September 28, 2007
Ben Stein on Intelligent Design
In February, 2008, Ben Stein (yes, that Ben Stein) is coming out with a movie that exposes the scientific community's rather non-scientific silencing of those not towing the line.
Evolution – and the explosive debate over its virtual monopoly on America's public school classrooms – is the focus of the film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."
In the movie, Stein, who is also a lawyer, economist, former presidential speechwriter, author and social commentator, is stunned by what he discovers – an elitist scientific establishment that has traded in its skepticism for dogma. Even worse, say publicists for the feature film, "along the way, Stein uncovers a long line of biologists, astronomers, chemists and philosophers who have had their reputations destroyed and their careers ruined by a scientific establishment that allows absolutely no dissent from Charles Darwin's theory of random mutation and natural selection."
"Big Science in this area of biology has lost its way," says Stein. "Scientists are supposed to be allowed to follow the evidence wherever it may lead, no matter what the implications are. Freedom of inquiry has been greatly compromised, and this is not only anti-American, it's anti-science. It's anti-the whole concept of learning."
Nice to see someone taking on this issue in what looks to be a funny and informative, Ben Stein sort of way.
July 23, 2007
A "Subversive" Film
Arnold Kling exposes a new movie.
The Acton Institute has produced the most subversive movie I have ever seen. The Call of the Entrepreneur, which is being released on an agonizingly slow schedule, is a threat to tyranny everywhere, including here at home.
The movie's message is that entrepreneurs are creators of wealth, Wall Street financiers are enablers of economic progress, and the villains of the world are people like the Communist leaders in China and American religious leaders who rail against capitalism.
Here's the short description from the movie's website:
A merchant banker. A failing dairy farmer. A refugee from Communist China. One risked his savings. One risked his farm. One risked his life.
Why do their stories matter? Because how we view entrepreneurs - as greedy or altruistic, as virtuous or vicious - shapes the destinies of individuals and nations.
But there are probably too many impediments to it to be shown widely in this country. Kling explains:
But it has very little chance of being shown in public high schools in America. It is far too explicit. "Call of the Entrepreneur" features the Reverend Robert A. Sirico, including a full-frontal shot of his clerical collar. As producer Jay W. Richards points out, the movie uses "the G word."
As a Jew, I am certain that I missed a number of the religious aspects of the movie. There were subtle references to Christian doctrine that went right past me. Perhaps there are Christians who would be more aware of the context and, based on their knowledge, might even take offense at the film's stance. I imagine that passionate atheists would tend to be turned off. But I think that a typical high school student could be exposed to the religion in "Call of the Entrepreneur" without being permanently scarred or corrupted.
I would argue that "Call of the Entrepreneur" and "An Inconvenient Truth" are both religious films. However, unlike Al Gore's movie about global warming, "Call of the Entrepreneur" steers clear of sensationalism, dogma, and misleading half-truths. It is ironic that public teachers and parents are happy to see "An Inconvenient Truth" in the classroom, but "Call of the Entrepreneur" would probably be greeted with protests if it were shown.
Kling's being sarcastic, of course, but makes his point clear. The more we see government as savior, the less freedom we have. The more the entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged, the better it is for all of us, the poor included. Don't give a man a fish, teach him to fish, and allow him to open his own fish business without excessive interference. That's how freedom works.
July 17, 2007
Title of the Post
The song, "Title of the Song", is by DaVinci’s Notebook, and is a hilarious take-off on every boy band song ever written. The video is by a group of guys from my alma mater, Asbury College and is a take-off on every boy band video ever produced. Nice to see scenes from the campus. Gotta go back there soon.
Click here for a good laugh.
July 09, 2007
Name That Film
What Warner Bros. movie has been translated into 1,000 languages (the most recent being finished this month), the most of any film (beating #2 by about 900)?
February 28, 2007
What's Good for the Goose...
Now that James Cameron is making a new documentary suggesting he's found the bones of Jesus, will Andy Rooney now castigate him for making money off of Jesus? He certainly took Mel Gibson to task for this. Think he'll do the same for Cameron?
Yeah, me neither.
October 04, 2006
Affecting the Culture
What would your church do to make an impact on our culture, if it had $100,000 at its disposal? One Baptist church decided to make a movie; a high-quality movie with a good message that is competing favorably against Hollywood's offerings.
It was made by a church on a donated budget of $100,000 with volunteer actors, but instead of a low-budget castoff, "Facing the Giants" held its own against Hollywood's big boys in its opening weekend, grossing $1.4 million on only 441 screens.
Officials say the production, by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., was released by Samuel Goldwyn Films and ranked No. 12 for all films over its first weekend, even though other films had up to eight times as many screens. Its per-screen average of $3,149 was fourth among the top 10 grossing weekend films.
"I think this sends a clear message to Hollywood that there is an audience who does want to see a positive, uplifting film that promotes faith and family values," said Michael Catt, the senior pastor at Sherwood Baptist and executive producer for the project.
"Hopefully, this will open the door for more organizations to bring other quality-content projects to the big screen," he said.
With the lower cost of entry now that movie production has gone digital, this sort of project is now possible.
I can imagine that some might say that this was money that could have been better spent on other projects. But I'd say that a lot of those projects are being done by other churches. I'm happy to see that, just as with individuals, different church bodies have different gifts, and they should be free to use them as God directs (no pun intended).
Besides, based on the box office receipts, this movie could not only encourage Christians and bring the good news to non-Christians, it will likely bring in more money to be used on more conventional projects.
Proceeds are to be used for a 40-acre youth recreational park planned by Sherwood Baptist in Albany, officials said.
Let's celebrate the unconventional, and ask God for more of it.
