Posts tagged with: movies

Blog author: ehilton
Thursday, October 16, 2014
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malcolm xDon’t you love lists? Intercollegiate Press does too, and they’ve put together “12 Movies That Defined America.” Feel free to argue, debate, add on, cross off as you wish.

Here are just a couple of Intercollegiate Press’ choices:

The Birth of a Nation – 1915, silent. The first blockbuster, D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was both celebrated as a great artistic achievement and denounced as racist for its vicious depiction of African Americans and homage to the KKK. President Woodrow Wilson’s praise of the spectacle as “history written with lightning” served to dignify the film, despite the fact that Wilson may never have said it.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – 1939. Can one man stand against a world of lies? Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), a former Boy Rangers leader, appears to be in over his head in the corrupt world of congressional politics, but that won’t stop him from filibustering a bill that would reward graft. Denounced as anti-American upon its release (but banned in fascist and Communist countries), Frank Capra’s fable came to canonize the lone voice that speaks truth to power regardless of the odds. (more…)

Blog author: John MacDhubhain
Thursday, July 26, 2012
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Last night, I went to see the newest “Batman” movie with my fellow Acton interns. I thought it was a great movie, and I recommend seeing it and reading Jordan Ballor’s review of it. I also want to echo some of the themes that Jordan discussed in his piece.

After the movie was done, it turned out that the people who had parked behind me were in need of a jump for their car. I didn’t know these people, but I did see that they needed help. And so I did something that people obsessed with government or with markets should think is impossible: I gave them a jump. No one forced me to do it. No one paid me to do it. I just did it, because it was the right thing to do.

The episode sort of represented many of the things that have been annoying me recently about my fellow libertarians (there may also be some guilty conservatives). I think they put far too much emphasis on having a market based solution to nearly every social problem. Yet giving someone a jump seems to defy traditional money-chasing impulses. There simply are things which we do not rely on a market to provide. (more…)

Immediately after watching For Greater Glory, I found myself struggling to appreciate the myriad good intentions, talents and the $40 million that went into making it. Unlike the Cristeros who fought against the Mexican government, however, my efforts ultimately were unsuccessful.

The film opened on a relatively limited 757 screens this past weekend, grossing $1.8 million and earning the No. 10 position of all films currently in theatrical release. Additionally, the film reportedly has been doing boffo at the Mexican box office. Clearly, word of mouth and the temperament of the times are driving folks to see a movie wherein good overcomes evil, and, more specifically, militarily enforced secularism is defeated by religiously faithful armed-to-the-teeth underdogs.

It’s not that the subject matter of For Greater Glory isn’t historically accurate and compelling.  Nearly 10 years after the Mexican Revolution, President Plutarco Calles decides to enforce the anti-clerical laws written into the 1917 Mexican Constitution.  Calles (portrayed blandly if not refreshingly free of Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling by the otherwise fine actor and recording artist Ruben Blades) forced not only the closure of Catholic schools, but also the expulsion of foreign clergy. His oppression hat-trick was completed by the government confiscation of Church property. When the archbishop of Mexico City expressed his concerns, Calles had his agents bomb the archbishop’s home and the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (more…)

Writing on the Big Hollywood blog, Dallas Jenkins asks the question: “Why are Christian Movies So Bad?” Jenkins, a filmmaker and the son of “Left Behind” novelist Jerry Jenkins, points to a number of telling reasons for the glaring deficit in artistic accomplishment, what you might call the dreck factor, that is evident in so many films aimed at the faithful. Jenkins’ critique points to something we’ve been talking about at Acton for some time: the need for conservatives to understand and master the art of narrative, not just the rhetorical skills that have served them so well in politics and policy. Jenkins says:

The problem is that everyone knows good art should always put story and character above message. Message films are rarely exciting. So by their very nature, most Christian films aren’t going to be very good because they have to fall within certain message-based parameters. And because the Christian audience is so glad to get a “safe, redeeming, faith-based message,” even at the expense of great art, they don’t demand higher artistic standards. So aspiring filmmakers who are Christians have little need to perfect their craft, and Christian investors have little need to spend a lot of money because the message is going to be most important anyway. Add in the fact that the average heartland Christian couldn’t care less what a critic thinks — if anything, they assume they’ll feel the opposite of a movie critic — and you’ve got even less incentive for Christian filmmakers to be obsessed with quality.

