Learn From Them!

Hi everyone, and welcome to another edition of the Nightcrawler Experience!
Sorry it's been almost four months since my last entry, things have been unbelievably busy for me, and technical difficulties made it hard to access the Internet at times.
Well, 2020 is at long last far behind us, and we're well into 2021. As I've done each year since 2016, my first Nightcrawler Experience entry of the year is a faith- based look at my 10 favorite movie characters of the previous year! While the crop of movies from 2020 for me to choose from was more limited than it usually is, there were still enough for me to find ten characters I really liked in it and that can be used to teach us lessons tying into the Bible and Christian theology.
This year, since there were so few movies released, I'll have to use two characters from the same movie at one point. Don't worry, they're both great characters who each in their own way earn their place on this list. This is also my first time including characters from movies that debuted on streaming services.
All the same rules from previous years apply:
1. It can be any character from any movie of that year, regardless of rating or genre.

2. It can be any kind of character, be it hero, supporting character, villain, or comic relief character.

3. They can be original characters, or adaptations of pre- existing characters.

3. They can be new characters, or returning ones from earlier movies whom we learn more about.

4. They can act as "Be like them" role models, "DON'T be like them" cautionary tales, or allegories for Biblical figures or principles.

SPOILER WARNING! In some cases, I may need to reveal spoilers about the movie in question to better convey why I like these characters.
DISCLAIMER! Not all of the movies featured on this list are suitable for young or sensitive viewers. Exercise caution.

Now, let's get this show on the road!

1. Ivan, 'The One and Only Ivan.'




(Credit for this image goes to the user Lola987 on the Disney Wiki at https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/The_One_and_Only_Ivan?file=The_One_and_Only_Ivan_-_Ivan.jpg)

Gorillas have been some of my favorite animals ever since I was a kid (They'd get my vote for being the single most misunderstood creature on Earth), and in 2020, I lucked out as there were not one but TWO movies which had noble, heroic gorillas as major characters. While the slightly cowardly but good- hearted Chee- Chee from 'Dolittle' was a great character, in this case the Big Banana would have to go to the titular silverback from the Disney Plus film 'The One and Only Ivan.'
 Based on the book of the same name by K.A. Applegate, which in turn was loosely based on a true story, Ivan is a gorilla who was taken from his jungle home as a baby (His sad backstory was shown in the movie, though thankfully not in as much nightmarish detail as it was in the book), and has spent most of his life since then as the main attraction in a circus- themed shopping mall. This sheltered but mostly content existence is drastically altered by the new addition of a baby elephant named Ruby to the mall's menagerie, who immediately supplants Ivan as the star of the show. While initially somewhat annoyed by her, before long Ivan starts to grow fond of her, and makes a promise to the dying older elephant Stella that he will do everything in his power to help Ruby find a better life. The rest of the film is him attempting to live up to that promise.

In the movie, Ivan is voiced by Sam Rockwell, which I initially was rather skeptical of as his slightly nasal- sounding voice isn't the kind of voice I'd normally associate with a big, powerful creature like Ivan. However, it surprisingly works quite well, especially with the great amounts of emotion Rockwell brings to Ivan's voice.
Ivan is a VERY easy character to root for in it. His heart's in the right place, and he's always entertaining to watch, often even quite emotionally moving, especially when we learn of his past.
A Biblical point that Ivan helps raise is on leadership. All throughout the movie, it's clear that Ivan is kind of the unofficial leader of the animals on display in the mall, and he takes this position seriously as he genuinely looks out for the well- being of the other animals there. For instance, one difference from the book is that, while Ivan's initial annoyance with Ruby in the book is purely based on jealousy and injured pride over the fact that she took his place as the mall's star attraction, in the movie it's more based on frustration over the fact that he's afraid Ruby's nervousness/ stage fright hindering her performances in the mall's animal show might lead to the mall being shut down and all the animals becoming homeless. Then, afterwards, he attempts to lead the animals in an ill- fated (Albeit well- meaning) escape attempt. Finally, through his newfound talent for fingerpainting, Ivan takes the lead in the effort to help Ruby get transferred from the mall to a nice local zoo. All throughout the movie, Ivan is determined to act in everyone else's best interests, and help guide them along on the right path. That's the sign of a great leader.
It's the sort of leadership that Jesus talked about in Matthew 20:26- 28, by saying "(Re: The Gentile rulers lording over their subjects and commanding authority over them) It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." A true, great leader, ESPECIALLY among Christians, isn't some control freak who views leadership as just barking orders at people and getting one's own way all the time; It's someone more like Ivan, who puts the needs of those under his care as a MUCH higher priority than his own concerns, and actively works to help and serve them however he can.
As a matter of fact, in a way, Ivan can be seen as kind of the animal equivalent of Moses. Just as Moses in the book of Exodus was called by God to help free the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt and lead them to the freedom of the Promised Land, Ivan finds himself feeling called to help free Ruby, the other animals, and ultimately himself from their demeaning captivity in the mall and lead them to the relative freedom of the zoo (It may not be the wild, but it's still shown to be a really nice place that's infinitely better and homier than the mall).
So, there we have Ivan. Between his wonderful leadership, and how he calls to mind one of the Bible's greatest heroes, he truly lives up to his title of "Mighty Silverback."