July 19, 2006
Cat, Meet Dog. Dog, This is Cat.
Brent Bozell, President of the conservative Media Research Center, is calling Oliver Stone's World Trade Center move "a masterpiece".
July 10, 2006
Fast-Forward Considered Harmful; Hollywood Stifles Viewer Choice
You are not allowed to choose what you will and won't watch in a movie. So says Hollywood and the courts.
A federal judge in Colorado has handed the entertainment industry a big win in its protracted legal battle against a handful of small companies that offer sanitized versions of theatrical releases on DVD.
The case encompasses two of Hollywood's biggest headaches these days: the culture wars and the disruptive influence of digital technologies.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch came down squarely on the side of the Directors Guild of America and the major studios in his ruling that the companies must immediately cease all production, sale and rentals of edited videos. The summary judgment issued Thursday requires the companies -- Utah-based CleanFlicks, CleanFilms and Play It Clean Video, Arizona-based Family Flix USA and the separate entity CleanFlicks of Colorado -- to turn over all existing copies of their edited movies to lawyers for the studios for destruction within five days of the ruling.
Utah's CleanFlicks, which describes itself as the largest distributor of edited movies, through online sales and rentals and sales to video stores in Utah, Arizona and other states in the region, said it would continue its fight against the guild and the studios. CleanFlicks and the others make copies of official DVD releases and then edit them for sex, nudity, violence and profanity.
Yes, I know you could spend the time yourself recording the DVD to video tape and try to hit pause/play at just the right times (though the point was not to have to view the objectionable material, even once). Yes, I know you could possibly load up the movie on your computer and, with some expensive DVD editing software cuts out all the parts you want, down to the words. Yes, I know you could spend all that time and/or money doing that yourself.
Or you could pay someone else to. Well, not according to the courts. No, all the gratuitous sex and violence is, not just artistically, but legally required for the story to be told. And no, the studios don't lose a single penny, and yes you can view the original if you really want to.
The mainstreaming of sophisticated digital editing technologies has fueled the cottage industry of movie sanitizers. CleanFlicks and others purchase an official DVD copy of a film on DVD for each edited version of the title they produce through the use of editing systems and software. The official release disc is included alongside the edited copy in every sale or rental transaction conducted. As such, the companies argued that they had the right on First Amendment and fair use grounds to offer consumers the alternative of an edited version for private viewing, so long as they maintained that "one-to-one" ratio to ensure that copyright holders got their due from the transactions. Matsch disagreed.
"Their business is illegitimate," the judge wrote in his 16-page ruling. "The right to control the content of the copyrighted work ... is the essence of the law of copyright."
Careful now, because this statement makes it sound like I can't make my own, edited copy of a movie that I legitimately purchased. If I can't have someone else do it for me, can I legally do it myself? Even if, in both the court case any my hypothetical, an original copy of the movie was legally purchased and is available with the edited version? Don't I have a choice what part of a purchased movie I choose to see? This ruling teeters on the edge of making me a law-breaker for essentially hitting the Fast Forward button on my remote.
This sort of mentality almost occurred with DVD hardware, in the ClearPlay situation. This is a device that allows you to play your DVD and it takes care of filtering it as you watch the movie. What parts to skip are download to the player, and you just hit play.
Early on, the legal sparring involved Salt Lake City-based ClearPlay, which offers video filtering software that allows for home viewing of cleaned-up versions of Hollywood titles.
ClearPlay offers software programs developed for specific titles that users can run on their computer or ClearPlay's proprietary DVD player along with an official copy of the DVD. With this technology, a nude shot of an actor can be altered to show a silhouette, or profanity can be bleeped out. Because ClearPlay's technology does not involve making an altered DVD copy, it has been shielded from the copyright infringement claims. The debate over movie content filtering activities made its way into Congress, which passed the 2005 Family Movie Act that protects ClearPlay and other software-based filtering companies. Matsch noted that Congress at that time had the opportunity to also carve out legal protections for CleanFlicks and its ilk, but chose not to.
The result is exactly the same as watching a pre-edited movie; you own the original, and you watch what you want to. It took an act of Congress to protect your right to skip parts of a movie via a hardware device. It looks like it'll take another one to protect your right to allow a 3rd party to edit it for you (or possibly to protect you from doing it yourself), even though the results of the two technologies result in exactly the same output. The fact that you can obtain a permanent copy of that output shouldn't matter and is a transparent fig leaf to hide behind.
June 21, 2006
Christian Film PG Rating Update
An update to the story about the movie given a PG rating due to religious elements.
In the last week alone, the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which oversees the rating board, has been swamped with more than 15,000 e-mails arguing that "Facing the Giants" deserves a more family-friendly G rating. The complaints — the number of which may be 10 times the previous record for reaction to a ratings decision — say the movie is being unfairly targeted for its religious themes.
The filmmakers say they were told that those themes had prompted the PG rating. MPAA officials deny that was the reason.
Across the Internet and on talk radio, religious groups and conservative commentators have seized on the rating flap as evidence that Hollywood is anti-Christian. And the third-ranking House Republican has written to MPAA Chief Executive Dan Glickman demanding answers.
"This incident raises the disquieting possibility that MPAA considers exposure to Christian themes more dangerous for children than exposure to gratuitous sex and mindless violence," said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
The MPAA is denying they based the rating on the religious content.
Joan Graves, chairwoman of the MPAA's rating board, said Tuesday that the decision had nothing to do with Christianity but was based on football violence as well as the inclusion of mature topics such as depression and infertility.
In a rare interview granted in an attempt to defuse what she calls a controversy born of miscommunication, Graves said that although infertility and depression are involved in the coach's "crisis of faith," the religious story line itself did not raise a red flag.
