Film Review: The Emoji Movie

I’m a big fan of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film podcast (here) and Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes. Both help me choose films to go and see; I don’t go as often as I ought, so I don’t want to blow the best part of £20  (ticket, travels and other bits and bobs) and limited chances for a trip to the cinema on some film that’s got a ‘pants’ rating.

Imagine my glee, then when my two younger daughters agreed – and asked me with them – to go and see The Emoji Movie.  At the time my daughters selected it, it had a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 6%, up from 0% a fortnight before.   They could have chosen Cars 3 (68%),  Despicable Me 3 (61%) or better still Captain Underpants (86%); but nope – the Emoji movie it was.

The rather super thing about having Low Expectations is that at worst, the film is just as expected.  So to my surprise the Emoji movie was better than I’d hoped from ‘6% cinema’.   It had a – broadly – coherent story.  Characters were all one dimensional (but then we are talking emojis) and had generally consistent personas.  And the story was resolved to some satisfaction in the end.   There were two or three good gags at the beginning (the ’emoticon’s colon’ was the best one of the film) and the pace was – on the whole – OK.  So I came out of the film thinking ‘well, that could have been worse’.

There were two problems however.  The first was a cod-philosophy which peppered the movie; the subtitle gives it away: “discovering who you are”.  It feels like the writers have given about two minutes thought to the question: “so what’s the take-home point of the movie?” and then randomly inserted that philosophy in a rather clunky way.  So the (spoiler here) princess-who-is-actually-someone-else-because-she-is-in-the-process-of-discovering-who-she-is character was the least believable of them all – her backstory was spelled out in about two sentences, and then we were meant to have some kind of empathy.

That leads me to the second and bigger problem – craftsmanship. Much has been made on the internet about it’s derivative-ness (see here and here as examples).   I think they are right to make that comparison, even though it is an entirely functional summer movie.  As a result, though it feels like a film made to fit balance sheet (‘OK guys, we need a kids film for Summer 2017!  Roll some Lego Movie/Inside Out/Wreck-It Ralph with some very comtemporanous iPhone idea and get it out quick!’).  The problem is that all those comparable films – as modern as they are – are well-crafted, which is why they get decent reviews, and this one doesn’t.  Craftsmanship is hard not to admire – indeed I think we’re hardwired by God to appreciate it; I could watch the Incredibles or Toy Story time and time again and enjoy something new about them each time.   And although the Emoji Movie was OK – and therefore fine to spend a wet summer morning with your daughters – a good thing to do anyway – it’s not something I expect to delight in time and time again.


Three pictures of non-interaction

I wrote this article a couple of years ago, but it seems truer now than ever before.

Three little interactions gave me a rare insight into life this morning.  I say interactions, but what I really mean is non-interactions.  On the way back from dropping the car off for it’s not-quite-annual-service, I walked past Poundland in Palmers Green.  Four men were sitting on chairs waiting for either some kit, some supplies or at least instruction: none of them were talking to each other and instead were intently focused on their iPhones/Galaxies or whatever they had in their hands.   On the way to the bus stop I popped into W H Smith to buy a newspaper.  Inside, the sole member of staff was standing near the door rather than at the till.  So I picked up the paper, ran it through the self-service till and left.  One very brief hello, one ‘bye and that was it.

Oyster cards have transformed London buses, but there was almost no interaction between me and the driver as I headed home.  Just flash the card at the sensor and sit down.  No destination, no price given no please and thank you.

Technology has been good.  Things are more efficient now – Oyster cards in particular are a brilliant innovation.  But this lack of interaction is not God’s intention for his created people.  Acts 2:46 says “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”  Of course there are countless other passages about the interaction of people with each other: Christianity is primarily a faith of relationships: God within himself, God with us, us with each other.  John 17 picks this up so well.  It grieves me, therefore that our natural inclination is to remove human interaction from each other.  Of course, that is just one of the things that Jesus came to restore.

So I think there’s a role for us being ‘light to the world’ in this matter.

15 years ago, the shop-fitters would have been enjoying some morning banter, there would have been polite exchange at the till in W H Smith, and the bus driver would have known where I was heading and I would have known how much it cost.  Through God’s common grace, technology can be a benefit to society,  but surely not at the cost of relationships, however brief they might be.  May it not be so for us as Christians; note to self, therefore: don’t let technology ride over the God-given grace of interaction, and may I serve as a reminder of the contentment of even fleeting human relationships.




Seven things that ‘Everyday Church’ is, and one that it isn’t!

A review of Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

I don’t read every non-fiction book from cover to cover. Normally a book’s chief idea is presented about a third of the way in, and all the stuff beforehand is useful introduction, and ideas set out afterward tend to be helpful application. So I find most books run out of steam about two thirds of the way through and I often think “could have been a long essay instead”. Not so with Everyday Church. It’s an easy read and worth reading right to the end – the practical stuff is dotted throughout.

The title is a misnomer though – it’s really a number of things, but not particularly ecclesiology! There’s not so much about communion or the word, for instance. I suspect that the title is there mostly to link with Total Church, one of their previous books.

This is what it is though:
1. A really practical exposition of 1 Peter – that is it’s primary job, and the authors do that really well.
2. A helpful dose of cultural analysis – how ‘the’ church fits within currently society. Their analysis of the post-Christendom era is particularly helpful.
3. Practical guidance about how we can live well as a marginal minority in post-Christendom circumstances.
4. Thought provoking stuff about why old school evangelism probably won’t continue to work in the future.
5. A confidence booster, to help us avoid being subsumed into the surrounding culture or surround ourselves with wagons and shoot anyone coming near.
6. A great encouragement for developing and being part of seven-day-a-week Christian communities.
7. Really practical advice about how a small ordinary Jesus-focused community can be inherently evangelistic.
It’s a great read. Buy it here.

