A Clear Lens Podcast: I just can’t shut up about Silence or The Shack.

I love these guys. They love movies and Jesus, and we don’t always see eye to eye, but that’s what makes it such engaging discourse. We talked about how powerful the Shack was, but where it failed in a full picture of the Gospel. And with Silence, we dug deep. Some of them liked it more than I did, but after talking, we did agree on the most important thing of all, and that was quite profound…

Take a listen to us talk about The Shack and Silence on their podcast here.

The Shack: The Good, The Bad, and the Heresy

A man returns to a small shack in the mountains where his daughter was abducted and murdered years ago. While there, he meets with God and learns to cope with the evil of his daughter’s suffering in light of the goodness of God.

The Good

This is a film in the vein of Miracles from Heaven and Heaven is for Real, a well made, well-told Hollywood attempt to penetrate the “faith-based” market. I have to say right up front, that I had read the book and was quite dubious going in. The book was certainly less than orthodox in its understanding of God, even unbiblical at times.

But as it turns out, apparently, the producers and Lionsgate, learned a bit of a lesson from past “Biblical” movies by pagans and atheists, that maybe they should have some real Christian influence on a product for that audience. I could tell that there must have been some Christians involved in the development of this story that desperately tried to keep it inline with that demographic.

For that, I applaud the filmmakers.

This story tackles THE most important struggle in the human experience: If God is good, why does he allow evil and suffering? And it does so with some rather powerful moments of truth worthy of the best of Christian apologetics (the “defense of the Faith”).

The first half of the movie builds on the relationship that Mack, the lead character, played with subtlety and nuanced emotion by Sam Worthington (Yes! Sam can act.) We see the precious sweetness of his youngest of three children, five year old Missy. We feel the abject horror of the number one universal fear of every parent, the abduction and murder of their child by an evil person.

This gut-wrenching dramatic incarnation is truly one of the most powerful and poignant I have experienced in movies (As it was in the book). And Mack’s hopeless aftermath of withdrawal and rejection of God rings with universal truth. This is an honest film of man’s spiritual struggles to make sense of a world of evil, suffering and God. There wasn’t a moment of inauthenticity in this part of the story.

But a few years later, Mack gets a letter claiming to be from “Poppa,” the name for God that little Missy used to use. It says to meet him up at the shack in the mountains where they found Missy’s tattered dress (never having found the body).

Mack reluctantly goes there and soon finds himself in the second half of the movie in a personal discourse with the Almighty in the form of three people, an Asian woman, Sarayu, who is supposed to be the Holy Spirit, a Middle Eastern young man who is Jesus, and the Father, a black woman named Poppa (We’ll deal with that later).

The rest of the story is a dialogue between Mack and the godhead. God compassionately forbears with Mack’s anger and tries to show him that he is too blinded to understand the truth of the bigger picture in relation to suffering and the goodness of God. He/She leads Mack toward his redemption and forgiveness.

But is it biblical? Or is it another Hollywood bastardized subversion of Christianity?… Continue reading

OSCAR WATCH: Hidden Figures – Fighting Prejudice with Beauty and Grace

The true story of the positive influence that African-American women had on the success of the early years of NASA’s space program.

WOW. Watching this movie made me tear up with hope over the heroic dignity of its characters more than I have in a long time. (Well, actually, Hacksaw Ridge moved me as much, but before that, not in a while).

We follow the stories of three particularly brilliant young black women: Katherine Johnson, played with graceful fortitude by Taraji Henson; Dorothy Vaughn, portrayed with courageous strength by Octavia Spencer; and Mary Jackson, played with witty womanliness by Janell Monae.

The three are friends whose mathematical intelligence is each off the charts, but whose status as black women in 1950s America does not afford them much opportunity for advancement or success, as they face the prejudices of a society that still needs change in its treatment of women and the black community.

As the women go to work at NASA, we see them face the everyday prejudice of segregated “colored” water fountains, bathrooms and schools. But also, they suffer under the compounded factor of women in a male-dominated workforce, where they just don’t have the respect they deserve. The title of the movie, being a clever double meaning of how these women, along with many others, were “hidden” in the background of the achievement of America because of social prejudice.