Our next entry is another anthropomorphic animal, but this is one who's smaller and much, MUCH faster:

2. Sonic, 'Sonic the Hedgehog.'


(Credit for this image goes to the user Wikification on the Heroes Wiki at https://hero.fandom.com/wiki/Sonic_the_Hedgehog_(Live-Action)/Gallery?file=LAMovieSonic.png

I already talked a little about him in my review of the 'Sonic' movie last year, so I won't go in too much detail here. He is just a great representation of one of the best heroes in video game history.
 He starts out the film deeply lonely, wanting to connect with the humans in Green Hills and form friendships with them, but being hindered by his fear that they might try to hurt him or exploit him for his amazing speed. Eventually, he overcomes that fear, and forms a wonderful friendship with the small- town sheriff Tom. They set out to recover Sonic's magic rings that let him travel from one place to another instantly, and in the process build a rock- hard bond of friendship with each other.
As I said in my review of the movie, Sonic's recognition of just how valuable friendship is ties into the main Biblical principle to be learned from him. He deeply values friendship and companionship as one of the greatest joys of life, and he teaches Tom to feel the same way through the close bond they form with each other. The two of them regularly do all that they possibly can to help each other through thick and thin, from Sonic protecting Tom from getting beaten up in a bar fight, to Tom stopping the evil Dr. Robotnik from killing Sonic in the film's climax. This calls to mind Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, which says that "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to pick them up." God wants us to show this kind of loyalty and devotion to our friends, looking after each other and relying on each other, and strengthening each other in their walks with the Lord.

There we have Sonic the Hedgehog, a wonderful hero who helps show just how important friendship is.
Now, we go from a popular recurring hero that's an animal, to one who's a human.


3. Marcus Burnett, 'Bad Boys for Life.'
(He's the one in the red jacket; Credit for this image goes to the user "Jedi Raven" on the Bad Boys Wiki at https://badboys.fandom.com/wiki/Bad_Boys_for_Life?file=Marcus_and_Mike_indoor.jpg#Gallery)

