Please Support these Most Courageous Storytellers in Hollywood

Here is an opportunity to do something active regarding changing our culture for the better.

Phelim McAleer and his wife Ann McElhinney, are the most boldly courageous filmmakers I have met. I am working with Phelim on a project so this is very personal to me. This is not just an idea or a distant and cold cultural observation.

Take a look at their trail of storytelling righteousness…

They spoke truth to the power of Big Green by making the documentary Frack Nation. This doc uncovered the malicious lies of the anti-fracking movement and “documentary” Gasland. They raised their own funds through Kickstarter to make it. It’s now on Netflix and Amazon Video. They showed the truth about fracking, that quite literally has saved our nation.

Phelim and Ann made history by raising their own funds of a couple million dollars to make a feature film (and book) about America’s worst serial killer, Hermit Gosnell. The press and everybody ignored this monster because he was an abortionist who engaged in infanticide. You read that right. Infanticide, not merely abortion. I’ve seen the movie, called, Gosnell. It’s a good movie. And it’s a courtroom drama, not a politicized piece. It has no gruesome pictures. It’s about the humanity of those who uncovered his dark crimes. But no distributor in Hollywood will touch it, because, well, Infanticide is a woman’s right to the Left. So Phelim and Ann are raising their own funds to distribute.

The New York Times suppressed their book about Gosnell from their best-sellers list, because, well, infanticide is a woman’s right to the  NYT.

When Kickstarter found out about the Gosnell project, it banned them from their website, because, well, infanticide is a woman’s right to Kickstarter. So Phelim and Ann went to Indiegogo, a more tolerant and inclusive fundraising website for their next projects… Continue reading

Patriots Day: This is What Makes America Great

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I saw an advance screening of Patriots Day, the dramatization of the Boston Marathon Bombing and the hunt for the young Islamic terrorists who perpetrated it. I must say that this is a movie that ALL Americans need to see when it is released. Put it on your calendars and keep an eye out for opening weekend December 21.

You Need to See Patriots Day.

With Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and now Patriots Day, Peter Berg is fast becoming the official great all-American movie director in my book, along with Mark Wahlberg as the great All-American actor. Berg seems to understand the courage, sacrifice, and exceptionalism of American heroism, and he is unafraid to tackle the most important villain on the earth today: Islamism.

(We must forgive him for Battleship, as that was a studio monstrosity that I am sure he only did to be able to make the movies he really wants to.)

The movie’s first act introduces us to some of the lives of the victims and heroes of that fateful day, and gives us a taste of their desires, their loves, their hopes for life. We are made to care for these everyday people and first responders before we see them go through the horrendous attack and aftermath. Wives, families, parents and lovers, all, with dreams and plans. The emotional power in this story is thick and human and deeply moving.

He even gives us a glimpse into the Tsarnaev brothers “everyday life” that leads up to their Islamic everyday terror. Though not with the kind of typical Hollywood “terrorists are people too” moral equivalency.

Mark Wahlberg plays a character who represents a composite of a couple different homicide detectives for narrative flow. But the attention to accuracy and detail outside of the necessary creative license is strong. This movie is true to the facts, but more importantly to the spirit of this important historical event.

And that spirit is the American spirit of banding together, something we desperately need right now in our country. Continue reading

Fargo the Series: Good is Sexier Than Evil

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I am posting this way too late. Oh well. TV series are no longer time bound anyway.

I watched the first two seasons of Fargo when they came out. The last one was I don’t know how many months ago. I have been meaning to write about this. Now, I won’t remember all the details as I should, but that’s okay cause I just want to hit the broadbrush strokes anyway so I don’t spoil the good stuff.

I found the original movie Fargo by the Coen brothers to be fascinating and carrying their usual quirky, dark, but hopeful worldview. When the series came up, I thought I wouldn’t want to see the movie redone as a series, and didn’t think there would be enough to hold it through 10 hours.

I was seriously wrong.

Fargo is one of the best series on TV (I hate that term TV. It’s got a negative stigma and doesn’t even apply anymore. I watched it online). It captures the original spirit of the Coen brothers and repackages their thought-provoking storytelling in a way that quite frankly I find much more satisfying than the original movie.

Here is why I love Fargo the series so much… Continue reading

OSCAR WATCH • Spotlight: What’s Worse, Pedophile Priests or Cardinals & Popes Who Protect Them?

Spotlight

Based on the true story of the special investigative reporting team of the Boston Globe that, in 2002, exposed the massive systemic cover up by the Roman Catholic Church of its pedophile epidemic among priests.