"If we see somebody on the screen practicing their faith and indicating they have a faith, that's not something we PG," Graves said, adding that the board's goal is simply to alert parents to content in movies that they should research.
But the filmmakers stand by their original story.
A spokeswoman for the filmmakers, however, said they had expected a PG rating because of the infertility subject matter, but that's not the reason they were given.
"When we asked what the reason for the PG was, we were told it was the religious content," said Julie Fairchild, the spokeswoman. She added that the rating board representatives they spoke with "didn't even mention the infertility."
On the upside, some think the rating will be a draw for some demographics.
Ironically, some Christian groups believe the PG rating — not to mention the publicity — will attract more teenagers, who typically shun G-rated films.
"I think that a G for a lot of teenagers is the kiss of death," said Bob Waliszewski, a media specialist with Focus on the Family, a Christian group.
Waliszewski screened "Facing the Giants" and contends the PG rating isn't warranted. But, he said, "it's a case where unfairness will probably be a blessing in disguise."
June 08, 2006
Rated PG for Realistic Depictions of Faith
Depiction of religion--religion is really believed and acted upon, not just mentioned or scorned--now is enough to incur a PG rating for a movie.
A new family film featuring miracles and a pro-God theme has earned a rating of "PG" from the Motion Picture Association of America due to fears it might offend people who have no faith or a different faith.
The decision surprises many who believed the "parental guidance" warning was reserved for the likes of violence, foul language and nudity.
"Facing the Giants," the story of a Christian high-school football coach who uses his undying faith to battle the giants of fear and failure, was given the rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, the group which brands films according to their content.
"It is kind of interesting that faith has joined that list of deadly sins that the MPAA board wants to warn parents to worry about," film spokesman Kris Fuhr told the Scripps Howard News Service.
Fuhr noted the association "decided that the movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions. It's important that they used the word 'proselytizing' when they talked about giving this movie a PG."
Imagine the TV version if this movie. An announcer intones prior to the show, "This movie contains uplifting scenes, raw faith, and answers to prayer. Viewer discretion is advised." What is with this fear of religion?
May 18, 2006
What's Da Big Deal About Da Vinci?
"The Da Vinci Code" is a work of fiction, right? Right, but it's based on a series of "facts", many of which have been debunked. Thus it winds up leaving to the reader where to draw the line as to where fact stops and the fiction begins, even when dealing with Brown's "facts".
The results, then, are not surprising.
"The Da Vinci Code" has undermined faith in the Roman Catholic Church and badly damaged its credibility, a survey of British readers of Dan Brown's bestseller showed on Tuesday.
People are now twice as likely to believe Jesus Christ fathered children after reading the Dan Brown blockbuster and four times as likely to think the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei is a murderous sect.
"An alarming number of people take its spurious claims very seriously indeed," said Austin Ivereigh, press secretary to Britain's top Catholic prelate Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
"Our poll shows that for many, many people the Da Vinci Code is not just entertainment," Ivereigh added.
The Edmonton Journal:
Almost one in five Canadians believe that Jesus Christ's death on the cross was faked and that he married and had a family, according to a new poll that challenges the cornerstone Christian belief in the resurrection.
Albertans were most likely to accept The Da Vinci Code's premise, with 22 per cent reporting they believe in a hoax.
See extended entry for an update.
It is true that this book and movie will also cause people to look more closely at the Bible to find the truth, but I believe it will mostly be those who would already be skeptical of Brown's book. But the price at which this is bought--the further distancing from the truth those who haven't made up their mind--seems too high for a Christian to stomach. Saying "it's just fiction" doesn't answer the problem. Saying "I wasn't fooled" ignores the problem. Saying "only the foolish will be fooled" condemns the uneducated and ignorant (something Jesus wouldn't do).
The reason Christians need to make a noise about this is because the truth is being muddled to the point that people are being led away from the truth under the guise of a work that, while covered by the fig leaf of the label "historical fiction", blurs the line between "historical" and "fiction" so profoundly that a significant number of people can't tell the difference.
If someone wrote a "historical fiction" novel about the the battle of Gettysburg with as many problems with the facts as "The Da Vinci Code" has, it would be rightly panned by Civil War historians. It wouldn't change their minds as to the truth of what happened during that battle, but they would be properly concerned that the general public, who didn't have the same information they do nor necessarily the inclination to research it, would tend to believe it. They would try to convince people to stay away from such a movie. No one would blame them. It should be the same for the response you're hearing from many churches (sans any calls for banning books or movies).
And with "The Da Vinci Code", there's far more at stake than simple historical accuracy. There's eternity to consider.
UPDATE: In case you still think that Dan Brown's motive is purely entertainment, consider this quote from an interview on CNN (emphasis mine):
SAVIDGE: Obviously, you were just looking at the Last Supper there. When we talk about da Vinci and your book, how much is true and how much is fabricated in your storyline?
BROWN: 99 percent of it is true. All of the architecture, the art, the secret rituals, the history, all of that is true, the Gnostic gospels. All of that is -- all that is fiction, of course, is that there's a Harvard symbologist named Robert Langdon, and all of his action is fictionalized. But the background is all true.
This is a book meant to persuade under the guise of entertainment.
December 06, 2005
In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Nelson defends The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe against attacks by award-winning writer and atheist Philip Pullman. Pullman pulls no punches in his disdain and revulsion of the story and its themes. Nelson, however, point by point, shows that these attacks are without merit in the areas of sexism, racism, violence, death and love. In more than one case, Nelson notes that the very thing that Pullman professes to dislike about Narnia is also featured in Pullman's own children's literature.