10 reasons for not getting on with the J-word

The J-word. It’s the word that makes me sigh and ups my hackles all in one go.  I don’t mean Jesus, by the way.   The j-word is journey.  Here are ten reasons* why I think it’s time to let go of the j-word in Christian circles.

1. Because I’m now over 40.  Not that this is an excuse (although it is, kind of), but I’m beginning to know myself a little bit better.  I’ve never really liked the word journey to describe the Christian’s life, but now I’m absolutely certain I don’t.

2. Because ‘the Christian journey‘ implies that we are travelling** somewhere to find God or spiritual enlightenment.   Surely this is all backside-about-elbow?  Because God finds us, not the other way around, and once he’s found us, if we’re doing any ‘journeying’ (suppress gag reflex) at all they surely it’s with him right at his side?

3. Because it’s a self-help term from La La land, and even there it’s seen as overused.  No doubt someone might interject with John Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress, but for a while now the self-help theorists have purloined it (see here: don’t mention the j-word) which is enough reason alone for dropping it like a hot coal.   In fact it’s now a bit passé, really. Do we really want to use the discards of 80s California to appear to be contemporary Christians?

4. Because it’s an anagram of ‘Run Joey!’, which sounds like some earnest Australian children’s programme.

5. Because I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Carl Trueman seriously dislikes it.  Which is almost reason enough by itself.

6. Because the thing about journeys is that while they can be fun, and often they are a disaster, ultimately they are not ends in themselves, and yet most people seem to talk about them as if being ‘on a journey’ is the main thing about being a Christian.

7. Because it taps into the obsession of the current milieu where process is seen as better than conclusion (another example here).

8. Because it’s just so overused.  Seriously, can’t we think a bit more deeply about the words we use as we live our lives in relationship with Jesus Christ?

9. Because I’m also a Big Cyclist.  And cyclists just don’t really do journeys.   We either ride, or we train, even if we’re not actually training for anything in particular.   (for example “I’m just getting out my cutting edge carbon fibre dollop of two wheeled loveliness to go out on a long journey”.  No, no, and no again.)

10.  Because it’s not very bloke-ish.   Talking about your journey while in the showers after a grubby ride…well you can imagine the response.

*I say reasons, but don’t take it that they are reasonable.
**’Travelling’ is a word that seems not to be used quite as often, but is arguably worse.  I’ve been asked ‘are you travelling with anyone at the moment?’ I was sitting down at the time.  Am I travelling?  Not right now, no.  And if  you mean “are you meeting up with someone regularly to carefully consider (I could use the word reflect but see below) how ministry and life is going”, why not say this?
***forgive me for prattling on but don’t even get me started on the word ‘reflective’.

Shed Evangelism

Recently I was heading back from a town in Kent, where I’d been on a mission with a local church there. I was travelling back with Chris Green, author of this blog and we chatted about evangelism – to men in particular (evangelism to men, not chatting to them). The conclusion I came to – and I can’t remember if Chris agreed or not as I was blathering on so much – was that every man has an inner geek. It might be football, or cycling, or rugby. it might be coffee or Macs or music. Whatever it is, every bloke will have something he is involved with just that little bit too much.

All of this means, therefore successful evangelism to men has to take this on board. The title therefore of my sellout book that will never leave the ideas box is “Shed Evangelism – Redeeming the Inner Geek”.

Talking today to a man who has several inner geeks (there’s something about Oak Hill that both attracts and encourages geekdom) I think we have to start by thinking about how geekyness might be graded, and therefore it might be useful to describe a number of levels. So here’s five levels as a starter for 10:

Geek level: beginnings of obsessiveness, but essential a cheerful enthusiast. Has that slightly smug look towards anyone who isn’t serious about the subject, but is willing to encourage others to join him in his favourite pursuit.

Wonk level: Has sufficient normalness that guilt pangs are all part of the joyful experience. The object of his obsessiveness Is occupying a reserved space in his budget. Never buys everything from just one shop. Will encourage others but only if they show signs of proper seriousness; does not smile when he does his thing.

Nerd level: is now having to buy bits for his obsession on eBay and in parts, so that the cost of buying the full bike/coffee machine/hi fi is not obvious to wife/girlfriend etc. Subscribes to several websites and magazines on the matter. Will spend at least three weeks researching any purchase and still be unhappy with it. Still slightly open and joyful about the object of his nerdiness though.

Obsessive level: guilt levels fluctuate, but then the pleasure from the object of his obsessiveness soon overrides any hint of such a thing. Has had some serious relationships but then the potential other half soon realised where his affections really lay and buzzed off sharpish. Annual holiday is always orientated towards his obsession.

Über-nerd level: does not want anyone else getting into his thing. Likes it to be very exclusive. Apart from money for existence all spare cash is focused on his thing. No relationship with anyone else ever considered apart from those who share his unreserved obsessive focus. The stroking and cleaning of his bike/coffee machine/ hi fi is slightly disconcerting. To be honest he’s difficult to get on with.

To use the terms, Just put use the word describing the appropriate level after the subject. So a coffee wonk is someone who won’t touch instant coffee but is happy with a cafetiere, but a coffee über-nerd is someone who roasts and grinds their own coffee by hand and makes every cup with a thermometer and scales in a darkened room. That sort of thing.

Hmmm…this might have legs.