Christian Response to Aronofsky’s ‘Noah:’ Downright Embarrassing

I have not seen Darren Aronofsky’s Biblically-themed epic Noah.

You have not seen Noah.

No one has seen Noah, except perhaps Aronofsky himself. It’s not finished yet. (Although an early version was shown to test audiences, yes.)

Yet, the self-appointed forces of Biblical Orthodoxy are coming out against it.

Just because, you know….Bible.

As Peter Chattaway posted, the same PR firm that campaigned for Duck Dynasty during the recent Culture War moment is now riling the faithful up against Aronofsky’s Noah, a MOVIE NO ONE HAS SEEN.

They use this shockingly, horrifyingly, embarrassingly leading question:

“As a Faith Driven Consumer, are you satisfied with a Biblically themed movie – designed to appeal to you – which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?”

When the respondent inevitably answers “no,” the poll result is taken as a hit against the film WHICH NO ONE HAS SEEN.

No wonder Hollywood wants to steer clear of faith audiences. With crazy stunts like this, who can blame them?

It’s just embarrassing. The movie may be good, it may be bad, it most likely is a mix.

It may challenge our cute, fuzzy understanding of the story. It may even challenge our faith.

That’s what art is supposed to do.

And, let me tell you, “Faith Driven Consumers,” if you associate the story of Noah with adorable animals smiling under a sunny rainbow, you’re reading the story wrong. It’s the story of one man, one single man, chosen with his wife and descendants, to survive a mass extinction. It’s dark, horrible judgement and a story with which believers should wrestle.

Not one they should put up on a nursery wall.

If you’re ok with a simplistic, two-sentence explanation of the Noah story, you’re hiding from the deeper, darker, richer, and ultimately life-giving aspects of the Bible.

But whether the story follows our unchallenged idea of what “Biblically accurate” is, whether it actually goes against the Christian faith (Aronofsky is Jewish, and they had the story first), or whether it is exactly what you’ve always imagined…..

We just don’t know.

So stop fighting against something we don’t know about yet.

Please.

You’re embarrassing me as a Christian believer.

If you want to know more about the Noah movie, we’ve been covering it extensively.

image: Gustav Dore woodcut h/t Dave Lilley

Biopic of Mother Teresa Coming to Big Screen

She loved mightily, trusted beautifully and inspired millions.

Now the world’s most famous nun will be coming to a theater near you in 2015, The Wrap reports. 

The first ever authorized movie biography about Mother Teresa, tentatively titled I Thirst, will be written by screenwriter Keir Pearson. Pearson was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay for Hotel Rwanda.

“Keir’s presentation and his Oscar nominated script of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and his sensitive script for ‘Chavez’ (the upcoming movie about Cesar Chavez) made him the perfect choice,” explained [head of Flame Ventures Tony] Krantz. “’I Thirst’ is the first and only authorized film about the life of Mother Teresa on the big screen. We couldn’t be more excited for this movie about a woman who stood for total commitment, faith, charity and love.”

Current plans call for Pearson to complete his research trip in Kolkata, India and Tijuana, Mexico during the next month and begin writing by the end of February. “We’re eager to get this story to the global audience,” said producer Jamey Volk.

Read the full story here. 

This begs the question….who would you pick to play Mother Teresa?

Wolf of Hollywood: Only One Oscar Nominee was Made in Fiscally-Unfriendly California

Actors and directors may mumble about their art all they like, but Hollywood studios are all about the almighty dollar. But the very capitalist model that makes Hollywood such a wonderful force in the world may lure away California’s signature industry from the very place that gave it the moniker “Hollywood.”

Check out this chart from e21 showing that although the subject of films may be hippie-dippy anti-capitalism, the behavior of those making and marketing films is bare-teethed capitalism itself. Only one film nominated for an Oscar this year, the comparatively small-budget Her, was actually filmed in California.

Read more about Her and its sadly small version of love.

California is no longer the de-facto home of moviemaking.

It’s long been an issue in California that the restrictive and costly labor laws and taxes drive movies and TV away from being shot in California.

It’s sad.

California is my home state. It’s also the place that birthed the industry of movie-making. Plus, it still has all the non-taxation factors going for it: Beautiful light, lots of varied and lovely settings, predictable and cooperative weather, and a huge labor force of skilled and ready industry workers. Let’s not forget those thousands of actors waiting tables, just waiting to be discovered and willing to work for a nothing!