This story works like one of those old journalist procedural movies like All the President’s Men. While it’s a well told story, it’s basically a bunch of reporters running around asking questions to people and trying to get documents. I’m not saying it’s boring. It isn’t. It’s quite interesting. But certainly not worthy of a “best film” Oscar nomination. This one may be there for it’s political agenda against the Roman Catholic Church.

And I’m not saying that the Roman Church doesn’t deserve the condemnation. It clearly does. But when it comes to Oscars, a movie is more than an agenda. It’s the acting, the visual, the action, the immersive experience of the senses. This is something you see with The Revenant, but not with Spotlight.

Spotlight is good, but not great. Its agenda is important, but its artistic movie merits are not.

That said, this is truly one of those issues of corruption that is so disturbing, you cannot deny that it undermines the authority and credibility of the offending institution.

Here’s why… Continue reading

OSCAR WATCH • Room: The Most Powerful Pro-Life Movie Since the Planned Parenthood Exposé

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The story of a young girl imprisoned in a small room by her abductor, who escapes with the help of her five year old son, born in that captivity, and what happens after.

This is an emotionally brutal story to watch. It’s not that it’s a horror film, it’s not a thriller or even explicit. It’s because it is so revelatory of human nature in both its evil and its grandeur. It’s more about the power of imagination to overcome the psychological effects of such abuse. And as recent current news events have shown, this kind of thing is quite real.

Whereas most thrillers would end with the girl escaping, this movie’s second half is about the difficulty of both mother and son to overcome the trauma that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. It deals with the aftermath and damage that man’s inhumanity to man wreaks upon victim’s lives as well as their families.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie is quite understated in its realism. We see the strength of this young woman in dealing with her and her son’s issues in the best way she knows how, with her limited yet loving resources. It wrestles with the existential questions: How would a young child born in captivity cope with the smallness of their existence? And how would they see the huge vast world, once released? How frightening would it be to try to enter? And yet, how it is loved ones and friends who help us to fit into that very world. We need each other.

A Case Study in Pro-Life Narrative

There is a big picture going on here. I don’t believe it is without reason that young woman is never named in the film beyond her son’s “Ma.” So in a way she is an archetype for something bigger.  (Brie Larson’s acting in the role is transcendental)

Let me explain… Continue reading

Oscar Watch • The Revenant: Vengeance is God’s, and God Ain’t No Pacifist

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Though we don’t have the Oscar nominations yet, I labeled this as one of my 2015 Oscar Watch commentaries because after seeing it, I am confident of two things: 1. The Revenant will receive an Oscar nomination for best picture and best director, and 2. Leonardo DiCaprio will win best actor for his gut wrenching performance as the frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Alejandro Inarritu directed this vast, weighty, sprawling epic that tells the story as much through visual and visceral filmmaking as through its dramatic exploration of the primal urge for revenge. Yes, it is brutal, but it is also beautiful. And I don’t mean “beautiful brutality” as in a Tarantino film. I mean the fearful symmetry of life that is the fallen splendor of creation.

Inarritu interweaves words, visual, audio and emotional drama into a masterpiece of storytelling tapestry. This is the kind of movie that shows you the real fullness of what film can do that other media cannot. Something I have not seen in a while. As you watch the brutality of winter trappers fighting with local American native tribes over pelts, you sense, you feel the power of man against the elements and man against man, that these early Americans had to overcome. The bear attack is at once truly terrifying and yet profound in its incarnation of man vs. nature.

In the world of filmmaking, you have the “arthouse” movies that are so obsessed with being “creative,” that they result in boring pretentiousness. And you have the “Hollywood machine” movies that seek to be a drug fix of action adrenaline that can be empty and shallow. Inarritu manages to transcend both and bring it all. Action, beauty, art, human depth and story. He did it with the Oscar winner Birdman last year, an existentialist exploration of our search for significance, and this year, he just might do it again with The Revenant.

The reason I am so impressed with Inarritu is because he is like Terrence Malick with a good story. Although I don’t often agree with his worldview, I do appreciate his filmmaking as a unique and creative voice in cinema (See my commentaries on his thoughtful films 21 Grams, and Birdman).

In The Revenant, he wrestles with the universal moral dilemma of revenge vs. justice. Bad revenge movies celebrate vigilanteism – or retribution outside the law (see my reviews of on The Punisher, Walking Tall, Sin City, A Time To Kill) Good revenge movies sympathize with the universal human desire for justice against criminals, especially murderers, but also deal honestly with the spiritual reality that revenge destroys the soul of the vigilante. (see my commentaries for Man on Fire, The Equalizer).

