I’m thankful for “Australia”

The negative reviews of the movie “Australia” are right. It is corny, idealized, and way over the top. But the positive reviews are also right. It is epic, shows magnificent scenery well photographed, and communicates some fascinating history. Even the negative reviews concede that it is quite entertaining.

If you insist on irony, complexity, and gritty realism, looking down on anything else, this movie is not for you. But if you want retro-Hollywood, magical realism, and an unusually satisfying cinematic experience, this movie is for you.

It was a movie for me, and not just because I’m an Australiaphile. It is an interesting combination of genres and conventions: the western, the epic, the romance, and the war movie. I got a big kick out of it, including the outlandish parts.

We watched the movie in two shifts so that the grandchildren could always be watched by a blood relative, and with each group accompanied by an actual Australian.

The Twilight zone

The Twilight books seem to be the biggest teen & tween reading phenomenon since Harry Potter. They are about vampires and romance, but I am told they are startlingly wholesome, glorifying abstinence and other moral values. The author, Stephenie Meyer, is a Mormon. Now the first book has been made into a movie and is a huge hit. See this article: NO SEX, VIOLENCE OR STARS, YET #1: ‘Twilight’ Takes Biggest $70.5M Bite Out Of Box Office Weekend.

Can anybody speak about these books or the movie? Have you or your progeny read them? I’m not picking up any Christian objections, justified or not, as there were for Harry Potter. How is Twilight’s portrayal of vampires different from Harry Potter’s portrayal of witches, so as to make the former less problematic?

Strange Herring

Anthony Sacramone, who once channeled “Luther at the Movies,” is blogging again at Strange Herring. Bookmark it and check it every chance you get for Lutheran insight and Lutheran humor. (No, the latter is not an oxymoron. Far from it. It’s a kind of a wild, cynical, absurdist, freedom-of-the-Christian, hidden, law/gospel kind of humor. Gary Larson of “Far Side” is a Lutheran humorist. Can you think of more such humorists and their qualities.)

UPDATE: Doktor Martin Luther is reviewing movies against at Strange Herring.

UPDATE OF THE UPDATE: As Cheryl observes, Doktor Martin Luther has restarted his old blot Luther at the Movies. Oh, joy! The spectre of Lucas Cranach that haunts this blog has missed him terribly. He is glad that his old comrade Luther is finally appreciating the arts, beyond just slamming the enthusiasts for always destroying them.

HT: Bruce Gee

If George Bailey had never lived. . .

. . .we wouldn’t be having this financial meltdown! Washington Post columnist Ross Douthat puts the blames our current financial meltdown on George Bailey, of Frank Capra’s masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life:

Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey was actually a pretty savvy businessman. And it’s even easier to forget the precise nature of his business: putting the downscale families of Bedford Falls into homes they couldn’t quite afford to buy.

This is the substance of the great war between Bailey and Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, the richest, meanest man in Bedford Falls. Potter is against easy credit and the suburban dream, against the rabble moving out of his tenements and buying homes, while the Bailey Building and Loan exists to make suburbia possible.

The Bailey vision is economic and moral all at once. In a mid-movie peroration, the hero lectures Potter and a gaggle of local entrepreneurs on the virtues of democratizing homeownership: “You’re all businessmen here,” he presses them, sounding for all the world like a politician defending Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac against their critics in 2004 or so. “Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? . . . What’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? . . . Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars?”

In the movie, George Bailey has God on his side, but a real-life Bailey would have had Uncle Sam. “It’s a Wonderful Life” debuted in 1946, more than a decade after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Housing Act kicked off a half-century of federal policymaking aimed at making it dramatically easier for working-class Americans to buy and keep their homes.

It’s true that the same lenders people are condemning as “predatory” were praised not long ago for devising ways to allow lower-income people to buy their own homes. Douthat does say that George Bailey’s goal was an admirable one and worth making possible, but still, such well-intentioned schemes helped bring down the economy.

The Dark Knight of the Soul

I finally saw the Batman movie, “Dark Knight.” (I know I’m way behind, just finally getting around to the Summer.) By every measure–character, plot, acting, filmmaking–it was, indeed, a good movie. I need to think more about its theme, though. Was the movie expressing an ideology that is

(a) liberal, showing how terrorism can bring out the worst in both “good guys” and society as a whole (provoking us to torture captives, wiretap the public, and in our fears turn to violence)?

or,

(b) conservative, showing how anarchy lies just below the surface of our society, and that social order must be maintained by force?

or,

(c) nihilistic, that there is no essential difference between anarchy, crime, lawful authority, and lawless vigilantism?

or,

what?

‘Basic Instinct’ writer’s conversion & church shopping

Joe Eszterhas, who wrote the screenplay for “Basic Instinct” and other dark and sex-charged thrillers, has become a Christian in something much like a road to Damascus experience. Again, God breaks into the most unlikely of lives. We should praise God, along with the angels in Heaven.

There is another part of his story that deserves discussion. Eszterhas then looked for a church. Though brought up Catholic, he did not want to go back to that church, due to its pedophilic scandals. But going to a megachurch sent him back. He craved liturgy and the Body and Blood of Christ:

When Mr. Eszterhas visited a nondenominational megachurch, he heard a sensational sermon. But he felt empty afterward, missing Holy Communion and the Catholic liturgy.

“It may have been a church full of pedophiles and criminals covering up other criminals’ sins … it may have been a church riddled with hypocrisy, deceit, and corruption … but our megachurch experience taught us that we were captive Catholics,” he wrote.

Mr. Eszterhas told The Blade that despite his mixed feelings over the church and the abuse scandal, the power of the Mass trumps his doubts and misgivings.

“The Eucharist and the presence of the body and blood of Christ is, in my mind, an overwhelming experience for me. I find that Communion for me is empowering. It’s almost a feeling of a kind of high.”

He said that living in the heartland, he sees how much Hollywood producers are out of touch with most Americans.

“I find it mind boggling that with nearly 70 percent of Americans describing themselves as Christians, and witnessing the success of The Passion of The Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, that Hollywood still doesn’t do the kinds of faith-based and family-value entertainment that people are desperate to see,” Mr. Eszterhas said.

Would that he would have stumbled into a confessional Lutheran church! One can be both evangelical AND sacramental; Biblical AND liturgical.

But set that aside. I’d like to pose a question that has long puzzled me. The reasons given as to why churches should adopt contemporary worship and follow all of the church growth methodology generally have to do with evangelism. But how effective are they really evangelistically? Especially in appealing to the hard cases–long-time cynical, intellectually sophisticated, artistically sensitive non-believers like Mr. Eszterhas.

Praise songs, for example, tend to presuppose a level of intimacy with God that non-believers, by definition, simply don’t have. And the practice of keeping everything so simple and downplaying complex theology, in the name of appealing to the common man, can have little to say to the kind of person who asks hard questions and yearns for hard answers.

Isn’t it true that hard-core non-believers mock the megachurch kind of worship? Isn’t it true that the megachurches appeal mostly to people who are already Christians?

I think the “emerging church” is trying to reach people like Mr. Eszterhas, but I suspect he would find the ersatz liturgy, the self-conscious appeal to be being young, and the doctrinal fluidity of such churches bewildering.

Of course where ever the Gospel is so much as mentioned, God can create faith. I’m sure the megachurches have their converts. But it is the megachurch theorists that stress how technique can win people. By their own terms, isn’t there an important place for more historic Christianity and a richer, more substantial and sacramental worship, in reaching at least some people?