Or, as producer Samuel Goldwyn has often been quoted as saying, “Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union.”

Does the left make “message” movies? Sure, all of the time (think of just about any George Clooney picture). And these agit-prop productions frequently bomb. But Jenkins is is correct in pointing out that generally speaking the cultural right still hasn’t mastered even the rudiments of cinema storytelling. This is a grave problem because America’s chief myth making industries — feature films, television entertainment, book publishing, popular music — are largely the province of the cultural left. Then again, if you’re in that camp, you could plausibly argue that, “We’re just better at this stuff.”

The power of narrative lies in its ability to reach the whole person, the heart and the head. It begins by creating an effect on the emotions — moving a person — and can register indelibly in human memory. Thus, narrative can serve as a powerful means of communicating ideas, but not primarily in message form. It works at a deeper level, sometimes tapping into the mythic consciousness of an entire people. That is why narrative is essential for political mass movements; once you get the hearts and the minds of the people excited, you can then move their feet in the direction you want them to go. Most recently, this political narrative form has been used artfully by candidate and now President Barack Obama (see “Obama and the Moral Imagination”). (more…)

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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Opening this weekend in many markets is an enjoyable movie with a meaningful message, Fireproof.

My wife and I had the opportunity to screen it a few weeks ago, and came away impressed. The story behind the story is itself interesting: A Georgia church decided several years ago to try to influence the culture in a positive way, and determined that making movies was the way to do it. They enlisted a handful of professionals, but in large part the effort was amateur. Their second attempt, Facing the Giants, enjoyed some success—great success, considering the film’s resources and provenance. (They made an earlier picture, too, Flywheel, which I have not seen.)

I watched Facing the Giants only after I saw Fireproof. The latter is a much superior product, both in message and production quality. The Giants storyline reflected a facile “health and wealth” gospel: if you give your life to Jesus, all good things will come to you (even a new truck!).

Echoes of Giants’ screenplay, acting, and theme problems are still present in the third movie, but Fireproof improves enough in every area to make it a compelling drama. Kirk Cameron, as leading man, Caleb Holt, is very good. In an odd way, the acting novices, though obviously not as polished as professionals, bring emotional credibility to the story. The film’s frequent and effective episodes of comic relief provide just enough respite from the strong moral theme: the search for genuine love in the context of the institution of marriage.

In light of the mounting evidence that healthy marriages are vital to the maintenance of a free and virtuous society, it’s a theme that PowerBlog readers ought to find relevant.

If it’s available in your area and you’re looking for a couple hours of edifying entertainment, you might want to check it out.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
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As The Dark Knight sets box office records, and the Acton Institute plunges deeper into the business of film production, it might be an opportune time to revisit the question of Christianity and movies.

Scads of ink have already been spilled on the subject, which is of course part of the larger question of the relationship between Christianity and art, upon which many great minds have ruminated. (See, for example, Jacques Maritain on Art and Scholasticism.)

On the PowerBlog, besides the occasional movie review, John Armstrong (here) and Jordan Ballor (here and here) have alluded to the broader questions raised at the intersection of morality, movie production and viewing, and evangelization.