The most ironic portion:
One of the books in Pullman's His Dark Materials series won the 2001 Whitbread Award both for best children's book and for best book of any kind published in England the previous year — the only time the main prize has ever been awarded to a work for children. Pullman wrote the series, he says, because "I really wanted to do ... Paradise Lost in 1,200 pages. ... It's the story of the Fall which is the story of how what some would call sin, but I would call consciousness, comes to us." Over the course of three volumes, Pullman wanted to celebrate, as he thinks John Milton does, our first ancestors' decision to rebel against God by eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge.
In Pullman's mind, rebellion from a loving God is better than (or at least a better story than) redemption and acceptance of the gift of eternal life from that same loving God. Read the whole review for some more good irony and a good defense of Lewis' story.
August 15, 2005
Building Narnia Buzz
One of the most anticipated movies of the year is "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" which is scheduled to open on December 9th. It's the first of a series of planned adaptations of the popular books by C. S. Lewis.
Two new resources have been made available that tie-in with the movie. First, Barna Films is offering special group screenings in select areas on December 8th, the day prior to the official release date. Also, another website called Narnia Resources is designed to provide materials and support to educators who want to incorporate a discussion of the movie and the books into the classroom.
The Chronicles of Narnia is one of our family's favorite series of books. From what I have seen thus far, the movie appears to be a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. I hope that the movie will exceed expectations and will be successful enough to make other movie studios finally recognize that this is the type of film that should be produced more often.
June 28, 2005
Woody Allen's Insanity
Woody Allen is one of my favorite filmmakers; I'm a fan of both his nostalgia and his neurotic sensibilities. That said, his recent remarks about are 9/11 are inexcusable and asinine.
Thus spake Lileks.
May 28, 2005
I finally got around to seeing Episode III this week. It was entertaining, but I'm still unsettled on my overall opinion. George Lucas is a horrible storyteller. The dialogue was awful at times and the CGI effects were just too much. That said, the movie has a lot of positives - Ewan McGregor, the final battle scenes, wookies - that make it worth seeing. The biggest issue for me is still the gaping holes of logic as it concerns the Force. Lucas has invented a religion that he can't figure out, and we're all having to suffer along with him.
May 10, 2005
Narnia Trailer/Disney's new partnership
In case you missed it during Saturday night's airing of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" on ABC, here is a link to the first trailer for "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."
It looks great!
I think Disney made a wise move to team up with Walden Media. Walden seems to be picking the right properties to turn into feature films. "Holes" was an excellent book-to-film translation, even if the movie didn't have the same feel as the Newbery Medal-winning book. (The book is a deceptively simple children's book, but in fact is a philosophical treatise on fate and self-determination. At least, that's how I saw it.) "Because of Winn Dixie," was a Newbery honor book, though reviews were mixed. (Haven't seen it yet.) Walden is working on a live-action "Charlotte's Web," too. And along with "Narnia," Walden is planning another multi-book series: "The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper, a five-book series, one of which was a Newbery Honor Book, and another which won the Newbery Medal.
Disney needs a new partnership since its partnership with Pixar is at an end, and everything Pixar has done has been a winner for Disney.
With properties like the above, the Disney name could start being synonymous with "family films" again.
By the way, I've always wondered why more filmmakers didn't turn to Newbery titles when looking for family-oriented films. I can think of a bunch that would make excellent movies. I'd love to see a film version of the strongly pro-life book "The Giver." (Not because it's pro-life, but because it addresses a number of serious ethical questions that resonate with modern society.) It would have to be black and white, too, so it could be all artsy and stuff. (In my spare time (asssuming I have some once the kids get older) I think I may have to start writing screenplays of some of the better Newbery books.)
May 06, 2005
Last time I checked, the number one movie at the box office last year was "Shrek II." "The Passion of the Christ" came in third.
Third, of course, is amazingly good for a film that had so much stacked up against it: an R-rated Biblical film in a foreign language with tons of gory violence and a lot of bad press by people who pronounced it anti-Semitic.
In contrast, "Shrek II" had it easy. An animated sequel to an enormously popular film, aimed squarely at the family filmgoers.
I didn't see either film. I did see the original "Shrek," and with all the adulation heaped upon it I thought I might be the only one who hated it. All poop and fart jokes and double entendres. No thanks. It bugs me when Hollywood creates a movie designed to appeal to pre-teen kids, and then fills it with adolescent- to adult-level vulgarities. Mixed messages? You bet.
So I was pleased to see Nehring ripping Shrek II today. He also makes some great points about this and other "post-modern family films."
I really hated this piece of crap. I know this is a very successful film and people loved it. I am not one of those people. Honestly, I think films like this are quite damaging to our culture. This film is another in the new string of post-modern family films. These films (Shrek, Robots, Shark Tale, Cat In The Hat) are thinly veiled attacks set up to usurp traditional morality. They push relativist morality, sneer at traditional life and disdain for all authority beyond one’s nature. These “kid films” also are littered with blunt sexual and drug references, and poop humor. Shrek II is the king of these post-modern films. It pushes the notion that we should trust in our natures over our traditions. The characters find happiness in themselves over accepting the tenets of society. Can societies be wrong in their thinking? Yes, without question. But Shrek and the rest of these films push the blanket notion that traditional society is always wrong. The individual and his singular truth are always right. This is a deadly message to offer to children. (Emphasis mine)He also adds this:
And to think, the director Andrew Adamson is helming The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.Yep. That worries me a bit, too. I left that out of my post on the pitfalls facing the new Narnia film, but it did occur to me as well.
Last year pundits couldn't resist setting up the false dichotomy of "Fahrenheit 9/11" vs. "The Passion of the Christ," but perhaps the great divide should have been betwen "The Passion" and "Shrek II."