The 'Bad Boys' buddy- cop series is always a good watch, a nice blend of action and comedy, and this third entry in the series, 'Bad Boys for Life,' continues that trend.
The character in the 'Bad Boys' series I've always liked the best has been the family- man Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), and I'd say he is indeed my favorite character in this new entry.
Here, we see that, as Marcus has gotten older, he has had a spiritual awakening. While he had not appeared to be particularly religious up to this point in the film series, seeing his police partner/ best friend Mike get shot by a hitman working for the twisted and vengeful drug cartel boss Isabel Aretas (Who quickly became my second- favorite movie villain of 2020) was a turning point for Marcus. When Mike is left temporarily comatose by the attack, we see Marcus made a vow to God; He promised that, if the Lord will spare Mike's life, Marcus in turn will no longer bring any more violence into the world. To keep that vow, and spend more time with his new grandson and the rest of the family, Marcus retires from the force once Mike recovers and appears to genuinely enjoy his retirement for a while.
It doesn't last long, though: We soon see that Isabel is determined to take out not just Mike, but EVERYONE involved in the arrest and imprisonment of herself and her late husband. When Mike and Marcus's longtime commander, Captain Howard, is tragically assassinated as part of this merciless campaign, Marcus rejoins the force to help bring the captain's killers to justice. Still, he tries to stay out of active violence to continue to honor his vow to God.
Nevertheless, later in the film, his views on the subject change a bit. When they are in a motorcycle chase with Cartel assassins pouring bullets at them, Marcus discovers that the motorcycle/ sidecar combo they took had with it a VERY large sidecar- mounted gun that could be used to return fire at the bad guys. While Marcus is still hesitant to use it due to his vow, Mike tells him, "Who do you think sent you that weapon? That is God's gun, sent to you in your time of need. Yes, you are a vessel for the Lord's work, like David and Goliath. That is YOUR slingshot, to smite thine enemies!" Taking this to heart, Marcus uses the gun to help fight off the thugs (and in a pretty awesome and entertaining way, to boot), saving his and Mike's lives.
While Mike's point was obviously expressed in a goofy, flippant way, it still has some truth to it. At that moment, Marcus learned what it means to be a righteous warrior, ensuring that true justice is served and the wicked pay for what they have done. While God seeks to bring peace to the world and rejoices in the efforts of those who help properly bring it about (See entry #9 on this list for more of that), He has also in the Old Testament often empowered brave and Godly men to act as His warriors to help stand against evildoers and champion the innocent. Some great examples included Samson, Gideon (One of my favorite Biblical figures, a real "From zero to hero" kind of guy), and indeed David. In fact, in Psalm 144:1, David says "Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle."
Marcus also, in a way, kept the promise he made to God through the decisions he ultimately made over the course of the movie: By helping actively to take down the Aretas Cartel, he helped remove a LOT of senseless violence from the world.
This is what makes it all the more fitting that Marcus is the one who fights and takes down Isabel Aretas in the film's climax. The two really are opposites in every way: While Isabel is a crime lord who seeks to bring more drugs, violence and lawlessness to the world, Marcus is a police officer who seeks to bring more law and order to the world. While Isabel is a pagan nicknamed "La Bruja" (Spanish for "The Witch") due to her fanatical worship of the Mexican death deity Santa Muerte, Marcus is a Christian who strives to faithfully serve Jesus. While Isabel is a bad parent who taught her son to be as vindictive and bloodthirsty as she is, Marcus is a good parent (And now grandparent) who does all he can to protect his family and help them grow to be good people. So, while Mike has something of a history with Isabel, it makes much more sense that Marcus would be the one to face and defeat her as a true "Good vs. evil" showdown.
There we have Marcus Burnett, a great character as always who gains the faith and courage to truly become a righteous soldier of God. His section is best summed up by the unforgettable mantra that he and Mike often recite: "We ride together, we die together; Bad boys for life."

As I said, Isabel Aretas in that movie was my second- favorite cinematic villain of 2020. Now, you'd better run for cover, because it's time to meet #1 in that regard:


4. The Blissfield Butcher, 'Freaky.'


(Credit for this image goes to the user N D W on the cinemorgue wiki at https://cinemorgue.fandom.com/wiki/Freaky_(2020)?file=Freaky_ver3_xlg.jpg)

The horror- comedy film 'Freaky' made for the best slasher film I've seen in quite a long time, a bloody but hilarious, entertaining ride with a fascinating premise; Through a strange spell, a shy and bullied high school girl named Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) accidentally switches bodies with a psychotic but aging serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn). They each find themselves having to adjust to their new bodies, complete with Millie having to convince her friends about what happened AND dodge a police manhunt as she's now in the body of the most wanted criminal in the county all while trying frantically to get back in her normal body before the spell becomes permanent, and the Butcher preparing to continue his rampage in a new body which only has about a fourth of the physical strength that his normal body had.
What makes the Butcher such an effective and memorable villain, sets him aside from most other slasher- movie killers, AND which also concerns the theological lesson that can be learned from him, is how terrifyingly adaptive he proves to be. As I implied earlier, it is definitely a shock for him to go from the middle aged yet still extremely strong body he had, to the body of a slim, rather frail teenage girl. He adjusts to this change in circumstances quickly, though, now relying more on his fierce cunning and resourcefulness to perform kills (A particularly memorable one involves him/ her using a locker- room cryotherapy tank to turn the school's nasty "Queen Bee"- type girl into a human Popsicle) and relying on this innocent- looking new body to avoid suspicion by the authorities.
All of this is quite similar to how Satan operates in the real world. He too is extremely adaptive in how he goes about corrupting and destroying everything in our world. He knows people's weaknesses, and can change tactics in a heartbeat to further his dark goals. It's why Ephesians 6:11 tells believers to "Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." Note that it says "Schemes," in the plural sense. We were given this verse to help us ensure that whatever strategy the Devil tries to use, we'll be ready to quickly resist it.
Furthermore, the Butcher taking on the body of a shy teenage girl who looks like she wouldn't hurt a fly calls to mind 2 Corinthians 11:14, which points out that "Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." The fact that the Butcher's only concern when he gains this new body is how to resume his killing spree as quickly as possible echoes John 10:10, in which Jesus says that "The Thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy."
That about sums up the Blissfield Butcher: A terrifying villain who drives home some equally terrifying truths about the Prince of Darkness.

