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Essential Films for Theologians: The “Director’s Cut”? (Best of Codex)

22nd February 2011

[With the Oscars quickly approaching, I figured I could highlight some of my previous reflections on film. This was originally Posted 15th February 2006. As far as this year is concerned, I would give top honours to The King's Speech, though True Grit and Inception were also great films]

Ben Myers over at Faith and Theology had asked me to contribute an entry on film to his “Essential… for Theologians” series. I was honoured to be asked and have spent some time formulating my list. My original list may be viewed on Ben’s blog here.

In the grand film tradition of producing a “Director’s cut”, I decided to expand my original list by both adding four additional films and including a number of “runners up.” I also explained a bit of my rationale for selecting the films I did.

I published my list with some trepidation knowing that I omitted a number of significant religious films — particularly a number of older classics that many such top ten lists include (see, for instance, Ken Ristau’s recent list of “Essential Movies for Theologians.” For an extensive list, see the Arts & Faith Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films here.

In my list, I tried to be representative of different film genres and included some “art house” and foreign films, as well as more popular films. I wasn’t too concerned with a film’s box office success, though there are some successful films in my list. And, of course, I readily admit to including some of my personal favourites.

Update: You may also want to check out my “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians – Extended Editionhere.

Top Ten Fourteen Essential Films for Theologians

(Listed in alphabetical order)

The Apostle (Robert Duvall, 1997; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Robert Duvall’s sympathetic portrayal of Euliss “Sonny” Dewey, a southern Pentecostal preacher, is masterful. While this movie may hit too close to home for some Christians, it reveals the conflict within the life of faith as Sonny, a deeply religious person, struggles with his rage and sensuality.

Balthazar (Au hasard Balthazar; Robert Bresson, 1966; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). The film follows the life of a humble donkey named Balthazar through a series of masters, paralleled by the life of a young woman, Marie. The cinematography and score are both magnificent. The film has a sparse and evocative feel to it. It’s the type of film that you could view repeatedly and ponder endlessly (as the critics appear to do). I’m not sure if Bresson meant it to be understood typologically or allegorically, but such a reading would certainly fit with Balthazar portrayed as an unassuming Christ figure. At the very least it narrates the life of a simple beast of burden who humbly accepts the cruelty of his masters. The simple grace in this movie reminds me of another classic, Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud; 1987).

The Big Kahuna (John Swanbeck, 1999; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This unassuming film about three lubricant salesmen, one of whom is an evangelical Christian, contains some of the most compelling dialogue around matters of faith, integrity, and manipulation I have seen.

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This classic science fiction film explores what it means to be human as Deckard, a “blade runner” played by Harrison Ford, has to track down and terminate four replicants that are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Based on the short book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip Dick, the dark look and feel of this film inspired innumerable science fiction films. While the DVD transfer of the Director’s cut is not that great (it was one of the first DVDs made), rumour has it that a multi-disc special edition is set to be released in time for its 25th anniversary in 2007. Other science fiction films that are worthy of mention include Stanley Kubrick’s masterful 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Matrix (1999) by the Wachowski brothers (the first is by far the best), and Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998).

(Of course, I also have to give honourable mention to the original Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) and the original trilogy (I have not been impressed with any of the prequels). I have to confess that I saw the original Star Wars around 17 times in the theatre when it first was released. I also had made myself a light sabre (a painted dowel; not like one of the fancy ones available now), dressed up as a Jedi knight, and had virtually every Star Wars model available. Truth be told, not much has changed. I have been able to watch Star Wars with my kids and my four-year-old son and I frequently have light sabre battles in the living room (a painted dowel no longer have I). In sum: I still like it after all of these years even if some parts are a bit cheesy (And I still think Princess Leah looks hot in her “Jabba the Hutt” golden bikini). I have included this film on my extended list not only because it has profoundly shaped popular culture, but because its a parable of the epic struggle between good and evil.)

