4 out of 5

Moneyball

220px-Moneyball_PosterLast night we watched Moneyball (2011, PG-13).  From screenit:

A major league baseball general manager uses the numbers provided by his young statistics wizard in hopes of creating a winning team in a highly unorthodox way.

We enjoyed it, but I suspect I would have enjoyed it even more if I wasn't already acquainted with the concept.

I give it 4 out of 5.

King Kong

220px-King_kong_1976_movie_poster

Tonight we watched King Kong (1976, PG).  From Wikipedia:

King Kong is a 1976 American monster movie produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Guillermin. It is a remake of the 1933 classic film of the same name, about how a giant ape is captured and imported to New York City for exhibition.

Finn thought it was a bit slow towards the beginning but got more interested as the focus shifted to Kong.  He also recognized the Twin Towers in NYC.

I give it 4 out of 5.

A Town Called Panic

Sunday night we watched A Town Called Panic (2009,NR).  From Netflix:

Tag along for the small-town adventures of plastic toys Cowboy (voiced by Stéphane Aubier), Indian (Bruce Ellison) and Horse (Vincent Patar) when they buy 50 million bricks, setting into motion a crazy chain of events at their rambling rural home…in this film based on the Belgian television series of the same name.

It's suitable for the whole family (except for a little profanity).  Here is the trailer:

Clips from the TV show are on Hulu.

Lisa and I both independently thought that this is a movie James Lashlee would like.

I give the film 4 out of 5.

Monica and David

Monica_and_DavidTonight I finished watching the documentary Monica and David:

MONICA & DAVID explores the marriage of two adults with Down syndrome and the family who strives to support their needs.  Monica and David are blissfully in love and want what other adults have—an independent life.  Full of humor, romance and everyday family drama, the film uses intimate fly-on-the wall footage to reveal the complexity of their story.  While Monica and David are capable beyond expectations, their parents, aware of mainstream rejection of adults with intellectual disabilities, have trouble letting go.

It's an interesting and touching film.  I give it 4 out of 5.

Religulous

220px-Religulous_posterTonight I finished watching Religulous (2008,R).  From ScreenIt!:

Comedian Bill Maher explores and questions various religions around the world by interviewing those of faith about their beliefs.

My main take-away from this film is that it is easy to find people who can't thoughtfully answer skeptical questions about their faith.  I think that for most of us much of what we believe about God…or politics or whatever…has mostly been received and accepted…rather than examined from a skeptical perspective and adopted because it was the rational conclusion from the available evidence.  This becomes clear as we are challenged to justify our religious or political views.  I suspect that often there is also an inverse relationship between how strongly a belief is held and how deeply we have examined it.  In this film Maher doesn't engage deep thinkers in a serious discussion, but instead makes the hapless rubes look foolish…I guess that's his thing.

In one section that caught my interest, Maher asserts a long list of striking parallels between the story of Jesus and earlier Egyptian myths.  According to Wikipedia, there isn't much substance to this either.

I thought it was interesting to examine how I felt as Maher addressed religions other than my own.  I think we'll tend to agree with Maher's critique of everyone else but ourselves.  This takes me to a realization that everyone else is in that same position, and that to be consistent I should only be comfortable with my religion having a role in government, for example, that I would be comfortable with for someone else's religion.

The monologue that ends the film also caught my attention:

The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having in key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken. George Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he didn't learn a lot about it. Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it's wonderful when someone says, "I'm willing, Lord! I'll do whatever you want me to do!" Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas. And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what happens when you die, I promise you, you don't. How can I be so sure? Because I don't know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong. This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let's remember what the real problem was that we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That's it. Grow up or die.

That's not nearly the whole story of reality, but there's enough truth in there to make a very strong case for self-examination and for asking ourselves the tough questions regardless of whether Maher asks them.

Not because I think it reveals much interesting substance, but because I think it provokes questions that are normally too little examined…I give it 4 out of 5.