But this isn’t a propaganda film of the SJW grievance industry. Quite the opposite… Continue reading

OSCAR WATCH – Silence: Scorsese’s Epic Apostasy

In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violent persecution to their faith as they track down their teacher and predecessor who is rumored to have apostatized.

I confess I have not read the book, so I do not know how faithful Scorsese is to Shusaku Endo’s original novel. But in movie adaptation, stories are shaped to the vision of the director, oftentimes subverting the original. So, despite some helpful appeals to the source material, a movie must nevertheless be understood in its own context and presentation apart from the book. And Scorsese seems to have made this story his own.

Christian Bashing is Nothing New

Silence is a timely and poignant, though at times overly long, exploration of the nature of faith in the face of persecution and suffering. For that reason, I applaud the discussion that Silence raises and the soul searching it inspires in the faithful.

Especially in this era of rising Christophobia and persecution of Christians by all forms of fascism worldwide. From the Muslim torturing and murdering of Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other Islamic nations, to the growing tide of violence directed at believers in America, hatred is being increasingly focused on Christians, not for being hurtful in their actions, but simply for believing in God’s Word. And such spiritual devotion is considered a hate crime by many in our culture.

The ultimate end of demonizing Christian beliefs as “racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist, Islamophobic” and other phobias, is the justification of violence against Christians, the elimination of Christian cultural artifacts and history, and the suppression of the Judeo-Christian faith.

That is why Silence is so poignant at this time. Remember my mantra, movies are not made in a cultural vacuum. They often reflect the zeitgeist of the era, the spirit of the age they are made within. And this era no longer believes in freedom of thought and speech and the free exchange of ideas. It now says to Christians, “Shut up. Your beliefs are bigotry, so you must renounce them and outwardly support the zeitgeist.”

We are not in a post-Christian culture, we are in an anti-Christian culture.

But the trials and tribulations experienced by the Roman priests in this story are rooted in a deeper struggle that all honest believers wrestle with: the silence of God in the face of suffering, spiritual doubts, and weakness of faith.

Christian Lives Matter

Continue reading

The Birth of a Nation: Black Braveheart or Black Paul Hill?

birth-of-a-nation

True story of a Virginia slave uprising in 1831, led by literate religious slave Nat Turner, who, with a group of seventy slaves, rose up against their slaveholders and killed close to sixty men, women and children in a 48-hour period. The rebellion was quashed before Turner and his men could attain their goal of securing artillery from a local armory to advance their cause.

Though not the only slave uprising in the Antebellum South, the Nat Turner Rebellion was certainly one of the most tragically fascinating.

Monsters That Should Not Be Downplayed

I got to see an advance screening of the movie, and I have to say first off, that the title of this movie is a brilliant subversion of the old 1915 silent epic, The Birth of a Nation, a racist tale of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan of the Democratic Party depicted as heroic. D.W. Griffith’s groundbreaking filmmaking techniques gave the film historic significance as a landmark in the history of cinema. So it is only apropos that this new film reclaims that title, subverts it, and redefines our nation properly, by illustrating some of that origin as drenched in the blood of black slaves.

Writer-director Nate Parker reveals the atrocities of Southern slaveholding with artistic restraint. Rather than exploiting the suffering of Nat and his fellow slaves with gratuitous shock and gore, he effectively captures the mounting violence against them without losing the horror so necessary to the heart of this story. He deals with the monstrous evils of sexual abuse of slave women, the gang rape of Nat’s wife, and the brutal whipping of Nat, by showing the aftermaths rather than the unwatchable acts themselves.

Unfortunately, one of the monsters that is also not portrayed in the movie is Nat Turner… Continue reading

Fargo the Series: Good is Sexier Than Evil

fargo-high-resolution-and-quality

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

Ben Hur: An Epic Movie of Christian Forgiveness in an Empire of Hate

Ben Hur

Adaptation of a famous fictional novel by Lew Wallace about a first century wealthy Jew, Judah Ben-Hur, and his pursuit of revenge against an adopted Roman brother who betrays his family.

Chances are, you have heard of the classic movie of Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston in the lead role. But if you’re young, you probably haven’t seen it. Look, for those of us who have seen the “original,” it’s pretty hard to live up to the grandness of it because Heston was so legendary. But the truth is, when I watched the old one again some years ago, the actual quality of filmmaking and acting, even the famous chariot race, was not as good as my memory of it. Modern filmmaking is simply more sophisticated on many levels.

