Oscar Watch • The Hateful Eight: A Love Affair with Hate, Racism and Misogyny?


Western Mystery Thriller. In the post Civil War period, an infamous bounty hunter, bringing a female criminal to a town for hanging, stays at an outpost during a storm. While there, he encounters a group of dubious characters who will complicate his quest.

Watching a Tarantino movie is watching a 90 minute film stretched out to almost 3 insufferable hours of long rambling scenes with trivial dialogue that should have been cut in half. It was a clever trick in the long table scene of Reservoir Dogs, but now it seems like its every scene in every movie of his.

Along with gratuitous racism, excessive and irrelevant profanity (His romance with the N-word continues with this film), and an erotic fetish for violence.

I watch this crap, so you don’t have to.

Now, keep in mind, I am not against the accurate depiction of evil in a story. I do it myself, and some of my favorite movies do as well. It’s all in the context. And one gets the impression watching this guy’s movies that his “signature” or voice is that of a video store clerk’s obsession with shock because it’s the only thing that interests his numbed conscience from watching too many movies.

Tarantino tries to mimic the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and early 70s, complete with Cinerama widescreen and 1960s western titles and music. The movie starts with an excruciatingly indulgent “Overture” of music over a flat graphic — like they had for epics in the olden days. The movie is an homage that illustrates his own nostalgia for old movies more than an actual creative take on the subject. The whole nostalgia thing worked once in Pulp Fiction. The metaphor that I think best describes this director is that of a young dinosaur that is unaware of the concept of extinction.

The first shot is a long, meandering dolly out of a stone crucifix of a suffering Christ, apparently a gravestone, covered in the blistery snow of dead winter. Yes, foreshadowing the violence to come (as all Tarantino movies end in an orgy of violence), but could it also be a visual cue of the “death of God” in the story he is about to tell, or rather in his own worldview?

The rest of the movie watches like a play that has been adapted to the screen. The bounty hunter, (Kurt Russell) brings along a captured female outlaw (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who the director enjoys getting laughs out of beating up and calling “bitch.” It seems the only word Tarantino loves as much as the N-word is the B-word. Back to the story. So these two end up at the outpost lodge with another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and the new sheriff of the destination town. There are several other dubious lodgers already there. As they wait for the snow storm to subside, some subterfuge occurs and the whole thing is a mystery to figure out if any of the other lodgers are hostile and waiting for their moment to free the female prisoner.

There is really nothing special here. Just a murder mystery play, with a few good twists, good performances by the actors (I will always watch any movie with Kurt Russell in it). But certainly nothing worthy of Oscar nominations.

Before the inevitable Tarantino bloodbath ending, there is one good moment of insight. Tim Roth plays the hangman of the town who is also on his way to the same destination. He has a discussion with one of the other characters about justice. He explains that the rule of law is what civilized society calls justice. While lynching or vigilanteism is frontier justice, which is just as apt to be wrong as right. He then says that the only real difference between the two is the hangman, because dispassion is the essence of justice. Justice delivered with passion is always in danger of not being justice. So for a moment, it appears that Tarantino may actually be supporting the rule of law as the means of civilized justice.

Which is really an odd thing, considering his own recent real life involvement with racist anti-cop protestors in New York. A few days after a NY cop is murdered, he pronounced cops as murderers who engage in alleged institutional “police terror.” Of course, he would argue that he is standing against corrupt authority, not good cops, but the problem is that the whole racist police narrative is itself a corrupt racist conspiracy theory, whose purpose is to incite racial hatred and uncivilized rage that results in lawlessness, mob violence and inspires more cop killers. Hey, what happened to that rule of law?

But when you consider the character who says those lines about dispassionate justice in the movie, along with Tarantino’s own passionate hate speech, maybe he’s really spitting on the whole concept of dispassionate rule of law in favor of his passionate hate. Maybe he really believes in the frontier lawlessness he so often celebrates in his movies like a religion of violence.

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


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

R.I.P.D.: Evil Must be Punished or There is No Justice

Men in Black with evil souls instead of aliens. Or Ghostbusters 2013. Ryan Reynolds plays Nick, a cop who finds himself killed in the line of duty and winds up on R.I.P.D. the Rest in Peace Department of “heaven” or whatever it is. They need his skills to help catch renegade evil souls called, Deados, who have escaped the big sucking wind tunnel to the afterworld, in order to hide out on earth in disguise among the living. What Nick, and his veteran partner, Roy, played by Jeff Bridges as a rascally western style sheriff, soon discover is that the evil souls have their own planned apocalypse, and can I say, it ain’t bringing heaven to earth.