Still, the $100 million budget of Gravity went to the U.K. Another $100 million budget was spent in New York for Wolf of Wall Street.

Read why it’s ok to hate the Wolf of Wall Street, even if it was nominated for an Oscar.

The situation is so bad that the mayor of Hollywood declared a state of emergency after last year’s Oscars ceremony.

“I am starting to see people who have never made a feature film in Los Angeles,” Chris Baugh, location manager for Oscar winner “Argo,” which actually shot in L.A., told the small group outside a soundstage. “In fact, they are afraid to. They are concerned that it is too expensive and too difficult.”

Looks like the state of emergency didn’t work.

There are lots of reasons why industry incentives aren’t the answer for California. Subsidies are generally bad for states and California has so many likely takers that it would be particularly bad for them to offer deep incentives.

Better to reform the entire state budget. For film as for all industry in California, the government has created an atmosphere in which the cost of doing business is prohibitively high. Corporations are moving out, taking their job opportunities with them. Why should the film industry be any different?

California, with its punishment of business in general and its out of control spending, is in a bad way no matter how you look at it. But it is sad it looks like those ultraliberal fiscal policies are costing the Golden State its signature industry.

Hattip to Mark Perry for the link to the chart. 

Review: Spectacular ‘LEGO Movie’ Connects All the Right Pieces

Call it the February surprise.

No one predicted a movie based on little plastic blocks – known to parents as the most deadly middle of the night threat to bare feet in existence – would outshine not only its current competitors, but all the family films of the last few years.

You have to go back to Pixar in all its Toy Story glory to match the charm, wit, and subversive depth of the simply named LEGO Movie.

It works on many levels, indeed all levels: as a fun, funny movie to enjoy with family, as a commentary on the conformity of society and its lack of creativity, as an ode to human connections, and even, if you squint just right, an exploration of the nature of God.

But most of all, it’s a revelation that movies, including kids’ movies, can rise above tired jokes and overused tropes to something fresh and wonderful.

The story opens in a LEGO castle as the dastardly Lord Business (voice of Will Ferrell) confronts the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) over a powerful device to rule the realm. But Vitruvius has a prophesy, something about a special piece that will stop Lord Business.

That piece is seemingly found in the person – LEGO personhood – of Emmet (Chris Pratt), a nondescript construction worker in an endless team of construction workers who continually tear down and rebuild the city.

He’s a happy LEGO. He loves his job. He loves his city. He loves the leader, President Business, loves paying $37 for coffee at the overpriced coffee store, loves eating those silly LEGO turkey legs or LEGO sausages for every meal. Most of all, he loves the song that is played on continual repeat each and every day: “Everything is Awesome.”

But then he meets Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), whose purple-tinged LEGO helmet hair is formed in a most attractive way. She takes him for the prophesied special and off they go into the underbelly of the LEGO rebellion.

The plot goes much, much further than that, but I’ll let you discover it on your own.

The animation itself is pretty awesome. The world is rendered with painstaking – and often hilarious – attention to detail. Water in the shower and waves in the ocean are a flow of little blue LEGOs, with white ones thrown in for foam. Explosions are flying red LEGOs with those little plastic flames that pop up in LEGO sets. It packs a lot of wow factor.

But the real joy in this movie rests in the power of the script by writing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller. (Brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman also helped with the story.)

And the script is darn funny.

Adults, this is the kind of rare kids’ movie that you will enjoy, even if you don’t have kids.

Take my experience. Imagine the poor film critic, stuffed into a room with about ten thousand little children, about to endure yet another witless flick designed for parents to sate their children for 90 minutes. About thirty seconds into the first scene, I found myself chuckling begrudgingly at a sly gag. “Nice, stupid movie, you got me on that one,” was about the attitude. By two minutes in, Vitruvius ends his prophesy with “You know it’s true because it rhymes,” I laughed out loud. By the time the characters rocked out to “Everything is Awesome,” was completely won over. And that was probably five minutes in. By then, I didn’t care if anyone saw me laughing at a LEGO movie, of all things – I was having too much fun. So were the ten thousand children around me.

