Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

a thousand years of good prayers

Darrel Manson recc:
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (release in Sept.)

Friday, September 05, 2008

save me

I wrote film criticism for Christianity Today Movies for its first few years, and while I had to let that go for time reasons, I still love the site, and really look forward to reading reviews by some very perceptive writers, including Vancouverites Peter Chattaway and Carolyn Arends, and Jeffrey Overstreet just down the road in Seattle. (Other great writers there as well: Josh Hurst's review of THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA is exceptional, Stephen Greydanus is always worth reading, Frederica Mathews-Green wrote one of my all-time favourite reviews - a mischievous, feisty response to CHOCOLAT - though it was years before CTM came into being.)

Point being, I subscribe to editor Mark Moring's weekly CT Movies newsletters. (When you arrive at the site, a box will pop up where you can subscribe). This week's is very much one of his best, (Hmm... Wonder what that says about those articles that are especially hard to write, those weeks that are especially hard to live?), about a film that completely intrigues me...

God & Gay Conversation

Some weeks, it's kind of easy to write this newsletter, because there's a new movie or a hot topic that pretty much speaks for itself, and the words just flow. Some weeks, it's hard to come up with anything—usually because there's not much going on worth comment—and I'll end up staring at a blank screen, my fingers itching to be told which keys to punch.

This is one of those hard weeks, but not because there's nothing to say. It's because there's almost too much to say—and all because of one little movie. That's the way it goes when that film, Save Me, just happens to be about a drug- and sex-addicted gay man who finds faith, hope, and love—but not a "cure"—at an "ex-gay" Christian ministry.

Talk about a loaded topic. But also, talk about a film with high hopes.

Chad Allen is a gay actor I first met when End of the Spear released in 2006. He played the role of missionary martyr Nate Saint in that film, creating a bit of a stir among Christian conservatives. But Allen says that it was on the Spear set that he first began to realize that all Christians aren't the homophic haters he assumed they were; he met believers—including Steve Saint, son of the man that Allen played—who embraced him (but not his lifestyle) with warmth and compassion.

I've maintained occasional correspondence with Allen since then, and I've been long looking forward to his next film project, Save Me, which opens—in very limited release—today. Be sure to read my interview with Allen, who plays Mark, a promiscuous, drug-addicted gay man who, at the end of his rope and at the behest of his brother, checks into Genesis House, a Christian "ex-gay" ministry. At the home, Mark finds God, compassion, and acceptance, and his self-image and self-respect soars. But he doesn't find a "cure" for his homosexuality—and he's apparently OK with that.

The Christian couple in charge of the home are portrayed as reasonable, loving folks who truly care about these men. Since the people behind the film were primarily from the gay community, it would have been easy to lampoon and stereotype the Christians as gay-bashing radicals. Allen says that would've been too easy, and that wasn't his goal anyway—partly because of the loving Christians he met on End of the Spear. Allen's hope is to help improve the conversation between gays and evangelicals, to tear down some of the walls between the two camps in hopes of more and better dialogue.

Fuller Seminary prof Craig Detweiler thinks Allen and Save Me have accomplished just that, saying the film is a "step forward in conciliatory efforts between artists, filmmakers, the gay community, and the conservative Christian community," And he lauds Allen and the filmmakers for their "courage to upend stereotypes on both sides."

I agree with Detweiler, and hope that more Christians get a chance to see the film. It's only playing in New York right now, but will expand to more cities in the months ahead. But if you choose to see it, be warned: The first five minutes or so are quite explicit, with a steamy gay sex scene that includes a very strung-out drug addict. After that, though, the film remains mostly in PG-13 territory, with a bit of foul language. But if you can get beyond that, I think you'll find a film that does a good job of, as Allen says, advancing "the conversation of God and gay."

Is Save Me a film you'd be interested in watching—whether it comes to a theater near you or someday on DVD? Let us know in our weekly poll.

Meanwhile, Reel News reports that Religulous, the upcoming Bill Maher flick that spoofs and bashes religion—not just Christianity, but all religions—is getting some buzz as a possible Oscar contender. Heaven help us.