The Christian worldview proposes that God achieves justice, or in other words, his vengeance against criminals, legally through the state, not through personal vengeance outside of the law (Romans 12:19-13:5). Capital criminals deserve to die, but by the hand of the state and within the law. Of course, self defense is also a legitimate means for righteous violence (Exodus 22:2-3). But the main point is that certain evil men deserve to die, but if you do not achieve that justice through legal moral means, it will destroy you, and turn you into the very monster you seek to punish.

The Revenant brings in this spiritual dimension into the discussion in a way that other revenge movies sometimes miss. Hugh Glass is a man between worlds, a white man with a child from his marriage to a Pawnee woman, now dead. Don’t worry, no spoiling yet. This cinematic world has a fairly good balance of viewpoints within it. Yes, the Indians think the white man stole their land and their animals, but they also steal land and animals from each other, as well as from the white man, and the Indians kill each other as well. So there is no pristine “noble savage” nor thoroughly evil European here. All flawed, all human, too human.

At one point in the film, Hugh meets a Pawnee Indian whose family was wiped out by the Sioux. Hugh cannot understand why he is seeking to find more of his people to settle with rather than seeking revenge on the offending warriors. The Pawnee tells him, “Revenge is in the Creator’s hands.” This becomes a thematic challenge to Hugh’s own personal journey of revenge. And the moral issue that is addressed with thoughtful poignancy through the movie.

The villain, John Fitzgerald, played masterfully simple and real by Tom Hardy is an atheist, and fellow trapper who is guilty of atrocities. At one point, he tells a story about a fellow who found God. That fellow looked up in the air, and then climbed a tree, and found God. And God was a squirrel. So he “shot and ate the son of a bitch.” This is a brilliant encapsulation of the mockery of the atheist worldview and it is villainous pretentions.

Keep reading to find out how the ending embodies the moral theme of the movie… Continue reading

A Hollywood Movie of Real-World Faith: It Ain’t War Room, It’s Captive

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I saw an advanced screening of this movie. The powerful true story of Ashley Smith, a meth addict, who got taken hostage by murderer Brian Nichols years ago. Through providential timing, Ashley reads Rick Warren’s The Purpose Drive Life to Brian, and it changes their world.

This is not an easy answers story, and the Gospel is not bellowed in your face. It’s not a “Christian Movie.” It points toward forgiveness and redemption in Christ without explaining everything. It’s not preachy, it’s complex and sometimes ambiguous, you know, like real life. But it doesn’t worship Rick Warren either. It tells the true story as it happened.

The “God’s Not Dead” crowd will not like it cause there is no sinner’s prayer, and everyone doesn’t get saved with a Christian rock band at the end of the movie. Kendricks Brothers fans will not like it because it has great acting, realistic evil, and everything isn’t wrapped up in a perfect little American Christian panacea genie Jesus with a bow.

The casting is perfect, the acting is riveting, the writing is very good. It’s not perfect, but If you are a Christian longing for good Hollywood movies that portray Christianity positively, or even fairly, stop merely complaining and support this movie, cause that’s how more of them are made.

If you don’t weep at the beauty of redemption in this story, I’ll give you your money back.
(Okay, not really, but I’m telling you, it is heart-wrenching and powerful)

See Rick Warren interview David Oyelowo here, at the 56 minute mark.

Captive opens next Friday, September 18.
Remember, opening week is the key to success. Go see it.

OSCAR WATCH • The Grand Budapest Hotel: WTF? Quirky Soulless Unfunny Silliness.

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The story of… the story of… What is it the story of? Oh — the “adventures” of a legendary concierge in a fictional hotel between World Wars. I had to get that from IMDB cause it is not apparent watching this movie just what exactly is going on, and who cares?

I am a fan of Wes Anderson’s older work, and his quirkiness of characters and storylines. I mean, Bottle Rocket is one of my favorite indie films of all time. So I tried to like this movie. I really did.

Say the good first, Brian, say the good first.

I have one good thing to say about it. Every shot, every frame, is a beautiful painting of light, composition and color. Truly, every shot, every frame. It DESERVES the Oscar for cinematography.

But every other nomination — Really?

The rest of the movie is just long, boring, ridiculous convoluted episodes of unfunny silliness. It is full of verbose narration over an artificial acting style of quirky but soulless unsympathetic cartoon characters spewing pretentious literary dialogue in convoluted episodes of an uninteresting story.

Other than that, there’s just not much to say about it.

Gimme back my ninety minutes you stole from me, Mr. Anderson.
(spoken in the dialect of Agent Smith from The Matrix).