Nick discovers he has about a hundred years to help the RIPD, or “take his chances with judgment,” of which he is not too sure he will do well. So he jumps at the chance. The partners have to hunt down the dark souls, whose presence is revealed by their decaying effect on their living quarters. Electricity flutters, and homes fall apart or are covered with grossness and slime. Their own spiritual decay is manifested in them looking ugly and monstrous, but they are able to disguise themselves as normal humans. Their true natures come out when offered Asian or Indian spicy food (I don’t get that one, but you gotta have some rules for the world you create).

Unfortunately, Nick, himself is not a clean soul, as he was involved in taking a little from the coffers of captured criminal gold when he was alive. But he does it only to be able to bless his wonderful loving wife, who means the world to him. Living on a cop’s salary is a temptation to skim.

So, if they can capture the souls and bring them back into a purgatory like holding cell in the sky, then they will eventually be brought to judgment.

Nick’s journey is one of being able to let go of his wife, and redeeming himself since he was taken at too young an age and would be unable to clear his name to her because he wants to right his wrong. But as his partner reminds him, no one dies at a good time, it’s always an inconvenience for our plans.

The bad guys’ plan is based in something called the “Staff of Jericho,” which has ancient roots in the Old Testament times, but it is not really explained so it becomes a mere plot device similar to Ghostbusters. But the point is that it is an ancient pagan religious device that does evil through the spiritual world. In this sense, the picture painted by this movie is a kind of Christian worldview against paganism.

But it’s really more of a Christian worldview subverted by cosmic humanism.

This movie was a mixture of good laughs, warm romance, humanist redemption and SFX. I love the premise. It’s very clever. Because it is an unavoidably spiritual premise, there is unyielding talk of hell and eternal punishment for “bad people.” This is one of those narrative and ethical “proofs for the existence of God.” You cannot tell satisfying stories and you cannot have a moral or ethical universe that does not include real punishment and reward. C.S. Lewis argued that the notion of punishment, far from being the “unfair behavior of a cruel god,” who “casts people into hell,” the notion of punishment is what actually gives meaning and dignity to the human on both a societal level and by extension a spiritual one. If you do not punish a being, then you are denying them the essential dignity to choose good or evil. You are saying that they cannot but do what they do, whether through psychological or internal chemical manipulation or whatever. To punish is not to be cruel at all (if done justly of course), but to affirm that the being could have done otherwise and had the inherent dignity and capability to do so. To freely choose to do good or evil is the thing that dignifies humanity. If we are but victims of our social groups or scientific natural causes, then we are mere puppets to be socially engineered by the elites. And guess who those elites would be? You got it. The privileged ones who believe in those views: The scientific materialists, naturalists, socialists and other totalitarian utopian left wing radicals (to whom the only “evil” is a God who judges – and his followers).

But if there is a God who punishes or judges, then that means he made us with the inherent dignity and power to do right. Our choice not to do right does not make us diseased or sick, but evil. A God who does not punish or judge evil is the most cruel and unjust being possible because billions of innocent victims are denied justice and recompense in favor of the criminal evildoers getting away with it.

Thus the saying, “Compassion to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.” In justice, if you do not punish evildoers, you are punishing the victims (which includes the family and loved ones of those victims). No, worse, you are torturing them by allowing the evildoer to escape justice which intensifies and magnifies the loss of the loved ones for the rest of their lives. It’s like torturing the victims.

Ah, if there was only a way in which our spiritual crimes could be paid for AND we are forgiven, only then can justice and peace embrace. Now, who could be that perfect mediator to fulfill both justice and grace? Who can save us from this body of death? Thanks be to…

Do I digress?

