The Common Good

Culture Watch

REVIEW: Well-intentioned 'Son of God' Doesn't Go Too Deep

The first half of “Son of God” features an upbeat and kindly Jesus spreading the good word in familiar, if occasionally over-simplified, biblical phraseology.

Then things get bloody — thought not quite as graphic as in 2004′s “The Passion of the Christ” — when Jesus is seized, beaten, and crucified. The production values are modest and the special effects uneven in this PG-13 repurposed and condensed version of the History Channel’s miniseries The Bible.  (That series drew flack for casting an actor who resembled President Obama in the role of Satan. The film sidesteps any hint of controversy by keeping the devil out of this story.)

Son of God, which opens Friday, takes no real chances, opting for a moderately involving re-telling of an oft-told story.

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Is New Katy Perry Video Blasphemous? Some Think So

Nearly 60,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding that YouTube take down a Katy Perry video they say is blasphemous and offensive to Muslims.

About 75 seconds into the video for the song “Dark Horse,” a Cleopatra-like Perry shoots a laser at a man dressed as a pharaoh but also wearing a pendant that says “Allah” in Arabic. Both the man and the Allah pendant disintegrate.

“Blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video,” reads the petition, started by 22-year-old Shazad Iqbal of Bradford, England, who suggests Perry sets herself up as an enemy of God by shooting the man with the Allah necklace. “We hope YouTube will remove the video.”

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Russell Crowe Really Wants Pope Francis to See 'Noah'

Actor Russell Crowe is using social media to try to cajole Pope Francis into seeing his latest film, the controversial “Noah,” which stars Crowe as the waterlogged biblical patriarch.

The $125 million film, which will go into wide release next month, already has some religious groups upset over a story line they say takes too many liberties in director Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation to the silver screen. Crowe says he’d like Francis to see the film to make up his own mind.

Crowe — who won an Oscar 14 years ago for “Gladiator,” which was set in ancient Rome — tweeted an invitation to the pope, reading in part, “The message of the film is powerful, fascinating, resonant.”

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Tim Chey's 'Final: The Rapture' Adapts 'Horror Movie' Label

The words “Christian” and “horror movie” rarely appear in the same sentence, much less in the same film’s promotional material.

Yet that’s exactly what Tim Chey, writer and director of “Final: The Rapture,” does to promote his picture in its city-by-city rollout.

As the movie’s poster promises: “When the Rapture strikes … all of hell will break loose.”

In an interview outside the Orlando, Fla., multiplex where his film is playing on a Sunday afternoon, Chey said he’s comfortable with the Christian horror movie label, or even “Christian disaster movie.”

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Roma Downey: Why We Cut Satan From 'Son of God'

Tired of cursing the darkness, my husband Mark and I wanted to shine a light. To do this, we set up a production company called LightWorkers Media. The Bible miniseries, born out of this intention and released last year, grew so popular that we were able to make it into our Jesus film, Son of God.

The Bible series was in its third week when Jesus began to appear on the big screen. There was great excitement that Jesus was coming, with our trailers, various talk shows and even Twitter buzzing with anticipation.

He was beautiful and strong and kind and compassionate. His presence uplifted and encouraged people. It was everything we had hoped for.

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'If I Were White, I'd Be Better Off'

"I bet if I were white then I'd be better off … Isn’t that true?” - Idris

A 9-year-old African-American boy lay on the couch, rubbing his head, and told his dad that if he just went to another school, life would be better. If he were just white, life would be better. He clarified, “I’m not saying I want to … but isn’t that right? That’s what everyone else is saying.”

When a 9-year-old boy can see the sad reality of white privilege and understand that the color of your skin is what defines you in our society, we have a serious problem. We can talk about the progress we have made to move civil rights forward over the past 50 years, and many in my generation are grateful for this movement, but we have a long, long way to go.

According to the Black Boys Report, the high school graduation rate for black males is at 52 percent, while white students graduate at a rate of 78 percent. As a nation, we are proud of our success and power, yet our education statistics do not predict the kind of achievement that we expect for the future of our society. In the midst of a major demographics shift, our nation can no longer afford to accept the growing education gap that has become normative in recent years.

American Promise is a documentary following the lives of two African-American boys from kindergarten through high school. The boys attend Dalton, a private school in the upper east side of Manhattan. As Idris and Seun make their way through years of schooling, the film chronicles the truths of our education system and the lack of social and emotional support offered to students of color in America’s schools. The filmmakers, Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, are the parents of Idris. Through their son’s journey, the hardships of being an African-American boy growing up in today’s society are documented, and struggles of parenting are examined through an entirely new lens.

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The (Anti)Gospel of Francis Underwood

"Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had. Don’t waste a breath mourning ... For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain there can be no mercy. There is but one rule. Hunt or be hunted." - Francis Underwood

So ends the Shakespearean soliloquy at the end of the first episode of House of Card's highly anticipated second season.

Underwood lives by a very clear code of ethics: Get to the top and do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. For him, the end always justifies the means. And so, although it certainly made me wince to see what happens in Season 2's opening episode, I was left in awe at the show’s brutal honesty of what a life purely committed to power potentially looks like.

Some scenes perhaps strike us viewers as far from reality (Washington can't really be that bad, can it?!?), but other vignettes are far more plausible. Consider Underwood’s commendation of a congresswoman for making the cold, calculated decision to “do what needed to be done” by wiping out entire villages with missile strikes.

Her “ruthless pragmatism” merely makes Underwood smirk.

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Rick Warren, Others, Rent Theaters for Premiere of 'Son of God'

Christian leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, plan to rent every screen in numerous multiplex theaters across 10 cities for the premiere of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s upcoming Jesus film Son of God, on Feb. 27.

The unusual move reflects the confidence Christian leaders have in Burnett and Downey’s work in the wake of The Bible, a hit miniseries on the History channel.

The Son of God, an adaption from The Bible series, opens in theaters nationwide Feb. 28.

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The Lego Movie's Got Religion

Legos got religion? Who knew?

The Lego Movie, well-reviewed and making money by the brickyard, builds its story upon religious and moral themes. They don’t all snap together securely, but that’s in keeping with the rest of the film.

Spoiler alert: I’ll give away nothing that you wouldn’t get from the reviews. There’s a late plot twist, however, that affects everything we thought we understood about the story. Anybody who reveals that twist, at least in the first few weeks, deserves to be extruded in molten plastic. I’ll tip as little as possible.

Right off the bat: It’s as good as the reviews say. The story takes elements from The MatrixHarry PotterKung Fu PandaLord of the Rings, the good Star Wars movies, Toy Story 2 and other recent cultural touchstones and blends them into plot slurry. Which is not all that surprising for a modern kids’ movie.

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The Hidden Plague the World Has Missed

When we think about the poor of the world our thoughts often drift toward starvation, unsafe water, malaria, and lack of medical attention. These thoughts will likely move us to taking action in a variety of ways. We give farming skills and equipment, we drill wells, we provide mosquito netting, and doctors volunteer their time to help treat the poor of the world.

All of these things can be helpful and beneficial but there is a deeper, much darker, problem below the surface of poverty. The problem is violence. Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission, recently released a new book titled The Locust Effectwhich documents the plight of the poor in developing countries.

What benefit is it to provide schooling for girls that refuse to attend because many of them get raped when they attend? How can a micro-loan help a father provide for his family when he gets thrown into prison for a crime he didn't commit and can't afford to bribe the law enforcement? How is a mother supposed to care for her children when her home is taken away from her by her husband's family once he dies?

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