In an age of ISIS brutality, its themes are sadly relevant today, and it opens a window on a period in church history of which too few are aware. It is not a perfect picture, but those who proclaim it a masterpiece have reason to do so.
I’m weary of the world tonight. Can’t think of anything to write that I wouldn’t regret tomorrow.
So here’s the latest trailer for the new Russian Viking movie. My reenactor friends complain that the costumes aren’t accurate, but in my view they look punctilious compared to the costumes on the History Channel.
The latest news I’ve seen says international rights have been sold, but there’s been no announcement of a US release date.
Sohrab Ahmari’s The New Philistines, which I reviewed last night, sparked a few thoughts under my follicles.
I noticed some years back that my interest in movies, once keen, was waning. Taking the trouble to make the trip to a theater just didn’t seem a good exchange. Whatever the old rewards had been, they were diminishing. And today, although I have Netflix and Amazon Plus, I don’t use their streaming services a whole lot, either. If I decide I want to view a movie, as often as not I can’t find anything I care to click on.
I used to watch television all evening, every evening. I liked some shows better than others, but I could always find something to amuse me. Then gaps started opening up, where there was nothing I wanted to watch. And now I’ve reached the point where there’s zero network programming that I watch regularly.
Ahmari’s book illustrated why those changes happened. I grew more and more aware – unconsciously at first, but consciously more and more – that everything coming out of Hollywood, big screen or small, was propaganda. In the legend of the Holy Grail, one of the questions asked of the seeker of the Grail was, “Whom does it serve?” With modern entertainment, even the most trivial, that question always applies. Each offering is in service of something. And that something is always some social or political cause.
In the days of the Puritans, it was often complained that people got religion shoved down their throats, that everything turned into a sermon.
Ahmari’s The New Philistines might have been called The New Puritans. Because in the 21st Century, the sermons never end.
Film critic Steven D. Greydanus talks about animated movies in light of Disney’s latest release, Moana. He points to many examples of children following their hearts or a variation thereof in defiance of their parents. “In each case, the child defies the ultimatum — and here’s the crucial bit: In the end, the child’s aspirations are vindicated, leading not only to a paternal change of heart, but to a revolutionary breakthrough in the social status quo.”
Back in 2010, Greydanus identified this trend and labeled it “Junior Knows Best.”
A common note in these stories is parental caution: concern for limits and boundaries which children must break through. The caution nearly always runs the same way; we don’t get stories of parents encouraging cautious children to face their fears. Nor (Cloudy With Meatballs aside) do we get stories in which parental cautions turn out to be warranted. The parents are always the cautious ones — and they’re always wrong.
John Mark Reynolds reviews Disney’s new movie, Queen of Katwe, which has many great things going for it, except that the “based on a true story” part can’t find a way to articulate the Christian motives of its characters.
Anybody want to bet whether a Ugandan evangelical ministry ever talks about Jesus? Why is this offensive? . . . Disney shows that it can get Uganda sort-of-right, but Uganda’s pervasive Christianity must be minimized. We should ask: “Why?”
I’d been meaning to check out the 1981 Icelandic film, Outlaw: The Saga of Gisli, for some time. Not a great film by any means, it has genuine pleasures and rewards for the saga enthusiast.
Gisli Sursson’s Saga is one of the best sagas, and offers interesting distinctions when compared to others. It’s a tragedy of fate, like all good sagas, but in this case the legal and ethical rules by which the Norsemen lived create unintended (and insoluble) problems for a decent man. If your blood brother and your kinsman get into a fight, whom do you support?
Gisli has sworn blood brotherhood with his friend Vesteinn. But Vesteinn is murdered by Gisli’s brother-in-law. Gisli feels obligated to avenge him, thus keeping his honor (as he sees it) but turning almost the whole world against him. He is outlawed, which in Iceland meant that any man could kill him without penalty, and no one was permitted to assist him.