May 04, 2005
I Want My M(onk)TV
(Hat tip: The Anchoress)
Though most reality tv participants get their fifteen minutes of fame and disappear back into obscurity, here's one reality tv show that gave its participants something eternal.
Five men, ranging from an atheist in the pornography trade to a former Protestant paramilitary, have found their lives unexpectedly transformed in the latest incarnation of reality television - the monastery.
More Oh Brother! than Big Brother, the five underwent a spiritual makeover by spending 40 days and 40 nights living with Roman Catholic monks in Worth Abbey, West Sussex.
The experiment, which will be shown on BBC 2 this month, was designed to test whether the monastic tradition begun by St Benedict 1,500 years ago still has any relevance to the modern world.
Although participants were not required to vote each other out, they faced the challenge of living together in a community and following a disciplined regime of work and prayer. By the end, the atheist, Tony Burke, 29, became a believer and gave up his job producing trailers for a sex chat line after having what he described as a "religious experience".
Gary McCormick, 36, the former Ulster Defence Association member, who spent much of his early life in prison, began to overcome his inner demons.
Peter Gruffydd, a retired teacher, regained the faith he had rejected in his youth and Nick Buxton, 37, a Cambridge undergraduate, edged closer to becoming an Anglican priest.
The fifth "novice", 32-year-old Anthony Wright, who works for a London legal publishing company, started to come to terms with his childhood traumas.
Deleting an "Incredible" Scene
At Townhall.com, Paul D. Gallagher writes about a scene that was deleted from the theatrical release of The Incredibles, but shows up on the DVD. It would have been interesting to hear the reaction a theater audience might have had to this scene. I suspect certain members of the audience would have stood and applauded. But I'll let Gallagher tell about it:
The setting is a backyard barbeque in their neighborhood. Helen Parr is introduced to Beth, a commodities broker. Beth talks excitedly about her job, then asks what Helen does. “I’m a homemaker,” Helen replies. Blank stare from Beth, who cuts off Helen’s next sentence with a curt, “That’s nice.” Beth walks off, and Helen scowls.
A minute later, Helen overhears Beth talking to some other neighbors:
Beth: “Throw away my prime years trailing after a bunch of snotty kids? No, thank you! Hello, no thanks! Hello, I want to do something with my life!”
Helen: “Wait a minute! You consider raising a family … nothing?”
Beth: “Well, it’s fine if you’re not suited for more substantial things.”
Helen: “Do you have any idea how much suffering would fail to take root if more people were just good parents? What’s more important than that? What kind of job?”
Beth: “Uh … uh …”
Helen: “A job saving lives? Is that important? What about risking my life?”
Beth: “Well, I … uh …”
Helen: “What about confronting evil on a daily basis for years so that people like you can sleep in safety and security? Would you consider that kind of job ‘substantial’?”
Beth: “Yeah. I would. Yes.”
Helen: “Well, that’s the job I gave up for my new job -- raising a family. And nobody’s going to tell me it’s any less important.”
Wow. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. We have a hero in a major film defending the job of homemaker. Rewind it all you like. Then notice the sky’s not falling. And if you think I liked it, imagine how my wife, Cindy -- a homemaker and mother of six -- felt about it.
Like I said, imagine a theater full of stay-at-home moms who have taken the kids out to a Saturday matinee showing would have reacted. Loud applause? I think so.
Before you presume some Hollywood conspiracy to take out this powerful scene, read on:
Brad Bird said he included the scene because it reflected what his own wife encountered every time they went to a social function. People who found it easy to chat with others who worked outside the home felt awkward and didn’t know what to say when they met this strange creature who called herself . . . a homemaker.
. . . But Bird said he cut it reluctantly and only because he realized it would be better to begin with the heroes being heroes (and he was right). Besides, the finished film still strongly endorses the homemaker option (albeit implicitly), and the scene is available for all to see on DVD.
By the way, if you haven't seen Brad Bird's "The Iron Giant," go out and rent (or buy) that one. It's quite enjoyable.
Steve McCoy at Reformissionary – a great blog that you should be reading – passes along this article by Kelly Boggs, a relatively well-known Southern Baptist pastor. Boggs is arguing that Hollywood has an agenda it’s trying to push.
While I acknowledge that movies are often vehicles for political correctness and the occasional issue-based agenda (see Cider House Rules), it is intellectually vacuous to suggest that every non-family movie is trying to push an agenda. Is Boggs so determined to wage the culture war that he refuses to understand the difference between an agenda-based movie like the Contender and a movie like Mystic River that explores humanity and ultimately comes to a conclusion different from that of Christians? If a prominent film presents a series of conclusions that are at odds with Christian teaching, we should be willing to discuss the matter artfully and critically. We should not chalk it up to Hollywood's nefarious agenda.
I’m not saying we have to agree with everything we see. I’ve written before about the despair that prevails in a movie like Million Dollar Baby. But the conclusion of despair is not necessarily advocacy for it. Adaptation, despite its fantastic screenplay, directing and performances, is a very hopeless film. Yet it is not an endorsement of hopelessness. The movie simply is what it is. Ingmar Bergman consistently produced movies with existential undertones. It is likely that Bergman himself was an existentialist, but it is hopelessly naïve to suggest that he was promoting existentialism in the same manner that Michael Moore was promoting gun control or an end to the Iraq War.
I am not suggesting that Hollywood is innocent and free of depravity. And I also realize that many films’ ideologies are rooted not so much in agenda as they are the fallen worldview of the script writers and directors. Nevertheless, Boggs is simply off base. He fails miserably in his cultural analysis. At the risk of sounding like John Kerry, there is a serious need for nuance in this discussion. I pray that the culture war does not reduce itself to this sort of argument. If it does, we are sure to be defeated. Boggs’ analysis is terribly narrow-minded, no matter how well intentioned he may be.
