"Gentleness is a divine trait; nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing is so gentle as real strength"

- Ralph W Sockman
Can I Just Say Something . . . Crazy?

I love crazy!



[H/T My Better Half]

Understanding Gravity as an Allegory of the Life of Peter

Steve Bezner has written a compelling analysis of the film Gravity here. An excerpt:

I recently saw the film Gravity, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Several viewers of the film have noted Cuarón's assertion that the film is about "rebirth," focusing on this quote, "That was the point, for us, of the film. Adversities and the possibility of rebirth. And rebirth also metaphorical in the sense of gaining a new knowledge of ourselves. We have a character that is drifting metaphorical and literally, drifting towards the void. A victim of their own inertia. Getting farther and farther away from Earth where life and human connections are. And probably she was like that when she was on planet Earth, before leaving for the mission. It's a character who lives in her own bubble. And she has to shred that skin to start learning at the end. This is a character who we stick in the ground, again, and learns how to walk."

Certainly there's something to that.

But I think there is something much more. I think that Cuarón is not simply talking about some sort of generic "rebirth" but is specifically telling the Christian story through an allegory of the story of the apostle Peter. Yes, it's a bold claim. But I think it is the best way to interpret the film. I think that Cuarón's explanation would work with this allegory, at least if told on his terms, but I'd like to explore the film using the story of the apostle Peter as the interpretive key, seeing if by "rebirth," he meant something closer akin to "salvation."

***********

Sandra Bullock's character—Ryan Stone—is Peter. Stone has no business being in space. She is outside of her comfort zone. She is a doctor, not an astronaut. The mission is stretching her into a place that she has never been.

George Clooney's character—Matt Kowalski—is Jesus, or at least a Christ-figure. He is exceptionally comfortable. He is in complete control at all times, and he is the one who gives Stone a fighting chance.

The only other character of significance is Mission Control—Houston. Houston is voiced by Ed Harris (a clever nod to the Tom Hanks/Ron Howard Apollo 13) and represents God the Father. He is sometimes exceptionally easy to hear. Other times he is very quiet.
Read the rest, but understand that his post contains some major spoilers.

By the way, I saw Gravity this weekend in IMAX 3D and I highly recommend it.

Another Sign of the Apocalypse

Ben Affleck is the new Batman.

On a scale of George Clooney to Christian Bale, where do you think he'll place?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug



This looks really good. Although I'm not sure what character Evangeline Lilly is supposed to be playing.

Man of Steel

My quick review of Man of Steel is below. It is reasonably un-spoilerish.

Overall, Man of Steel is a very good movie, based on the the fact that though it's only been two days since I saw it I would gladly see it again. Movies about Superman are difficult to make. As has been pointed out in many places, the Marvel characters tend to translate more readily to film because Marvel superheroes are generally flawed people. Superman, on the other hand, has almost no flaws to provide some contrast to his phenomenal cosmic powers. And, other than the diablo-ex-machina of Kryptonite (which doesn't appear in this film), he has no real weaknesses. It can be hard to tell a compelling story on film under those constraints.

The makers of Man of Steel have accomplished the telling of a compelling story. In particular their vision of a young Clark Kent struggling with understanding his powers - indeed struggling with just surviving daily life under the burden of his powers - and dealing with the ostracism that his otherness invites serves to build an empathetic connection with the character.

Was the film perfect? No. I have several complaints. My largest is this: in recent years Hollywood has honed its CGI chops to the point where scenes of massive urban destruction can be plausibly and spectacularly created. It must be a lot of fun to create those CGI shots because the makers of this film went, in my view, at least twenty minutes too long with the crash/smash/boom. For much of the later portions of the film there was too much stuff happening on the screen, and, frankly, if you've seen one huge skyscraper tumble over in flames you've kind of seen them all. Plus, the whole time I just kept doing mental calculations of the 100s of thousands of collateral damage victims resulting from all the high speed combat.

Another slight negative: the bullying of Clark makes sense when he is a young, somewhat nerdy and slightly weird kid. But a later scene when a truck-driver tries to push a full-grown Clark around seems a bit implausible. True, the trucker has partaken of a decent quantity of liquid courage, but, drunk or no, would that trucker really be feeling that brave when confronted, however gently, by this strapping young waiter built like a brick privy who is a good two decades younger, six inches taller and seventy five pounds of coiled muscle heavier than him? I don't think so.

