Dinner with Strangers: An Interview with Nathan Clarke

Nathan Clarke is one of the most impressive documentarians working on religious subjects today. I first discovered his work a couple years ago when I was researching African expressions of the prosperity gospel, a strain of Christianity that teaches believers to expect material riches and physical health as fruits of faith. In collaboration with Christianity Today, Clarke produced a very short film—all of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, embedded for your brief viewing pleasure below—about the pro … [Read More...]

The Best Film I Saw at South by Southwest

I attended SXSW last week mostly for things on the Interactive side of the festival--digital media panels and keynotes and whatnot. But in the evenings, I played hooky from my primary professional purposes and took in as many movies as I could. And the best one I saw was Beauty Is Embarrassing.By "best," part of what I mean is that it is sticking with me. One of the most important tests a film has to pass in order to gain my sustained admiration is that it can't let me go--it has to filter i … [Read More...]

Fear, Disgust, and “The Cabin in the Woods”

Last night at South by Southwest, I attended the premiere of The Cabin in the Woods, the much-anticipated and long-delayed directorial debut of Drew Goddard (writer for Lost, Alias, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer), co-written and produced by Joss Whedon. I’d like to write about the movie at length today, but Whedon implored us not to reveal anything. “I want you to enjoy the film tonight," he said, "…and then forget everything you saw.”I’ll respect his wishes. The experience of the film depends … [Read More...]

Go Ye Therefore Into Casinos

Bryan Storkel's documentary Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card-Counting Christians captures a basic feature of evangelicalism: in many ways, evangelical Christians are indistinguishable from their neighbors.As scholars like Robert Wuthnow and Alan Wolfe have documented, evangelicals are everywhere and they're doing everything. They may sound like social outliers when you read about them in the newspaper, but evangelicals are hard to spot in the wild because they blend right in. They're … [Read More...]

Melancholia: Armageddon, Danish-Style

Your family is criminally dysfunctional. You're a manic depressive. Human life is irreparably evil.  Mankind is alone in the universe. Oh yes--and a rogue planet hurtling toward earth will destroy our world and everything on it in a violent conflagration.Such is the sunny message of Melancholia, Lars von Trier's latest unwatchable foray into filmic sadism.  Why a director of his ability would waste his time (and his estimable cast's talent) testifying so beautifully to the bleakest nihilism, … [Read More...]

I believe in the Muppets

I wrote a few weeks ago that not only do we find faith in the movies, but that we have faith in the movies -- in their power to affect us, to bring us to belief, to help us understand ourselves.  The Muppets (though not necessarily the new movie, which I haven't yet seen) remind me of this power, and it appears a lot of people have faith in them.  Okay, so I'm excited to see the new Muppets movie, and it seems that all around me, I'm running into articles and interviews about the M … [Read More...]

The Journey and Repairing the World

I had really hoped that I might write this week about Emilio Estevez' spiritual-journey film The Way; instead, I find myself responding to a movie about pot.As I am in the position of recommending films to my students, I often receive suggestions from my students, too.  Now, I try to be cautious about watching films recommended to me by high-schoolers, and I was certainly wary about this one: Leaves of Grass.This 2009 comedy, directed by Tim Blake Nelson (perhaps most memorable as … [Read More...]

Rapture Ready

I've paid only the scantest attention to the Harold Camping news this year, because mostly, I've been intrigued that anyone is intrigued at all by some outlier radio host making predictions about the end of days. Seem like the kind of thing we should have learned to downplay by now. Since the 1970s, American culture has had a recurring preoccupation with the idea of an impending rapture, the moment when believers in Jesus Christ are airlifted straight to heaven, and everyone else is left here to … [Read More...]