Enter, the modern reboot

Judah and his family live in Jerusalem, but his adopted Roman brother, Masala, never feels welcome with his pagan ideas and desire to make his own name in life. So Masala goes to Rome and becomes a highly placed military leader, who ends up at Jerusalem aiding Pontius Pilate at the time of Christ.

Judah begins the story as a Jew who scorns the extremes of both the Zealots, who seek to rise up against Rome, and of the way of love that he sees a young carpenter preaching to his followers. Judah seeks to protect his family and stay out of trouble. Self-preservation. And isn’t that really the desire of most of us, if we are honest? (Zealots were kind of like ancient “Social Justice Warriors” or terrorists)

The problem is that the family gets falsely accused of a Zealot crime, and is punished accordingly. Rather than execute Judah, Rome prefers to enjoy him dying slowly by putting him as a slave on a Roman galley ship. I have to say, this part of the movie was the most excellent surprise of the experience. I remember that part of the Heston movie as being a bit boring: guys rowing in dirty sweaty grunge with the quartermaster pounding the drum and the slaves getting whipped and yelled at.

But in this version, the experience of the sea battle by the oarsman from their perspective was a powerful action sequence. It captured the experience of what it might feel like to be there, helpless in those cramped quarters being bashed and battered around and sinking during a battle. And only being able to see what is going on through cracks and oar windows as they row. It reminded me of the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan, how it made you feel like the first time you ever really got a true sense of real battle in a movie from the individual’s perspective.

More Bread and Circuses!…

Continue reading

The Young Messiah: Blu-Ray & DVD Delivers Extra Jesus

YoungmessiahBluRayThe Blu-Ray and DVD release of The Young Messiah is today and I want to encourage all those viewers who want more quality Christian movies or faith friendly or family friendly or values friendly movies to support this release.

That means “buy it.” You will be glad you did.

The Young Messiah is the story of Jesus as a seven-year old boy coming into the realization of his own identity as the Son of God. Yes, it’s speculative, we know so little about that period in his life. Yes, it is dangerous theological territory to deal with such weighty matters. But Cyrus Nowrasteh and his co-writer wife, Betsy Nowrasteh have done a worthy job of exploring it with faithful respect. And you know, it’s the dangerous risks that can provide the richest and most profound stories anyway.

For a full review/analysis of the movie read my post, The Young Messiah: Must See Bible Movie about Jesus.

Also, check out my interview with the director who found Jesus while making the movie, an interesting revelation of how a person’s worldview really does affect the meaning of the movie. They adapted the movie from Anne Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, but purged the sectarian and questionable elements of the novel to make a more orthodox Christian story.

But that’s not all. There’s extra Jesus here… Continue reading

Last Days in the Desert: Boring Arthouse Existentialist Satan Jesus

Ewan McGregor as Jesus

A eatureictional drama of Jesus during his 40-day fast in the desert. He meets a family with one male son and a sick dying wife, and makes a wager with the devil to try to help them through their family problems. Starring Ewan McGregor as Jesus and Ewan McGregor as Satan.

In my book Hollywood Worldviews I write about how the depictions of Jesus in movies throughout the decades often reflect the zeitgeist of the era. I wrote: “A survey of the portrayal of Jesus in the movies yields an interesting mixture of both historical and mythical, human and divine, sinner and saint. In fact, one might say that the history of Jesus in the movies is precisely a history of the theological struggle between Christ’s identity as God and his identity as man.”

A Jesus by any other name

In HW, I called the Jesuses of the movies by their social constructs as depicted in the films:

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965): Leonardo-DaVinci’s-humanistic-Renaissance Jesus.
King of Kings (1961): Youthful-blue-eyed-Aryan-WASP-moviestar Jesus.
Jesus of Nazareth (1977): Hypnotic-eyed-possibly-drug-addict-Jesus-who-never-blinks.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1972): 70s-nonviolent-peace-demonstrator scapegoat-for-the-military-industrial-complex Rock n Roll Messiah.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1982): Confused-epileptic-temper-tantrum-sinner Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew (1995): Smiley-faced-California-surfer-dude Jesus.
Jesus: The Epic Miniseries (2000): Politically-correct-lovey-dovey-pacifist-television Jesus.
Judas (TV 2004): Dr.-Phil-Scooby-Doo-Shaggy-Malibu Jesus.