The Decalogue (Dekalog; Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1989; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This ten-part series of films was originally aired on Polish TV in the 1980s. Each episode narrates a story, set in the same apartment block, that is loosely tied to one of the Ten Commandments (as enumerated in the Catholic tradition; see my blog entry here for other enumerations).

For 6,000 years, these rules have been unquestionably right. And yet we break them every day. People feel that something is wrong in life. There is some kind of atmosphere that makes people now turn to other values. They want to contemplate the basic questions of life, and that is probably the real reason for wanting to tell these stories. – Krzysztof Kieslowski on The Decalogue.

Each episode is well done and thought-provoking, though I found 2, 5, 6, and 7 particularly meaningful. Kieslowski’s more popular and widely distributed Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, and Red (Trois couleurs: Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge; 1993-4) are also worthy of mention.

Jesus of Montreal (Jésus De Montréal; Denys Arcand, 1989; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This Canadian production tells the story of a troupe of actors who stage a passion play in Montreal — so controversial that the Catholic Church wants to shut it down. As the pressure to stop production mounts, the personal lives of the individual cast members begin to take on the persona of the characters in the play — especially for Daniel (played wonderfully by Lothaire Bluteau) who plays the role of Jesus. Other Jesus films that deserve mention here are The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo; Pier Pablo Passolini, 1964), The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988), and The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004). I also am fascinated by Gareth Davies’s Son of Man (1969), though I have not been able to locate a full copy and consequently have not viewed the entire film.

Magnolia (P.T. Anderson, 1999; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This is perhaps my favourite film. It is a thought-provoking exploration of “the sins of the fathers,” forgiveness, and redemption as the lives of nine individuals interconnect one day in San Fernando Valley, California (its title is from one of the San Fernando Valley’s principal thoroughfares, Magnolia Boulevard). The ensemble cast is marvellous, the direction and cinematography superb, and the soundtrack by Aimee Mann moving. And what can I say about the frogs?! If I was going to number this list, I would have to put this as film number 8.2!

The Mission (Roland Joffre, 1986; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This film is an absolutely beautiful yet troubling exploration of the question of grace and redemption, love and hate, and what it means to lay down your life for your faith and friends. Its cinematography and musical score are moving and deservedly won awards. Set in 18th century South America, this film raises questions — and provides no easy answers — about the Christian mission, war, and slavery. Simply superb. Other films that have similar themes and garner special mention include Black Robe (Bruce Beresford, 1991), Romero (John Duigan, 1989), and At Play in the Fields of the Lord (Hector Babenco, 1991).

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then something is wrong. Eric Idle himself is reported as saying, “If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted” (hmmm… do you think this quote is relevant to a current international news story?). But this film is not all laughs — it actually presents aspects of the time of Jesus somewhat accurately, such as the ubiquitous messiahs and prophets during that period as well as the sheer diversity with Judaism at that time. In the humour/satire category I would also include Dogma (Kevin Smith, 1999), Saved! (Brian Dannelly, 2004), and Keeping the Faith (Edward Norton, 2000).

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel uber Berlin; Wim Wenders, 1987; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). I was first introduced to the German director Wim Wenders through the music video for U2′s song “Stay (Far Away, So Close).” This films explores what it means to be human from the perspective of angels as it follows the lives of two angels as they comfort and help lost souls in Berlin, one of whom decides he wants to become human. While Hollywood has remade the story as City of Angels (Brad Silberling, 1998), the original is superior on all accounts. I should also mention Wim Wender’s collaboration with U2′s frontman Bono on The Million Dollar Hotel (Wim Wenders, 2000). While this film has its flaws, Jeremy Davies’s portrayal of Tom Tom is one of the best Christ figures in recent film.

Late Additions

I figured my original list was lacking in four genres: war films, westerns, gangster films, and fantasy. Most films in these genres explore the myth of redemptive violence, and as such are worthy of theological reflection. Other excellent films that explore this theme include Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005) and In the Bedroom (Todd Field, 2001).

