Archive for the ‘ Movies ’ Category

Thoghts about pop-culture, ethics, morality and value ispired from a conversation on facebook.

Although we have moved away from overtly signing songs and telling folk tales or myths as ways to convey ethics, values and meaning in our culture, popular culture has become the town square, campfire and village gathering that the contemporary person covertly learns societal values through. The tragedy is not the vehicle of information. The tragedy is that the stories and songs are no longer mediated by elders seeking to guide the community they are mediated by some guys trying to make a buck.



God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Soul Searching

Soul Searching is a film for anyone wanting to know more about the spiritual lives of teenagers. The book – of the same title and well worth the read – is robust in its examinations and shows the complexities and sometimes shallowness of teenage spirituality.

This DVD does the same. The DVD gives images and audible voices to the stories of teenage spirituality and helps the watcher connect with the student’s spiritual life through wonderful statistical commentary. Ideally, this film is not one to watch and set aside as a good documentary. It is one that is meant to challenge the way we do “youth ministry” and view our teenagers as they develop spiritually.

Here is a the review from Amazon.

In 2005, Oxford University Press released a very important book. Sociologists from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill had just released their findings of a comprehensive study of the religious views of American teenagers. And what they found was nothing less than shocking. According to Christian Smith, the primary author of the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American teenagers, the actual professed religion of most young adults, whether they’re being raised in Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, or Jewish homes, is what he called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. What this means is that although many teens believe in God and go to church regularly, they end up defining belief in very vague and subjective terms, such as, God exists, He’s there when we need him, He wants us to be happy, The purpose of life is to feel good, Good people go to heaven, and so forth. Now, in 2007, a documentary film version of Soul Searching was just released by Revelation Studios. And on this edition of the White Horse Inn webcast, Michael Horton talks with Michael Eaton, the co-director of the film, as well as Christian Smith himself, the primary researcher behind the project, about their new documentary Soul Searching: A Movie About Teenagers & God. Based on a seven year study of the religious views of American teens, this film presents some troubling findings about the content and quality of the faith being passed on to the next generation. –Whitehorse Inn

Slumdog Injustice

This situation with Slumdog Millionaire simply makes me sick. This is the essence of exploitation. Not only on the studio’s part, but on movie watchers as well. It is oxymoronic that the world celebrates this beautiful rags to riches fairytale and the endurance of a “slumdog”, but then sits back and does not allow the story to really change their lives. We have glorified this story and it all makes us feel “good” and makes us assume that we have participated in some act of justice because we have watched a film. We have been lulled to complacency by endearing stories that we watch from the comfort of a padded chair.

The creators Slumdog Millionaire owe Mumbai and the families of the child actors, but so do we as viewers.

Otherwise we are simply benefiting from Mumbai’s poverty and exploiting the poor for our own entertainment.

Amos 2:6-7a

6Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of (A)Israel and for four
I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they (B)sell the righteous for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals.
7“These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the (C)helpless
Also (D)turn aside the way of the humble;

Isaiah 10: 1-2

1Woe to those who (A)enact evil statutes
And to those who constantly record unjust decisions,
2So as (B)to deprive the needy of justice
And rob the poor of My people of their rights,
So (C)that widows may be their spoil
And that they may plunder the orphans.

If we do not see ourselves as the oppressors we are missing something essential.

Oppression is not always  heavy handedness, it is also apathy and complacency with an oppressive system and unjust actions.


Telegraph recently spoke with Danny Boyle,  the director of Slumdog Millionaire , he asked the media to leave the families alone and allow them to work out their issues. I understand his statements and agree for the most part  media infiltration can be exploitation too -, but such an brazen injustice must be addressed. It is bad enough that the children – and anyone – lives in such conditions, but it is inexcusable, that a multi-million dollar grossing studio cannot be a little sacrificial and decide to give money earned from Slumdog Millionaire to the families and the development of their community – not just in a trust fund for the children, who says they will make it without help right now?