Look, I realize how impossible it is to portray the God-man in any way that everyone will approve of. That ain’t gonna happen. (It would take a – a miracle! And then most people wouldn’t believe it anyway)

My definition of the Jesus of The Last Days in the Desert as being a “Boring-Arthouse-Existentialist Jesus” is certainly no disappointment with the very weighty performance of McGregor (The Satan part is addressed later). His acting was profound and very human. He really brought it with this portrayal of Jesus being tempted by the lust, the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life without being a sinner. Fair enough. A Jesus who, like many holy men, fasts in order to draw close to the God he feels out of touch with. A Jesus who wrestles with existentialist issues of presence and purpose, most akin to the Gethsemane scene of the dual natures in conflict.

Or is it?

The director, Rodrigo Garcia, who claims to not be a Christian, said that he could only understand Jesus’ human side. He questioned how could one portray the divine side anyway? Again, fair enough. At least he didn’t try to subvert Jesus into his opposite like the most recent abominable Noah and Exodus movies do with God and their human heroes.

Or did he? Continue reading

Interview with Cyrus Nowrasteh: Saved While Making the Movie The Young Messiah

YoungMessiahPoster

Okay, it wasn’t like a Damascus Road Zap, more of a culmination of a long journey ending in this movie.

I got to interview Cyrus Nowrasteh about the upcoming movie, The Young Messiah, that opens March 11. You HAVE to see this movie. It’s a thoughtful and dramatic exploration of Jesus and his human coming of age as the Son of God.

You can read my review of the movie here.
It opens next Friday, March 11.

Here is the interview…

Brian: Tell me about the Genesis of this project and its journey to the screen.

Cyrus: I remember having dinner in 2005 with my agent at CAA. He talked about his client Anne Rice coming out with a book called Christ the Lord, that is going to blow everyone’s mind, because at the time, she became born again, or whatever you want to call it. I thought it was a fresh and original take on Jesus, focusing on him entirely as a seven-year old child.

If you told me then, about 10 years ago, that I’d be making a movie from that book, I’d have told you you were on crack. For a slew of reasons. But [my movie] Stoning of Soraya M. came out in 2009. Anne Rice wrote a rave review of it. So I called the same agent. She thought I’d be perfect for it. I read it and fell in love with it. I contacted Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures. I worked with them in the past. They optioned the book, and developed the script with me attached to direct.

B: So it took over 10 years to get made. And that’s just the beginning of the miraculous things that would happen. What were the reasons that made you hesitate from making the movie at first?

C: First of all, she’s very prominent. She’s been writing best-sellers for over 40 years. She’s had movies made from her books. And her books are very expensive to acquire and get made. That was one reason. The other was what it was about. I had been on my own journey towards Christ for a long time, probably longer than I even know. But I certainly didn’t think I was prepared to tackle a project about Jesus, much less a very risky and challenging one, taking on a portion of his life that is considered the silent years. I knew that would be controversial.

Cyrus_Nowrasteh

Writer-Director Cyrus Nowrasteh

B: What unique issues did you face in adapting this book to a film?

C: She did a very challenging thing in the book. It was pretty gutsy. The entire book is written in the first person voice of Jesus. That was challenge number one. The other challenges were theological. Anne grew up Catholic. I didn’t know it at the time, that she used a lot of other sources. Some of them are apocryphal, and some of them are legends that come down about the childhood of Jesus in the vicinity of Alexandria going back 2000 years. The Coptic Christians still tell these stories about Jesus. She used everything and anything that she could find. And we felt, Betsy (wife and co-writer) and myself, that if we were going to write it, that we were going to have to reexamine those issues. We are not theologians or scholars. It was through multiple drafts, having friends and associates, theologians, people who we trusted, who came back with feedback. It took time for us to figure out how we could navigate those issues and still tell the story in a dramatic and compelling fashion.

[BG DISCLOSURE: I was one of those who read the script early on. To be honest, I knew Christians would not like it at that point in its development, because of some of the material they included. But as you read on, you’ll see how he and his wife co-writer changed it because of their spiritual journey. Good news! this movie is now totally Biblically consistent, even though it obviously takes creative license. I loved it.]  Read on to see what happened… Continue reading