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Archive for the 'Faith & Film' Category

Taylor Faith & Film Club

3rd September 2006

Another thing I will be involved in this academic year is a campus film club. One of my colleagues came up with the idea was soliciting help. I volunteered immediately to help organize it and we came up with four films to watch for the fall semester. We decided to only go once a month so we only had to choose four films — talk about a difficult task! This is what we came up with for the fall semester:

faithfilm-club-f2006.jpg

We wanted to choose films from a broad cross-section of classics, foreign films, documentaries, and more popular fare. We decided to make sure the first film is critically acclaimed but accessible for students — and Millions (2004, Directed by Danny Boyle, Rated PG) fits the bill. Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud; 1987, Directed by Gabriel Axel, Rated G) fills the category of a classic foreign film, while Born into Brothels (2004, Directed by Zana Briski & Ross Kauffman, Rated 14A) fills the category of a documentary. Hotel Rwanda (2004, Directed by Terry George, Rated 14A) is our pick for a social justice film (of course Born into Brothels also fits this category).

We haven’t decided on films for the winter semester, though I would like to view a film that touches on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in some way — whether Death in Gaza (2004), Wall (Mur, 2004), Paradise Now (2005), or the like. I would also like to show a Jesus film for around Easter — whether The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo, 1964) or Jesus of Montreal (Jésus de Montréal, 1989).

All in all I think it will be a great time to get together with students and view and discuss great films.


Posted in Faith & Film, Film, Personal | Comments Off

The God Who Wasn’t There?

21st June 2006

GodNotThere.jpgThe other day I watched the straight to DVD documentary by Brian Flemming, The God Who Wasn’t There (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). The promotional blurb promised that what Bowling for Columbine did to the gun culture and Super Size Me did to the fast food industry, this film will do to religion. This is what the official website says about the film:

In this provocative, critically acclaimed documentary, you will discover:

  • The early founders of Christianity seem wholly unaware of the idea of a human Jesus
  • The Jesus of the Gospels bears a striking resemblance to other ancient heroes and the figureheads of pagan savior cults
  • Contemporary Christians are largely ignorant of the origins of their religion
  • Fundamentalism is as strong today as it ever has been, with an alarming 44% of Americans believing Jesus will return to earth in their lifetimes
  • And God simply isn’t there

Dazzling motion graphics and a sweeping soundtrack propel this uncompromising and taboo-shattering documentary that Newsweek says “irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed.”

While I am not going to bother to provide a thorough review, I figured I’d offer up a couple impressions. First, I was underwhelmed. My faith remained intact after viewing. In fact, I thought that I could do a better job raising questions about the Christian faith and the biblical accounts of Jesus contained in the gospels. It is clear that Brian Flemming was a very, very, very conservative Christian (I daresay a fundamentalist) who really seemed to react to his upbringing rather than seriously consider some of the historical problems scholars throughout the centuries have had with the biblical witness. Second, despite its facile and sometimes silly interpretation of the gospel accounts, the documentary was pretty well done. It looked professional and had its entertaining moments. I enjoyed the use of clips from Jesus films throughout, especially the characterization of Jesus Christ Superstar, The Last Temptation of Christ, and The Passion of the Christ as “the singing Jesus, the horny Jesus, and the bloody Jesus.”

If you see it at your local video store you may want to rent it, otherwise I wouldn’t bother with it.


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

Films with Faith: A Recent Article

14th March 2006

The Philidelphia Inquirer has a brief article by Kristin E. Holmes entitled “Films with Faith: Several Groups Picked their Top Movies Based on Spiritual and Religious Content, [and] Values.” In the article, Holmes underscores the revival (!) of interest in religious or spiritual films by production companies. According to Holmes, a “spiritual film” has content that “may include the exploration of a person’s humanity, or the fight between good and evil, redemptive storytelling or overtly religious content.” She even quotes my good friend and film-viewing buddy, Tim Willson, as saying, “Fox, Warner Bros. and Sony are among the studios aggressively pursuing the faith-oriented market” (Nice quote Tim!). (Tim is the marketing director for Crown Video, a distributor of Christian-themed films and videos based here in Edmonton).

Some of the groups those who have recently picked their best movies of 2005 she mentions in her article include:

Of course, I am shocked and appalled that she did not mention my own list (see my post, “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians – Extended Edition” as well as “Movies Worth Watching“). Perhaps a bit more surprising is that she failed to mention the Faith and Film Critics Circle Best of 2005 Awards.

An issue that Holmes raises in her article is the desire of movie studios to cash in on the popularity of religous films — especially since Mel Gibson‘s The Passion of the Christ. Of course, the challenge is to make films that are both spiritually significant and good! She also noted the controversy in religious circles surrounding Brokeback Mountain and the tension between recognizing merit in a film in which you may disagree with its content or overall message.

It’ll be interesting to see what controversy The Da Vinci Code will generate when it is released on May 19 (as if the film could generate any more controversy than the book!)