Finally, a pet-peeve: How many people throughout history have actually been killed by the old "let me grab your head and snap your neck" move? Has that happened a lot? My sense is no, but it seems like one in four demises on TV or in the movies these days involves that particular bit of Hollywood-fu.

As for the acting, in my view Russell Crowe as Jor-El really steals the show. He completely owns every scene he's in, and provides the explicit life-mission to his son. I like Amy Adams' interpretation of Lois Lane quite a lot. She plays the spunky, brave journalist role well but also exposes within herself an ethical core that I find refreshing. Henry Cavill is, of course, very good as the man of steel and I assume he will be wearing the blue tights for awhile (I've also been informed by female members of my family that he's relatively easy on the eyes). Kevin Costner is very good as Jonathan Kent. As far as the villains go, while General Zod is the main nasty, he is overshadowed by Antje Traue as Faora-Ui, who is fantastically wicked and additionally fairly boss as a warrior.

Regarding the overt messianic overtones of the movie, I give you this excerpt from C. Michael Patton's excellent review of the film:

Superman: Man of Steel Parallels to Christ
  • Jor El (El meaning “god”) sends his son Kal El to Earth to save humanity even though humanity does not deserve it.
  • It takes an alien righteousness to make us righteous.
  • Superman is given to parents (originally named Mary and Joseph) who raise him as their own.
  • Superman’s human earthly father dies early.
  • When Superman is 33 he travels to the “wilderness” (the arctic) to be qualified for his mission.
  • Superman is guided the entire time by Jor El, from whom he learns his mission.
  • Superman is of two natures (Kryptonian and Human).
  • Superman has two names, Kal El and Clark Kent, which finds perfect expression in one personification, Superman (Hypostatic Union)
  • Clark Kent is rejected and made fun of by peers.
  • Superman is continually tempted by the outside world.
  • Superman is nearly omnipotent with the power to destroy the humans who hate him, but does not ever use it for such a purpose.
  • The “S” on Superman’s chest can mean “Savior” (in Krypton is means hope).
  • The most overt of all: Jor El on the ship says to Superman: “You can save her Kal. You can save them all.” Then Superman lightly floats away with arms stretched out in the form of a cross.

One that he missed: Superman comes to a significant, sacrificial decision while sitting in a church with a stained-glass image of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane in the background.

If you haven't seen Man of Steel, I highly recommend it.

Best Movie Moments

Note to guys: if you see the awesomeness in this scene it doesn't mean you have to turn in your man-card.



I think this is one of the top-ten best movie moments of all time. I think it resonates because it speaks to the deep, God-given longing inside each of us for redemption, for rescue, for love unrequited to be, well, requited again.

Any others to add? Let me know. If you have a link, put it in the comments and I'll embed the video in this post.

Update: Flyaway's submission









And this one from nhe (who FINALLY agrees with me on something! Heh)



Objectively Speaking, The 10 Best Films of All Time

Hands down, accepting no arguments, airtight. From first best to tenth best.

1. Casablanca

2. It's a Wonderful Life

3. The Wizard of Oz

4. E.T.

5. Seven Samurai

6. City Lights

7. The Godfather, Part 2

8. Raiders of the Lost Ark

9. The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy)

10. The Sound of Music

Happy Groundhog Day, Again

Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today!

(I'm reposting this, verbatim, just because)

In a recurring Groundhog Day tribute of their own, the editors of National Review annually post Jonah Goldberg's excellent 2005 paean to the classic Harold Ramis movie, Groundhog Day. Here are the closing paragraphs of Goldberg's article, A Movie for All Time.

Ultimately, the story is one of redemption, so it should surprise no one that it speaks to those in search of the same. But there is also a secular, even conservative, point to be made here. Connors’s metamorphosis contradicts almost everything postmodernity teaches. He doesn’t find paradise or liberation by becoming more “authentic,” by acting on his whims and urges and listening to his inner voices. That behavior is soul-killing. He does exactly the opposite: He learns to appreciate the crowd, the community, even the bourgeois hicks and their values. He determines to make himself better by reading poetry and the classics and by learning to sculpt ice and make music, and most of all by shedding his ironic detachment from the world.

Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, the writers of the original story, are not philosophers. Ramis was born Jewish and is now a lackadaisical Buddhist. He wears meditation beads on his wrist, he told the New York Times, “because I’m on a Buddhist diet. They’re supposed to remind me not to eat, but actually just get in the way when I’m cutting my steak.” Rubin’s original script was apparently much more complex and philosophical — it opened in the middle of Connors’s sentence to purgatory and ended with the revelation that Rita was caught in a cycle of her own. Murray wanted the film to be more philosophical (indeed, the film is surely the best sign of his reincarnation as a great actor), but Ramis constantly insisted that the film be funny first and philosophical second.

And this is the film’s true triumph. It is a very, very funny movie, in which all of the themes are invisible to people who just want to have a good time. There’s no violence, no strong language, and the sexual content is about as tame as it gets. (Some e-mailers complained that Connors is only liberated when he has sex with Rita. Not true: They merely fall asleep together.) If this were a French film dealing with the same themes, it would be in black and white, the sex would be constant and depraved, and it would end in cold death. My only criticism is that Andie MacDowell isn’t nearly charming enough to warrant all the fuss (she says a prayer for world peace every time she orders a drink!). And yet for all the opportunities the film presents for self-importance and sentimentality, it almost never falls for either. The best example: When the two lovebirds emerge from the B&B to embrace a happy new life together in what Connors considers a paradisiacal Punxsutawney, Connors declares, “Let’s live here!” They kiss, the music builds, and then in the film’s last line he adds: “We’ll rent to start.”
Read the whole thing.

I think Groundhog Day is one of the best movies ever made. I remember watching it on VHS with my wife, years ago; though it does not have an explicitly Christian message, the movie is brimming with redemption. Watching it for the first time surfaced in me an exquisite sense of joy. (And, in my one beef with Goldberg over this article, I thought Andie MacDowell was plenty charming).

If you haven't already watched Groundhog Day, I highly recommend it. If you have, get with the spirit of things and watch it again (and again, and again, and . . .)

Review: Les Miserables

Yesterday my family saw the film Les Miserables, directed by Tom Hooper, based on the music and lyrics from the incredibly successful musical, based on the beloved novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. One might think it would be hard not to make a successful film with such material, while on the other hand, when producing a film interpretation of a work adored by millions, how easy it might be to disappoint.

Well, it does not disappoint. This film is a towering achievement. We sat enthralled for the entire 157 minutes of it.

When transitioning a story from the stage to film, some changes, of course, need to be introduced. I've become very familiar with the stage rendition, having seen it twice (once in London and once in Texas) and our kids have listened to the original 1987 Broadway soundtrack seemingly non-stop for the past few weeks. The film takes liberties, shortening some of the songs, adding at least one new song, changing a lyric here and there, and lengthening some songs with a bit more sung dialog. In a stage play, due to the distance of the majority of the crowd from the actors, so much of the plot and emotional development is conveyed through the voices and the set. In a film, closeups of the action and the actors are possible, and there is more information conveyed through the acting than is possible in a stage play. In addition, the visual scope of a film can go far beyond a small stage area and moveable props. As a result, the reliance on voice in this movie is lessened. The singing is still fantastic, but the vocal performances are more variable, more subservient to the action.

The cast of Les Miserables is remarkable. I thought Anne Hathaway put in a very strong performance as Fantine, both in her acting and vocally (Eldest Son wasn't as impressed: he said that while she certainly threw her heart and soul into the part, he could see in her eyes what she was thinking: "Best Supporting Actress. Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actress."). Hugh Jackman is fabulous as Jean Valjean. His is a role with very challenging and wide ranging vocal and emotional requirements and he nails them all. Eddie Redmayne is a very strong Marius, particularly in the last third of the film, and Samantha Barks completely inhabits the role of Eponine, beautifully capturing the sadness, the heroism and self-sacrifice of the character. Other strong performances are turned in by Aaron Tveit as the barricade leader Enjolras - indeed, all the "barricade boys", as my wife calls them, were very good - and young Daniel Huttlestone as the brave street-urchin Gavroche.