There are a few people who help him, though, notably his faithful wife. And with their help he manages to survive as an outlaw — without fleeing the country – longer than any other man, except one (Grettir, who also has a saga). Continue reading Reviews: ‘Gisli’s Saga:’ Book and movie→
I posted the trailer for the Norwegian film The Last King a little while back. You might be able to see it in a theater (I did) but if not, it’s available (I believe) on Netflix. Or will be soon.
In the 13th Century, Norway is torn by civil wars. The opposing forces are the Birkebeiners (birchlegs), devoted to the current dynasty, and the Baglers (crosiers), loyal to the church, which has placed Norway under papal ban.
The young king, Haakon Sverreson, is poisoned to death by his wicked stepmother, the queen mother. When the news gets out, loyal Birkebeiners, Skjervald and Torstein, receive Haakon’s infant son, Haakon Haakonsson, from his mother in order to carry him by ski from Lillehammer to Trondheim, to keep him out of the hands of the Baglers. Their journey becomes a perilous one, as ruthless Bagler warriors pursue them over the mountains. Meanwhile intrigue in the palace in Trondheim leads to betrayal, false imprisonment, and murder.
The Last King is a competent historical action movie. It’s not as great as it wants to be, but the fight scenes and the music are pretty good (especially the music).
Historically, the film is about at the level of Braveheart, which is to say any resemblance to actual events is mostly coincidental. The Baglers (as is the practice in most historical epics) are painted as evil incarnate, capable of any atrocity in their ruthless devotion to the pope. The actual ski journey (assuming it actually happened; historians aren’t sure) was strenuous but not nearly this dangerous. The Game of Thrones-style intrigue and betrayal at the palace is almost entirely fictional. The evil Duke Gisli of this film actually never existed – he’s a place holder for a real Duke Haakon (that name might have confused the audience), who wasn’t particularly evil at all.
Worth seeing. Netflix stuff; probably not worth driving to a theater for. Subtitled.
Those two years between 2004 and 2006, when Pixar hoped to break with Disney and go in a new direction, turned out to be a crucial transitional period. In 2005 Brad Bird (The Incredibles) took over development on Ratatouille, and Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) began writing Up. Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), who had been developing Wall-E since 1994, worked on the project throughout this period.
These three films — Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up, released from 2007 to 2009 — were all vitally shaped during that transitional two-year period when people at Pixar were thinking about life after Disney. And it shows. There is a special quality to these films that makes them different from anything before and almost anything since — an audacious, outside-the-box, un-Disney-like quality that defies all expectations for a Hollywood family film.
“In other words,” Russell Working writes, “if you are annoyed by grocers offering a discount on banana’s, you probably trample the neighbor’s flowerbeds for fun and kick your pet skunk when you have a bad day at work.”
Close your mouth; it isn’t that shocking.
More book adaptions are coming to screens near you. After stating he would not, Neil Gaiman has announced that he will be adapting Good Omens, the novel he co-authored with the late Terry Pratchett, for television. Gaiman had been respecting his friend’s wishes, saying they had agreed to only work on Good Omens material together, but Sian Cain explains, Pratchett left a posthumous letter, asking Gaiman to “write an adaptation by himself, with his blessing. ‘At that point, I think I said, “You bastard, yes,”‘ Gaiman recalled, to cheers.”
Multiple attempts to adapt Good Omens have fizzled out in the past: in 2002, the director Terry Gilliam was lined up to helm an adaptation starring Johnny Depp and Robin Williams in the two lead roles. In an interview with Empire in 2013, Gaiman revealed this adaptation had fallen through because Gilliam’s pitch to Hollywood for financing came just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “[Terry] said, ‘Hilarious movie about the Antichrist and the end of the world,’ and they said, ‘Please go away, you’re scaring us.’”
Also, screenwriter Terry Rossio is working on adapting Pratchett’s Mort, and daughter Rhianna Pratchett is working a script of Wee Free Men, both for the big screen.