See you at the movies,

Mark Moring
Editor, CT Movies

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wim Wenders in IMAGE

Nifty Wim Wenders profile in this issue of IMAGE Update...
Wim Wenders
IMAGE Journal Artist Of The Month: September 2008

That one of Wim Wenders’s production companies is called “Road Movies” is no accident, no casual moniker. The central metaphor in nearly all his films is that of a lone figure on a journey, even if the destination is not known. Like Walker Percy’s character Binx Bolling (from The Moviegoer), Wenders’s protagonists are on a “Search.” find a direction, a dimly sensed goal, even if more time on the road is necessary. Whether it is Harry Dean Stanton giving his son back to his estranged wife in Paris, Texas and then setting off again, or the angel Damiel (played by Bruno Ganz) choosing to become human and experience the world in a new way (in Wings of Desire), or Howard Spence (Sam Shepard) in Don't Come Knocking attempting to go home again, each character starts as a wanderer and becomes a pilgrim. Image is proud to have one of the world's great film directors, Wim Wenders, as an Editorial Advisor, and, more importantly, as a friend. His integrity, his unwillingness to make clever or flashy films, stands as a beacon of artistic hope to those who have a vision but may be afraid to pursue it. Wenders is on the pilgrim road, aware of the journey's end in the distance, but fully willing to give himself up to every moment of the trip.
Read Wim Wenders' article Interrogation in the symposium Why Believe in God? in Issue 55 here.

Current Projects
I am currently finishing a film project that was mainly shot in Italy last year. It’s called Palermo Shooting and features German punk rocker Campino, the Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno and the great Dennis Hopper. I am also working on a new photography show, and my future film projects include a thriller in Tokyo entitled Miso Soup and an adaptation of Walker Percy’s magnificent novel The Second Coming, to be shot in the Carolinas. I am also teaching “Digital Cinema,” as a professor at the Hamburg Art School.


Wim Wenders was born in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1945. One of the most influential figures of the New German Cinema in the Seventies, his films––among them The American Friend (1978), Paris, Texas (1984), Wings of Desire (1987) or Buena Vista Social Club (1999)––have won numerous prestigious awards and international critical acclaim. A major survey of Wenders’ photography, Pictures from the Surface of the Earth, has toured museums and art institutions worldwide since 2001. Wim Wenders has also published numerous books of essays and photographs. He lives in Los Angeles and Berlin with his wife, photographer Donata Wenders. He is President of the European Film Academy, and member of the order “Pour le Mérite”
From the Sep 1 2008 issue of IMAGE Update, a free bi-weekly email newsletter you really ought to subscribe to. (Did I mention it's free?).  100% Certified Soul Food. What's not free, but - apart from tickets to Pacific Theatre - the best value on the planet for your Soul Food Bucks, would be a subscription to the print journal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938, USA, Michael Curtiz)

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938, USA, Michael Curtiz, John Wexley / Warren Duff screenplay)
Let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could.

Jimmy Cagney and Pat O'Brien return to the slum where they were punks together, one now a gangster (guess which), the other a priest. Father Jerry fights to keep a new generation of dead-end kids (played, in fact, by The Dead End Kids) from growing up like Rocky. When the hoodlum faces the electric chair, his pastor pal begs him to "die yellow" and break his hold on the kids' imaginations. Unmitigated mellerdrammer, ANGELS is a lot of tough-talking fun ("You slap me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize") that anticipates by four years this director's masterpiece of heroic sacrifice, CASABLANCA, but with greater theological resonance – the "dead man walking" climax has unexpected heft, echoing another execution, another shameful criminal's death, another redemption centuries before.


ANGELS OF THE STREETS (1943, France, Robert Bresson)

ANGELS OF THE STREETS ("Les Anges du péché" "Angels of Sin" 1943, France, Robert Bresson, screenplay with Jean Giradoux / Père Bruckberger)

A wealthy Parisienne joins the Sisters of Bethany, who make no distinction between the ex-prisoners they seek to rehabilitate and other nuns, and develops an intense relationship with an unrepentant prisoner who commits murder immediately upon release. Lacking the director's stylistic distinctives (which would emerge full-blown two films later, in DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST), an extraordinary debut nonetheless, filmed under the German occupation – story collaborator Bruckberger was both a Dominican priest and a famed member of the French Resistance. Dave Kehr: "The spiritual themes – confession, absolution, salvation – are explored through visual and dramatic paradoxes, as Bresson draws parallels between a life in prison and a life in God, and finds his final image of freedom in a pair of handcuffs."


ANGELA (1995, USA, Rebecca Miller)

ANGELA (1995, USA, Rebecca Miller)

Debut full-length film by Arthur's girl concerns ten- and six-year-old sisters who turn to strange hyper-religious visions and rituals in reaction to their parents' disintegrating marriage. Todd McCarthy: "A film of intense and unusual spirituality, mystical and explicitly religious – what feels like a very Catholic film."


ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947, USA, James Edward Grant)

ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947, USA, James Edward Grant)

Badman is John Wayne, angel a fetching Quaker woman who nurses the gunslinger to health, asks him to put aside his guns.


IL MIRACOLO ("The Miracle" 1948, Italy, Rossellini)

IL MIRACOLO ("The Miracle" 1948, Italy, Roberto Rossellini)

From a pair of short Rossellini films called L'AMORE, the first (LA VOCE UMANA) having no particular Soul Food content. IL MIRACOLO ("The Miracle" Tulio Pinelli screenplay) is from a Federico Fellini story about a simple-minded woman who sleeps with a vagrant, believing him to be Saint Joseph. Driven out of her village in a pastiche of Jesus' via dolorosa, she gives birth in a stable. American Catholics were scandalized – they saw blasphemy; materialist critics were disgusted – they caught the scent of transcendence.


AMEN. (2002, France/Germany/Romania, Costa-Gavras

AMEN. ("Der Stellvertreter" 2002, France/Germany/Romania, Costa-Gavras, screenplay with Jean-Claude Grumberg, from the Rolf Hochhuth stageplay The Representative)

Kurt Gerstein was a Christian, an SS officer and a chemist who developed Zyklon B to purify drinking water. Horrified at its use in gas chambers, he pleads with Lutheran and Catholic churchmen to intervene. Portrait of institutional complicity is balanced by Jesuit Father Riccardo (a composite character) who joins in Gerstein's futile opposition. Costa-Gavras is an acknowledged master of political film-making, but AMEN falls short of the incendiary "Z" or his Hollywood cross-over MISSING, which shook the political convictions of so many. Stephanie Zacharek: "Hard-hitting if heavy-handed."


ALL THAT JAZZ (1979, USA, Bob Fosse)

ALL THAT JAZZ (1979, USA, Bob Fosse, screenplay with Robert Alan Aurthur)

More-or-less autobiography, the sordid life and transcendent death of a promiscuous, substance-and-people-abusing, death-preoccupied (or God-preoccupied) dancer/choreographer. Roy Scheider plays Gideon, who's no angel; Jessica Lange plays Angelique, who may be. Priest/novelist/sociologist Andrew Greeley celebrates the film as the perfect paradigm of his "sociological theory of the religious imagination": religion as experience, image, and story. TimeOut hates it. Anyway, the dancing's great.

ALICE (1990, USA, Woody Allen)

ALICE (1990, USA, Woody Allen)
Very Fifth Avenue, very Catholic wife of workaholic is smitten with bad back, bad conscience when tempted with – what else, it's a Woody Allen movie – an extramarital affair. Chinese herbalist says the problem is her heart not her body, and his cure – involving invisibility, travel to the past, and the ability to live out her fantasies – brings unexpected, spiritually satisfying change. Perhaps Allen's most eccentric film – and that's saying something! – a bizarre mix of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie and Charles Dickens that ends up somewhere near Somerset Maugham. Julian Fox: "An odd little fable." Indeed.


ADORATION (2008, Canada, Atom Egoyan)

ADORATION (2008, Canada, Atom Egoyan)
Winner of the Ecumenical Jury Prize at Cannes (for movies that celebrate spiritual values), the story of a high school boy whose composition assignment about terrorism stirs family trauma when taken for fact on the internet.

Will play the Vancouver International Film Festival, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

Nov 28: slumdog millionaire (danny boyle)

Kim Voynar (at Cinematical) raves Danny Boyle's latest, slated to open at the end of November...

Slumdog Millionaire
Fans of director Danny Boyle's work will find much to appreciate in his latest film, Slumdog Millionaire, a sweeping, hopeful story about a boy in the slums of India who becomes an instant celebrity after he wins millions on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ... A screenwriter friend I talked to after last night's sneak screening called Slumdog "Dickensonian" in style, and that's a fairly apt comparison. While Boyle immerses the viewer in the poverty and tragedy of life as an orphan in the slums of Mumbai, he deftly avoids delving into the murky realm of "poverty porn," which treats the lives of those caught in such circumstances gratuitously. ...

The heart of the film, though, is the thread of love and friendship between Jamal and another young orphan, Latika, who's befriended by Jamal and gruffly tolerated by his older brother. ... This love story, interwoven throughout the film, lends a classical, metaphorical level to the film that adds depth to its mainstream-audience friendly, accessible surface. ... Jamal does what he has to in order to survive -- when you're five years old, homeless and starving while the adults around you kick you around like a dog for merely trying to scrounge enough to keep from dying, the morality of theft and ownership doesn't really amount to much -- but he never loses his sense of fairness, justice and compassion. ...