Not all the characters are perfectly cast, however. While there is disagreement among my family members, I feel that Russell Crowe is not the best fit for Javert. That role requires a very strong vocal performance and Crowe, while a very fine actor who has, by the way, an amazing voice for speaking-parts, falls a little short as a singer. I also feel that Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thernardiers miss the mark a bit. They are entertaining, certainly, and I think the fault lies less with them than with the way they were directed. They are (if this is possible for the Thernardiers) too over-the-top for my taste.

There are some nice additions to the film as well, some items brought in from the book, such as Javert's pursuit of Jean Valjean and Cosette and their escape over the wall of a convent following her liberation from the Thernardiers. In addition, as a very nice touch, there is the casting of Colm Wilkinson in the role of the Bishop. Wilkinson was the original Jean Valjean in the stage play.

A friend of mine remarked, after seeing the film, that it was more of a sermon than a movie. And he meant that in a good way, meaning almost the exact opposite of what critics mean when they call a film "preachy". Like a good sermon, my friend continued, this film gives you a lot to think about, to dwell upon. And it does. Les Miserables is a masterful study of grace versus law, sacrifice and selflessness versus greed and power, and ultimately, redemption. As the multitudes sing in the masterful final scene of the film:


do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
and the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare;
they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
and all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes.


I highly recommend Les Miserables. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Bruce Lee Vs. Jackie Chan

Yes, this really is Jackie Chan fighting Bruce Lee in the classic film, "Enter the Dragon."



To hear Jackie talk about his relationship with Bruce Lee (who he called "Dragon Brother") go to 5:25 of this interview.

Gosh, I Hope This Is Good

Les Miserables, coming this December. I like the casting choices. If this and The Hobbit both hit it out of the park, I will be a happy man.



I had the privilege of seeing the play at the Queen's Theater in London with my son Andrew in 2010. It was fantastic!

[H/T Sherry at Semicolon]



Hulk. Smash.



Has anyone else seen the Avengers movie? Saw it tonight - loved it.

Did you like it?

Does anyone else beside me think that Loki looks like a malevolent 1980's Bono?

Graham Norton and Mark Ruffalo Perform an Original Script by Yours Truly

So this made my Monday. A follower on Twitter hipped me to this clip from a recent Graham Norton show where Norton interviews actor Mark Ruffalo, one of my all-time faves. The clip begins with Norton referencing Ruffalo's legendary niceness and then brings up an old blog post of mine. They then reenact the script of the conversation I wish Mark and I had had, lo, those seven years ago.



The Jody mentioned is Becky's sister. Amazing that Mark remembered her name! But Jody is a memorable person.

If you're interested in my original post, which also includes a re-creation of how I remember the conversation actually going, you can go here.

That was before gospel wakefulness corrected my fear of man, by the way. ;-)

But I've had the signed boarding pass he gave Jody to give me on my office bulletin board for the last 7 years.

"Bully" Movie

It has arrived. And I'm glad.

If a documentary is what it takes to get people (especially parents, teachers, coaches and administrators) to take notice, then so be it.

Me? I don't need to see the movie. Unless you want to see me weep for 90 minutes straight, don't show it to me. I think the movie is really for people who don't realize how bad bullying really is, which, in my biased perspective, is almost everyone. I had trouble watching the trailer without crying. If you have seen the movie, please comment here and let me know what you thought. The filmmakers seem to want to encourage bullied kids too, but I don't know that it would do that. It's the response from parents and teachers and maybe even other kids that would encourage a bullied child. They know how bad it is already. They just want others to know. And by the way, it's not so simple as just telling someone one. Believe me. That's why I think this movie is so important. The evil of bullying really has to be seen to be believed.

I've been reading the reviews ...and the reviews consistently point out two things:

1- "Eye-Opening" - the movie only shows one child actually being bullied on camera. They followed this kid, Alex Libby, around for a year (the child you see in the trailer) and the students got so used to the cameras, they bullied him on camera. At one point, the filmmakers couldn't be passive observers anymore, so they showed the footage to the parents and administrators. The 4 other kids talked about are:
-an eleven year old boy who killed himself because of bullying.
-A seventeen year old boy who killed himself because of bullying
-a girl who threatened people on a bus with a gun because of bullying
-a lesbian teenager who is interviewed on camera about her experiences being bullied for being gay.