A few other memorable 2020 villains include the aforementioned Isabel Aretas from 'Bad Boys for Life,' Dr. Robotnik from 'Sonic the Hedgehog,' Hal from 'The Call of the Wild,' and Holda from 'Gretel and Hansel.'
Now, we go from someone who is pure evil, to someone with a great sense of heroism:

5. Barley Lightfoot, 'Onward.'

(Credit for this image goes to the user SammyAlle on the Disney wiki at https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Barley_Lightfoot?file=BarleyOnward.png)

The Pixar film 'Onward' was a very fun fantasy film in which two Elven brothers attempt to use a spell to partially bring back their deceased father, but the spell goes wrong and only brings back his lower half, so they go on an epic adventure to recover a magic jewel to finish the spell and bring all of him back just for a day.
While the technical main character in 'Onward' is the younger of the two brothers, the nerdy aspiring wizard Ian, the older brother Barley is definitely the more interesting and fun to watch of the two. Between his goofy personality, the awesome work Chris Pratt does as his voice, and just how generally likable he is, he dominates every scene he's in. He's sort of the magical/ fantasy equivalent of a "Good- hearted slacker" kind of character.
He is a guy who loves fantasy, loves adventure, and isn't particularly competent in most things, but is wonderfully devoted to his family throughout all of it. A lot of the funniest moments in the film involve him, and many of the most emotionally moving ones do, too. His van Guinevere is pretty cool, as well.

Barley truly is his brother's keeper, always in his own (At times slightly misguided) way looking out for Ian's well- being, and inspiring Ian to grow more and become the person he is in a lot of ways. He acts as a mentor, protector, and friend to Ian, just what a good older brother should be. He does everything from pointing out to Ian how to find the jewel, to inspiring Ian to overcome his fear of driving on the highway and thus eventually get a driver's license, to helping Ian learn how to properly perform magic. He in those senses acted as not just a brother, but also kind of a surrogate father for Ian (Who was only a baby when their father died and thus has no real memories of him), and honestly a pretty darn good one at that. 
This awesome love Barley shows towards Ian as well as their mother brings to mind 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which says "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
Barley has that kind of love in spades, and we should all show that kind of love to our own families.
That's all I have to say right now about Barley. Another addition to the list of memorable Pixar heroes, and a great example of what family love as Christians can look like.
Now, while I'm done talking about Barley, there is one more character in 'Onward' that I think deserves a look, too:


6. Corey the Manticore, 'Onward.'

(Credit for this image goes to https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Corey_the_Manticore?file=Onward_Corey_Poster.jpg)

As the film 'Onward' progresses, the brothers Ian and Barley, in order to get information that will lead them to the magic jewel, must visit the famed Manticore's Tavern. They go expecting it to be a seedy, Cantina- From- 'Star Wars' type of place, but when they get there, it turns out to have been converted into a ridiculous family restaurant more along the lines of Chuck E. Cheese's. What's worse, the Manticore, aka "Corey," who had been known for being a brave adventurer, is now a has- been manager of the place more concerned with getting customers' orders right and keeping the karaoke machine working than with anything cool or quest- related.
However, upon the brothers visiting the tavern, they not only get the information they need, but also inspire Corey to basically stop being such a sell- out and regain her former sense of adventure. She eventually proves to be a tough and valuable ally to the boys and their mother, helping them a lot in the pursuit of their goals.
The fact that she's voiced by the brilliant actress Octavia Spencer (Who won a well- deserved Oscar for her work in 'The Help') makes her even cooler.
The point that Corey helps to drive home is on courage and taking risks in life. One of the things that helps inspire her to regain her former self is being reminded of an old quote she herself had once said in her prime: "You have to take risks in life to have an adventure." This is very much in keeping with Scripture. We as Christians aren't called to just sit on the sidelines and avoid doing anything that might be seen as risky. Just the opposite, in fact! The Bible is littered with people who took big risks. The first disciples of Jesus all took BIG risks, leaving their homes and former lifestyles to follow Jesus in His Earthly ministry and help spread His Gospel, and they kept at this risky, adventurous mission for the rest of their lives.
It also calls to mind 1 Chronicles 28:20, in which David says to his son Solomon (Who was setting out to build the massive temple for the Lord), "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord thy God is with you."
In more modern times, this can take the form of Christians doing overseas missions work to help spread God's love and message to others halfway around the world.
Doing amazing things for the Lord requires stepping out of our comfort zones and not being afraid of how risky the journey can be, as if we remain devoted to the Lord, He will direct our steps and use us to build His Kingdom on Earth.
If a washed- up adventurer like Corey the Manticore can learn/ rediscover this lesson, then so can we.