The Godfather Saga (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972, 1974, and 1990; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Don Corleone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I had to add this trilogy to my list. The first two in the series are superior, and I think the first is the best. One of my favourite scenes is at the end of the first film when you have the juxtaposition of Michael Corleone renouncing “Satan and all his works” at the baptism of his nephew and the executions of the heads of the other mob families. On the soundtrack, Bach’s organ music is punctuated by gunfire. Other mobster films that deserve mention include Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) and The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987).

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2000, 2001, and 2002; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). I am a huge Tolkien fan and I loved Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the Lord of the Rings. That isn’t to say that I agreed with all of Jackson’s modifications; in fact, I think Jackson and the screenwriter Fran Walsh are both Hollywood sell outs! Since when do Ents make rash decisions?! If there were any more unnecessary dramatic turns added, I would have sued for whip-lash! At any rate, these are ground breaking films that are surely worthy of mention!

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). I have watched this film about the conflict at Guadalcanal during World War II many times and find its juxtaposition of war and (seeming) paradise haunting. It is visually beautiful and the writing is superb. The ensemble cast is excellent — especially the roles played by James Caviezel, Nick Nolte, and most notably Elias Koteas. Other great war films include Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), The Deerhunter (Michael Cimino, 1978), Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986), as well as the less know, though theologically relevant, films A Midnight Clear (Keith Gordon, 1992) and To End All Wars (David L. Cunningham, 2001).

Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). What’s a list without a western? While there are many “shoot ‘em up” westerns that are perhaps entertaining, Unforgiven is unique in that it deconstructs the typical western. The (anti)hero is unlovable, the gun fights are devoid of romanticism, and nothing is really settled at the end when the cowboy rides off into the sunset. “It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away all he has, and all he’s ever gonna have,” says Will. The Kid stammers, “I guess he had it comin’.” Will almost whispers: “We’ve all got it comin’, Kid.”

Last Thoughts

OK, I need to wrap this up. There are many more films which are worthy to be mentioned, such as Breaking the Waves, Chinatown, Contact, Dead Man Walking, Lawrence of Arabia, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Pulp Fiction, Shadowlands, Slingblade, The Shawshank Redemption, etc., etc., ad nauseum, but this list has to end!

What films do you feel are essential for theologians?


Posted in Best of Codex, Faith & Film | 6 Comments »

Ten Commandments meets Sparta!?

17th October 2009

Moses-Sparta20th Century Fox has announced that they will be remaking The Ten Commandments in the style of “300“! I am not sure of what to make of this. “300″ was a visually stunning — if not ultra violent — film, but I can’t imagine what they would do to the story of the Exodus from Egypt to make it work.  Here is a snippet from the announcement in Variety:

For his first significant film project acquisition, Peter Chernin is taking on a project of Biblical proportions.

20th Century Fox has made a preemptive acquisition of a pitch to tell the story of Moses in “300″ style. The tale will start with his near death as an infant to his adoption into the Egyptian royal family, his defiance of the Pharoah and deliverance of the Hebrews from enslavement.

Chernin will produce with Dylan Clark, who recently moved over from Universal to become president of Chernin’s Fox-based film company.

The script will be written by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, who make this their followup to a high-level deal they made to reinvent Herman Melville”s “Moby Dick,” with a graphic novel feel, for director Timur Bekmambetov and producer Scott Stuber at Universal. That script is in, the extensive pre-visualization work is done. It could be Bekmambetov’s next film, if “Wanted 2″ doesn’t come together first.

The Moses story will be told using the same green screen strategy as “300,” so it will feel more like that pic or “Braveheart” than “The Ten Commandments,” the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film.

The popular mythical and magical elements inherent in the Book of Exodus will be there–including the plagues visited upon Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea–but the Cooper & Collage version will also include new elements of Moses’ life that the writers culled from Rabbinical Midrash and other historical sources.