If you’re looking for a good Christian movie that would work well as a discussion starter for a thoughtful group, look up Paul Harill’s Something, Anything (which is available on Netflix streaming).
While the trailer gives you the tone of this film, it doesn’t spell out the story. Peggy, the woman whom you see agreeing to be married, hits a wall when her first child is miscarried. The grief overwhelms her, causing her to question herself and her lifestyle. In the trailer, you see one of her friends asking her what she wants. In the movie, that friend recommends she try to have another child and recognize her role as a wife. Life, she says, is about pleasing a husband, raising children, and supporting them so that they can repeat the cycle of marriage and child-rearing. Peggy used to accept that, but now it all rings hollow, and she doesn’t know what to believe.
So we watch a normal, East Tennessee woman leave one life for another, exchanging a self-centered materialistic life for one that may have moments of wonder, like synchronous fireflies in the Smoky Mountains.
One wordless scene appears to capture the entire story of “Something, Anything.” Peggy and her husband, Mark, are preparing to move, and he finds the journal she has been pouring her heart into throughout her spiritual journey. Mark picked it up and began to read a page, when Peggy saw what he was doing. She stands in the doorway, silently open to talking to him about what he read, but he just puts it down and walks out. The two of them were living in completely different worlds at that point, and Mark wasn’t curious enough to ask her about hers. He wanted a comfortable, worldly life; she wanted eternity.
I liked this slow, quiet film, and it will provoke discussion in an attentive group with its references to worldly comforts, Thomas Merton, monastic life, and the Sermon on the Mount.
God’s Not Dead encourages its audience to participate in the film’s “challenge,” an equivalent to those chain letters that claimed if you didn’t forward the email to 10 people something terrible would happen to you. Many complied. “Are YOU up for the challenge?” asks the Facebook page. “Text ‘God’s Not Dead’ to 10 friends RIGHT NOW! Then leave a comment below!” The image that accompanies the challenge includes this quotation from the movie’s cheeriest Christian character, Pastor Dave: “So your acceptance of this challenge, if you decide the [sic] accept it, may be the only meaningful exposure to God & Jesus they’ll ever have.” . . .
Ultimately, what the increasingly profitable “faith film” industry machine wants to do is sell me an idea of what “taking a stand” for Jesus looks like. That involves buying a ticket, sharing a Facebook meme, going to a concert, and texting a bastardization of a late 19th-century philosophical proclamation about the bleak condition into which we humans have painted ourselves to 10 people RIGHT NOW.
Knight of Cups:“Man must be willing to commit to love and open himself to new life. More specifically, he must cleave to a woman and be ready to have a child. . . . [Terrence Malick’s] Knight of Cups not only states this truth, it dramatizes our resistance to it. ”
Zootopia: “The beautiful bit is that despite the heavy themes, Zootopia never comes off as preachy or pandering. This is one of the strongest bits of Mouse House storytelling since the first Toy Story. Every scene works, the tension is effective and the payoff is more than satisfying. In the process, kids might not even notice the “good-for-you” messages throughout. But they are likely to experience the emotions that surround issues of racism, sexism and community.”
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) has announced a new film award “to highlight Hollywood’s feats of cluelessness, naïveté, and deceit when telling the history of socialism, communism, and the Cold War.” The Duranty Award is named for reporter Walter Duranty, who took what Stalin said as gospel and used his reports as PR for the Soviets.
“With each passing year, Hollywood’s historical amnesia about communism and the Cold War grows more disturbing,” said Marion Smith, VOC’s executive director. “The film Trumbo portrayed Hollywood’s most influential communist as an American martyr for free speech, ignoring the fact that communist regimes were—and from China to Cuba, still are—serial abusers of human rights and freedom of conscience.”
The award is an attractive chunk of fool’s gold to be given this year to Trumbo, a film about a communist screenwriter, and that film’s lead actor.