Reporter

Tonight I finished watching the documentary Reporter (2009).  From it's web site:

REPORTER is a feature documentary about Nicholas Kristof, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, who almost single-handedly put the crisis in Darfur on the world map. The film puts the viewer in Kristof’s pocket, revealing the man and his methods, and just how and why real reporting is vital to our democracy, our world-awareness, and our capacity to be a force for good. But REPORTER has a second agenda. By tracking a newsman, we track his news.

I give it 4 out of 5.

The Soloist

220px-SoloistPoster

Tonight I finished watching The Soloist (2009,PG-13).  From ScreenIt!:

A newspaper reporter befriends and tries to help a homeless man whose life and innate musical talent are undermined by his schizophrenia.

I enjoyed it and Foxx and Downey's performances.  It's been criticized for being unfocused and uneven, but the story of someone suffering from schizophrenia would be.

I give it 4 out of 5.

True Grit

220px-True_Grit_Poster To kill some time tonight while waiting for my delayed flight from TX to MI, I went to the theater to see True Grit (2010,PG-13).  From ScreenIt!:

A 14-year-old Arkansas girl hires a gritty 19th century federal marshal to find and capture the man who killed her father.

I enjoyed it...as expected...it's the Coen Brothers after all.

I give it 4 out of 5.

The Rivals

rivals

After coming home from the boys' football games today, while doing some work I watched the documentary The Rivals (2010):

The story of “The Rivals” centers on two very different communities in Maine. The Mountain Valley Falcons are a long time football powerhouse led by coaching legend Jim Aylward. Their community is located in the western mountains of Maine, supported only by a paper mill that is continuously cutting jobs. The fiery Aaron Filieo, who is five years into his first head-coaching job of a program that is only 6 years old, commands the Cape Elizabeth Capers. Their community is along the scenic coast is one of the wealthiest in the state, home to doctors, lawyers, and type A personalities.

I enjoyed it (perhaps because I'm such a big football fan).  The head coaches are real characters and tend to steal the show.  I give it 4 out of 5.

The Invention of Lying

200px-Invention_of_lying_ver2 A couple weeks back we watched The Invention of Lying (2009,PG-13).  From ScreenIt!:

In a world where no form of lying exists, be that fibs, flattery or even fiction, a recently fired screenwriter unexpectedly develops the ability to lie and uses that to his advantage, but must then deal with the repercussions of everyone else accepting what he says at face value. 

Gervais is one of my favorite entertainers, so I wasn't surprised when I enjoyed the film...not that it was perfect; like others (e.g. Daniel Carlson) I thought it had a great premise that started to fall a bit flat after a while.  Nevertheless, I thought it was quite interesting and enjoyable...despite its shortcomings. 

After watching it, I suspected that the film was controversial when it was released, and my suspicions were confirmed as I poked around on the interwebs a bit.

For example, from Kyle Smith (atheist and film critic for the NY Post):

The movie is a full-on attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular. It might be the most blatantly, one-sidedly atheist movie ever released by a major studio...Gervais is an atheist, which is fine, but his mean-spiritedness (even before the atheism theme enters the movie, it’s sour and misanthropic) and the film’s reduction of all religion to an episode of crowd hysteria are not going to be warmly received. Except maybe by critics.

From Michele McGinty (Christian blogger):

I have no problem watching movies written by atheists, I went to see the "Golden Compass." I have no problem watching movies that mock or excoriate Christians, I thought "The Big Kahuna" was brilliant. So, if they had been honest about the intent of the film, I might have been tempted to see it. Knowing that I'll be mocked is one thing but being duped into paying to see a movie that insults me as a gullible sap is another. It's a good thing I'm not gullible enough to go see a movie without reading a review first.

To all those atheists who want to convince us using Gervais' tactics, I say: ridiculing Christianity by treating us like we're gullible dupes who would believe anything we're told isn't a way to demonstrate that Christianity is false. Our faith is reasonable and we know it even though atheists have convinced themselves it is not. Ridicule doesn't work because we're used to it.The Roman soldiers and the Jews mocked Jesus when he was flogged and crucified. And Paul warned us that the intellectuals of the world consider us foolish...