I can just imagine it… Moses shouting out, “THIS is YAHWEH!” or perhaps “THIS is COMMANDMENT!”


Posted in Bible & Film, Film, Popular Culture, Ten Commandments | 1 Comment »

My Top Three Bible Films

2nd October 2009

There is a meme going around on Top Three Bible Films started by Matt over at Broadcast Depth (I noticed it over at Mike Kok’s blog, The Golden Rule). I figured since I am lecturing this week on Religious films  in my religion and culture class, I would weigh-in with my personal favourites — although limiting it to three is tough.

1. One of my favourite films based on the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is an oldie, but a goodie: The Green Pastures (Director: Marc Connelly and William Keighley, 1936;  Buy from Amazon.ca: VHS or DVD |  Buy from Amazon.com: VHS or DVD). This is a fascinating retelling of a number of stories from the Old Testament. This folksy film was innovative for its day in that black actors fill every role — from God to Moses, Noah to Pharaoh. (Fair warning that some may be uncomfortable with some of the racial stereotypes in the film; is was made in 1936 after all). Any film that includes a heavenly fish fry where  “de Lawd” walks about drinking “fire-custard” and smoking 10-cent cigars and singing gospel songs is pretty cool in my books!

2. My favourite “Jesus film” is not quite as old, but is still black and white: Son of Man (Director: Gareth Davies, 1969. This film was aired on BBC as part of the Wednesday Play series in 1969. Unfortunately, it is not available for purchase (I got my copy from a friend who recorded it when it was rebroadcast on TV), although you can see some clips of it on the BFI website.  The highlight of the film for me is Colin Blakely’s portrayal of a gruff and passionate Jesus — definitely not your typical blue-eyed blond Jesus of most hagiopics. The other Jesus film that comes in a close second for me is The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo; Pier Pablo Passolini, 1964; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).

3. Finally, for “something completely different,” my third pick is Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). While technically not a “Jesus film” (it is about Brian, not Jesus), this affectionate parody is a classic. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then something is wrong. Eric Idle himself is reported as saying, “If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted.” But this film is not all laughs — it actually presents aspects of the time of Jesus somewhat accurately, such as the ubiquitous messiahs and prophets during that period as well as the sheer diversity with Judaism at that time.

I could go on and on, but I will end it here. If you are interested in more films based on the Bible, check out my “The Old Testament on Film” pages.


Posted in Bible & Film, Film, Jesus Films, Meme | Comments Off

Cain and Abel: A Cameo from Year One

2nd March 2009

My previous post on Cain and Abel reminded me of a somewhat funny (OK, it is funny — just a little dark) trailer for a new Harold Ramis film, The Year One:

The film follws the adventures of two lazy hunter-gatherers (Jack Black and Michael Cera) as they travel the ancient world. It appears that they not only encounter Cain and Abel, but also Adam and Eve,  Abraham and Isaac, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Hmmm… I don’t think it is trying to be biblically accurate!  The film is scheduled to be released 19 June 2009 according to IMDB.

If you are interested in more films based on the Bible, check out my “The Old Testament on Film” pages.


Posted in Bible, Bible & Film, Film, Genesis, Humour, Old Testament | Comments Off

My Oscar Picks

22nd February 2009

I won’t be able to watch the Oscars tonight (not that I usually do watch them) since I will be at a friend’s 50th birthday party, but I am interested to see who the winners will be. While the Academy Awards are very political, they do sometimes recognize the best films and the best actors. I haven’t seen all of the films nominated, but I have seen enough to have my own opinions. Without further ado, here is my list of who I think should win (not who will win).

