For many centuries Christmas Day worshippers have been hearing these words as their New Testament reading: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11). Grace, everyone used to know, is foundational to the Christian Gospel.
But this Christmas I’m noticing the surprising version of grace in Les Miserables, already seen by 60 million people as a musical and now as a film. Victor Hugo’s novel may be seen as a story of grace transforming in the life of the common man Jean Valjean and grace rejected in the life of the rigid functionary Javert.
As the story begins, Jean Valjean is being released from 19 winters of imprisonment for having stolen some bread to save his sister’s son from starving. But in the eyes of Javert, Valjean will always be a thief, which is his nature, because he has not learned the meaning of the law. Crushed under this ideological overlay, Valjean sees himself as a slave of the law — in a way remarkably similar to that of St. Paul, who makes grace and law antithetical. The chorus confirms it: “Look down, you will always be a slave.”
In his first job after prison, Valjean is deliberately underpaid. When he objects, the boss says: “Why should you get the same as honest men like me?” (Jesus once told a parable about laborers in a vineyard to open people’s eyes to grace.) Valjean concludes that society has closed every door to him. When he is refused lodging, the innkeeper says: “We’re law-abiding people here. Thanks be to God.” The conservative identification with the law is commonly made in alliance with God, while Victor Hugo seems to understand that the Christian vision identifies grace, not law, with God.
This will be a night to remember!
On Monday, I had the opportunity of attending an advance screening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with a good childhood friend of mine. I sat in my favorite movie-watching seat (a few rows back and dead center), munching on free popcorn and drinks provided by a fellow moviegoer who wanted nothing more than to ensure that his entire row in the theater was happy and well-fed (not too unlike a Hobbit, really).
Just before the lights dimmed, I remember thinking how perfect the whole moment was. However, as exciting and as wonderful as those final moments of anticipation were, I also couldn’t help but wonder if I might be setting my expectations too high for the film that was about to come.
It turns out I needn’t have worried.
In search of a story that will “make you believe in God?”
It’s a heavy undertaking. Kind of like trying to adapt that story to film, as screenwriter David Magee and director Ang Lee did brilliantly in Life of Pi, which opens nationwide today.
The film, adapted from Yann Martel’s moving book, takes on massive questions — who is God, how do we find God, and why do bad things happen to us — as we follow Pi, a zookeeper’s son shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
“I think we’re humble filmmakers — I don’t think we can answer why bad things happen to people,” Magee told Sojourners Tuesday. “But I do think it puts into perspective the fact that within every ordeal there is a lesson.
“This is very much a story about storytelling,” Magee added. “It’s very much a story about how those different narratives help us get through. It can’t promise to answer why we go through the things we do, but it can say what we take away from them.”
Abraham Lincoln was a storyteller, so it’s fitting that his story has been hashed out on the silver screen — without vampires.
And to say that it simply was “hashed out” would be an injustice to director Stephen Spielberg and everyone who contributed to Lincoln, a film that will be remembered as much for its beauty as the iconic character from which it gets its name.
I’m not going to lie (pun intended), even though Lincoln is one of the most important figures in American history, I was hesitant about seeing a movie with the potential to be a two-and-a-half hour history class.
But I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Despite its length, the film drew me in and held my attention — even as a millennial growing up with the Internet, which I’m convinced has significantly chipped away at the already small attention span I have.
Steve Taylor, film director and rock hero, visits our (mine and Jordan Green's) Homebrewed Christianity podcast to talk about the disappointing theater run of his film, Blue Like Jazz, what made him leave music for film, and to announce his return to music through a new album he’s been working on.
So, yeah, that’s a big deal. And yeah, we’re pretty much breaking the story.
In the Echo Chamber, we talk about the election, Superstorm Sandy, scary movie commercials, and, you know, a bunch of other stuff. Finally, we discuss some common Christian cliches.
Listen ... inside the blog.
Tomorrow night is the first presidential debate. It will undoubtedly be an important moment in the campaign for the highest office in the land. But, whose lives will it be important to?