And the fun doesn’t stop. New characters keep showing up, brooding bro-LEGO Batman (Will Arnett), perky uni-kitty (Allison Brie), and lots of cameos from beloved LEGO sets: Star Wars Han Solo, 80′s Space Guy, Abraham Lincoln, the list keeps going. It’s a wide, wide LEGO world and you never know who might show up.

That’s just the brand name characters. The heart of this film is the creativity when you go off-brand. Maybe you start with instructions, but then you swap a wheel for a jet pack, a hand for a flame-thrower, a hat for a wheel, and build your own vision. These designs matter too.

They matter because this creation has a creator, a “man upstairs,” and his nature is expressed in his work. Is LEGO world meant to be perfect, conforming to specifications, square and rigid, or is it meant be a wild ride of pirate-headed-transformer-robots-with-shark-arms?

To its credit, the film holds this question in tension and then transcends it with relationship.

Which makes it a very interesting film indeed.

Watch it once to laugh. Watch it again to think and wonder. But, by all means, please watch it.

The LEGO Movie is rated PG for mild suspense and mild rude humor (although I can’t think what they mean). It’s appropriate for all ages, although the suspense might be too much for the most sensitive young viewers. 

Guest Post: The Wealthy Conservative Family Behind Former Oscar Nominee ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’

Alone Yet Not Alone will probably go down in Oscar history as the most obscure Christian movie ever to have been given, and subsequently revoked, a nomination for best original song. In 2013, the movie run was limited to 11 actual theaters, five of them in Texas, according to the Alone Yet Not Alone website. One of the theaters listed on the website, Celebration! Cinema at Rivertown Crossings in Grand Rapids, Michigan, confirmed that the movie did play there briefly in September 2013. Additionally, the movie showed at the 2013 National Bible Bee in November

After considering the movie’s miniscule release and listening to the song itself, many speculated that the song’s nomination had less to do with its musical merits than it did the fact that the song’s composer, Bruce Broughton, is a former Governor of the Academy and the current Music Branch executive committee member.

Apparently, they were not wrong.

On January 28, the Academy’s Board of Governors rescinded the song’s Oscar nomination after discovering that Broughton contacted voters in a way that appeared to offer “an unfair advantage,” according to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. An Academy press release further explains the decision and the Academy’s promotional regulations.

There are now quite a few people who are upset that the song’s Oscar nod was snatched away, far more people than have ever seen the movie, by all appearances.

Their dismay is couched in language of triumph — along the lines of God’s opinion is the only thing that matters, so who cares about the Oscars anyway — and persecution. Some of these commenters, judging by the list of names I recognize personally, know nothing about the movie other than that it has a Christian message, and thus they’re interested in watching it whenever it actually comes out.

The thing is, even given its relative mediocrity, the song is better-quality than the movie itself, and is certainly, at least lyrically, less controversial in content.

The screenplay follows Tracy Leininger Craven’s book by the same name, a historical-fiction account of her ancestors, Barbara and Regina Leininger, German immigrants who were captured during the Penn’s Creek Massacre of 1755 and raised by Native Americans.

Given its tension and unusual nature, it could be quite suited to cinema, judging from this dated outline of events by John B. Deans. The climax of the tale comes in 1764, when Barbara and Regina’s mother is vainly searching among freed captives for the still-missing Regina, who has grown into adulthood and apparently forgotten her own name. Finally, Mrs. Leininger begins to sing one of Regina’s favorite hymns: Allein, und dock nicht ganz alleine, bin ich in meiner einsamkeit (Alone, yet not all alone, am I in my solitude). Regina recognizes the song, and runs forward into her mother’s arms.

The treatment this story receives by Tracy Leininger Craven is less than outstanding, however. The book is stilted and poorly written, with all the artistic and ideological subtlety of a Westboro Baptist picketing sign. As the story opens, the immigrant family is perfect, and perfectly happy to be toiling in this foreign land, which the book claims they have purchased from the Indians. They are so happy, in fact, that they would rather die and go to heaven in the contested woods of Pennsylvania circa 1755 than be “slaves” in Germany.

The males of the family do die in short order, trying to protect the females they have dragged to the promised land.