There's sadness and tragedy within Slumdog Millionaire -- starvation, genocide, child prostitution and overwhelming oppression -- but there's humor, humanity and dignity as well. ... Slumdog Millionaire is Boyle's best film to date, which is saying quite a lot; He's made a joyous, fun, and wonderfully accessible film that should play well in Toronto before moving on to wider release.
One has to wonder whether an actual suitcase full of money will come into the plot, or whether we'll have to make do with "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" as a dynamic equivalent.

I can't help thinking of ABOUT A BOY, which opens brilliantly with the ubiquitous game show. Also, I'm reminded of a potent radio documentary which profiles one particular contestant on the Irish version of the program, which I heard on NPR's "This American Life." You can download that episode for 95 cents here.

NOW PLAYING: Big Screens

A friend just wrote me, looking for a movie prescription to help fend off her end-of-summer malaise. What would I recommend?...

Tomorrow night at the VanCity is a special showing of 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, which would be wonderful tonic for a book-lover like you. But that doesn't help today. What will be at the VanCity tonight at 9pm is Aleksandra, the latest by contemporary Russian auteur Aleksandr Sokurov. Not necessarily a cheer-up piece, but probably masterful.

BRIDESHEAD REVISITED is at the Fifth Avenue and Granville 7. The screenwriter is outspokenly anti-Christian, so I really dreaded what would happen to Waugh's explicitly Catholic novel, but those who've seen it think maybe the director mitigated the screenwriter's tendencies.

In the realm of sheer fun, I saw IRON MAN last night and it really is entertaining. Robert Downey jr is just a scream, the dialogue is well written, and the emphasis is character and story rather than unending action sequences. A treat.

Also a good mood-picker-upper might be MAMA MIA. Critics were generally critical, that being their job, but everyone I've talked to who's seen it gets very excited when the talk about it, and start contemplating either a trip to Greece or a return trip to the theatre. Do you like ABBA? (The band, not the deity.)

And WALL-E is charming as heck, though I'd rather watch the first third three times than the whole thing once. Not that the latter two-thirds are bad, but the first third is so fine.

Lots at the video store, too. Check soulfoodmovies.

Get happier!


the new world

Back in June, Warner Home Video announced the October 14 release of A NEW WORLD Extended Cut

The New World Extended Cut: Director Terrence Malick's Epic Starring Colin Farrell, Christian Bale and Christopher Plummer Features More than 30 Minutes of Never-Before-Seen Footage!

BURBANK, Calif. (Business Wire)
The New World, Academy Award(R) nominated director Terrence Malick's (The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven) adventure-filled journey of discovery, will be released October 14 on DVD in a new amped-up Extended Cut. This edition of the critically-acclaimed, Oscar(R)-nominated epic recreating the turbulent first days of the new America now features more than 30 minutes of never-before-seen footage, heightening the viewing experience with more battles, more intensity and more visual splendor. Also included is a comprehensive, ten-part documentary - Making the New World - which captures the unique creative challenges filmmakers faced. The New World Extended Cut will sell for $19.97 SRP.

Now, news of another forthcoming edition!

Warner Home Video has announced that it will be following up its October 2008 release of the Extended Version of Terence Malick's THE NEW WORLD with a Collector's Edition of the Director's Edition of the Complete Edition of the film. Featuring a commentary track by Jeffrey Overstreet, this 1,437-disk set reveals that the entire film was shot in a single take. Highlights include the crossing of the Atlantic by the entire cast and crew in authentic boats which they constructed themselves by hand, and long (but not overlong) contemplative passages when everyone (except, of course, the commentator) is sleeping. Striking images such as the one reproduced above were shot entirely with available light.

The much-anticipated director's cut (if it can be rightly called a "cut," since the director never actually spoke that word) restores footage deleted from the love scenes featuring the 14-year-old Q'orianka Kilcher, now deemed appropriate because the actress actually celebrated her fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays during the shooting of the film, and therefore of the scene. The restored and extended soundtrack also now includes such notable songs as "Listen With Your Heart," "Colors of the Wind," and the indispensible "A Whole New World." Once the director has completed a final edit of the advance trailer, it can be viewed at the film's official website.

I don't know about you, but I'm hoping Overstreet's commentary will address the Frequently Asked Question "What kind of duck appeared in the montage with Pocahontas and her son?"