Film

Claudia Puig 04-16-2014

A wide-eyed 4-year-old makes a fairly convincing case for the existence of an afterlife in Heaven Is for Real. But it’s Greg Kinnear, with his characteristic affability, who just about seals the deal.

Humor infuses the film (rated PG), which opens nationwide Wednesday (April 16) and is based on the best-selling book. By focusing on the bond between father and son, the movie avoids being heavy-handed or preachy, a wise choice for a film that asserts heaven exists, based on the earnest insistence of a precocious preschooler.

Video courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment via YouTube

04-07-2014
Co-writer Ari Handel said in an interview with Cathleen Falsani of Sojourners that Ila was a way to explore Noah's love. "Obviously the notion of barrenness and infertility is a very biblical concept and it fits right in with the Noah story because it’s all about the death of life and the birth of new life; it’s all about second chances and next generations," he explained. "So I think she came out of those places. She ends up also becoming, as you see, in some ways a different kind of a voice — a humanizing voice — that is able to bring Noah back from his despair."
Otis Moss III 04-04-2014
© MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation and Regency Entertainment (USA)

Logan Lerman is Ham and Russell Crowe is Noah in NOAH, © MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation and Regency Entertainment (USA)

Biblical themes have been used throughout history to share the universal struggle of humanity; temptation, rebellion, coming of age, the degradation of the moral compass, courage in the face of humanity, and of course, faith.

William Shakespeare uses biblical elements in his plays. We witness in his writings themes highlighted in David's narrative, Adam and Eve's story, and Cain and Abel's tragedy. These stories are central to the Western canon. We cannot get away from these themes and stories, for they rest in the consciousness of our culture.

The film Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a daring, powerful, and imaginative retelling of the Noah story. Aronofsky takes the central elements of the biblical narrative and expands the story, as artists are called to do, to allow the audience to witness, not a historical world, but a metaphorical universe where the choices of humanity disrupt the sacred divine rhythm of creation.

Jordan Farrell 04-03-2014
Courtesy Pure Flix Entertainment

Courtesy Pure Flix Entertainment

From the opening scene to its closing postscript, God’s Not Dead tells a story of persecution and courage, focusing on a young white man named Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper). “Mr. Wheaton,” as he is referred to in various parts of the movie, finds himself in a predicament on the first day of his Philosophy 150 course. In a scene that echoes Rome’s historic persecution of Christians, the powerful intellectual Professor Jeffrey Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) stands before his class of impressionable students and tells them they can skip the section of the course that discusses the existence of god, if each of them signs a piece of paper that says “god is dead.” The professor makes it clear that this proposal is more of a threat when he slowly and emphatically informs his students that the section on god’s existence is where “students have traditionally received their lowest grades of the semester.” This is Mr. Wheaton’s unexpected predicament: can he sign a piece of paper that proclaims god, as a philosophical category and concept, is dead? And if he decides not to sign that paper, can he have the courage to face the consequences?

Cathleen Falsani 03-27-2014
© MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation

by Niko Tavernise: Russell Crowe in NOAH, from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises © MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation

I’ll begin by cutting to the chase: Forget most of what you’ve read about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Noah. It opens Friday. Go see it and decide for yourself.

Having said that, in my opinion Aronofksy’s Noah is a beautiful, powerful, difficult film worthy of the “epic” label. A vivid, visually spectacular reimagining of an ancient story held as sacred by all three Abrahamic religious traditions, it also is the most spiritually nuanced, exquisitely articulated exploration of the ideas of justice and mercy I’ve ever seen on a movie screen.

And despite what you may have heard elsewhere, Noah is deeply, passionately biblical.

Cathleen Falsani 03-27-2014
Paramount Pictures & Regency Entertainment / Getty Images

by Niko Tavernise, Russell Crowe in NOAH, from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises; Ari Handel, by Jim Spellman/Getty

Last Sunday in Los Angeles, Cathleen Falsani sat down with Ari Handel, a screenwriter and frequent collaborator with Noah director Darren Aronofsky, with whom he co-wrote the film and the graphic novel, Noah, upon which it was based, to discuss some of the extra-biblical elements of the $150 million movie.

Longtime friends Handel and Aronofsky were suitemates at Harvard University. Before becoming a screenwriter and film producer, Handel was a neuroscientist. He holds a PhD in neurobiology from New York University. He was a producer on Aronofsky’s films Black Swan, The Wrestler, and The Fountain (which he co-wrote with Aronofsky), and had a small role as a Kabbalah scholar in the director’s debut film, 1998’s Pi.

Editor’s Note: The following Q&A contains some spoilers about the film. It has been edited for length.

Darren Aronofsky on the set of “Noah.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises.

The Noah epic releasing in theaters this Friday promises to be controversial, with director Darren Aronofsky calling it “the least biblical biblical film ever made.” As the story of Noah remains near and dear to people of many faith traditions, the film has already unleashed a flood of criticism.

But Aronofsky says every part of the story fits the biblical narrative. He said the story of Noah illustrates a long tension between wickedness and forgiveness. ”All of it’s a test,” he said. “We were trying to dramatize the decision God must have made when he decided to destroy all of humanity.”

In an interview, Aronofsky described where he got the idea for the film, how he plans to respond to critics, and why he focuses the film on themes of justice vs. mercy. 

Geoffrey Morin 03-18-2014

Noah Movie. Photo: © 2014 Paramount Pictures Corporation

With the release of the movie Noah a couple of weeks away, the waters of controversy are already rising fast. I’ve seen the movie’s final cut, and director Darren Aronofsky’s re-envisioning of the biblical hero Noah will not disappoint — inciting some and enthralling others. Some will undoubtedly chastise him for the ways in which the movie riffs on the biblical account of Noah. Others will praise Aronofsky for his creative vision.