The screenplay is much like the book: full of historical inaccuracies (the native costumes come to mind), incoherent narrative and poor acting. After discussing the movie at length with other movie-goers, one source noted “superficial details were well-executed, but where it really counts, the core aspects of visual storytelling fell flat and was laden with faith-based platitudes. The cinematography was fairly well-executed — good framing and picture quality, although there were technical issues such as color grading. However, the script was very poor, moved slowly and lacked any sort of flow.” As far as more offensive underlying themes go, the story revolves around the idea that Native American culture was primitive, savage, and toxic to good Christian white girls, even when they were treated well by said Native Americans.

The lead role of Barbara Leininger went to Kelly Greyson, Tracy Leininger Craven’s older sister, although this familial link has been kept oddly hush-hush. Both women were homeschooled, which their father, billionaire right-wing political donor James Leininger, said  was “consistent with his belief that parents should have choices in their children’s instruction.”  Allegedly, James Leininger provided much of the funding for the movie and has been listed as its producer.

Owen, the movie’s male co-lead, was played by also-homeschooled modesty proponent Brett Harris, little brother of homeschooled Josh Harris, who first launched the idea of courtship into mainstream evangelical society.

The role of Colonel Mercer went to one-time patriarchal and homeschooling star Doug Phillips, although nearly all references  to him appearing in the movie have been scrubbed since he admitted  to having an “inappropriately romantic and affectionate” relationship with “a woman.” It remains to be seen if the version of the movie appearing in June 2014 will have excised his actual scenes as well. Two of his children are still listed in the IMDb credits, as well as former members of his church.

What all of the aforementioned cast members (with the possible exception of Kelly Greyson, who has not been vocal on the subject) have in common is a particularly strict view of gender and family. Homeschooling, to them, is a way to ensure that children believe all the right things and behave in all the right ways. To quote my cousins, who have been very active in this particular homeschooling community, part of this is the imperative that women be modest “keepers at home” (unless, perhaps, like Greyson, they are well-connected) whose pursuits revolve around serving their fathers or husbands.

All of these people believe that America would be better off under a theocracy of their choosing, and they think this is attainable with enough homeschool graduates, who will eventually win over the culture with their grand artistic and political productions — and their sheer reproductive numbers.

What they don’t appear to have realized yet is that all the illegally-campaigned Oscar nominations in the world won’t make their vanity projects into decent art. For art, you need to push, to explore, to touch the stillness and the complexity of what it means to be human; to echo the age-old, conflicted call towards the divine. Christians can make complex art with a good moral message, there is no question. Ask Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

However, bloated propaganda pieces are something else entirely.

Katie Botkin is a freelance writer and the managing editor of MultiLingual magazine. She was homeschooled for the first 18 years of her life, and by age 26 had gone on to get two bachelors and a masters degree between teaching English on three continents. 

Review: Oscar Nominee ‘Her’ and Its Sadly Small, Dehumanizing Version of Love

Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, the most evolved sort of man. He’s post-hipster, dresses in cardigans and old man pants, talks softly and emotes freely. It is unimaginable to think of him swilling beer while watching football or getting in a bar fight.

His job is equally feeling-centric. Set sometime in the very near future, he earns a living writing emotional letters on behalf of people who just can’t find the right words to say to their girlfriend, grandmother, or war buddy’s widow. He’s not exactly a ghostwriter, more like a valued third party in their relationships.

Smarting from the breakup of his marriage to his childhood sweetheart – the divorce is filed but not signed – along comes technology to meet his every need.

 

Rooney Mara as ex-wife Catherine and Joaquin Phonenix

His personal device – something between a phone and a human secretary – has an operating system upgrade. After a few questions, including hilariously, “How do you feel about your mother?” the software creates for him the ideal companion.

She’s Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and she’s perfect. Curious, intelligent, funny, insightful, Samantha is a female version of Theodore, or maybe Theodore with a female voice.

She’s not the yin to his yang. She’s the yin to his yin.

It doesn’t take long for the two to fall madly in love. Part of the genius of this film is that the viewer believes in that love. Joaquin Phoenix convinces us he is head over heels, happy, and satisfied with his virtual girlfriend. Johansson is equally remarkable in her ability to create a full character using only her voice. They’re helped by a smart and engaging script by Spike Jonze, who also directs, that creates a movie that’s surprisingly entertaining for all its philosophical subject matter.

This modern love faces challenges, however, not the least of which is Samantha’s pesky lack of a body. Sexual desire isn’t a problem, but sexual fulfillment is.