Why was the film so offensive to some?  It depicts Gervais' character making up God and the afterlife to comfort his dying mother.  When others hear about the "lies" that he tells, it snowballs.  To quench their thirst for knowledge about God, he proclaims a list of ten revelations (the film only reveals 8 of them):

  • Number 1: There is a man in the sky who controls everything
  • Number 2: When you die, you don’t disappear into an eternity of nothingness. Instead, you go to a really great place.
  • Number 3: In that place, everyone will get a mansion.
  • Number 4: When you die, all the people you love will be there.
  • Number 5: When you die, there will be free ice cream for everyone, all day and all night, whatever flavors you can think of.
  • Number 6: If you do bad things, you won’t get to go to this great place when you die (You get three chances).
  • Number 9: The man in the sky who controls everything decides if you go to the good place or the bad place. He also decides who lives and who dies.
  • Number 10: Even if the man in the sky does bad things to you, he makes up for it with an eternity of good stuff after you die.

These revelations prompt reactions like these from Gervais' character's audience:

  • “That guy’s evil!”
  • “That guy’s a coward!”
  • “He’s kind of a good guy, but he’s also kind of a prick, too.”
  • “I say f@#! the man in the sky!”

As I read some of the press about the film, I was struck by how different my reaction was compared to what I was reading.  I understand why some Christians might feel offended (threatened?) by this caricature their Christian belief, but my inclination wasn't to be offended. 

For one, I found it interesting as a glimpse of what faith looks like to an atheist.  That's worth knowing on a purely intellectual level as well as being quite helpful for the sake of having a fruitful conversation with an atheist (as opposed to talking at one).  Secondly, although Gervais' lies are certainly a caricature (an over-simplified exaggeration) of the Christian faith, they strike me as highlighting intellectual dilemma's that many Christians struggle with and, in some ways, aren't really that far removed from some of the things I and others believe.  Looking at those revelations listed above I think: "When you put it that way (and I can understand why Gervais, from his perspective, would put it that way), it does seem kind of like something unbelievable or made-up."  It's not exactly unusual for me to have similar thoughts as I read scripture.  I think that faith is worth a examination...taking a close look at what I believe...subjecting it to the criticisms of people like Gervais and seeing how well it stands up.  This stuff is too important to leave unexamined while taking an artificially smooth life's-journey in autopilot mode. 

That is, I seem to take a film like this as opportunity to understand Gervais perspective and to better understand mine, not an opportunity to take offense.

This reminded me of Kevin DeYoung's question from earlier this year (written in the aftermath of Brit Hume's controversial comments about Tiger Wood's Buddhist faith vs. Christianity); DeYoung asked: Why Are We So Offended All the Time?  Some excerpts:

Offendedness is just about the last shared moral currency in our country. And, I’m sorry, but it’s really annoying. We don’t discuss ideas or debate arguments, we try to figure out who is most offended...Why is everyone in such a hurry to be hurt?  For starters, being hurt is easier than being right. To prove you’re offended you just have to rustle up moral indignation and tell the world about it. To prove you’re right you actually have to make arguments and use logic and marshal evidence....As Christians, we worship a victimized Lord. We should expect to suffer and should have particular compassion on those who hurt emotionally and physically. But we do not resemble the Suffering Servant when we take pains to show off our suffering. I’m not thinking of the Brit Hume ordeal now. I’m just thinking in general how we are tempted to gain the culture’s approval by playing the culture’s offense-taking game. If a law is broken or a legitimate right taken away, let us protest with passion. But if we are misunderstood or even reviled let’s not go after short-lived and half-hearted affirmation by announcing our offendedness for the world to hear. Every time we try to make hay out of misplaced calumnies, we hasten the demise of Christianity in the public square. As offendedness becomes the barometer of acceptable discourse, we can expect further marginalization of Christian beliefs. So buck up brothers and sisters. Most often in this country, we are not victims because of our faith. There are just as many people, it seems to me, standing to Brit Hume’s defense as they are pillorying him. Let every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the world be crushed to (phony) emotional pieces when their ideas are scrutinized. We can chart a different course and trust that our beliefs can handle Keith Olberman’s disapproval. We have no reason to be anxious, every reason to be joyful, and fewer reasons than we think to be offended.

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