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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's the Coen Brothers after all.

I give it 4 out of 5.

The 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.

Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County

homeless-motel-kids_150 Tonight we finished watching Alexandra Pelosi's Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County.

From the HBO site:

HOMELESS...explores the world of children who reside in discounted motels within walking distance of Disneyland, living in limbo as their families struggle to survive in one of the wealthiest regions of America.  The parents of motel kids are often hard workers who don't earn enough to own or rent homes.  As a result, they continue to live week-to-week in motels, hoping against hope for an opportunity that might allow them to move up in the O.C.

The toll of this lifestyle on their children is severe.  Though the community tries to provide adequate education and food, the day-to-day lives of motel kids are often a numbing exercise in frustrating complaints and ever-diminishing expectations.

These kids' lives are bleak, and I think Pelosi is right that you can find similar stories everywhere these days.  The kids' hopelessness that the film communicates is tragic.  Pelosi seems clumsy, though.  Her voice intrudes too often, as one reviewer put it, to "influence answers and provoke responses".

I give it 3 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.


lottery Tonight we watched Lucky (2010):

An entertaining and candid look at the seduction of the lottery, and what hitting the jackpot does to both the winners themselves and the people around them.

I've never played the lottery or gambled at a casino or placed a bet on a sporting event...not that I have a strong moral opposition to things like that (if I chose to gamble in moderation, I would probably think about it in about the same way that I do spending money on any other form of entertainment), it's just not something that has interested me.  At one point the film points out that Americans spend $7 billion per year on movies, $16 billion on sporting events, $24 billion on books, and $62 billion on lottery tickets.  I would not have guessed that.  There were some real characters that the documentary profiled.  I'm sure "normal" people win the lottery too, but the folks depicted in Lucky were strange.

I give it 4 out of 5.


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