Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, films, tales from the local library

Movies and Moral Helplessness: Reblog

While ostensibly working hard on a project that must be completed in no less than two weeks, I entertained a brief diversion which I rationalized because it took me to the very deep Circe Institute blog. There I found Joshua Gibbs interviewing his rationalizing alter ego on the subject of indulging in big budget films.

In this particular case, he is dissecting his decision to go to the theater and watch Jurassic World 2, which we also saw. I’ll post a portion of it here, but the whole thing is worth the short period required to read it.

In the lobby of a local cinema, I was approached by a journalist conducting interviews.

INTERVIEWER: Excuse me, sir, would you mind telling me what movie you’re going to see?

GIBBS: Uh, sure. I’m about to see Jurassic World 2.

INTERVIEWER: Very good. And why are you excited to see this motion picture?

GIBBS: Oh, I saw the trailers for it and I thought they looked pretty good.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say this looks like a life-changing movie?

GIBBS: (chuckling) Well, no. Of course, it’s a dinosaur movie. I’ve seen plenty of them, and they aren’t exactly life-changing.

INTERVIEWER: Perhaps you don’t think movies can be life-changing?

GIBBS: No, that’s not true. I’ve seen a few life-changing movies. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia changed my life back when I saw it in 1999. But there are scores of classics, too, which have changed me for the better. Ordinary People. Ace in the Hole. Babette’s Feast. I definitely think a good movie can make you more humane, more understanding. To understand all is to forgive all, as the French say, and God will forgive us the way we forgive others, so a good movie can certainly have great spiritual value.

INTERVIEWER: But not Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: No. I’m only seeing this because—

INTERVIEWER: Well, perhaps Jurassic World 2 is going to be very memorable. It will not change your life, but you will dwell on it, ruminate on it, nonetheless. A film doesn’t have to be great in order to be of value. When you leave the theater this afternoon, how long do you think you will ponder Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: Ponder it? Um, you know, probably not for very long. There’s really not much to ponder. To be honest, I’ll have probably forgotten I saw it by the time I wake up tomorrow.

INTERVIEWER: I see. Well, perhaps the really great movies that can make you a better person are hard to track down? Great things are rare, after all.

GIBBS: No, actually. There are plenty of really great movies I could check out for free at the library down the street. Great movies are easy to come by.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, well, I am sure you’re not seeing a great movie this afternoon because you’ve already seen them all, correct?

GIBBS: Well… No, that’s not the case. There are scores of great movies, or movies that I’ve heard are great, that I haven’t seen. I haven’t seen many Kurosawa movies. I haven’t seen Ran or Seven Samurai, but people rave about those pictures. I haven’t seen any Tarkovsky movies, though I’ve heard Stalker is amazing. I don’t know Ingmar Bergman’s catalog very well, though people always say Wild Strawberries is very beautiful. They say the same about Yasujirō Ozu’s movies, like Tokyo Story. My mother doesn’t like foreign films, but she says she always cries at the end of Tokyo Story because it’s so profound.

INTERVIEWER: Apologies, sir, did you say you could get these great movies for free at the local library?

GIBBS: Um, yep. Yes, I could.

INTERVIEWER: And how much did you just pay to see Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: Eleven dollars.

INTERVIEWER: Sir, I don’t want to misrepresent you, so I would like to make sure that I have your story straight: You could easily and cheaply acquire beautiful films which you would remember for a long time, change your life for the better, and grant you a more human and forgiving spirit, but you have instead decided to pay eleven dollars to see a dinosaur movie that will not make you a better person and which you will entirely forget about in just a few hours?

GIBBS: (sense of moral helplessness intensifies)

Sigh. Squirm. Maybe that’s just me.

Like I said, read the whole thing.

And enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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Christian, Els' Rabbit Trails, films

Like Arrows: Movie by Family Life, with thoughts on Christian filmmaking.

This is more of a public service announcement than a movie review. Like Arrows: The Art of Parenting is a production of Family Life Ministries, and is available as a limited run film in select cities through tomorrow night. If anyone is interested in supporting the effort, you can check online to see if it is playing near you.

We saw the film last night with several friends. I don’t want to offer a full review of the film, and here’s why. I have recently developed an understanding that there is a distinct difference to be found between religious themed  films produced by film makers and movies produced by vocational preachers which are more accurately described as sermons presented in cinematic format.

For example, The Passion of the Christ was produced by an accomplished filmmaker with a passion for and commitment to the historical integrity of his film’s subject matter. The result was a film that both religious and nonreligious people appreciated. It was great film making, no matter what your particular belief system, because it was made by a great filmmaker. As such, it was also an effective witnessing tool.