Best Motion Picture of the Year

  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008; dir. Danny Boyle). This is my clear winner. While also enjoyed The Reader and thought the others were good, Slumdog Millionaire was by far the best in my books. I find that it is also quite thought provoking in regards to destiny both from Hindu perspectives on karma and Muslin ideas of determinism and freedom. “It is written.”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

  • Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler (2008). I am not sure Rourke will win, but I thought his portrayal was brilliant. I wouldn’t be surprised if Frank Langella wins for Frost/Nixon (2008).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

  • Kate Winslet for The Reader (2008). Winslet inhabited the role and I really hope she wins, though Angelina Jolie was surprisingly good for Changeling (2008). That being said, Meryl Streep may win for Doubt (2008).

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008). I thought Ledger did an amazing performance as the Joker and deserves to be recognized. I was surprised to see Robert Downey Jr. get nominated for Tropic Thunder (2008), primarily because comedies usually get short shrift at the Oscars. Downey’s portrayal was hilarious, however.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

  • I am not sure who should win this one, though Marisa Tomei did a great job in The Wrestler (2008).

Best Achievement in Directing

  • Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire (2008).  I think Boyle is a great director and it would  be great if he won his first Oscar for this amazing film.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

  • Anthony Dod Mantle for Slumdog Millionaire (2008). A beutiful film.

So those are my picks. What are yours?


Posted in Film | Comments Off

Faith and Film Critics Circle: Top Films of 2007

19th March 2008

The Faith and Film Critics Circle has posted its film awards for 2007.

The list includes many of the same titles from the Oscars and other top film lists, with perhaps one notable exception (Into Great Silence).

Here are the winners:

  • Most Significant Exploration of Spiritual Themes: Into Great Silence
  • Best Narrative Film: There Will Be Blood
  • Best Documentary: Into Great Silence
  • Best Film for the Whole Family: Ratatouille
  • Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Performance by an Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Performance by an Actress: Ellen Page – Juno
  • Best Performance by a Child: Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
  • Best Supporting Performance by an Actor (tie): Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James; Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
  • Best Supporting Performance by an Actress (tie): Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There; Jennifer Garner – Juno
  • Best Ensemble Cast: Lars and the Real Girl
  • Best Cinematography: Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody – Juno
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
  • Best Original Score: Dario Marianelli – Atonement

I am a bit surprised to see There Will Be Blood on the list more than No Country for Old Men. I also didn’t particularly like Jennifer Garner in Juno. I’ve heard quite a bit about Into Great Silence, though it seems like the kind of film you really have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate. I also still have to view Lars and the Real Girl.

Stay tuned for my “Essential Films of 2007 for Theologians” (previous “Essential Films for Theologians” may be found here)


Posted in Faith & Film, Film, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »

Father, The Sleeper has Awakened!

17th March 2008

Variety just announced today that Peter Berg has been picked as the director for a new theatrical release adaptation of Frank Herbert’s totally awesome classic science-fiction novel Dune for Paramount Pictures. Here’s an excerpt from the Variety story:

Herbert’s 1965 novel is a sweeping, futuristic tale set on the remote desert planet Arrakis, which produces the interstellar empire’s sole source of the spice Melange — used for distant space travel. An empirewide power struggle ensues over the control of the spice. Berg would be the latest helmer to take a crack at the property, which spawned a 1984 David Lynch film as well as a 2000 Sci Fi Channel miniseries starring William Hurt.

The project is out to writers, with the producers looking for a faithful adaptation of the Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning book. The filmmakers consider its theme of finite ecological resources particularly timely.

IMDb is listing the projected release date as 2010.

While David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune (IMDb) wasn’t well received, I personally liked the look and feel of it better than the more recent made-for-TV miniseries (2000, IMDb). Of course, I will be the first to admit that the mini-series was far more complete than the truncated Lynch version. I’m not sure what to think of Berg as the director. He’s a relatively new director and I hope that he doesn’t turn Dune into a “The Kingdom” style movie. In my opinion Lynch was on the right track making a quirky, science fiction epic.

He who controls the spice, controls the universe!

