Not Peace But a Sword: “The Birth of a Nation” (2016)

The Birth of a Nation, Nate Parker's searing life of Nat Turner, is a brilliant and iconic piece of Christian moviemaking--right up until Turner's slave rebellion begins.Birth has attracted intense controversy in part because of rape charges against both Parker and his co-writer. I'm not going to get into that, largely because you'll have your own beliefs on whether or how those charges should color your ticket-buying decisions, except to say that the portrayal of sexual violence in the film … [Read more...]

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The Unimaginable Atheist: I review “The Loser Letters”

and tell CUA they made a big mistake:“The Loser Letters,” Mary Eberstadt’s tale of an ex-Christian’s attempt to improve the New Atheism via perky blog posts from rehab, is making its dramatic premiere at the Catholic University of America. The play, adapted from Eberstadt’s novel by Jeffrey Fiske, has three major elements. One of these is brilliant and charming; one is powerful but laced with melodrama; and one so underthought that it’s degrading to the audience. Unfortunately, I’ve named t … [Read more...]

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All Theology Is Prison Theology: A Couple of Links

A little while ago I used a Michigan case about videoconference sentencing to explore the theology of the body of the defendant. Here Mississippi attempted--and then retracted--some wrongheaded theology of the family of the incarcerated: Family and friends of Mississippi state prisoners were surprised and alarmed by a new policy announced Wednesday that bans all but immediate family members from visiting. According to a memo posted in state facilities, “this excludes ALL friends, pastors g … [Read more...]

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“Escape from Enlightenment”: I’m at First Things

reviewin': For over twenty years Will Allen was the in-house videographer for the Buddhafield—a religious group, eventually numbering over a hundred members, that mixed meditation, ecstatic experience, and ballet. In 2007 the group shattered amid accusations of emotional and sexual abuse. The title of Allen's new documentary shows which side he ended up on: It's called Holy Hell.Holy Hell confirms some stereotypes of cults and challenges others. The Buddhafield offered much that our c … [Read more...]

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Doomed Queen and Beaten Champion: Concert review, Tristen & the Mountain Goats

A few weeks ago I got a chance to see the Mountain Goats in concert. Let me tell you to do this thing if you get the chance. The Mt Goats is sort of one guy, John Darnielle, and the people he gets to help him make narrative, terrifically-structured indie music; I've yapped about their stuff here and here among other places. I super love them but am wary of live music for whatever dumb reason, so when I finally saw them at Calvin College, I was totally blown away. Darnielle was losing his voice … [Read more...]

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File Under Sacred Music: Movie Notes

Daisies: A mid-'60s Czech feminist romp, and incredibly enjoyable from the first frame to the last. The costumes and set designs are all about childlike fun; the overall ethos is, "Eat dessert first!"Victor Morton points out the way this film is women's lib, not women's rights, and like all purely liberatory gestures it can't be justified--and Daisies itself acknowledges that! It cheerfully admits that it's unsustainable and gratuitous, utopian in the fullest sense, a Candyland and not a … [Read more...]

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“Escape from Detroit”: I watch “Don’t Breathe”

for AmCon, and end up ranting about the sacred Victim, obviously: Don’t Breathe, the new horror flick from director Fede Alvarez, opens with the flapping of wings and far-off sirens. Dawn is breaking on a deserted street, which we slowly approach from the sky. A man is dragging a blonde body through a city where everyone else seems to have vanished. more (also apparently I badly misremembered Wait Until Dark so apologies for that...) … [Read more...]

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