And that is where this movie falls apart. Since the only taboo in some studio movies is GOD, the filmmakers ditch the only logical and reasonable reality of a personal God who judges and replace him with a “universe that judges in its ultimate wisdom.” The universe in this movie is a godless one. It is a pantheistic view that makes the entire universe as if it is the supreme being. Which is ultimately unsatisfying from a story perspective, because now you have a personal story of personal beings who are interacting not with an ultimate person, but with an impersonal abstract force or accumulation of natural laws. BORING. They could have easily used the generic term “God” which would still mean whatever most people wanted it to mean anyway, but it would have been a more satisfying story with a personal connection. Depersonalizing the deity is suicide for storytelling and theology. Impersonal forces do not “judge,” only personal beings do, because “judgment” is an ethical notion between personal beings.

Another half and half movie. Half good stuff about judgment for our deeds on earth, half terrible stuff about a godless pantheistic universe.

And another thing in this movie: What happens when a bad soul doesn’t want to go back in supernatural handcuffs to the “holding cell” to await his judgment? Well, then the RIPD has guns with special bullets that annihilate the soul, destroy them forever. Do not go to Hell, do not collect one hundred dollars, just straight into oblivion of non-existence.

So I got to thinking. The souls who have escaped are all obviously evil, as evidenced by their manifestation. So, if they are going to go to judgment anyway, what would you rather want (as an evil soul), eternal torment or non-existence? And it seemed to me that I would rather cease to exist than suffer forever under punishment. So from the perspective of a spiritual criminal, getting blown away by the RIPD might actually be preferable to judgment.

But from “the universe in its ultimate wisdom” perspective (Ahem, God’s perspective), it seems to me that annihilation would be the ultimate devaluation of human worth because the lack of existence makes the human worth nothing, while continuity of existence, even in judgment, maintains that the human is in the image of God and therefore has eternal value. Kind of an extension of what I was saying about punishment above.

OR would the devaluation of the human into nothing be the ultimate judgment? I can see why some might see it that way. But then again, would God devalue his own image in a human being? I kinda doubt it.

But whatever the case, we do have the promise from God that “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:6–8).

And if you want to see if anyone can actually attain this “righteousness,” go here.

The Lone Ranger: The Noble Savage Vs. Greedy Capitalist

Comic book action movie of the beloved hero of yesteryear and his trusty sidekick the Lone Ranger. Yes, you read that right. Tonto is really the lead in this movie, as played by Johnny Depp, who does tend to steal movies with his sly cool presence. In true Hollywood fashion, this movie subverts the old storyline with a Politically Correct version to make appeal to the false conscience of the American public.

The movie is WAY TOO LONG at 2 hours and 20 minutes. It should have been cut by 20 minutes. And it could have saved almost all that 20 minutes by deleting a “modern” day hook that bookends the movie. We see a young kid in 1933 in some carnival freak show watching a wild west exhibit where Tonto is now very old and on display as a “Noble Savage.” Tonto then proceeds to tell the kid the story of how John Reid, started “as a man of law,” but ended as “a man of justice” as the Lone Ranger. At least that’s how the filmmakers see it. Completely worthless waste of time, this book end. And it ends with the kid asking Tonto if it is really true, the story he told. Tonto says in “It’s up to you, Kemosabe.” Legends are not about the facts, they are supposed to be about the truth.

Anyway, the actual movie is not as terrible. It is a popcorn fun action comic book movie after all, so you don’t make your expectations high. The final action sequence was lots of fun and even brought back emotional memories when they played the William Tell Overture, saved for that climactic ending. They play the characters against their original types, Tonto is the stronger personality and the Lone Ranger is a goofy bumbling prosecuting attorney who provides the humor against Depp’s straight man.

The character arc of this story is all about the Lone Ranger being a man of the law, who seeks to do everything the right way and according to due process. No matter how bad the criminal, he believes every man has the right to his day in court. A particular phrase of his “Bible,” John Locke’s Treatise on Government is quoted at the beginning, which captures his worldview: Men must “quit the laws of nature and assume the laws of man,” in order to maintain civilization. Tonto, however, as his ally foil believes that “justice is what a man must take for himself.” He believes in working outside the law, the way of nature so to speak.

So the theme of this movie is about Law vs. Nature, and which of these views can lead to justice. One of the recurring thematic memes in this movie is “Nature out of balance,” and how to achieve that balance again.

The white man is the evil menace because as Tonto says, “Indians are like coyotes (nature). They kill and leave nothing to waste. What does the white man kill for?” In the movie, the white man kills for power and money. So, in short, the white man believes the Indian to be savage, and civilization to be achieved through lawful means and “progress,” but what we see in this story is that the white man is the savage, progress is exploitative, and that the Lone Ranger ultimately comes to believe that if men like those in power represent the law, then he’d rather be an outlaw. He gives up his belief in due process to stay an outlaw at the end because “there comes a time when good men must wear a mask.”

