Commentarybites: Rocky! Nativity! Casino!

They’re not reviews, exactly, but three interesting commentaries have gone up in the last day or two.

1. Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link took part in an interview with Sylvester Stallone, who has been aggressively promoting the upcoming Rocky Balboa (AKA Rocky VI) to the Christian market:

“The more I go to church,” he said, “and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to His Word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now.”

And, admitting that the analogy might be a little pedestrian, he made a correlation between physical and spiritual fitness.

“You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else. You cannot train yourself,” he said. “I feel the same way about Christianity and about what the church is: The church is the gym of the soul.”

His next film, Rambo IV: In the Serpent’s Eye, in which the formerly ultra-violent Vietnam vet defends some missionaries, will also apparently be heavy on the Christian content:

“It rekindles something in him. He doesn’t believe at first, he’s seen too much. He’s bitter. But when he meets these people and looks into their eyes, he’s swept up in it, and literally he’s just taken on this journey,” Stallone said. “He’s a Christian warrior! Can you believe it?”

UPDATE: has its own Rambo IV quotes:

During a recent conference call with members of the press, Sylvester Stallone said, “It’s time again to revisit Rambo. The other Rambo films has always been about some military quest or revisiting Vietnam… but this time I was looking for subject matter that would take everyone on a spiritual quest to really explain what God means to people in other parts of the world.”

The film, Stallone explains, is set among the Karen people of Burma — an ethnic group that have been subjected to systematic genocide for over 50 years. A group of Christian relief workers from the United States are captured there and it’s Rambo’s job to go in after them.

“You have a story that deals with action,” Sly says, “but it’s about Rambo’s spiritual journey. At first you think that Rambo doesn’t believe in anything — he’s seen too much, he’s done too much — but this rekindles something in him.”

2. David Neff at Christianity Today says the best thing about The Nativity Story is its portrayal of Joseph — no argument there — but he criticizes the film for its “departures from history”.

Leaving aside the question of to what degree the gospels might, themselves, depart from history — e.g., the genealogy in Matthew and the genealogy in Luke both agree that Joseph was descended from David, but they don’t agree on how, and Matthew in particular omits some names in order to make a symbolic point with the number “fourteen” — it must be said that films restructure historical events all the time for dramatic impact, and having the Magi arrive at the stable on the very night Jesus is born makes better dramatic sense than to drag the movie out while Mary and Joseph spend a year or two living in Bethlehem and getting used to their new neighbourhood before Herod’s troops arrive and force them to flee. And given that more or less every film has conflated these two events — Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977) has the Magi arrive a week or so after the birth of Christ, to allow for the circumcision of Jesus and the encounter with Simeon at the Temple, but that’s a negligible difference — I don’t think there is anything “jolting” about this particular departure from history.

Neff has a point about the “romanticism” and “sentimentality” in The Nativity Story, though it must be said that this film is nowhere near as bad, in those regards, as certain earlier movies that have been exclusively about Mary and Joseph. I am also not quite sure what to make of Neff’s remark that “The Nativity Story is not boldly realistic like The Passion of the Christ.” Gibson’s film was gory, yes, but does that necessarily make it more “realistic”? Wasn’t that film also heavily influenced by artistic and religious traditions regarding Satan and Mary and so on? Didn’t it arguably pile on too much violence — that is, if “realism” is your thing?

It seems to me that both The Nativity and The Passion try, in their own ways, to represent points in time when, to borrow a concept from C.S. Lewis, “mythic” realities intruded on “factual” realities. And since The Passion concerns the death of Christ, whereas The Nativity concerns his birth, it only stands to reason that the “mythic” aspects of the two stories would take on a different hue.

3. Alex Wainer at Breakpoint looks at how Casino Royale casts a new James Bond for a new era:

And true to the book, this Bond can be physically hurt; tortured in fact. This is the most violent Bond film to date and the bloodiest, with most of the blood being Bond’s. That is a big change from the superhuman who always comes out of his violent adventures without a scratch on him, ready to bed the girl by the fadeout. The new Bond is tougher and subject to pain. . . .

Is the man at the end of Casino Royale a damned soul, allowed to use this world’s glittering gadgets, gorgeous women, and guns, but never to be secure in the reciprocated love of one person? Like the classic hero of the Western film, he is a man of effective violence whose sacrifice of the greater part of his humanity makes an oblivious world safe. I suppose there is admirable nobility in that, but maybe this glimpse into the tortured psyche of a superspy will make us envy him less.

Wainer also cites the influence of the Bourne movies (2002-2007) on the current spy genre, adding: “But they were also R-rated in their violence.” This last point is actually incorrect; the two Bourne movies that have come out so far were both rated PG-13, just like every James Bond movie since Licence to Kill (1989).

(Hat tip to Jeffrey Overstreet at the Looking Closer Journal.)

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  • When I was at Casino Royale and the trailer fort he Rocky film came on it was laughed at and heckled. For Saskatoon…that is pretty bad!

  • Far be it from me to judge anyone’s relationship with God, but Mr. Stallone’s attempts to “spiritualize” Rambo come off as bandwagon jumping to me. There have been quite a few successful movies with a spiritual or religious theme lately, and here he is getting all holy. I hope I’m wrong! LOL!!

    But as far as comparing the walk of faith to a gym, that’s not pedestrian, is it? Paul does it a lot, comparing our walk to a race, telling us to train like athletes. Maybe Sylvester HAS been reading the Bible….

    All that to say, I’m probably not going to see any Rambo movies in the foreseeable future. LOL!

  • Alex Wainer

    Whoops! You’re so right. The Bourne movies are rated PG-13. My mistake. Seeing their intense violence, I assumed they must be rated R. Mmmmmm. The MPAA does treat violence differently it seems.
    -Alex Wainer

  • They sure do. I’m actually kind of surprised — though that might not be the right word, because I’m also kind of not surprised — that Casino Royale‘s torture scene got by with a PG-13, which as I understand it is an unenforced rating, which means that anyone of any age can buy a ticket to that movie without any adult supervision.

    FWIW, Casino Royale was rated 14-A in British Columbia, which means anyone under that age needs to be accompanied by an adult. That was also the rating given to GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and Die Another Day (2002). However, The World Is Not Enough (1999) was rated PG.