The second problem is that an intelligent personality with the ability to process trillions of bytes of information in seconds has to slow down to accommodate her human lover.

It’s an interesting conundrum, one that reaches an interesting conclusion, as far as it goes.

But I’m more taken with what the movie leaves out.

It paints a picture of modern day love that is fascinating in its assumptions, whether it be with operating systems or common human partners.

Most people would, if forced to think of it, likely agree with the idea of a person being an intimate mix of three components: The intellect, the part that mulls over On Walden Pond, remembers, plans and strategizes, and makes choices, or at least rationalizes them. The body, the part that sweats and poops and has sex and gets fat, but also sings, cries, and quivers. And the soul, a more ineffable part, the part that endures, enjoys, loves, hates, the part that we can’t really explain but know matters and sense is eternal and is somehow the wellspring of what we are.

We can’t really explain how they interact either: Why a man sees a woman across a room and knows he wants to know her better, out of all the women in the room. Why we get physically ill when we see a person beaten or killed, why sadness makes our very bones ache. Why a smell can make us happy or laughter actually makes us healthy.

No one would doubt the intellect connects with the body when they see how an Olympic diver focuses as he studies his tape, that the body connects with the soul when they lose themselves dancing their sorrows out on the dancefloor, that the soul connects with the intellect when they hear a tale of a soldier weighing his options and choosing to put his life on the line for his brothers in arms.

The things that touch us most deeply touch all three aspects of us. And love is the deepest of all.

Her reduces love to a purely intellectual pursuit. The very idea of soul is absent, irrelevant, not addressed, abandoned. Does Samantha have a soul? The question is out of place in this movie.

But it’s equally shocking how out of place the body is, although the movie devotes much energy attempting to address Samantha’s lack of a physical body. She, and to a lesser extent, he is concerned about sex, even to the point of attempting various solutions to make sex more physical for them both.

As if that is all we do with our bodies.

Sex is important, don’t get me wrong, and the way the film deals with it is fascinating. But I found myself wondering about more.

What about the encouraging glance just before walking into a party? How do they replace the way the slump of your man’s shoulders can tell you everything, even things he can’t verbalize himself? What about those times a hug is the only gift you have to give a suffering loved one?

I thought about how when you have the flu, what you want more than anything is someone to bring you a bowl of soup and pass a tender hand over your hot forehead. I thought about elderly couples who hold each other’s aches and pains as precious burdens.

When our children are little and fall, we fix it with a kiss. When they cry, we comfort them with a cuddle. That doesn’t end in adulthood. To reduce physical interaction to merely sexual is to deny humanity. Indeed, sex is a culmination, a consummation of those glances and touches and soothing moments. It is a fabulous part of a grander whole.

The second thing that was utterly missing from the movie is equally fascinating. In his former marriage and in his relationship with Samantha, children are flagrantly irrelevant.

Theodore loved his wife, even still loves her in a way one loves exes. That he loves Samantha is clear. But out of the three of them, no one seems to have or have had the least desire to grow that love into a family.

It’s not that they actively don’t want to either. It’s just not a factor. It’s not a question. There’s not even the sense that he’s giving up something to be with Samantha, as many people freely choose to do out of love for partners who cannot somehow have children.

Both Theodore and Samantha create – he, his writing, she music. They find value in adding to the world, in leaving behind a legacy. But that legacy will not be passed on through a new generation. Their art is the closest thing they have to children and they are satisfied with that.

It strikes me that Theodore falling in love with Samantha is a very safe love, for both of them. Just a portion of himself is at risk, so much of his being is left behind. He is in control. Precisely because she doesn’t have a body, he does not risk losing her to life’s horrifying uncertainty.

People often describe having children as your heart walking around outside your body. For Theodore, his heart is safely in its metal case in his breast pocket.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

To its credit, the film doesn’t make it so easy for the lovers. Unforseen threats arise. But still, so much of Theodore is reserved from Samantha that he’s not deeply threatened. Not in any way that matters beyond a few tears.

Ultimately, the movie bothered me not for its commentary on technology or our dependence on it, much of which has been explored wonderfully by other writers.

It bothers me to see love reduced to merely a meeting of minds, sex to an intellectual exercise, creation to a few paltry letters and songs. It bothers me to see love reduced to something so small.