But again, it isn’t just the studio and it isn’t just this incident. Though not as public and glamorized as this Slumdog issue, we benefit from other’s material poverty all the time. Many of the products we use are made by slumdogs (maybe not in India, but somewhere). We use the argument, “well at least they have jobs” and suggest that we are providing individuals with income. NO!. We are strangling their economy by trapping them in low paying jobs from which they will never be able to move up. All in the name of lots cheap, fashionable clothing and goods for ourselves.

Our relationship with these countries and their people groups is not equitable. We as a people stand as the domineering over the dominated.

We are called to live just lives, not ones of material gluttony.

Maria, Maria . . . you remind me of a West-Side Story

The classic play West-Side Story is going to be back on Broadway, but this time around there will be a couple of twists. This revival, directed by West Side Story librettist Arthur Laurents himself, is a bilingual.

A retelling of Romeo and Juliet, set against a background of gang warfare, pits the Puerto Rican Sharks against white juvenile-delinquent Jets. In the new version, the Jets speak and sing in English, the Sharks in Spanish with English surtitles. . .

Another change: Laurents has re-framed “Gee, Officer Krupke,” a hilarious vaudeville number in the original. In this grittier West Side Story, after two of their friends are killed, the Jets’ taunting song sounds darker.”I don’t know how funny it is, and I don’t care,” Laurents says. “It’s another expression of the kids who understand what society thinks of them.”

Even though they don’t speak Spanish, the Jets understand what the Sharks think of them. Cody Green, who plays Jets leader Riff, says the language barrier adds to the friction.”If you don’t understand what’s being said, it gets a rise out of you,” Green says. “It creates this tension between the two gangs. … They don’t speak the same language.”


The adaptation of West-Side Story premiered at the National Theatre in Washington, DC on December 15, 2008 and played through January 17, 2009. There will be a Broadway preview at the Palace Theatre on February 23, 2009 and an official opening night on March 19, 2009.

I am a fan of West-Side story, though I have only seen it once. Although some aspects of the play – and film – are unbelievable and perhaps a little inaccurate, the play touches on issues of immigration, diversity and interracial love.  In this new adaptation  the tension between the sharks and the jets will be thicker and the whole essence is supposed to hold considerably more grit.

The casting of Latinos and the bilingual script will also give the play greater authenticity, this time there won’t be any fake, cliche accents – though the Latino cast had to work on speaking Puerto Rican Spanish.  Albeit these changes have been made, over at CoobySnacks the adaptation is critiqued because of the lack of a modern day feel and appeal.

And I am by no means ageist. But a revival is only as successful as its ability to connect with new audiences. When we’ve seen innovations on stage and screen since the original’s debut on Broadway, this entire production seems enormously dated. Even Step Up and Step Up 2 seemed to pull off the age-old Romeo and Juliet story more successfully.

Regardless of critique, which is probably correct.], an exciting aspect about this adaptation is that it is trying to correct the wrongs on an incorrect culture. Originally West-Side story was basically a white guys perception of multi-racial urban issue, now it seems that there has been a realization that that perception was not complete and needed adjusting.

The new adaptation is probably lacking as well, but it is, at least, an attempt to have an more holistic view on issues concerning race, ethnicity, love, conflict etc. I would love to see this occurring in a number of arenas. Not to just be “multi-cultural”, but to accurately display the landscape of the US.

Is this something the church can do? It should, but can we? Are we willing to do realize that we have done this exclusively and incorrectly in the past?

I am not emergent, and have several issues with the movement, but I also believe that is is bringing up some important issues (some of which are also being propagated by leaders outside of the emergent church). However, none of this is new. The focus on the Kingdom of God is not new. Social Justice is not new. Community is not new.  Minority pastors and theologians have had they orthodoxy and orthopraxy for a long time. Not just Martin Luther King, but Vernon Johns, Richard Farmer, James Cone, Ralph Abernathy. The African-American church tradition has already been exhibiting some of the new/radical characteristics of post-modern Christianity.

Additionally we look at contemporary icons – Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis etc. and we see a great “advancement” in Christianity. I value all of them, but I also think that we miss other important minority leaders who say and have for years said the same thing.