You do get to see an administrator tell two kids to apologize to each other and shake hands. You know how to spot the bully? The one who apologizes with a smile. the administrator then lets the bully walk away and chews out the bullied child for not similarly apologizing and shaking hands.

So I think it's good that this movie shows the utter cluelessness of so many adults about what's really going on.

2- "The Rating Controversy" - Of the reviews I read, most of them spent half or more of their space talking about Harvey Weinstein's stupid battle with the MPAA. The MPAA rated it "R" because of 5 swear words spoken to Alex by the bullys. The Weinstein company is mad about it because they are saying that means kids won't see it. So they appealed and lost the appeal by one vote. Weinstein's response? He released it without a rating. This means that many theaters won't show it due to policies about showing unrated films. Wrong choice, Harv. Let it be rated "R". Do you think that's going to stop kids from seeing it? Really? It may limit it a little while at the theater, but once it goes to DVD and HBO and Netflix, you really don't need to worry. Today's parents are going to let their 7 year olds see it. (either through permission or inatttention)

It bothered me that so much press was spent griping out the rating. The point of the movie is to draw attention to a great evil. Let's just focus on that.

This theme of parental difficulty in getting satisfactory responses from those in authority positions in schools is one of "Bully's" constant refrains. Adults are portrayed as clueless and ineffectual, reduced to either "kids will be kids" platitudes or hand-wringing sentiments such as, "This is an awfully complicated and difficult situation."

When it comes to showing what some kids go through on a daily basis, "Bully" concentrates on the situation of 12-year-old Alex Libby of Sioux City, Iowa. Ironically, precisely because the Sioux City school board takes the bullying problem seriously, it allowed filmmaker Hirsch broad access to East Middle School and to the buses where much of the bullying of Alex takes place.

Since the kids on the bus were used to treating Alex with impunity and because Hirsch shot with a small Canon 5D Mark II, no one held back from hitting and cursing Alex just because a camera was present, which is where the footage that gave "Bully" its R-rating comes from.

Hirsch clearly developed a strong rapport with Alex, a bright, aware kid with an awkward manner who seems to confide in the filmmaker more than in his own parents. Alex is desperate for friends, and he doesn't want to make waves, so he spends quite a bit of time trying to downplay the extent of his bullying, until Hirsch takes the unusual step of showing adults some of the footage he has shot. LINK


I am glad that the filmmaker, Lee Hirsch, who was himself bullied, is on a crusade with this film to get the message out.
“You have an inherent human right to not be bullied and to be safe at school,” Hirsch said during a pre-screening in Chicago. “Keep knocking on doors until you find someone who will fight for you. That is your right. The film is intended to create a whole lot more empathy and awareness. ”">LINK


The following quote ends on a positive note, so read on.
“It’s a very personal film,” Hirsch told NBC News. “I was bullied when I was a kid. So it’s like that project that you carry with you in your pocket and you say ‘One day I’m gonna make this film when I have the guts and I have the courage.’”

One of the stars of the film is Alex Libby, who was 12 at the time of the filming. He is pretty courageous too. Alex is seen being punched, poked and ridiculed on the bus. “They push me so far that I want to become the bully,” he said in the film. At one point during filming, Hirsch was so worried about Libby’s safety, he decided to stop shooting and give copies of his tape to the school and Libby’s parents.

When Libby’s parents confronted school officials they were essentially told not to worry. But they were right to worry, just as so many of us parents do. “I didn’t tell them what was going on, which was my mistake,” Alex told NBC News the other night at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie. “I should have told someone. I wish I would have told someone. But I didn’t until Lee came along.”

Alex Libby’s parents were with him on the red carpet in LA and all three attended the screening I was at in New York. I told Alex’s dad how much he reminds me of my own young son. Philip Libby told us the film had brought Alex out of his shell. “Before it started he was in a deep place that we just couldn’t reach him – and Lee and the film and the whole process has just kind of brought him out of that darkness and broke him out of his shell and gave us our son back,” he said.

