Calvary and the Cost of Following God

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How shall the Roman Catholic Church pay for her sins? Legal judgments have been rendered and financial compensation awarded to the victims.   And yet, nobody seems too satisfied.   The specter of sin still lingers in the church rafters.In his short tenure, Pope Francis has done so much to repair the tarnished image of the Roman Catholic Church.   His surprising acts of kindness have superseded the reports we’d come to dread of another cover up of another priest in another parish.   Pope Franc … [Read more...]

Jesus in the Movies: A Complicated History

Son-Of-God-movie

After Son of God, Noah, and God’s Not Dead demonstrated strong box office appeal, the media has dubbed 2014 as “The Year of the Biblical Epic.”   Stories in the Los Angeles Times, Fox News, NPR, The Daily Beast, U.S. News and World Report and The Telegraph have chronicled this 'flood' of faith fueled films.  Another religiously themed movie opens this week:  Randall Wallace's stirring adaptation of the bestseller, Heaven is For Real.   Later this year, Christian Bale will take on the mantle of Mo … [Read more...]

The Haunting Reality Beyond Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

It took me a long time to work up the courage to see Captain Phillips.   Despite all the positive reviews and even Academy Award nominations, I stayed away because the story struck me as far too real.   I couldn’t view the movie as mere entertainment because I had followed another hijacking by Somali pirates with an intense personal interest.     When Scott Adam retired from a career as an assistant director in Hollywood, he enrolled at Fuller Seminary.   We were students together, presenting at … [Read more...]

TREE OF LIFE: From Genesis to Revelation

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A friend was recently searching for my original review of Tree of Life and discovered it was no longer available online.   So here are my initial thoughts about Terrence Malick's towering cinematic achievement from May 2011: Tree of Life resurrects the era when Hollywood still aspired to greatness.  Not since 2001:  A Space Odyssey (or less successfully, The Fountain) has a filmmaker attempted to capture both the origins of life and our ultimate destination.   Terrence Malick came of age when mo … [Read more...]

THE ESOTERIC ELVIS: Gary Tillery’s “The Seeker King”

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I have always been an Elvis fan, initially because we shared the same birthday.   Over time, I came to truly love his classic songs, from the Sun Sessions in Memphis to his NBC Comeback Special in 1968.    When Elvis was encouraged to find something deep within his soul, the results were startling—a bolt of rock and roll lightning.   Yet, in between the early Elvis and the comeback Elvis were years of Hollywood Elvis, phoning it in for the movies.  What kept Elvis going amidst all the medioc … [Read more...]

BEHIND THE OSCAR SNUBS AND SURPRISES

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Plenty will be written about how Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, and Oprah Winfrey got snubbed by the Oscars.   Many may wonder how Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks and Lee Daniels’ The Butler could be overlooked for Best Picture (after all, the Academy could have nominated 10 films, not just the nine that were recognized).   Less will be written about why this occurred.  What lies behind the Oscar nominations?While no one can know the mind of the individual Academy member, … [Read more...]

HER: The Lure and Limits of iLove

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We live in an era of profound possibilities and deep-seated anxieties.   We believe the future is bright, but we’re scared of the present.   We seek solace in our digital devices, embracing the virtual when the actual feels too weird, wild, and uncontrollable.    We are hyper-connected and yet oddly isolated.   As Louis C.K. has noted, “Everything is amazing and yet nobody is happy.”    Director Spike Jonze steps into this maelstrom, wondering why our love for technology has left us unsettled an … [Read more...]

BEST FILMS OF 2013: HER CREATIVITY OVERCOMES THE MILKING OF MOVIEGOERS

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Does my hesitation to craft a “Best of 2013” film list reflect my shifting interest away from movies or the medium’s creative drift?  When almost all the studios’ weight is directed towards sequels, it is tough to take film criticism seriously.   Most of the major releases openly ignore reviews.   Consider the size of the built in audience for Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire or Star Trek 12.  Positive critiques may woo a few off the couch, but most moviegoers were al … [Read more...]

PHILOMENA: Sincerity Amidst Cynicism

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While much of the Oscar race has centered around 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, a much quieter (and more profound) picture slipped into theaters.   Philomena is a modest, true-life story about a woman in search of her adopted child.   It chronicles the horrific abuse doled out in the Magdalene laundries overseen by the Irish Catholic Church.   And yet, Philomena is one of the most faith-affirming films of the year, a paean to earnest spirituality amidst a (justifiably) cynical age.   It offers a r … [Read more...]

Inside the Coen Brothers or Llewyn Davis Unclothed

Inside Llewyn Davis

Despite what many critics have proclaimed, Inside Llewyn Davis is not the best film of the year.  It is not the best film of the Coen Brothers’ career.  It has remarkably melancholy music, but it doesn’t offer more than one recurring note.   It is dark; really dark.   Filmmakers (and especially cinematographers) love to get deep blacks on their images.   Inside Llewyn Davis has great blacks.  It makes evocative use of the dark shadows in the corners of every scene.   They hang over the Gaslight C … [Read more...]

MUSIC 2013: DANCING TO THE APOCALYPSE

Vampire Weekend Unbelievers

With a daughter in high school, I am officially well behind the curve when it comes to new music.   She’s old enough to love alternative rock, but too young to have a driver’s license.   So I’ve been the designated driver to all kinds of concerts where I am not just double, but triple the age of the average fan.    From Walk the Moon to Twenty One Pilots, upstart indie bands are surfacing with a frequency that rivals the garage bands of the original rock era or punk eras.   Their synth-driven sou … [Read more...]


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