For a more mature and critical Christian analysis of art, I would start at Looking Closer and then follow all subsequent links.
May 03, 2005
Narnia movie a minefield for Disney
The Life section in today's USA Today has this lengthy article (lengthy for USA Today anyway) on the new Narnia movie which Disney studios hopes will be the first of a seven-film franchise. The first trailer for the movie will air Saturday night during ABC's showing of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and a longer trailer will be attached to this summer's most highly-anticipated film: Revenge of the Sith. The film itself won't arrive in theaters until December.
I'm looking forward to seeing the film, but it will be interesting to see if Disney can avoid all the pitfalls that accompany bringing a book like this to the screen. Consider this:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an enormously popular book: Until HarperCollins got the US Publication rights, LWW was considered the first book in the series (it was the first Narnia book that Lewis wrote, and really should be read first even though HarperCollins numbers it second), and as such, it's the book most people will have read if they read any of the series at all. Fans of the book will want to see a film version that's faithful to the story. Even minor detractions will cause an uproar from some quarters.
The story is a parallel of the death and resurrection of Christ: C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the last century. His books are read, reread, quoted, excerpted, and passed along almost like religious tracts by many Christians, and Christians -- who already have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood -- will want to make doubly sure that a film version of one of the best-loved novels in Christendom remains faithful to its message of sacrifice and redemption. If the film downplays or dilutes the Christian message in any way, count on an outcry.
Actually, count on an outcry anyway, because no matter how faithful the film version is, some people won't be happy unless there's an altar call at the end. And other people will reject it because a) it's a fantasy, b) it's got a witch in it, and c) the Christ figure isn't Jesus himself.
Disney has been repeatedly targeted by some Christian and pro-family organizations: In recent years, Disney's managed to alienate the very audience it seeks, so this is a big risk for Disney. If they don't do it right, they will only be confirming for some Christians how seemingly out of touch they are.
The first trailers will be telling. A positive reaction from Narnia fans will likely result in an overall positive feeling toward the filim as the release date approaches. Negative reaction will dog the film until December.
I'm hoping Disney manages to pull it off, if only because I want to see film versions of the later books in the series. But I'm already wondering how Disney will handle "The Last Battle," which is essentially the Narnian "Revelation" with all that end of the world heaven and hell stuff. If the Narnian worship of Aslan is Lewis's parallel to Christianity, what will Disney do with the Arab-like Calormenes who appear in later books, and whose religion is Lewis's parallel to Islam?
In spite of the changes to the source material, Tolkien fans were so pleased with the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that their initial outcry turned to fevered anticipation for the next two films. But because the Narnia series has such strong religious symbolism, Disney's going to be walking a minefield with each release.
April 15, 2005
The inertia of slack
Sorry for my lack of contribution to this site. It's been a busy week. And when it wasn't busy, it was far too nice outside for me to spend it sitting in front of the computer.
Part of the problem (and part of the solution is admitting it) is that the longer I stay away -- for whatever reason -- the easier staying away becomes. When you're uninspired, it's easier to stay uninspired than to expend energy in the search for inspiration.
But while I didn't spend a lot of leisure time in front of the computer, I did spent a few hours in front of the television. And here's what's been inspiring me:
Wonderfalls was a television series that aired briefly on the Fox network last year. Though it launched to critical acclaim and quickly gained a strong following, it wasn't strong enough, and the series was cancelled after only four episodes aired. But 13 episodes were produced, and they're now out on DVD.
Though I've only seen about half the episodes so far, I'm really enjoying the series. The premise is certainly original. The protagonist, Jaye Tyler, is a twenty-something slacker who attended Brown University and earned a degree in philosophy, but then returned to her home in Niagara Falls where she works in a souvenir shop and lives in a trailer park, much to the chagrin of her affluent, successful family.
Though Jaye's main personality trait is an ironic detachment to life and the people around her, everything changes when a lion figurine at the souvenir shop begins talking to her. The lion (and a wide assortment of knick-knacks and chotchkies) start commanding Jaye to commit random acts of kindness. Though these acts don't always seem like kindness, no one is more surprised than Jaye when obeying the voices brings about good consequences for those around her.
On the surface it sounds like a one-gimmick show, yet over the course of just the seven episodes I've seen, I'd say the show works on multiple levels. On one level, the show perfectly captures that angsty post-college period of finding your place in the world. The snappy dialogue and ironic sensibility fit the wacky situations that Jaye encounters. But on a deeper level viewers will notice existential questions about God and life and "the meaning of it all." This other level isn't readily apparent in the four episodes that aired, but start to color the series in the episodes viewers will only get to see on DVD.
Jaye, the slacker philosophy student who hears voices and reluctantly accepts her role as "Joan of Niagara Falls" find a fitting foil in her brother, an atheist theology student who first thinks Jaye is going crazy, but begins doubting his belief that nothing is out there.
Christians will probably be a little put off by prime-time-level obscenities ("bitch" or "ass" for example) and the frank talk of sex (the series is not appropriate for children in spite of having the occasional talking puppet), but may find much to embrace in a tale of a woman who regularly hears a still, small voice and obeys it. In being forced to connect with other people -- in spite of herself -- she changes both their lives and her own.
The show has also has me reflecting on God's providence, and passages such as Jeremiah 29:11 or Romans 8:28. The objects that speak to Jaye do not explain themselves, and at times their instructions seem counterproductive (in one episode she is told to smash the taillight on a car) but there are always good results.