6 Steps to a Better Bieber: An Open, Motherly Letter to Justin

We could feel it coming, couldn’t we? The next shoe dropping. Justin Bieber was reportedly arrested early this morning for drag racing a Lamborghini through the streets of Miami. He failed a sobriety test and was taken in for further testing and processing.

Last week police found narcotics in his home after obtaining a search warrant because Bieber allegedly caused $20k worth of damage throwing eggs at a neighbor’s house.

Plus there are allegations of use of prostitutes.

Justin, baby, we love ya but it’s time to get a grip. Here are some steps to becoming a better Bieber:

1) Admit you have a problem.

I know, I know. You’re Justin Bieber. Just like Lindsay was Lindsay Lohan and Paris was Paris Hilton and Robert was Robert Downey Jr. Guess what? They all ended up in jail. Americans have a high tolerance for celebrity hijinx, but there is a limit to the law and to our patience. In any case, consider: Is this the person you always imagined being? The person you wanted to be? The person you’re proud of being? You’re headed down a bad road, sweetie. Admit it. Admitting it is always the first step.

2) Get off the stage.

You’re the first real social media star, coming to us via YouTube, amassing 49 million twitter followers. You don’t just perform on stage. You live on it. That audience is always there in the social media footlights, waiting for you. And whether you know it or not, you’re showing off for them. It’s no longer good for you. Step off. Step away. Shut down the Twitter. Stop the Instagram. Just be Bieber for a while.

3) Seek help.

Remember Robert Downey Jr.? He turned his life around. Give him a call. Find someone who can understand, just a little, what it’s like to be in the spotlight like you are. Find a program. Find a mentor. Find help.

4) Go back to church.

You’ve never been quiet about your faith. God doesn’t go away when you’re in trouble. He doesn’t stop loving you when you misbehave. In fact He is close to those who struggle. Now you’re 19 and maybe it all seems so silly and quaint, but I bet faith nudges at you. I bet Jesus calls to you. It’s time. Time to find a grown up faith of your own. Time to admit you don’t have all the answers, even though you’re an international superstar, time to spend a while on your knees, connecting to something bigger than yourself.

5) Pursue your art with passion.

You have a God-given, innate talent. You were put on this earth to make music. There is no doubt about that. So dive in again. Make music about what it’s like to be a 19-year-old Bieber. Study music. Love music. Not for the labels or the fans or money, but to feed that need inside you.

6) Give your money away.

Nothing sobers up a rich, spoiled kid like seeing real need. Make it your second passion, your earthly job, to give away your blessings in ways that matter. You do this already somewhat, but make it a focus in place of partying like you’re, well, a rock star. You’ve spoken about abortion. Find some pregnant women or motherless children who need help. Learn about human trafficking and its relationship with prostitution and fight it. International Justice Mission is a great place to start. Fight hunger, poverty, disease, whatever tugs at your heartstrings. You have great power to make a difference, something some of us only dream about.

Justin, there are a lot of us rooting for you. We believe in you. We know your story is not over and we can’t wait to see what you do in the next 70 years of your life.

Interview: Real Life Encounter With Homeless Teen Inspired Director Ron Krauss to Make ‘Gimme Shelter’

On a dark, cold night, filmmaker Ron Krauss met a young woman. She stood on the street, no coat against the January night, nowhere to stay.

Krauss was in New Jersey filming a documentary about Kathy DiFoire, a woman who invited a homeless, pregnant teenager into her home in 1981 and grew her vision into a movement called Several Sources Shelters. With five shelters, she offers shelter and a future to hundreds of homeless, many of them pregnant.

Krauss assumed the girl shivering in the cold was a resident and she assumed he was a shelter worker. He brought her in from the the cold and found her a bed.

“Something about her sent a jolt into my heart and touched me so deeply,” Krauss told me when we talked by phone.

The girl he met that night became the inspiration for Agnes “Apple” Bailey, the homeless, pregnant teen played by Vanessa Hudgens in Gimme Shelter, opening Friday. Mistreated by her addict mother, rejected by her wealthy father, left pregnant and alone by a man she met on the streets, Apple needed both help and healing when she showed up at the shelter that night.

After moving into the shelter for a year to learn about the residents there and write the screenplay, Krauss was ready to bring Apple and Kathy’s work to the big screen as director.