A provocative recent contribution to the discussion comes from Time magazine’s Anthony Sacramone, writing at On the Square. Sacramone refers to the defunct Motion Picture Production Code (one part of an interesting history of Catholics and American movies) in the course of a critique of the contemporary Christian Movieguide, concluding,

There should be a happy medium between resigning oneself to the rank nihilism emitted from cineplexes like stink lines from an R. Crumb cartoon, and pining for the days when the Production Code had to be formally amended to permit Rhett Butler’s valedictory “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

When thinking of southern Italy, Americans probably imagine the Amalfi Coast, Mount Vesuvius, and lemon groves, but to the average Italian the picture is of rotting garbage in the streets of Naples and the Mafia. These realities have been strikingly portrayed in Roberto Saviano’s book Gomorra (ET), which is also the basis of a newly-released motion picture in Italy.

Saviano is a young journalist who clearly describes the dark side of his country. It is probably the most courageous “j’accuse” ever cried out against the Camorra, the Mafia of Naples. In order to write this book, the author disguised himself, took on another identity and infiltrated “The System”, as the Camorra is known in Naples.

Saviano’s reporting has won several awards. His book has been translated in 42 countries and has been a best-seller in Germany, Holland, Spain, France, Sweden and Finland. The New York Times classified it as one of the best books of 2007 and The Economist added it to its list of 100 best books of 2008. In Italy, it is considered the best book of the year and has sold over a million copies.

In chilling passages, the author explains the power of the organization and names the families, alliances, trafficking, corruption and misery surrounding the Camorra’s world. It is a shocking picture, even for those Italians who are well-aware of the criminal organizations infesting Italy. These corrupt networks seem impossible to defeat, a parallel country within the country.

It is incredible to recount the Camorra murders in Naples, nearly 4,000 in the last 30 years, numbers that can be compared to a war. Even more astonishing are the figures concerning the economy of this international organization that, together with the other criminal organizations, accounts 7 per cent of Italy’s gross domestic product, more than $127 billion in a year.

The historic, political and social reasons that have lead to this phenomenon can be summarized in one word: “corruption”. Never in any other European country has there been such a wide scale and longstanding connection between crime and political corruption.

But thanks to this book and civic movements that are starting to rebel against this kind of society, Italians are developing a deeper awareness of the problem. The film version of Gomorra has gotten off to a great start at the box office, with more than €2 million in ticket sales in less than three days.

The movie brilliantly summarizes the book and is courageously filmed in Scampia, the dangerous Neapolitan neighborhood where the story takes place. The movie is also showing at the Cannes Film Festival where the international press applauded Saviano’s courage and the courage of Italians like Saviano (who has been living with constant police protection since October 2006) who courageously face truth and stand up to crime and corruption.

The newly released Charlie Wilson’s War is a film based on a book that chronicles the semi-secret war that led Afghan freedom fighters to defeat the Soviet military during the 1980s. Tom Hanks plays former Democratic Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, who is also known as “Good Time Charlie” for his womanizing, drinking, and recreational drug use. The viewer is led to believe Congressman Wilson is not serious about his elected position until he takes up the cause of the Afghan people, who suffered immensely under Soviet aggression. Other starring roles are Julia Roberts as Christian “right wing” financier Joanne Herring, and the late CIA officer Gust Avrakatos, played by actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The dialog between the main characters is intense and entertaining.

First of all this film is not for children. Wilson suffers from a severe bout of immorality, which is graphically depicted. However, the film does teach several important moral and foreign policy lessons. In the 1980s the United States did transition from a policy of containment of the Soviet Union to a more aggressive policy which called for greater engagement, including everything from harassment to actually formulating a policy to reverse Soviet expansion, putting it on the retreat.

While this film does not lack entertainment value, one of the drawbacks is the depiction of the Afghan struggle. America’s support is quickly glossed over, with no background information or deep treatment of the subject ever provided. In addition, some conservative officials in the Reagan administration have criticized the film. Bill Gertz at the Washington Times added:

The movie also erred by showing Mr. Wilson and his CIA collaborator, Gust Avrakotos, as enthusiastic backers of supplying advanced U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Afghan rebels. Fred Ikle, the undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration, said the CIA initially fought against sending Stingers, while Mr. Wilson was lukewarm on the matter. Both later supported the plan once rebels began downing Soviet gunships with them.