And sometimes following God means doing things that just seem . . . crazy. Or sometimes things seem like they must be outside of God's will because they don't make sense from a human point of view. But everything works out for the good anyway.
In that sense the show strengthens my own faith and has me listening a little more carefully for the still, small voice.
Drew says "check it out"
March 12, 2005
"Million Dollar" review
Ruth, a quadriplegic, and Meredith, her personal aide, head off to see the controversial hit movie "Million Dollar Baby."
For the two of us, going to a movie requires planning. It's hard to be spontaneous when you're in a wheelchair, or trudging along beside one. But nothing was going to keep us from judging Clint Eastwood's controversial new movie for ourselves.
Their recounting of their experience is warm and amusing, but with (obviously) very painful and personal insights into the issues that surround the film. Here are two spirited ladies not afraid to tell you that they both declared the film "able-ist crap." (And if you haven't seen it, and wish to remain spoiler-free, you might want to skip this entry.)
Meredith: We go on about Million Dollar Baby for days and that's when I realize that for all its problems (e.g., the musical score is puerile), I've seen an important movie during this year's Lent. I don't want people to boycott this film. I want them to see it even though -- and perhaps because -- they know the ending. And then, I want them to get angry, not at God, but about flaws in the structural apparatus of faith (i.e., religion) that would make assisted suicide seem an appropriate response instead of becoming a living witness to suffering. I want viewers to wonder why the character of Maggie Fitzgerald has the determination to become a prize fighter but not enough spiritual strength to manage life as a quadriplegic. I especially want Christians to remember that throughout our history, the Spirit has lived large and worked well within broken bodies; something to ponder as we come to the Cross during this holy season.
Ruth: It took nearly a decade for me to arrive at a place of acceptance. I've chosen life, believing that it's not my place to decide to die because life is too difficult, inconvenient, or no longer to my liking. Some may feel the choice to commit suicide is a form of ultimate freedom. What I know is that by surrendering my option to play God, I've lived long enough to learn that a life of dignity, usefulness, and hope is possible for a quadriplegic. If only the character in Million Dollar Baby could've stayed in the ring of life long enough to discover this for herself.
Go here for the whole article.
(Hat tip: The Dawn Patrol)
February 28, 2005
My Initial Take on Million Dollar Baby
I just saw Million Dollar Baby, one night after it won an Academy Award. I thought that perhaps I should digest the movie and talk about it later, but I do not believe that is possible. Too much has already been about the film, but I shall add my piece nonetheless. To begin, let me say that this is a masterfully crafted movie, well-made in every aspect. I was unable to see any of the other films nominated for Best Picture, but this was a fine film.
Yet art does not let us go so easily; we are forced to ponder questions and perhaps develop a few of our own. This is a troubling movie on many levels. It is existentionalist at its best; purely nihilistic at its worst. God is indeed dead in this film. I do not know whether Nietzsche would be proud of the film, but surely he would concede its implications. It is no coincidence that Clint Eastwood's character reads Yeats throughout the film. Yeats admired Nietzsche and again, I cannot say that Yeats would agree with every decision made in the film. Surely, however, Yeats would admire the sheer will of Frankie and Maggie. They both exemplify Der Ubermensch as Nietzsche saw him. Hemingway would be proud, and perhaps D.H. Lawrence, as his notion of the will to power ran rampant thoughout the film.
As a Christian it was most difficult to view this movie. Of course it is well made in all areas, but it is a film about a world where God is silent, if He even exists at all. The characters in this film are hopeless, striving only to achieve satisfaction in self. One watches the film and wants desperately at times to tell Frankie and Maggie and Scrap that there is hope.
I shall write more on this later. This is a deep, deep film and no amount of knee-jerk reaction should distract us from the philosophical implications that lie within. Thus far, Mike Potemra and Thomas Hibbs, both writing at National Review, have the best analysis. They do not fall into the trap of arguing politics or excusing sin and despair. They do a fine job of examining the film; its merits and its flaws. I have yet to read much else from conservatives or Christians that offered such a critical analysis. Potemra is right; this not a movie about what sin has done to humanity. See Kill Bill for a gruesome lesson on that topic. No, this movie comes to the tragic conclusion that our fleeting moments of glory are all we have. Once they are gone, so are we.
How sad and terrible! I'll talk more about this film later. Despite its controversy, there is much here to discuss. We should not abandon the public square, least of all not in these times. Even when it makes us uncomfortable and challenges us, as this movie does, to passionately defend Truth in all spheres.
February 27, 2005
Million Dollar Controversy
I mentioned the other day that I was wanting to see Million Dollar Baby sometime before the Oscars. I haven't had the chance yet, but I might try this afternoon. On its face, it looks like a well-made movie. Beyond that, of course, is the controversy surrounding its ending.
Do not read any further if you don't want to know the movie's ending.
Thanks to Rush Limbaugh, I've already had the movie's ending ruined for me. Rush and Michael Medved both seem to take the opinion that the script's utilization of a very controversial and (in my mind) immoral medical procedure is a de-facto endorsement of such an act.
Contrast that with Jeffrey Overstreet's review in Christianity Today. Though I've yet to see the movie, I find Overstreet's review to be very fair. Perhaps too much so. For a different opinion, examine this brief analysis from Mike Potemra at The Corner. I can appreciate both reviews, and their final conclusions, because both of these men are critics. They are - unlike Limbaugh - men who spend much of the their time examining art for its flaws and its praise-worthy attributes.