Indeed, Alex himself says his life is much better now, thanks to a new school in a new state. And he’s proud to be a part of a film that might help other kids. “I’m glad I’m actually making a difference. It’s amazing. I mean, I was always the shy kid, back when I was in middle school. I would never thought I’d be this kid who’s out there trying to change something. But breaking from my shell has been an awesome experience. I realized how awesome I am,” he said.


Yeah, Alex. You are awesome. :-)

I wish every bullied child would be able to finally figure that out.

John Carter

Have you seen John Carter yet? Evidently, it's breaking records . . . for being a huge bomb. I actually liked it, at least enough to download the source material (Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom series) on my kindle after seeing it.

A lot of people have noted that the lack of moviegoer interest in John Carter might be due to awful marketing. Here's a fan trailer that seems to do a better job of selling the movie than the studio trailer.



Happy Groundhog Day

In a recurring Groundhog Day tribute of their own, the editors of National Review annually post Jonah Goldberg's excellent 2005 paean to the classic Harold Ramis movie, Groundhog Day. Here are the closing paragraphs of Goldberg's article, A Movie for All Time.

Ultimately, the story is one of redemption, so it should surprise no one that it speaks to those in search of the same. But there is also a secular, even conservative, point to be made here. Connors’s metamorphosis contradicts almost everything postmodernity teaches. He doesn’t find paradise or liberation by becoming more “authentic,” by acting on his whims and urges and listening to his inner voices. That behavior is soul-killing. He does exactly the opposite: He learns to appreciate the crowd, the community, even the bourgeois hicks and their values. He determines to make himself better by reading poetry and the classics and by learning to sculpt ice and make music, and most of all by shedding his ironic detachment from the world.

Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, the writers of the original story, are not philosophers. Ramis was born Jewish and is now a lackadaisical Buddhist. He wears meditation beads on his wrist, he told the New York Times, “because I’m on a Buddhist diet. They’re supposed to remind me not to eat, but actually just get in the way when I’m cutting my steak.” Rubin’s original script was apparently much more complex and philosophical — it opened in the middle of Connors’s sentence to purgatory and ended with the revelation that Rita was caught in a cycle of her own. Murray wanted the film to be more philosophical (indeed, the film is surely the best sign of his reincarnation as a great actor), but Ramis constantly insisted that the film be funny first and philosophical second.

And this is the film’s true triumph. It is a very, very funny movie, in which all of the themes are invisible to people who just want to have a good time. There’s no violence, no strong language, and the sexual content is about as tame as it gets. (Some e-mailers complained that Connors is only liberated when he has sex with Rita. Not true: They merely fall asleep together.) If this were a French film dealing with the same themes, it would be in black and white, the sex would be constant and depraved, and it would end in cold death. My only criticism is that Andie MacDowell isn’t nearly charming enough to warrant all the fuss (she says a prayer for world peace every time she orders a drink!). And yet for all the opportunities the film presents for self-importance and sentimentality, it almost never falls for either. The best example: When the two lovebirds emerge from the B&B to embrace a happy new life together in what Connors considers a paradisiacal Punxsutawney, Connors declares, “Let’s live here!” They kiss, the music builds, and then in the film’s last line he adds: “We’ll rent to start.”
Read the whole thing.

I think Groundhog Day is one of the best movies ever made. I remember watching it on VHS with my wife, years ago; though it does not have an explicitly Christian message, the movie is brimming with redemption. Watching it for the first time surfaced in me an exquisite sense of joy. (And, in my one beef with Goldberg over this article, I thought Andie MacDowell was plenty charming).

If you haven't already watched Groundhog Day, I highly recommend it. If you have, get with the spirit of things and watch it again (and again, and again, and . . .)

Courageous

Last Monday my wife and youngest son saw Courageous.

It's a relatively low-budget film ($2 million) made by the same Georgia church that produced Facing the Giants and Fireproof. As a piece of cinema, it has its flaws. I thought it was a little too long, and it had the same jumpy, episodic nature that Fireproof had, including some quite funny comedy relief (I was laughing out loud during some of the bits) that seemed, at times, randomly thrown in.

In other words, this won't compare very well to the best that Hollywood can produce, from a cinematic art standpoint.