Regrettably, there aren't a lot of female characters who made my list this year (That's nothing personal, btw, it's due largely to the fact that I just wasn't able to see as many movies in 2020 as I do most other years). The Manticore was one, now here's the other:


7. Bobbi, 'My Spy.'


       (Credit for this image goes to the Irish Cinephile's review of this movie, at https://irishcinephile.com/2020/05/14/film-review-my-spy/#jp-carousel-48243)

'My Spy' made for a nice 'Kindergarten Cop'- esque family action- comedy film, in which Dave Bautista plays JJ, a CIA operative who attempts to perform surveillance on the sister- in- law and niece of a French arms dealer to try and hopefully catch the guy, and ends up bonding with the 9- year- old niece who catches on to him and insists he train her on how to be a spy in exchange for her not blabbing to her mom about him. My favorite character in the movie, though, is JJ's tech specialist Bobbi (Kristen Schaal). She is brand- new in the field, idolizes JJ, and longs to become a full field agent herself. She sees helping JJ on this mission, her first time getting out of the office, as the perfect way to prove her skills and achieve that goal. She is also unbelievably funny, largely due to Kristen Schaal's wonderful performance. She has a real gift for comedy, between her distinctive, almost cartoonish voice (Which she famously used for playing Mabel Pines in the wonderful animated series 'Gravity Falls,' I MUST take a look at that show on this blog some time), her expressive face, and just the general aura of hilarity she exudes.

A Godly lesson to be taken from Bobbi is to flourish where we are planted with the talents we have, and not pretend to be something we are not just because we think someone else's talents are "Cooler." See, while Bobbi is fascinated with the more hands- on, James Bond- esque aspects of the spy field, she's not particularly good at them. In the climax, when she "Borrows" some of JJ's guns and grenades to try and help fend off the bad guys, she ends up causing more harm than good. It's when she uses her natural gift for technology and computers to help provide electronic backup that she truly does amazing things for good and helps save the world. 
This goes along with 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, which says "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone." See, we all have different gifts and talents, but they all come from God, and He sees the value in all of them, and expects us to do the same. We shouldn't be jealous of or try to imitate the talents of others the way Bobbi at times tried to imitate JJ's more hands- on spy skills; We should try to hone the talents and gifts we already have so we can use them to do the most good for God's Kingdom that we possibly can.
That about sums up Bobbi; A hilarious character who still manages to teach a lesson we all should take seriously on using our own gifts to do all the good that we can.

Speaking of Kristen Schaal, this next movie we'll be looking at also features her, though in this case the character in question is played by someone else, someone who ends up helping to save the world in a different way:

8. Louis Armstrong, 'Bill and Ted Face the Music.' 

(He's the one in the necktie, of course. Credit for this image goes to the blog Musings of a Middle Aged Geek's review of the movie at https://musingsofamiddleagedgeek.blog/2020/08/30/bill-ted-face-the-music-2020-and-its-not-at-all-heinous-dude/)