Bonus Dune Pop Culture Quiz: What Fatboy Slim song quotes a line from Dune? (and perhaps has other allusions to the book)

Answer (select text to view): Fatboy Slim’s 2001 “Weapon Of Choice” has the following quote: “Walk without rhythm and it won’t attract the worm.”
The music video for the song is also a must see.

(HT Peter Chattaway on the Arts and Faith Forum)


Posted in Classics, Film, Popular Culture | 4 Comments »

Essential Films of 2006 for Theologians

15th June 2007

Loren Rosson published his list of The Top 10 Films of 2006 a while ago over at the Busybody. I quite like his list. While I have noted some of my favourite movies of 2006 in my Third Annual Ralphies – Second Annual Codex Edition (Best of 2006) post, as well as in the commentary to Christianity Today‘s Top Ten Films of 2006, I haven’t published a full top ten list — let alone a detailed post like last year’s Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians. This negligence on my part is for a variety of reasons, including needing to catch up with a few films on DVD — like Pan’s Labyrinth — before settling on my list. Either way, seeing Loren’s list spurred me on to finally create this year’s instalment of “Essential Films for Theologians.”

I should confess a couple limitations with this list. First, and quite naturally, it only contains films that I have personally viewed. My list of “Films I should have viewed before making my list” include, critically acclaimed films like The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), L’enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), among others. Second, before anyone comments that I clearly have no sense of what makes a good film, note that these are top films “for theologians,â€? i.e., they are films that raise theological questions or issues. They are not necessarily great films or the best films of the year; they have weaknesses and shortcomings. That being said, I do think that most if not all of them are among the best of the year and are certainly worthy of thoughtful viewing.

So, drum-roll please, here is my list of “Essential Films of 2006 for Theologians” in all its glory:

  • 10. Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A disturbing and somewhat biased documentary about fundamentalist Christianity in the United States (my Canadian sensibilities cringe when the documentary describes the Christianity in the film as “evangelical”). Not necessarily the best documentary, it raises a whole host of questions about how Christians are perceived by others as well as how to (and how not to) pass on your faith to your children. Another documentary that deserves some sort of notice is Blood of My Brother: A Story of Death in Iraq (Andrew Berends, 2005 [I watched it in 2006]; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This is a low-budget film about an Iraqi family dealing with the accidental death of a son and brother by the hands of American troops. It provides a captivating glimpse into everyday life in war torn Iraq and folk Islam.
  • 9. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). There is not much theology in this film, although it does raise some interesting ethical questions (!). Nonetheless, as a long time Bond fan, I thought it was superb and had to include it on my list. (Following the lead of an article by Umberto Eco, I do use the Bond series as an example of structural analysis of artifacts from popular culture in my religion and popular culture course)
  • an_inconvenient_truth.jpg8. An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Science aside, I thought this was a well done and provocative documentary. It is too bad the issue of global warming has become so politicized — is it really such a bad thing to reduce the amount we pollute and consume non-renewable resources? I really don’t understand Christians who object to the basic message of the film, especially since we are called to tend the earth. In the end, this film generates a lot of theological discussion surrounding our stewardship of God’s creation.
  • 7. Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). While the concept behind this film is brilliant, the Japan story-line is weak. In the same way that last year’s Crash explored racism, this film explores the question of language, culture, and diversity in a way that will provoke meaningful discussion. Is it possible for humanity to reverse the consequences of Babel? Or is it only as part of God’s redemptive plan that the consequences of Babel will ultimately be reversed?
  • 6. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). While all parts of this movie is offensive, what is most offensive are the attitudes and behaviours of the non-actors in the film. Racism, sexism, and bigotry is alive and well on planet earth. (I also haven’t laughed so hard in the theatre in a long time, at times uncomfortably, mind you).
  • 5. The Last King of Scotland (Kevin MacDonald, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Forest Whitaker deserved all of the awards he won for his brilliant and disturbing portrayal of the brutal Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. While Amin’s character raises a number of questions, the struggles of Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (a fictional character played by James McAvoy) will likely raise more questions for thoughtful viewers. Another film based on more recent events closer to home is United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Considering viewers know the outcome of the flight, the director deserves credit for making a suspenseful and very well done film. Good discussion points about self-sacrifice and courage.
  • pans_labyrinth.jpg4. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This is a great gangster film and all of the actors had great performances, especially Jack Nicholson. The movie raises issues of moral compromise and integrity — but in the end it raises the question of who really are the “faithfully departed.” (I had previously listed this as my number one movie of 2006)
  • 3. Pan’s Labyrinth [El Laberinto del fauno] (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This dark adult fairy tale is amazing in many ways. It interweaves story-lines about a girl growing up amid personal tragedies, including the horrors of the Spanish civil war, and the fantasy world which she created to cope with her life. Visually stunning and skillfully put together — especially how the line between reality and fantasy are blurred. How much is the alternate fantasy world just a creation of the girl’s imagination?