Contrast The Passion of the Christ with a movie such as Courageous, which was produced by a pastors turned film makers, the Kendrick brothers. The result of their efforts was a film which catered to the beliefs and convictions of your average Sunday morning churchgoer. Effectively,  it was a sermon transformed into a narrative on film; encouragement for Christian fathers “fighting the good fight”. That isn’t to say I agree with every perspective offered, but I respect their overall intent.

Once this distinction between the two types of films was fully absorbed, it changed the way I approached such movies. Last night’s excursion was for us, more than a trip to a Christian movie. It was friends, fellowship, a night out, and a chance to receive some parenting encouragement as the focus of this movie is Christian parenting. The title of the movie is drawn from the Scripture verse found in Psalm 127: Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.

So to reiterate, this is more of a public service for my Christian readers interested in knowing about Christian film releases. The trailer is below, and any burning questions about my specific thoughts on the film I’ll answer in the comments.

 

 

 

films, historical fiction

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

Our entire family went to see this movie yesterday. I didn’t love it or hate it, but it was thought provoking. So although it doesn’t meet my previously stated criteria for being reviewed, it did add another item to the list of things that I thought made it a worthy film.

For those unaware, Hidden Figures is the story of Katherine Johnson (and to a lesser degree Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan), black female mathematicians/engineers who worked for NASA at the height of the American-Russian space race. Trailer:

I haven’t had a chance to date to read the book, but I plan to in the near future and hope to review it here upon conclusion. One the things I usually do however, when viewing a film based on true events, is fact checking at a glance. This is easily enough accomplished via a website such as History vs. Hollywood, which fact checked Hidden Figures here.

The brilliant and groundbreaking nature of the work these three women did seems to be as noteworthy as the movie depicts. NASA’s official pages dedicated to the women can be found here, here, and here. What does seem to be markedly different, at least in Katherine Johnson’s recorded experience, was the level of discrimination she experienced in the movie. Or more accurately, the discrimination she didn’t experience.

Although the film depicts a fairly hostile work environment for Katherine Johnson upon her promotion from computer to the upper levels of flight planning, she reported that she was always treated a s a respected colleague, something I find believable.

Her testimony rings more true than the movie depiction not because I underestimate the amount of racial discrimination present in Virginia in the early 1960’s. On the contrary, it rings true because of the high level of discrimination present in Virginia in the early 1960’s. There was a fierce competition between the U.S. and Russia at the time this story took place, particularly after the launch of Sputnik. Anyone who could help Americans close the gap might have been viewed as an asset.

Further, there was no such thing as affirmative action during this time so Katherine Johnson’s mere presence was evidence of her worthiness to be there. If she could help accurately and quickly compute the math to get launches accomplished, she was no doubt welcomed.

One of the noteworthy points of the existence of the colored “computers”, the name of the groups of women employed by NASA during that time to do mathematical computations, was the fact that they were all female. From the white perspective, this was not necessarily anything of note, as those girls could still marry “up”, if you will.

However, from the black perspective it highlighted (for me at least) the reality that black women -long before the militant feminism of the mid to late 60’s- were already on the road to the education and occupational advantage over black men that is so often written about today as if it the gap only just began to widen in the 1990’s. This hidden disparity was one of the peripheral issues that made this film interesting to me even though it was never addressed by the film.

I hope to discuss this story more after reading the book (which has a backlog of requests in my local library system) .I do think it’s worth viewing for the historical value.Until I can read the book, I give the movie:

Grade B-

Content advisory:

  • Discussions of racism and sexism throughout film.
  • A couple “damns” here or there, a depiction of Dorothy Vaughn sneaking a programming book from the white section of the library after not being allowed to check out books there. Lesson there for your kids.
American history, Culture, films

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

If I bother to ever review a movie here, you can be pretty sure that I either fully despised or thoroughly enjoyed the film. We rarely go to the theaters anymore unless it’s something all the kids their dad wants to see, such as a big screen release of a comic book adaptation.

From the moment I first heard of Desmond Doss, and that his story was going to be made into a feature film, I knew I wanted to see it. For those who who haven’t heard of Doss or the film, here is the trailer:

There is a fair amount of violence and gore in the movie*, but war in the 1940’s wasn’t drone driven the battles of 2016. The story of this man, who was both a man of bedrock conviction, courage in the face of incredible odds, and steadfast faith moved me.

I know he was Seventh Day Adventist, but that theological divergence does absolutely nothing to take away from the miracle he achieved nor the extraordinary character he possessed.

Mel Gibson may or may not be nuts, but he did a fantastic job here. It’s one of the few times in recent memory when I felt like my movie dollars were not wasted.

*R-rating for gore and violence.