Ever since I was a kid, I've always enjoyed the charming 'Bill and Ted' movies about two dopey but likable best buddies who use a magic phone booth to travel through time and space, and find that their band Wyld Stallyns is destined to one day use its music as a catalyst to bring about a utopian world in which war, pollution and poverty are things of the past.
 This latest extremely funny entry in the series, 'Bill and Ted Face the Music,' has a now middle- aged Bill and Ted as has- been musicians who apparently never accomplished this glorious destiny. They learn that in order to do so, they must craft a kind of ultimate song that will initiate this change in the world, and they are running out of time to make and perform it or else a kind of paradox will result which could obliterate all of time. The guys get the idea to travel to the future and meet their future selves to hopefully "Borrow" the song from them, and of course run into all kinds of hilarious problems in the process.
To aid their dads in this quest to create the ultimate song, Bill and Ted's daughters travel throughout time to recruit some of the greatest musicians in human history to form the greatest band of all time. As you can probably guess, they're quite a diverse bunch. It includes a cavewoman named Grom who's an incredible drummer, ancient Chinese flute expert Ling Lun, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, and modern rapper Kid Cudi. All of these are awesome characters, but my favorite member of this ultimate band is definitely the movie's depiction of jazz legend Louis Armstrong.
 Jeremiah Craft gives an excellent performance as him (Both in terms of acting, and in terms of his singing and trumpet skills), nailing Louis' trademark gravelly voice and big grin, and generally making him a character who's always a lot of fun to watch. Plus, it simply makes sense that, if one were to create a band with the greatest musicians of all time, you'd want to include someone as talented and influential to the music world as him.
Speaking of influential, that ties a little into the Biblical lesson that can be taken from how this movie portrays Louis. When Bill and Ted's daughters meet Louis, they are impressed and star- struck with him (As one of them puts it, "You liberated all music, dude."). He, in turn, is greatly impressed with them, their technology, and the music of Jimi Hendrix, ESPECIALLY when he learns that Hendrix was largely inspired by the music that he (Louis) made. Even though Louis, Jimi, and the two daughters were from three completely different generations, the immense respect they clearly all have for each other is really inspirational.
It is so easy for people of one generation to look down on people from older or younger generations, dismissing older ones as outdated relics and younger ones as ridiculous, spoiled posers. However, that's not what God wants us to do. God knows that the older and younger generations each have great things to offer: The older have their wisdom and experience to share and provide guidance, while the younger can provide their strength and enthusiasm and come up with newer and more efficient/ innovative ways to get the job done.
It calls to mind Psalm 100:5, which declares "For the Lord is good, and His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations." Note it says, God's faithfulness is offered to ALL generations. God loves those of all generations, and needs all of them to help spread His Gospel to the world. He intends them to have the same respect and admiration for each other that Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, and the two daughters have for each other in the movie.

That's all I have to say about this movie's awesome portrayal of Louis Armstrong. A great interpretation of an amazing musician who uses his music to help save the world, and uses his respect for the younger generations to help us see how we should interact with those older and younger than ourselves. Hardly surprising that so much goodness could come from the man who inspired and first sang "What a Wonderful World."

This entry may have dealt with someone who was greatly impressed with and moved by people of a younger generation, but next up on my list is someone who, in contrast, gets into a heated conflict with someone of a younger generation:


9. Grandpa Eddie, 'The War With Grandpa.'


(You should be able to tell which of the two he is; Credit for this image goes to the user JacobJohn55 at the sound effects wiki at https://soundeffects.fandom.com/wiki/The_War_with_Grandpa_(2020)?file=MV5BNTlkZDQ1ODEtY2ZiMS00OGNhLWJlZDctYzY0NTFmNmQ2NDAzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ%40%40._V1_.jpg)

I never would have guessed it, but just like last year, a character named "Grandpa Eddie" made the list (The previous occasion being Danny DeVito's character in 'Jumanji: The Next Level'). This time, though, it's Robert DeNiro's character in the family comedy 'The War With Grandpa.' In this fun family comedy movie, based on the children's book by Robert Kimmel Smith, Grandpa Eddie moves in with his adult daughter and her family, and is given his young grandson Pete's bedroom, while Pete is made to move into the attic. Pete doesn't take this change of circumstances well (And one can't particularly blame him for that), and declares a secret "Prank War" with his grandpa to try and get his room back. Grandpa Eddie accepts this, largely just out of a bored amusement, but things escalate quickly and often hilariously as the pranks that the two of them pull on each other become more impactful and at times even destructive.
A great aspect of this take on the story is that both sides get their respective social groups to help them in the war; Pete gets his school buddies to help him, and Grandpa Eddie in turn gets some of his elderly friends to help him (And considering those friends are played by Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour, you KNOW that hilarity is going to ensue). This leads to some very funny moments, such as when the two sides take each other on in a no- holds- barred dodgeball tournament at a local trampoline park.
I also liked that it made it clear that Grandpa Eddie and Pete each had pretty valid reasons for the positions they take, yet at the same time, that attempting to resolve things in this way was seriously wrong.
An important quality about Grandpa Eddie is that, while he takes part in the prank war, he right away sets down some "Ground rules" that Pete agrees to, including that there is to be no collateral damage (i.e. Nobody else in the family should fall victim to any of the pranks).
Even amid the war, Grandpa Eddie is clearly a man who deeply loves his family. This is shown through a number of ways: The "No collateral damage" rule, his repeated attempts to make peace with Pete, convincing him to agree to a temporary truce during Pete's little sister's birthday party, and together with a couple of his buddies teaching a lesson to a mean bully who had been harassing Pete (That moment made me applaud in the theater; Eddie and his friends really give that jerk exactly what he deserved).