Certainly, there will be a lot for pundits to discuss and dissect. They will analyze phrases and statements, and will compare them to polling data and focus groups in swing states. Super PACs will record gaffes by either candidate, ready to turn them into multi-million dollar commercial buys.
But, as a person of faith, what I want to know is: how will the words that are said and the positions that are staked out affect the 46 million people in our country living in poverty? What does it mean for the hardworking families who can't put food on the table? Or the 1 in 5 children for whom poverty is an everyday reality and opportunity seems to be an illusion?
Tonight is the world premiere of a film that puts those questions front and center. The Line is a new documentary film from Emmy award-winning writer and producer, Linda Midgett. It tells the stories of real people struggling to make ends meet but still falling below the poverty line. These are stories far too common in our country today and should be a central topic of this debate.
Coptic Christian leaders in the United States distanced themselves from an anti-Muslim film that has sparked protests in more than 24 countries, and denounced the Copts who reportedly produced and promoted the film.
"We reject any allegation that the Coptic Orthodox community has contributed to the production of this film," the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in statement on Friday.
"Indeed, the producers of this film have taken these unwise and offensive actions independently and should be held responsible for their own actions."
Spike Lee is not about to give up filmmaking but – at least for a moment or two – he sounded a bit like an expert on the challenges facing the church as he promoted his new movie Red Hook Summer.
“Any church whose members are senior citizens and there’s no youth coming behind, they’re going to die out,” Lee said in a roundtable discussion with reporters.
“Now that goes for synagogues, mosques, temples too — any institution,” Lee continued. “You got to always try to have that infusion of youth. They might not be as smart but youth has energy.”
No introductions necessary here, right? We all have been looking forward to this conclusion of the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman trilogy and I am happy to report that my excitement for the summer blockbuster has been satisfied.
The Dark Knight Rises takes the viewer to the eight-year anniversary of the death of Gotham's white knight, Harvey Dent. Despite knowing the dark truth about Dent's demise, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) maintains the virtuous persona of the slain District Attorney while similarly honoring the reclusive behavior of the ailing and secretive heir, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale).
Batman, too, has been out of the spotlight in the years following Dent's death, having taken the blame for his demise in order to cover Dent's actions, but his absence is put to the test with the emergence of a new villain — the mercenary extraordinare, Bane (Tom Hardy), who brings the havoc and rage reminiscent of Wayne's former mentor, Ra's Al Ghul.
Batman is forced to re-evaluate his former relationships with Gordon, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and his loyal butler, Alfred (Michael Caine). He also must learn whether to trust new people on the scene or not, including the successful (and fetching) thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and Gotham Police Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The rest you'll have to see for yourself.
In light of the tragic events which took place in Aurora, Colo., a few days ago, I feel uncomfortable providing a review of a film I was watching at the same time as the dozen souls who lost their lives in such an unfathomably awful situation. I’m sure that the emotions of excitement and anticipation that I felt in the days leading up to the film, as the previews rolled and as the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises unfolded before my eyes, will forever be mixed with feelings of deep sadness and anger the senseless violence that descended in Colorado.
Through the lens of what happened last Friday, The Dark Knight Rises has, rightly or wrongly, taken on a new layer of meaning for me (and, I'd imagine, many other moviegoers). It is a film about the very darkest of times — when all hope seems lost, when there are no heroes — and what happens when we allow the worst of ourselves to take control.
But it is also a story about redemption. It is a tale of finding courage in the face of overwhelming adversity, in spite of overwhelming physical and spiritual suffering. Christian Bale’s Batman (and indeed his Bruce Wayne), is in some ways a more timid character, by comparison, to the Batman who saved Gotham City from The Joker's psychotic games in The Dark Knight.
Older, weaker, and yet not much wiser, in The Dark Knight Rises Batman/Wayne does not see the city that in which he has made himself a recluse, in the same way as its other citizens. We see a man out of touch with those he once had inspired, with many citizens of Gotham believing Batman to be a murderer (the ghost of Harvey Dent looms large throughout the film) or leaving him for dead.