But the big question generated by a film like Noah is: When the Bible is the source of inspiration for art, how close does the artist have to stay to the original narrative? The Bible has been the inspiration for profound works of art for centuries. It isn’t surprising. The Bible is full of passion, romance, intrigue, struggle, and the triumph of good over evil.

Even so, it is hard to ignore the reality that not all art inspired by the Bible is respectful of its subject matter. Where, then, should the line be drawn between artistic interpretation and blatant disrespect?

03-12-2014
Gareth Higgins is a Belfast-born writer, film critic, and co-author of several works on peacebuilding, religion, violence and conflict. He is a contributing editor at Sojourners Magazine, has written for publications including The Independent, The Irish Times, and Third Way, and presented on BBC Radio. He also holds a PhD from Queen’s University Belfast and co-hosts the award-winning podcast The Film Talk. Gareth is founding director of the Wild Goose Festival and blogs here. His books include How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films (Relevant Books, 2003), co-authorship of Religion, Civil Society, and Peace in Northern Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2012), and the recently published Cinematic States (Burnside Books, 2013). www.garethhiggins.net
Cathleen Falsani 03-11-2014

Director Wes Anderson (left) chats with Jude Law (Young Author) on the set of "Grand Budapest Hotel."

To my mind, all of Wes Anderson’s films are masterpieces in the truest sense of that word. But his most recent creation, Grand Budapest Hotel, is, perhaps, his chef d’oeuvre.

Anderson’s eighth feature-length film, which opened in limited release last week, Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical, hilarious, and surprisingly touching tale laden with nostalgia for a world and way of life most of us (including the 44-year-old director himself) never have experienced.

Set in the fictional Eastern European mountain region known as the “Republic of Zubrowka,” the plot centers around the character and adventures of Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the eponymous Grand Budapest Hotel, one of Europe’s palatial “grand hotels. Gustave is something of a dandy, a throwback to a bygone era even in his heyday of the 1930s on the cusp of World War II.

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Gareth Higgins 03-06-2014

Without conscious resistance, the flattened culture of entertainment globalization is going to continue to dominate.

03-06-2014
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in 'Son of God.' Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Son of God is Hollywood’s take on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. While the producers clearly tried hard to use modern filmmaking techniques to bring scripture to the big screen, the attempt fell flat somewhere between the use of action-sequences, swelling music reminiscent of old Westerns, and unconvincing acting — Jesus is played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, who managed to look irritatingly self-satisfied for most of the movie.

Since faith is such a personal, spiritual experience, it begs the question: Is it possible to make the life and ministry of Jesus into a film that accurately reflects Christianity, or does such an effort cheapen beliefs?

Eric J. Lyman 02-25-2014

Russell Crowe arriving for the premiere of “Les Miserables.” Photo via Featureflash/Shutterstock.com

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.”

Mark I. Pinsky 02-21-2014

A scene from “Final: The Rapture,” a Christian horror movie. Photo courtesy of Final: The Rapture. Via RNS

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.”

Suzanne Ross 02-20-2014
Members of the cast of NBC's Parenthood, DFree / Shutterstock.com

Members of the cast of NBC's Parenthood, DFree / Shutterstock.com

The writers of Parenthood, the popular NBC family drama, use an interesting device to dramatize conflict. When two characters have a difference of opinion their exchange begins in measured, even tones. One person talks, while the other listens. Then the second person talks, while the first one listens. But as their disagreement heats up, the exchange gets faster and faster until no one is listening and both characters are talking over each other so loud and fast that it’s difficult to understand exactly what they are saying. This clip is typical. It’s an argument between Sarah and her boyfriend, Mark, over whether or not she will be able to keep her promise to attend a weekend getaway with him.

Roma Downey 02-20-2014

Actress Roma Downey plays Jesus’ mother Mary in ‘The Bible’ drama documentary. RNS photo courtesy History Channel.

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.

Greg Coates 02-17-2014
Via facebook.com/HouseofCards

Via facebook.com/HouseofCards

"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.

Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in “Son of God.” Photo courtesy of Lightworkers Media / RNS

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.

Gareth Higgins 02-04-2014

The Coens realize that sometimes, of course, comedy is bleak. But the point of gargoyles is to remind us that sacred and profane coexist.

Adam Ericksen 02-04-2014
Philip Seymour Hoffman at a football game in 2011, Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

Philip Seymour Hoffman at a football game in 2011, Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

Tom Junod of Esquire wrote an insightful piece about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman titled “ Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Final Secret: The cost of holding up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves .” The whole article is worth reading, but these words are especially important:

"There was no actor, in our time, who more ably suggested that each of us is the sum of our secrets … no actor who better let us know what he knew, which is that when each of us returns alone to our room, all bets are off. He used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves; indeed, his whole career might be construed as a pre-emptive plea for forgiveness to those with the unfortunate job of cleaning up what he — and we — might leave behind."

In his roles, Hoffman played unacceptable, despicable, and broken characters. In other words, he played our cultural scapegoats. But the beauty of Hoffman’s work is that he humanized our scapegoats. Of course, his characters were unacceptable because they were guilty of being repellent jerks, underserving of love or sympathy, which is exactly why they made good scapegoats. The function of a scapegoat is to unite us in hatred against them, so the scapegoat who seems to us to be completely guilty, like a cartoon villain, the better sense of unity we can form against them. The best scapegoat is one who even agrees with us about just how terrible he is. As Junod writes, Hoffman “used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves.”

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