I was also bothered by Al Mohler's "review" of the film. Mohler's piece isn't so much of a review as it is an analysis of the controversy. I certainly don't endorse the actions taken by the film's characters at the end of the movie. Maybe Clint Eastwood does, but simply showing an action in a movie is not in itself endorsement or propaganda. Mohler's article, however, takes the movie as an opportunity to rail against the procedure. This is reasonable and I agree with his premise concerning the procedure. Yet Mohler takes a highly uncritical and almost shallow view of art. Shall we denouce every work of art that utilizes actions and procedures that by any stanrdard of Judeo-Christian morality are wrong? Based on Overstreet and Potemra's reviews, I fully expect to appreciate the artistry of the movie and yet be disturbed by its moral conclusions. However, I reject any notion that this is an example of Hollywood tossing an agenda down our collective throats or that Eastwood is attempting to emerge as an advocate for the procedure that the movie protrays. He may yet do so, and should he do that, I shall be sorely disappointed. But until then (and until I've seen them film), I find it unfair to treat this an example of all that is wrong with Hollywood.
I hope to have more on this point after viewing the movie. Right now I'm simply trying to wade through the loud noise being blasted from every angle.
Note: For about twenty minutes there was a line in the above paragraphs that in retrospect was unnecessary. I have since edited the post.
February 04, 2005
More on Film and Faith
He also links to Gideon Strauss, who along with his own suggestions for films fit for discussion, pointed out this excellent resource which has lists of discussion questions for a number of great movies. See, for example, this discussion guide for "Crimes and Misdemeanors," one film I definitely want to have included in the discussion group.
Matt also links to some excellent resources below.
Thanks for the resources and film suggestions, folks. Keep 'em coming.
February 03, 2005
Views on the Passion Snub from a Hollywood Insider
In late December, as we considered the events of the year past, I looked (at The Rooftop Blog) at the top ten Christian news trends of 2004. First among them was the success and impact of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. There was plenty of agreement among analysts who looked at important religious news.
So I was surprised and I suppose dismayed when the Academy Award nominations were released that The Passion was essentially snubbed. It earned three nominations, for cinematography, makeup, and original score. But nothing major.
The Passion had won in the best drama category at the People’s Choice Award. But this was cheapened when it shared top honors with the animated green ogre, Shrek, and the constipated liberal ogre, Michael Moore.
But to be honest, I’m not much of film critic, so I wondered if, perhaps, the movie simply didn’t meet some of the highest standards of the industry. So I asked for the opinion of a long time friend who is one of the most successful evangelical Christian writers and producers in Hollywood (withholding his name because of the politics of Hollywood). He was the producer of one of the most successful television series of the last decade, and has written a number of movies and for many TV programs.
I asked him why he thought The Passion was snubbed by the Academy. He responded:
“A couple of perspectives on the snub.
One, it wasn't completely snubbed. It received 3 nominations, but it definitely was snubbed in the big four categories (writing, directing, acting, best picture).
Two, it would have had to qualify in the foreign film category anyway because it was in a very foreign language, which makes it more difficult to compete for best picture.
Three, the studios engage in incredible gamesmanship to campaign for these nominations. They lobby, they take out expensive, continuous advertisements in the Hollywood trade papers, and they send out free screeners to all members. Mel Gibson made a point of not going out of his way to lobby the industry, and I respect him for it, but I think it cost him some nods. The only thing he did was send out the screeners, but created no profile for the movie in the trades.
There's no doubt that much of the Hollywood community wasn't enamored of the film (except for the studio execs who were blown away by its success), so there was undoubtedly a "protest" non-vote across the board when it came time for nominations, probably fanned by all the anti-Semitism controversy. I personally have met very few people in Hollywood who actually saw the movie. They all just sat back and scratched their heads as the rest of the America turned out in droves.
One thing the film has done in Hollywood is make the money people stand up and take notice. One was Rupert Murdoch at Fox, who called his execs on the carpet and asked them why they passed on "The Passion." They made the excuse that everybody passed and that the movie was a fluke. Murdoch corrected them by saying the audience is not a fluke, and if you build movies for them, they'll come, and he said he wants to see Fox put out more faith-based movies. Fox owns Zondervan, so Murdoch suggested an adaptation of "The Purpose Driven Life," [which is being made].
So, Academy Award or not, Gibson has changed the landscape.”
This friend and former colleague is, by the way, in a small group Bible study with Hugh Hewitt, which should give him some clout here in the blog nation.
"And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."
Do you suppose that video rental places experience a one-day run on the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day" each February 2nd? I haven't seen the movie in years, but after reading what Jonah Goldberg has to say about it, I think I need to watch it again.
When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on "The Hidden God: Film and Faith" two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is "a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim's Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos." Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, "It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world."
Oh. Er, . . . geez, I love it when films are all multivalent and stuff, but . . . Groundhog Day?
I know what you're thinking: We're talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, "Don't drive angry," right? Yep, that's the one. You might like to know that the rodent in question is actually Jesus — at least that's what film historian Michael Bronski told the Times. "The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."
You know, I've had this idea of starting up a film discussion group at my church. Sort of like one of those ubiquitous book clubs, but with movies instead of novels. Film, after all, is simply a modern way of storytelling, and I suspect that people go to more movies each year than they read books. So why not a movie-watching-and-discussion group? The format allows everyone to experience them simultaneously, and because they're short, the viewing and discussion can all take place in the same evening.
So I'm going to try to run a film discussion group, with the idea of discussing movies as both works of art and a presentation of the filmmaker's worldview.
After reading the above, I may have to include "Groundhog Day." If nothing else, I certainly want to see it again now.
But I'd also like some advice. What other films would make for good discussions -- both of the filmmaker's technique, and of the themes? I'm trying to avoid films that everyone will have already seen, or if immensely popular, will have seen recently. I'm also hoping to discuss the thematic elements with regard to the Christian worldview. I'd be interested in hearing your suggestions in the comments below.