He has nothing more to give to a Gotham where organized crime is a thing of the past, a city that no longer believes it needs a hero to protect it. Gotham, its leaders conclude, is doing just fine without "the Bat."
I liked this film so much I've already seen it twice. Moonrise Kingdom is so good, in fact, I almost couldn't bring myself to write about it for fear of not doing it justice.
And yet, since I first took my 11-year-old nephew, Ethan, to see it last month, I've been talking about Moonrise Kingdom nonstop, encouraging everyone I know to go see it. It has captured my imagination completely, an absolute tour de force — wholly original and an "instant classic," as I heard one film critic utter tell a companion on his way out of the theater.
Perhaps Ethan, a mythology buff who's never met a fantasy film he didn't like, put it most eloquently when he said (surprising no one more than himself), "That was the best film I've ever seen."
Moonrise Kingdom is director Wes Anderson's seventh feature-length film to date. In an iconoclastic cinematic oeuvre unrivaled among filmmakers of his generation, Anderson's latest stands above the rest of his stellar films — Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Darjeeling Limited — as an eloquent, funny, enduringly poignant homage to childhood and, moreover, to innocence.
In a word, the film is perfect. I wouldn't change a thing.
So, you've seen Politicians Who Look Like Disney Characters.
Today it's our great pleasure to bring you 16 Christian Leaders and Their Cartoon Counterparts, including our buddy Brian McLaren (over there with Turtleman from Finding Nemo), Rick Warren, Rachel Held Evans, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Rob Bell, God's Politics contributor Shane Claiborne, Pope Benedict XVI, our very own Sojourners Chief Executive Awesomeness Jim Wallis ... and many more.
The film picks up on the recent media buzz generated by Rob Bell's controversial bestselling-book Love Wins, taking that debate into new levels of intelligence and depth.
Like any good documentary, we have the entertaining attention grabbing parts, which aren't hard to find when your topic is Hell and damnation:
We meet people at a death metal concert, take a tour through "Hell House" where actors attempt to traumatize teens into the kingdom by reenacting scenes from Columbine. Then there are the street interviews with the rather obviously mentally unstable and angry folks from Fred Phelps' church, holding their "God Hates Fags" signs and screaming at anyone who passes by.
The movie quickly moves beyond this however, delving into the deeper issues at hand. Unlike so many other Christian films, Hellbound? is neither sentimental nor sensationalist. The word that comes to mind instead is depth.
LOS ANGELES — Mention the word “exorcism” to most people, and you get descriptions of levitating bodies, spinning heads, oozing green bile and hissing serpentine tongues. But don’t expect to see these eye-popping visual effects in this summer’s stage version of The Exorcist at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.
"I didn’t look at the movie when I was doing this adaptation. It’s all the book,” he said.
Pielmeier says that his version needs no spinning heads or green bile. Instead, there will be a simple set with a minimal cast. And rather than revolve around a young girl’s demonic possession, the story will focus upon a series of clever debates between the demon and the priests.
The Sojo staff loves Nora Ephron. We already have up a contributor’s beautiful tribute to her life HERE. But we wanted to share our favorite N.E. moments. We also may or may not be planning a progressive dinner-movie party that will include: an appetizer of caviar and You’ve Got Mail, beef bourguignon (not it!) and Julie and Julia, dessert of pecan pie and When Harry Met Sally, and one really long curl of apple peel and Sleepless in Seattle.
But for now, Sojo staff’s top 10 Nora Ephron golden nuggets.
There are some movies that I can watch over and over and over again. One of these movies is Sleepless in Seattle, a Nora Ephron film. It is the quintessential chick flick. There is a mysterious quality about works of art that never grow old, that leave us feeling happier after we have wrapped ourselves in their wonder. They contain a human truth that touches something in us that is beyond explanation.
The movie about how two strangers find each other and true love is funny, engaging, quirky, and completely unrealistic. And perhaps therein lies its truth. It takes us to that place where we understand that there is more to life than that which we can see. There is more to life than what we can understand. It leaves us with the hope that there is such a thing as a love that will not be denied. It reminds us that love and faith walk hand in hand.