This heart change is reflected when the Lone Ranger finally has the chance to kill the outlaw who killed his brother (and ate his heart, if that wasn’t bad enough). Reid does not shoot him in cold blood. Instead he seeks to take him in to face a trial, because Reid considers himself “not a savage” to kill outside of the law. But Tonto tells him, “No. You are not a man.” (Again, the laws of man versus the laws of nature) And after all that energy to do the right thing, it backfires on Reid because the law and the outlaws are all in the hands of the greedy capitalist, and so the outlaw gets away and the Lone Ranger becomes captive to the bad guys. So, later when Reid has the chance to shoot the unarmed outlaw, he finally does, only to find his gun is out of bullets, and he has to fight him physically. But we see the hero is changed. He has given up on lawful means of pursuing justice. And when he is offered a new gold watch as a reward by the new greedy capitalists in charge, thinking they can buy him just like they buy others, he rejects it and decides to keep on his mask to stay an outlaw.

But it seems in the movie that everyone is in the hands of the greedy capitalist and there are no good capitalists. The “engine of western civilization,” the railroad, is the goal of the greedy capitalist, as the ultimate bad guy of all bad guys. He is the one who exploits nature carelessly with the expansion of railroads as the emblem of progress. The cliché ugly outlaw thugs are hired by the greedy capitalist to do his bidding, the military (led by a cliché General Custer look alike) are controlled by the greedy capitalist to kill Indians. All the evil and abuse that occurs in this movie all seems to come back to the greedy capitalist businessman as the ultimate villain.

Well, there are plenty of those in our world. If you can find the balance of nature within yourself to understand that not all progress is evil, not all capitalists are greedy exploiters and not all white men are evil, you can enjoy this film for what it is with its faults: A ridiculous action comic book movie that is politically correct, but fun at times.

Hatfields & McCoys (2012)

Boy, was I angry that I was skipped over for the new release of this dvd at Netflix, and then it took THREE MONTHS waiting at the top of my queue to get the dang thing. Sometimes I love Netflix and sometimes I hate it.

Well, this is an engrossing and fascinating exploration of the self-destruction of revenge much in the way that Othello is of jealousy or Macbeth is of pride. It is Shakespearean, and rich with human understanding. Kevin Costner is at his best as a broody quiet patriarch of the Hatfields, Devil Anse Hatfield (of all the names he could have had, how perfect is that?), and Bill Paxton as the emotionally explosive patriarch Randall McCoy. This is a classic unity of opposites that seeks to capture the tenor of our very modern day “uncivil” discourse. Hatfield is an atheist who has a strong moral sense, but also rejects higher causes such as the Civil War that he deserted. McCoy is a classic Southern Christian man, who also has a strong moral sense mixed in with an addition of bigotry against unbelievers such as, you guessed it, Hatfield. So both sides are strong in their moral convictions from different viewpoints, even unyielding at times, and thus the conflict brews.

As I watched the miniseries, I must say that I began to see the obvious moral message being incarnated in the story: Extremes of both sides are the same self-destructive spirit. Okay, not too bad. So, a religious McCoy praying for the soul of a man he is about to murder is shown to be no different from the godless who kill as well. But the context was that Hatfield started out as the more moral man because he was the one who held back from revenge and experienced the injustice of false accusations from the McCoys. So the atheist was the more moral man than the hypocrite Christian. Okay, typical stereotype bigotry against Christians in the movies. And Hatfield only jumped in after his brother was killed in cold blood in front of a crowd by three McCoys without provocation. Since the law would not bring justice, he started retaliating and thus the rest of the movie. And he always sought to try to bring resolution. He was depicted as without any other option than “cutting off the head of the snake” that would not stop striking. SO Hatfield is the obvious favored protagonist.

But McCoy is shown to be a religious man who descends into madness and atheism when he concludes that no God would let his children be slaughtered. His is a story of how one loses his faith. He starts rejecting God as being a meaningless concept in a cruel world.