In the current economy, he says, the movie is relevant to our time. “The face of homelessness has changed from an old drunk guy in an alley. It’s about all of us now, trying to pick the pieces up and help each other.”

The script attracted big name talent. In addition to High School Musical princess Hudgens, the cast includes Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser and James Earl Jones.  ”I think they read the script and recognized that compassion,” said Krauss.

With an unplanned pregnancy supported by a caring community, this movie has been hailed as a pro-life story. But Krauss says it’s more than that. “We get so hung up on those terms, but really it’s about people. Kathy said it’s more than pro-life. It’s pro-love. It’s about life on many, many levels.”

The film is not faith-based in the sense of aiming at a purely faith audience, says Krauss. “There should be faith in every film,” he says, “and love and respect.” He set out to make a good movie, one true to the character of Kathy DiFiore, whose mission of mercy is inspiredly her Catholic faith. “Kathy says she works for God, lives her life by God,” said Krauss.

However, he believes the film will appeal to everyone. “The greatest special effect in cinema is human emotion,” something this film offers multiple times.

“It doesn’t preach anything. It just shows. I hope it will inspire people and give hope that no matter how bad people think things are at times, there are other people going through the same thing. I hope it inspires us as a society to reach out to each other.”

Ron Krauss with GIMME SHELTER stars Vanessa Hudgens and Rosairo Dawson. Photo via IMDB.com

Gimme Shelter opens January 24. This post is part of a promotional campaign with our partner Grace Hill Media in support of Gimme Shelter. 

Review: Americans Can Take Pride in Tough, Gripping ‘Lone Survivor’

Nothing quite encapsulates America’s ambiguity, discomfort, and pride in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the true stories of soldiers home from the field.

Lone Survivor, a story of a factual anti-Taliban mission gone wrong in the hills of Afghanistan, is based on the memoir of the same name. It is gripping and powerful, although hard to watch, and can stand alongside powerful movies like Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker, and the Somali mission movie Blackhawk Down.

As the spearhead of a larger mission to take out a top Taliban commander, the military drops four Navy SEALs into a rugged, rural, mountainous part of Afghanistan: Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg, who also produced the film), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster).

They four warriors are hidden on a deserted mountainside waiting for the next step in their exquisitely planned mission when unpredictable Afghanistan strikes. A band of goat herders stumble on their hiding place.

The highly trained SEALs have no problem taking the three goat herders into custody, but the question of what to do with them is harder. The old man and young boy are clearly no immediate threat, but the teenage boy seethes with a rage that needs no translation. They know without speaking the language that his freedom would mean their exposure to the Taliban militia in the valley below.

With communication gear on the blink and no means to detain the herders, they must decide what to do.

What would you do?

As an American, as a soldier, as a man or woman who must answer to your own conscience?

Their decision, as Americans, as soldiers, and as men who must answer to their own consciences, to release the group unleashes a hornet-swarm of Taliban on them, leading to disastrous results.

The bulk of the film follows the brave, brutal, and relentless battle that ensues as the superiorly trained and outfitted SEALs fend off seemingly limitless mountain warriors and wait for rescue. The stakes are desperate, the acts of courage bold, the blood and gore difficult to watch. Director Peter Berg does not turn away from the minute-by-minute pain these characters experience, from the early loss of a finger to a bullet to the mental confusion of a wounded man who has taken blows to the head. The camera lingers, it wants us to see, to feel, to know what these men have sacrificed for us.

This strong, bloody violence and salty language of soldiers gives the film an R rating. There is no sexuality. It is intense. It is not appropriate for children younger than teens and you should think twice about whether your teen is ready to be exposed to this level of reality.

The resolution of the film is, in part, in the title. However, the power of the film is in that it makes you feel each American death keenly, as well as the pain, grit, and strength of perseverance that makes each man sell his life dearly for his brothers in arms, for his country, and for the unknown Afghan people the Taliban oppress.

The ending has a true-life twist which will surprise the audience as much as the soldier to whom it happens and will help us appreciate the murky and complicated war in which we still find ourselves.

If you ponder the events in this film, the war is not as clear cut as the anti-war, “anti-imperialist” leftists stateside would like it to be.

The film, like anyone with a basic understanding of that region, makes a clear distinction between the brutal Taliban and the Afghan citizenry. The extreme fringe of Islamicism is a scary thing, a force that threatens its own countrymen even more than it threatens the West.