The most important Biblical message to be taken from Grandpa Eddie is on the need to make and seek peace. Of the two combatants in this "War," Grandpa Eddie is the one who first realizes how harmful it is and tries to stop it as best and as peacefully as he can. While attempting to reason with Pete in one scene, Grandpa Eddie tells him, "War is no game, Peter. Only kids and fools and generals think that. War hurts and kills and is misery." He has recognized how destructive and futile war is (Even on as small of a scale as their prank war), and begins doing what he can to bring this war with Pete to an end so they can regain the happy relationship they used to have.
Grandpa Eddie acting in this way calls to mind Romans 12:18, which says, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." Getting along with people at times REALLY isn't easy. Some people can be incredibly frustrating and difficult, and it can be easy to come to conflict over things. Family matters, work matter, relationship issues, all of these can turn people against each other. However, that is what the Lord seeks from us. We shouldn't always seek to get the last word in (Which I know is difficult), but should try and restore damaged relationships and get along with everyone around us as best we can.
Well done, Grandpa Eddie. Though, after how the movie ends, he might need to watch his back for what Pete may have planned next!

To finish out my list, we now go from an older man who comes to desire outer peace, to one who seeks inner peace.

10. John Thornton, 'The Call of the Wild.'
  
(Credit for this image goes to the user Bennybop on the Call of the Wild Wiki at https://the-call-of-the-wild.fandom.com/wiki/John_Thornton_(2020_version)?file=70C6B9FE-3273-4BCA-B591-6094760BFDD9.jpeg)

Last year's 'The Call of the Wild' movie made for a decent enough adventure story (If one can get past the obvious cgi they use for all the dogs, that is), and Harrison Ford's performance as John Thornton is definitely one of its highlights.
In this adaptation of the story, John is a man who is mourning the loss of his son, and has become estranged from his wife out of this grief. He believes he can honor his son's memory by discovering and making a fortune mining out a mythical mother lode deposit of gold that his son had taken a keen interest in finding when he was alive.
John's best quality is his combination of patience and assertiveness. He can deal with much in this world, but at the same time isn't afraid to stand up for himself and for others. We see this when he stops the brutish prospector Hal from beating Buck the dog and then promptly adopts Buck as his own. His sad backstory that the movie gives him helps to provide him with more depth and make him more sympathetic. Out of all the masters that Buck has over the course of the movie, John is clearly the best, building a genuine friendship with the dog and helping it to discover its place in the wild. John eventually does grow to feel a little better through the bond he develops with Buck and prepares to leave the Yukon to return to his wife, only to meet a tragic end before he can do so.

The Biblical point that John helps to drive home is on discovering inner peace. John lost his sense of peace and contentment when he lost his son, and promptly attempts to rediscover it through his quest to discover the mother lode. As he writes in a letter to his estranged wife at one point, "I search for a place I might feel some peace, though I fear I will never find it, because I know that, as I am, there may be no home for me in this world."

In that letter, John is actually spelling out a pretty concrete truth that we as Christians should know about. This world is not our true home, and no true, lasting peace can be found through worldly things, but only through a sincere relationship with Christ. It ties in to what Jesus pointed out in John 14:27, when He said " Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." Any peace the world has to offer is temporary, whereas the peace we have through Jesus is eternal, and for those of us who follow Him, we have an eternal home waiting for us in Heaven.

In short, John Thornton in this adaptation of 'The Call of the Wild' was an immensely likable, sympathetic character who helps us see that Jesus is our only source of true, lasting peace. 

A few honorable mentions for this list include 22 from 'Soul,' Joe Gardner from the same movie, Millie Kessler from 'Freaky,' Kelly from 'Bill and Ted Face the Music,' and Snow White from 'Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs.'

That's all for this edition of the Nightcrawler Experience. Stay tuned, as now that this one is finally finished, I have a couple more I'll be able to finish very soon. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and may God bless you all!