So, I started to get annoyed that even though it was making a point that ALL extremes are bad, the faith of Christianity appeared to me to be without any power in bringing reconciliation. And this is the biggest lie of all. Yes, FALSE religion leads to self destruction, but true Christianity does not.

So I was blown away when the ending of the story has the little “innocent lamb” Hatfield, a mentally handicapped kid get hanged, which stops the feud because the insanity of it all is finally exposed in this blood sacrifice of innocence. Yes, you got it. The innocent Son sacrificed that stopped the war. Hatfield gives a speech to his family of repentance from the hate. Quite soul stirring.

Then the last shot of the movie was Anse Hatfield GETTING BAPTIZED! After all the bloodshed, it was HE who becomes a Christian and embraces the Faith because he understood it through his own journey of justice and peace and repentance. WHOAH. Now THIS was superb storytelling. One man’s loss of faith countered by another man’s discovery of faith. I have no problem showing religious hypocrisy and religion that is evil, AS LONG AS you contrast it with TRUE faith and religion. Otherwise, you are just saying ALL religion is false, which is itself, bad faith. Hatfields and McCoys is a story that captured powerfully the essence of true reconciliation through the cross that and I was moved to my soul with repentance.

The Book of Eli

A post apocalyptic tale about a man on a mission from God. A nuclear war has occurred in the past, believed to be because of religion, and most people were killed when a hole was burned in the sky and the sun burned everything. Most books have been burned, and many are now cannibals and lawlessness reigns. However, God spoke to Eli and guided him to where the last Bible was and told him to carry it out West, where the book will be safe and a help for others. So Eli travels across country, killing marauders who try to rob him and kill him. He’s a crack shot and an expert swordsman, so this is an action movie with a spiritual theme.

When Eli arrives at the town owned by bad guy Carnegie, who is one of the few people who reads and is therefore the kingly ruler of the city. Knowledge is power. But so is religion. Carnegie has his minions of evil biker dudes drive all around trying to find a Bible because he believes “it is a weapon, aimed at the hearts and minds of the weak and desperate. They’ll do exactly what I tell them if I tell them the words are from the book.” And we see Carnegie reading through a book on Mussolini, which indicates Carnegie as the fascist mentality that believes religion is a force to use to control people. But Eli and the people to whom he seeks believe it is a book of freedom that brings civilized meaning to existence. So two different views of the sacred text illustrate how people can use it for good or evil depending on their religious beliefs.

Solara, the love interest, is sent in to Eli by Carnegie in order to persuade Eli to join his gang and give him the Bible. Eli refuses to fornicate with her and even teaches her how to pray – something that is alien to her because the knowledge of God has been lost in this depraved uncivilized post-apocalyptic world. When Carnegie seeks to take the book from Eli, Eli is miraculously unharmed as the minions shoot at him walking away. Eli then turns and takes them all out with his pistol. You see, the voice had told him he would be protected and would accomplish this mission from God, and Eli has faith, because as he explains to chick sidekick, Solara, “I walk by faith, not by sight.” If Eli has the time before killing some bad guys, he’ll quote the Bible like, “Cursed is the ground for our sake, both thorns and thistles it shall yield. For from the dust we were taken and to the dust we shall return.” He also quotes Psalm 23, the Lord is My Shepherd to Solara when she asks him to read some to her. She says, “that’s beautiful, did you write it?” illustrating how illiterate the culture has become.

So this movie is unusually Christian in its theme. That is, it tells a story of God keeping the Bible as his word alive by miraculously protecting one man to bring it to the hands of those who will print it and distribute it to mankind — along with other classics of civilization.

But when the Bible gets captured by the bad guy and all seems lost with Eli sure to die from a bullet wound, God still manages to keep Eli alive to finish his journey to the community that happens to be holed up on Alcatraz. At this point Eli acknowledges to Solara that “I was so caught up with keeping the book safe that I forgot to live my life according to it. To do more for others than I do for myself.” Though this is an inaccurate quote of the golden rule, it still points up the fact that this is an analogy for the claim that faithful Christians too often spend their energy and passion in defending or fighting for “the book” instead of focusing on living out the love of others that Jesus has told them to engage in.

In the end, Eli gets the Bible to the small community anyway and they end up getting the King James version of the Bible to print and publish for the world. This is essentially the Christian doctrine of Inspiration, that God used human beings to communicate his message and bring it to the human race despite the evil in the world and the frailty of human beings. This belief is not one of divine dictation, but of human incarnation.