Posted in Faith & Film, Film, News | 2 Comments »

Movies Worth Watching (Oscars, Razzies, and Essential Films Follow-Up)

5th March 2006

oscar_small.jpgTonight The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will put on their yearly spectacle called the Oscars. I may watch the 78th Annual Academy Awards tonight, though I find the actual award ceremony to be way too long and way too boring — and I just can’t stand all of the glitz and glamour that surrounds the telecast. I really don’t care what so-and-so wears on the red carpet or what expensive gifts the already grossly over-paid and self-important celebrities received for the hard work of reading a prompter when presenting an award!

That being said, I like films and I consider myself an armchair movie buff. So I am interested in who the winners are; if only to see how misguided the Academy is! At any rate, if you are interested, a list of the nominees is available here. The only films that I hope win an award include A History of Violence (2005; IMDb) and Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005; IMDb); otherwise I don’t have any strong opinions.

razzieLogo.jpgMore significantly, the 26th Annual Golden Raspberry (Razzie) Awards were just announced. Legendary actors such as Rob Schneider, Jenny McCarthy, Hayden Christensen, and Paris Hilton all won well-deserved awards. The worst picture award (as well as three ohers) went to Dirty Love (2005; IMDb), which I didn’t manage to watch this last year — actually I hadn’t even heard of the film! (Don’t worry if you didn’t see it either; from the reviews it received it appears to have been very pathetic!). Perhaps the best category was the “Most Tiresome Tabloid Targets” in which Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Oprah Winfrey’s Couch, The Eiffel Tower, and “Tom’s Baby” were all honoured.

Now to some movies truly worth watching…

Essential Films Follow-Up

I have enjoyed the response to my two lists of “Essential Films for Theologians” (see my “Essential Films for Theologians: The ‘Director’s Cut’” and my “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians – Extended Edition“). In the discussion of my lists (both on my blog and Ben Myer‘s Faith and Theology here and here), individuals have noted many excellent films that are definitely worth watching. In many cases these are films that I seriously considered adding to my own lists or are movies that I really should have considered but failed to remember them. In addition, David Williamson also came up with his own list of Top Ten Spiritual Films which is worthy of a gander.

In regards to my Essential Films for Theologians list, there were a number of other films highlighted in the comments that are definitely worthy of viewing. Most of them I had considered including on my list, while others I had not even heard of before and are now on my “films to view” list. Perhaps the only film which I feel I should have included for sentimental reasons is The Princess Bride (1987; IMDb).

Here are some other movies worth watching that were mentioned in the comments (in alphabetic order):

  • Andrey Rublyov (1969; IMDb)
  • The Best of Youth (La Meglio gioventù; 2003; IMDb)
  • The Butterfly (La Lengua de las Mariposas; 1999; IMDb)
  • Come and See (Idi i smotri; 1985; IMDb)
  • Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d’un curé de campagne; 1951; IMDb)
  • Fight Club (1999; IMDb)
  • The Game (1997; IMDb)
  • Itallian for Beginners (Italiensk for begyndere; 2000; IMDb)
  • Mean Streets (1973; IMDb)
  • Ordet (1955; IMDb)
  • Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc; 1928; IMDb)
  • The Pledge (2001; IMDb)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994; IMDb)
  • Pi (1998; IMDb)
  • Run Lola Run (Lola rennt; 1998; IMDb)

A couple films that I did not include in my “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians” list or in the extended discussion, included Millions (2004; IMDb) and Stage Beauty (2004; IMDb).

All in all, there are many excellent films — as well as many not-so-excellent films — produced every year. The challenge, of course, is being astute enough to figure out which ones are worthy of our time! I only hope that I may have highlighted a few films that are worthy of viewing!


Posted in Bible & Film, Faith & Film, Film, Popular Culture | Comments Off

Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians – Extended Edition

22nd February 2006

born_brothels.jpgAs a companion piece to my previous post, “Essential Films for Theologians: The ‘Director’s Cut’,” I thought I would also provide a list of my “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians.” As with my first list, this was a guest post on Ben Meyers’s Faith and Theology blog, where I noted that I would be publishing a more extended discussion. After some delay, here is my discussion of my picks.

syriania.jpgNow, before you chide me for not including this or that film, I must confess a limitation with this list: it only contains films that I have viewed. My list of “Films I wished I viewed” before making my list include, Brokeback Mountain; Capote; Caché; Dear Frankie; Good Night, and Good Luck; Cinderella Man; Murderball; Paradise Now; Saraband; The Squid and the Whale; Transamerica; and Walk the Line. While I go to quite a few movies in any given year, I typically wait for the DVD release for films I do not deem necessary to view on the big screen, which explains why I have yet to see films like Walk the Line or Brokeback Mountain, among others.

Furthermore, before you add a comment indicating that I obviously have no sense of what makes a good film, please note that these are top films “for theologians,” 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 siad, I do think that many if not all of them are the best of the year and are certainly worthy of thoughtful viewing.

munich.jpgYou will notice that some of films have a 2004 release date; these are films that had an initial limited release in 2004 (usually at a film festival) but had a more extensive public release in 2005 (including DVD releases in a few cases).

  • Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Without question the best of the Batman franchise and an engaging exploration of the myth of redemptive violence.
  • Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A delightful and disturbing glimpse into Calcutta’s brothels and one woman’s attempt to provide hope via art. A book featuring some of the pictures is also available: Born into Brothels: Photographs by the Children of Calcutta by Zana Briski (Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
  • Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005; IMDb). I thought this film adaptation was well done. I viewed it with my kids — including a very inquisitive four-year-old, however, so I can’t say I caught all of the nuances of the presentation!
  • The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A disturbing portrayal of large scale corporate greed and systemic evil on the part of multinational pharmaceuticals, as well as a story of personal trust and suspicion.
  • Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A bit over the top, but a damming look at the ubiquitous charater of racism that leaves everyone culpable.
  • Downfall (Der Untergang; Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Bruno Ganz delivers a spine chilling performance as Adolf Hitler in this dark portrayal of carefully differentiated evil and the destruction of the Third Reich.
  • A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Perhaps the most accessible film of this controversial Canadian director, this film brings together violence and small town America in a stunning confrontation with a hope of reconciliation.
  • Lord of War (Andrew Niccol, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). An entertaining and disturbing film about the underground world and warped ethics of gun running. Nicholas Cage does an excellent job playing Yuri Orlov, a character based on a composite of five real arms dealers. “The first and most important rule of gun-running is: never get shot with your own merchandise.”
  • Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005; IMDb). A captivating film about the Israeli revenge for the deaths of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, loosely based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas (Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This film raised quite a bit of controversy about its accuracy and was even denounced by Jonas (see the MacLean’s article here). Despite the spin put on the events by Spielberg, I found it to be a compelling meditation on vengeance and retaliation. Kesher Talk has a series of blog posts on Munich that I highly recommend; they may be found here.
  • Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Few films have provoked as much thought and discussion around the issue of abortion for me as this one. See my previous blog posts here and here for why it ranks among my top films for 2005.
  • Syriania (Stephen Gaghan, 2005; IMDb). This left-leaning political thriller about the politics of the oil industry is disturbing even if only a fraction of it is true to life. Directed and written by Stephen Gaghan, the screenwriter behind Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), the multiple story lines (engaging in their own right) come together to form a compelling story no matter what your politics may be.

Worth Viewing: There were a number of other films from 2005 that are definitely worth viewing, but didn’t make my final cut. These include The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Almost made it just because of its subject matter); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; King Kong (Sorry Peter, your ape was great, but you should stick to orcs and hobbits); Serenity (Never watched Firefly before viewing the film; have to say I quite liked it); Sin City (Like sin, compelling to view, but ultimately damaging); Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Better than the other prequels, but that is not saying much! Who wants to try jumping over a guy holding a light sabre? Anyone?).

Please let me know if there were other “essential films for theologians” from 2005 by commenting on this post.

Posted in Faith & Film, Film | 11 Comments »

Essential Films for Theologians: The “Director’s Cut”

15th February 2006

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 Joffé, 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 über 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 Faith & Film, Film | 7 Comments »

Palindromes and Abortion

26th August 2005

Last night my film distributor/critic friend and I watched Todd Solondz‘s film Palindromes (2004). This film provides a biting social commentary on the abortion debate in the U.S. One of the blurbs on the DVD case describes the film as “corrosively funny.” It definitely is corrosive and at times it’s funny; my primary thought while watching the film was one of surprise — surprise at the shots Solondz took at both sides of the abortion debate (among other things). This film is not subtle, many scenes hit you like a two-by-four.

This film tells the story of a young woman named Aviva (note the palindrome), who grows up in a middle-class Jewish home with nice liberal parents (played well by Ellen Barkin and Richard Masur). Aviva wants nothing from life but a baby — a boyfriend or husband is not necessary. This desire leads her to her first sexual experience as a thirteen-year-old. She gets pregnant but then has an abortion at the behest of her parents (she has a hysterectomy due to complications with the abortion, though she is never told that she can’t have children). Aviva then runs away, still determined to get pregnant one way or another. Instead, she has a surreal journey from the suburbs of New Jersey, through Ohio to the plains of Kansas and back. To let you know what happens on her journey would reveal too much of the plot — suffice it to say that things come full circle (again a palindrome) though you are not sure if anything has really changed.

The film is clever (e.g., the palindrome structure, as well as the fact that Aviva’s character is played by a number of different actresses), philosophical, and will force you to reflect on your view about abortion. It may offend some on both sides of the debate, though as piece of social criticism it is worth viewing (it was released in the US without a rating, while the Canadian Home Video Rating is 14A). The film had a very limited screening, but the DVD will be released this fall.

Resources: Official website | TH!NKFilm (Canadian distributor) | Wellspring Media (U.S. distributor) | IMDb

Posted in Faith & Film, Film | 2 Comments »