That being said, I really liked this movie. It deals with a modern societal sickness that generally receives little or no treatment in the arts: that of Fatherlessness. This film contains gut-wrenching scenes of every parent's worse nightmare, heart-splitting regret, and the violent jarring of an apathetic soul into action. It deals straightforwardly with the subject of Christian hypocrisy, and the redemptive power of God working through tragedy.

I highly recommend the movie. It's worth seeing, especially if you are a parent or planning on becoming one someday.

New U2 Documentary Described as "Transcendent"

EW's Owen Gleiberman reports:

I went to a showing of From the Sky Down, a documentary about U2 directed by Davis Guggen- heim, with more or less one thought in my head: Do I really need to see another U2 documentary? . . . I would probably have skipped the film entirely were it not for the fact that I’ve greatly enjoyed Davis Guggenheim’s work — An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and Waiting for “Superman” (2010), and also, maybe especially, It Might Get Loud (2008), his marvelous ode to rock & roll guitarists. (If you’ve never seen it, you really should.)

I’m glad I listened to my instincts. From the Sky Down looks back at U2′s career through the lens of the band’s single most dramatic transformational moment: the recording of Achtung Baby in 1990-91. Sure, I already knew that that album — a great one — marked U2′s early-’90s reinvention of itself into, ironically enough, a “rock band.” (That’s when Bono started to wear sunglasses, and also when they exchanged the thumping drive of their rhythms for dance grooves, industrial-funk grooves, soft-rock grooves. Simply put, it was when they started to groove.) But From the Sky Down captures how a moment like that one doesn’t just happen. The band members didn’t simply wake up one day and look at each other and say, “Hey, dudes, let’s rebrand!” In fact, Bono and the Edge, by the end of the ’80s, knew that they had pushed their politics, their sound, their stoic po-faced album covers, their indie-band-gone-arena-rock mode as far as it could go, and that they couldn’t just keep doing it anymore.

But what to do instead? From the Sky Down, without being at all overblown about it, presents the recording of Achtung Baby as a moment when the band was trying, in essence, to get from one side of a canyon to another, only they weren’t at all sure that there was a bridge they could walk across, because only the album they hadn’t made yet could be that bridge . . .

The movie is startlingly intimate — and honest — about the fears, the personal and musical tensions, the artistic chaos, the grinding work and discovery that went into the recording of Achtung Baby. It is, quite simply, one of the most transcendent close-up looks at the process of creating rock & roll I’ve ever seen.
I know U2 purists disagree with me, but I think Achtung Baby is their best album, and it's certainly one of the ten best albums by anybody in the last 20 years. Looking forward to the doc.

A Geeky Rant on the Upcoming Superman Reboot (and Comic Book Movies)

Skye Jethani has a neat piece at Out of Ur today reflecting on Leadership Lessons from Superman's Underpants. You should read the whole thing because it's interesting and neat. But I want to pontificate on a point only tangential to his aims.

Commenting on the fanboy rage erupting in the discovery that the new Superman reboot will depict the Man of Steel sans those iconic red undies -- he won't be nekkid, of course, he'll just have the blue jumpsuit that's underneath them -- Jethani writes:

[W]hen Warner Brothers handed the responsibility for penning a new Superman script to Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, the same team behind Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, they wanted to bring the same realism to the Man of Steel they had brought to the Caped Crusader. But the Superman character, unlike Batman, is utterly unrealistic. He’s an alien who can fly, repel bullets, and fire lasers from his eyes. If we are to accept all of that, is it really too much to ask a modern audience to believe Superman would wear red underwear over his pants?
First, I think it's a good thing that Nolan and Goyer are taking over the Superman reigns. Their storytelling chops, cinematic instincts, and mythological depth can give the Superman mythos the gravitas it deserves.

But I honestly think one of the worst things that can happen is if they turn Superman into a brooding, gray-toned Dark Knight-esque mope-athon. The problem with the Superman reboot of a few year's ago was not that it tried to stay colorful and maintain the iconic Superman look/feel, it's that it failed as a movie. It was stupid, campy, poorly acted, and misfired on all cylinders of internal logic. But it did not fail because it wasn't gritty and "realistic." It was a terrible script and was handled by a hamfisted director.