  • 2. Little Children (Todd Field, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This is an amazing film; I was so moved by it that I almost think it should be number one. The questions it raises about maturity, sexuality, fidelity, and brokenness are meaningful to contemporary society. This film is an “Eyes Wide Shut” for middle class suburbanites. Another film which I feel compelled to mention, but am not quite sure where to place it is Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This quirky film is about acceptance and family — no matter how much you may act like “little children” (in some ways sends the opposite message as Little Children).
  • children_of_men.jpg1. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). A miraculous birth with all worldly powers pursuing the woman and her child — sound familiar? Beyond the clear allusions to Jesus’ birth, the film also raises questions surrounding God’s work in the world. The film is also visually appealing and contains some amazing camera work.

Some other films I think are worth watching include Hard Candy (David Slade, 2005; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), The Black Dahlia (Brian De Palma, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), Flags of our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), Jason Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking (2005; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Those favoring a western twang will enjoy The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones, 2005; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). While I didn’t think the visually appealing 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) was top-ten material, it is also worth seeing as long as you don’t expect a historical epic faithful to Herodotus!

I wish I could have included one of the few Bible films released last year on my list, whether The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), The Color of the Cross (Jean-Claude La Marre, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), or One Night with the King (Michael O. Sajbel, 2006; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Unfortunately, all of these films were a disappointment. The Nativity Story was too sentimental (and as a biblical scholar I still can’t believe that in a film trying to present a certain historical verisimilitude, they had the wise men appear at the birth instead of at the house a few years later), The Color of the Cross had great potential but failed to explore racial issues in any meaningful way, and One Night With the King failed to generate any meaningful sympathy for the main characters.

All in all, I am not sure that 2006 was as good as last year for movies.

Posted in Faith & Film, Film, Popular Culture | 6 Comments »

Spider-Man 3: The End of a Franchise

10th May 2007

I just returned from watching Spider-Man 3 (Sam Raimi, 2007; IMDb). It wasn’t just so-so; it was awful. I couldn’t believe it. The first two Spider-Man movies were great. This one was cheesy. I’m not sure what was the worst scene. Probably either the scene where Peter Parker (with his black suit Spider-Man undies on) is playing the stud walking the streets of NY or where Spider-Man swings in to fight the Sandman and Venom with the huge American flag in the background (apologies to any American readers, but it was over the top).

Perhaps I am being too hard on it. Perhaps my expectations were too high post Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2006; IMDb). I sure hope Sam Raimi doesn’t end up directing The Hobbit (IMDb).

Batman Begins; Spider-Man Ends. Spider-Man has now become the old Batman, and the new Batman has become the old Spider-Man. Hebel, all is hebel.


Posted in Film, Popular Culture | 7 Comments »

Cowabunga, Dude!

20th February 2007

The Simpsons Movie in 2007. Woo-hoo! See the trailers today.

(HT Looking Closer)


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