Additionally, some conservatives felt the film’s intent is an attempt at revisionist history by cutting out Ronald Reagan entirely and key members of his cabinet who enthusiastically supported the Afghan Rebels. In fact, Reagan’s epic war against communism can be traced back to his days as a labor leader in Hollywood.

There is certainly enough material in the film to make conservatives wince. Apparently the movie was supposed to be much worse, but Wilson had to step in and demand changes in much of Aaron Sorkin’s script. In the film, Christians are slyly depicted as hypocrites. Additionally, the film needed to be more triumphant at the end. The movie also reinforces the myth that support for the Afghan freedom fighters led to the rise of Osama bin-Laden and his cohorts, who supposedly were armed by the United States.

There are positives however. While it is inaccurate to portray Wilson and his CIA partner as lone mavericks against Soviet aggression, it is right in making a hero out of a committed anti-communist. It also depicts the evil of the Soviet military that specifically wounded Afghani kids, targeting them intentionally. The film also depicts the importance of standing up to and countering communist aggression, and that there was a strong moral component to funding the freedom fighters. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the film is how bipartisanship support was needed to combat America’s enemies, a fact which seems to be lost on Washington today.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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When I first heard that the epic tale of Beowulf was being made into a feature-length film, I was excited. Ever since I had first seen the live-action version of The Fellowship of the Ring from Peter Jackson, I had thought that a similar project could do a wonderful job with the Beowulf epic.

And then when I learned that the Beowulf film was going to be done entirely with computer-generated images (CGI), I was disappointed. Frankly I lost interest in seeing the movie entirely. But as time wore on, enthusiasm for the film from some of my friends, as well as some of the trailers, reinvigorated my hopes for the film version of the Beowulf epic.

And now that I’ve seen the film, I’m crestfallen. To be sure, the movie delivers in the special effects department. I saw the IMAX 3D version, which is projected in 3D throughout the entirety of the film. One of the advantages of using CGI which I had not considered at first, was the quality of the 3D images. In contrast to the climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for instance, the 3D effects were crisp, clean, and stunning.

That’s where the strengths of the film end, however. Far too often the plot deviates from the storyline that made the Beowulf epic a classic for the last millennium. Set in the fifth and sixth centuries of the common era, the Beowulf story includes all the great elements of heroic mythical narrative. The modern retelling departs from the tale’s classic history in at least two major ways, and these departures are most decidedly not improvements.


The first has to do with the treatment of religion, specifically Christianity, in the modern version. While the poem was first composed in the high Middle Ages, it was set in a pagan culture prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia. There is a great deal of scholarly debate on whether the tale is solely about pagan virtues or whether Beowulf is “a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues.”

In the new film version, Beowulf is neither simply a pre-Christian pagan nor a proto-Christian eminent pagan. Christianity plays an explicit and confused role in the film, seemingly brought in to act as a counter-point to Beowulf’s embodiment of the pagan heroic virtues. At one point, Beowulf seems to be reading directly from a text like Nietzche’s The Anti-Christ. In contrast to Beowulf’s heroic humanism, the hero would agree with Nietzsche, “Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it.”

If the attempt to bring Christianity explicitly into the Beowulf tale was an attempt by Hollywood to cater to the newly invigorated evangelical demographic, it fails at the same level of ineptitude as Howard Dean’s attempt to woo Christian voters in his 2004 election run (when asked what his favorite New Testament book was, Dean responded, “Job”).

Besides injecting this curiously modern anti-Christian element into the story, the people responsible for translating the epic poem into a screenplay modify the plot of the story greatly. Without giving away any spoilers to those who insist on seeing the film in spite of my warnings, I’ll only say that the Beowulf epic is conflated with a dynamic from another great hero saga, that of King Arthur and his demise at the hands of his bastard son Mordred.