West-Side Story is attempting to right some of the wrongs of the past. It has been made clear that the perception and representation of White/Latino gang war needed to be shown in the correct light. Likewise, we, as Christians, must embrace the wholeness of our history and of what makes up faith. We must work together, have a multi-cultural picture of faith, and realize that in our white-dominated history much of the blessings of diverse theology and orthopraxy has been shadowed.

Only in reconciliation will we be able to put together an accurate picture of the Christian faith. I will be waiting for West Side Story to come to the Midwest – maybe I’ll get tickets to NY. But more importantly, will be actively waiting for the church to be reconciled.

The Visitor

A couple weeks ago my wife and I watched an incredible movie called “The Visitor”. Here is the synopsis of the film form Rotten Tomatoes.

In a world of six billion people, it only takes one to change your life. In actor and filmmaker Tom McCarthy’s follow-up to his award winning directorial debut The Station Agent, Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) stars as a disillusioned…In a world of six billion people, it only takes one to change your life. In actor and filmmaker Tom McCarthy’s follow-up to his award winning directorial debut The Station Agent, Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) stars as a disillusioned Connecticut economics professor whose life is transformed by a chance encounter in New York City.

Sixty-two-year-old Walter Vale (Jenkins) is sleepwalking through his life. Having lost his passion for teaching and writing, he fills the void by unsuccessfully trying to learn to play classical piano. When his college sends him to Manhattan to attend a conference, Walter is surprised to find a young couple has taken up residence in his apartment. Victims of a real estate scam, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a Syrian man, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), his Senegalese girlfriend, have nowhere else to go. In the first of a series of tests of the heart, Walter reluctantly allows the couple to stay with him.

Touched by his kindness, Tarek, a talented musician, insists on teaching the aging academic to play the African drum. The instrument’s exuberant rhythms revitalize Walter’s faltering spirit and open his eyes to a vibrant world of local jazz clubs and Central Park drum circles. As the friendship between the two men deepens, the differences in culture, age and temperament fall away.

After being stopped by police in the subway, Tarek is arrested as an undocumented citizen and held for deportation. As his situation turns desperate, Walter finds himself compelled to help his new friend with a passion he thought he had long ago lost. When Tarek’s beautiful mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass) arrives unexpectedly in search of her son, the professor’s personal commitment develops into an unlikely romance.

And it’s through these new found connections with these virtual strangers that Walter is awakened to a new world and a new life.

I highly recommend this movie (I think you can still find it in the RedBox). It deals with the self-discovery of a middle-aged man who, in the monotony of life and grief of lost, has lost his zest for life. It also, perhaps more poignantly, expresses the complications of immigration (primarily illegal).

Interestingly enough, Walter Vale, who teaches and international economics class, is somewhat ignorant of the realties of the internationals that are living in his NY apartment. Regardless of all of his head knowledge he is unequipped to, in real life, deal with the complications of international economics and their political and social ramifications.

In an interesting scene we see Walter in the immigration containment center (Jail) trying to speak with Tarek. In the background everyone working in the center is African-American. The irony here is thick, Tarek and other Arabs are being held captive, physically by African-Americans, but the reality is those African-Americans are doing their job, they are being used to hold Arabs. Both minority groups are pawns in a game that is much bigger than they are.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away. Go watch the film, it will both lift your spirits and challenges your preconceptions about our Arab brothers and sisters.  If you want some more commentary on The Visitor listen to this NPR commentary from back when the movie was released.

Drama High A Real High School Musical

I have only seen the trailers, but I think that ABC’s “20/20 special”, Drama High: A Real High School Musical, which airs tonight at 8pm, will be worth the watch. From what I have seen and read, the special may offer some intriguing commentary on diversity and  multi-cutlrualism in the youth generation. The sheer fact that racial roles are reversed and white students are trying out for “The Wiz”, an African-American play, will be entertaining.

I don’t think the special is primarily about race. More of it will be displaying the trails and triumphs of putting together any theater presentation. However, if only because of the rare occasion where we see white kids trying out from something made for African-American society race will be an issue.

The Washington Post printed a preview in this morning’s paper. It is only a synopsis, but it may help you get oriented to the TV special.