I like the Nolan Batman movies a lot. The second one in particular is a towering cinematic achievement. But as a comic book fan, I still think Spider-Man 2 is the best *comic book movie* of all time. (Although this year's Captain America really wowed me.) To repeat and clarify: I think Nolan's Batman films are better than Raimi's Spider-Man films. The Dark Knight is clearly a better movie than Spider-Man 2. But if I want a movie that captures the wonder, the sparkle, the adventure, the razzmatazz of the days this ten year old couldn't wait to get Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman with his allowance from the spinner rack at Carl's Grocery Store in McAllen, Texas, Spider-Man 2 wins hands down.

And it didn't hurt that it was written by award-winning literary novelist Michael Chabon and directed with frenetic genius by Sam Raimi.

So, you see, Superman reboot honchos, you don't have to turn Superman into an emo kid with seasonal affective disorder or give him a bastard child to hand-wring over or even, God forbid, ditch the red undies, to make a good Superman movie that people will love. You just have to have talented people who will be able to capture the spirit of the Superman mythos. It better have color; it better have life; it better totally buy into the ridiculousness of the Superman premise; it better honor the standard backstory; it better move, baby. If you botch this again, we will hatess you forever, preciousss.

Soul Surfer's Quote-Unquote "God"

"If you have faith, anything is possible. Anything at all."

That's a line from Soul Surfer one of the more recent "Christian movies" to enjoy some measure of success. The good news is that it is a fair bit better in quality than most films that bear the modifier "Christian." With a cast that includes Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Kevin Sorbo, and Craig T. Nelson, you can be guaranteed some serviceable performances, even if the script stunk. And the script isn't great, but it doesn't stink.

There are a few maudlin moments, where the movie loses its tone for real life, but in general it is easily watchable, which is a rarity for this genre. The only exception is the performance of Carrie Underwood who plays a youth minister. Underwood might be able to knock the crud out of a song, but she is a huge acting fail.

Anna Sophia Robb plays Bethany Hamilton, the real life teen girl who loved surfing until a shark attack took her left arm. Then she loved surfing more. Hamilton and her family are devoted Christians, and their faith -- and its motivation in Bethany's life to relearn surfing and compete -- is the basic plot of the film. It is a story about triumph over the odds.

But is it a Christian movie?

Here's my beef, and I'm sure I will take some flack from somebody for this. Bethany Hamilton's story is inspiring and encouraging, and I'm sure she has real saving faith in Jesus Christ, but the message of the movie Soul Surfer appears to be "I can do all things through moralistic therapeutic deism which strengthens me." This doesn't make it a bad movie; it just makes it as easily a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness movie as it does a Christian one.

The quote that opens this blog post is a line that closes the movie. It is a good summation. But it begs the question: faith in what? At one point in the movie, as Bethany is summoning up the courage to reenter the water with one-armed gumption, she quotes Philippians 4:13. Well, not the whole thing. Just the first part that says "I can do all things." Not, you know, how.

There is plenty of God talk in the movie, actually, but I don't remembering hearing the word Jesus once. I could've missed it, but the overwhelming point appears to be that if you work hard enough, God will bless you with being able to do cool things like surf with one arm.

When I was a kid I had a poster on my wall of a dude dunking a basketball with Philippians 4:13 as a caption. I got pretty good at basketball as I got older, but I'm sorry to say that, despite my earnest faith, not literally everything is possible.

I don't think that every movie (or book) created by Christians ought to have the clear plan of salvation in it. That is not how I discern a movie's "Christianity." BUT. If you're going to put explicit faith-in-God talk into a movie -- and call it Christian -- I think you ought to go all in and have the courage to make it Christian talk.

Of course, the way Soul Surfer approaches faith is exactly how many Christians in real life do. This is a real problem and it's not the movie's fault. But in the end, if the explicit message about God you're communicating is that believing in yourself can help you succeed because of a benevolent God, you ought not call your movie Christian. Soul Surfer posits a quote-unquote "God" palatable for any religious soul itching to be inspired without any uncomfortable gospel of Jesus stuff. It's for the same "evangelicals" who don't understand what the big deal is about Mormons being considered Christian. (None of us has perfect theology, right?) And it's for the Mormons too.

I am guessing Bethany's remarkable story deserved much better.

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