With the latest news that Al-Queda has taken Falujah and controls more territory than ever, the film takes on a completely gut-wrenching tone.

What was it all for?

 

Some critics, those who have never seen a battlefield (nor has this critic) or known a veteran (this critic knows many), will criticize this movie for being too patriotic, too gung-ho. They are wrong. For one thing, the advertisements make it seem more military-recruitment video than it actually is.

But for another, it’s easy to be cynical when one stays in their urban, bluestate, left of center echo chamber repeating that the war is a mistake, pointless, a product of America’s greedy and arrogant bullying.

But the soldiers I know chose to go to this remote part of the world because they believed in the mission, because they believed in America as a force for good and because they believed holding back an evil like totalitarian Islamicism was a valuable goal.

Perhaps that belief has been challenged. Time will tell.

However, this movie reminds us that even self-doubting and self-critical as we are, there is still a difference between us and the extreme, totalitarian forces we fight.

We are Americans. We do not tolerate or condone killing of non-combatants. Yes, I am aware there are troubling instances where we have failed our own values. The prosecutions of and outrage about such events supports my point.

The Taliban doesn’t hesitate.

It is a good thing to see our soldiers, representing our country who, when the stakes could not be higher, chose to uphold the values America holds dear at devastating risk to themselves.

This is something of which we can be proud.

If you can stand the blood, go see this movie.

 

Review: ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ Should Have a Different Name

To adequately discuss the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller, one must thoroughly divorce it from the short story by James Thurber on which it is loosely based.

In fact, the movie turns the short story on its head and essentially negates it.

This negation doesn’t mean the movie is bad – in fact it’s quite charming – but it does mean that the depth, humor, and relatability of Thurber’s most famous work are absent in Stiller’s adaptation.

Stiller, who also directs, is the titular character – a quiet, mousey photo handler at Life Magazine. Prone to lapse into flights of fancy, Mitty creates imaginary worlds with himself as hero while in real life only barely managing to speak a few tentative words to his crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). He moons around, with nothing to put on his online dating profile. He has never actually done much. All the action is inside his head.

As the movie opens, the magazine is facing its last days. The last known photographer to still use film, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), has sent a final beautiful photograph on a negative that has gone missing.

And so Mitty does something very un-Mitty-like. He goes in search of the negative, a search that leads to remote and beautiful parts of the globe.

The original Walter Mitty, the one created by Thurber, is a put-upon husband who meekly caters to his wife’s demands while all the time living in a fantasy of Nazi-hunting or brilliant oratory before a hushed court.

He never – and this is key – gets past his wife’s line of sight, much less on an actual airplane.

The literary Mitty is a tale of modern manhood, of a would-be warrior-hunter condemned to a suburban life of waiting for his wife to get her hair done.

The Stiller version of Mitty is the familiar Hollywood tale of a timid zero who does something crazy and daring, thereby waking up and finding himself.

For this familiar Hollywood trope, it’s a pretty good version. The scenery, including Iceland and (supposedly) Afghanistan, is beautiful. Stiller and Wiig have both matured into passable actors, funny at times but more than merely funny. They’re relatable.

The setting is a little strange with Life Magazine as a backdrop, photos on film strip, even a telegram delivery. It feels like a fifty-year-old script tortured into modernity. Plus, the usually excellent Adam Scott as an insufferable corporate hit man misses the mark, neither a funny man nor a satisfying nemesis.

Rated PG, the movie has only a few crude moments and some light violence. It could be a movie family watches together, although it’s not quite slapstick enough to capture children’s attention.

Still, there are enough quirky, charming moments that do not feel route as Walter travels the odd corners of the world to elevate the film to something enjoyable. It has its own sense of delight.

The moral, beyond the obvious “stop dreaming and start living!” is whispered by our elusive photographer on a beautifully desolate mountainside: “Beautiful things don’t seek attention.” This is perfect for our times, just as Thurber’s Mitty was evocative of his. If that idea had been explored more, it would have been a far better film.

Still, it’s a decent choice for date night if you’re not into HobbitsDisney, or Leonardo DiCaprio’s semi-naked middle-aged body. 

Perhaps this proactive, effective Walter Mitty should have a different name than the daydreaming hero from Thurber’s work, but whoever he is, he’s a good man to meet.