If you are looking for a modern work recasting the Beowulf epic in a new way that is actually interesting and compelling, check out John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which tells the tale from the monster’s perspective in a quirky twist of existentialist angst. Unless you go to the film solely for the special effects or have absolutely no appreciation for the narrative legacy of the epic, avoid this Beowulf film.

Oh, and there are no fire snakes. Boo!

See also: “Never Mind Grendel. Can Beowulf Conquer the 21st-Century Guilt Trip?”

And: “Anti-Christian Crusade: Beowulf is the latest installment in Hollywood’s attempt to reconfigure history.”

Cross-posted at Blogcritics.org

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 8, 2007
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Today was a pretty full day that just wrapped up a few minutes ago. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, opened up the day with a keynote address, “Pioneering the New Media for Christ.”

Mohler emphasized the communicative mandate of the Christian faith: “To be a Christian is to bear the responsibility to communicate.” Setting this statement within the context of stewardship, Mohler emphasized the biblical foundations for a Christian view of communication. In creation God made human beings in his image, as communicative and rational beings. The account of the Fall in Genesis 3, however, provides us with the context of sin.

Although Mohler didn’t make the link explicit, the Fall’s effect on communication comes to expression in the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel. So language can be both used properly and misused (to lie, to slander, to gossip, and so on). But after Creation and Fall comes Redemption, which is expressed in terms of the divine communication, the revelation in Jesus Christ (the Logos of John 1).

Mohler engaged Francis of Assisi’s instructions to teach and preach “with words when necessary.” Admitting that actions must be consistent with our declarations, Mohler asserted that words are always necessary. “No one is going to intuit the Gospel,” he said. Citing Romans 10, Mohler noted that faith comes by hearing the Word.

With a brief theology of communication in view, Mohler examined the varieties of technological means that have been used to transmit the Gospel. Christians, he said, are a people of the Book, a “literary” people. Noting that Christians initially used radio to a greater extent than television, Mohler provided the basis for a comparison of various kinds of media.

In this way, the advent of the Internet is more like radio than TV, insofar as the ease of access, production, and broadcasting, in North America is far more extensive than was popular access to TV in that medium’s early days (78% of Americans have access to a computer, and that percentage is markedly higher the younger the target group).

Mohler’s address provided evidence for the claim that blogging, podcasting, and videocasting are legitimate and important media for Christians to responsibly and prudentially engage the culture and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The talk raised the following issues for me. Given that “Godblogging” as a phenomenon is “talk about God” in a particular form, the possibilities for identifying the parallels, relationships, and continuities between “Godblogging” and “theology” (God-words) are plentiful. I also considered Augustine’s treatise on Christian rhetoric, De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), especially Book IV, as a source of seminal relevance.

On a more minor point, Mohler attributed the lack of Christian engagement in film in the early days of Hollywood to economic and artistic deficits. It seems to me that there was just as much a cultural deficit, which is perhaps what he meant by an artistic deficit, in the sense of the inability to appreciate beauty wherever it exists. There was (and still is among some) a profound and deep distrust of the theater and film (and television by extension) as inherently deceitful and powerful tools of diabolical power, given the pagan backgrounds of the theater.

Here’s what the CRC’s 1928 Synodical Report on Worldly Amusements had to say about film in particular:

It is also common knowledge that the moving picture industry is to a large extent in the hands of unscrupulous men, whose only concern is large financial profits regardless of the moral influence of the presentations. A large number of these pictures are a shameful exploitation of the sex-instinct; and many other exert a baneful influence through the portrayal of crime, a flippant attitude toward parental authority, the dignity of hte govenrment and of the church. Because of these things the movie-theater is undeniably one of the most destructive forces in our country, morally pestilential.

Based on these and other observations, the committee recommended abstinence from theater attendance by Christians.

With that minor caveat, Mohler’s address was full of Christian wisdom about the technology of our culture and Christian engagement. More to follow in the morning.

Also: The folks at Stand to Reason are live-blogging the event. There are a number of posts on Mohler’s talk.