BUT…, and that’s a big BUT… a couple shots at the end seemed to be an intentional multicultural nod to Islam that seemed to work against the Christian exclusivism of the Bible: When Eli is transferring the text of the Bible to the good guys, he shaves all his hair off and dresses in what appears to be a Muslim garb. And then, the Bible that is printed is placed on a bookshelf right between a Tanakh and a Quran with other religious books, as if to say the Bible is one among other religious documents needed for civilization, including the Quran. A journalist in Slate online notes, “Al-Bukhari, a ninth-century Muslim scholar who spent years collecting hadith, quotes the prophet as saying “May Allah bless those who shaved” during the Hajj (pilgrimage); and the Quran states that “ye shall enter the Sacred Mosque, if Allah wills, with minds secure, heads shaved, hair cut short, and without fear.” This is why Islamic suicide terrorists shave their body hair before engaging in their terrorism because they believe they are doing a holy deed and will end up in Paradise. So as Eli lay dying, he has shaved Islam-style in holy preparation for death as well as holy presentation of God’s Word. Of course, this is all an ironic contradiction since Muslims do not believe the Bible is the Word of God, they believe it is the corrupted word of men.

Crazy Heart

Tender Mercies on steroids. A personal redemption story about a country western singer, Bad Blake, whose seminal influence on country music is all but forgotten, as he struggles to overcome his drunkenness and loser mentality and status. Bad plays in pathetic bars around the southwest, while his good friend, Tommy Sweet, who was mentored and influenced by Bad, is a screaming mainstream success. Tommy wants to help Bad out, by letting him write for him, and even perform a bit, but Bad has that self destructive and prima donna purist attitude about the music that keeps him from being able to do much of anything with Tommy.

When Bad meets the young and beautiful Jean, he falls in love like never before, and seeks to redeem himself through her. The only trouble is, his bad ways return because he is still who he is, a drunken selfish slob. At first, Jean ignores it, but when Bad’s alcoholic addiction endangers her son at a mall, she finally cuts him off.

Bad, then faces his addiction and goes to rehab and considers himself changed. But when he returns to Jean to beg her forgiveness and proclaim he is a new man, she refuses to allow him back in because she knows the reality of this kind of false conversion: Redemption cannot be accomplished through or for another human person, it must be sought for it’s own sake.

And self-redemption is what Bad decides to go after. He accepts the final loss of his one hope at a new life with Jean, and ends up sticking with his new life without her. It’s the opposite of most love stories where the hero or heroine finds redemption in the love of another human being. In standard love stories, the hero or heroine must give up their selfishness and have all hopes lost before they become worthy of the lover, but in this case, that final prize never happens, which makes it a sad melancholic, but more realistic love story of redemption.

The Road

A dark bleak view of humanity with a sliver of hope. This faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel has an unnamed man and his unnamed son (thus suggesting a mythic narrative) in a very different kind of road trip movie. They are traveling south to the Eastern coast in a post-apocalyptic America, trying to find “the good guys” in a world of human gangs turned cannibals through survival of the fittest. No food left, not even animals to eat, due to some unnamed global catastrophe that reflects more of global cooling than global warming. They are surrounded by earthquakes, erupted volcanoes, burned up forests, and increasing coldness. There is no real plot to this story of father and son moving from one nihilistic situation to another, from one gang of cannibals to another, interrupted by stretches of travelling, again, very faithful to the book, and actually captivating in it’s touch on primal drives and primal relations.

It’s really a character study of father and son, as son learns the values of survival while maintaining that shred of human value in the midst of a world without values. As the father answers his son’s question about whether or not they would eat humans, “we wouldn’t eat anyone, cause we’re the good guys and we’re carrying the fire within.” That reflects the very simple black and white morality of the story, as some critics might suggest is a “Manichean view of good and evil.” Good guys who love and help others, and bad guys who eat others.

There is a thread of religious thought through the film which also is faithful to the book, sometimes to the exact words. At the beginning we see them pass a billboard with the graffiti of a bible verse from Jeremiah: “Behold the valley of slaughter.” Stories just tend to feel more “deep” when they reference Bible verses, especially in King James language. Anyway, the religion seems to be one of a replacement of God with humanity as the object of true worship. The father says some esoteric things like, “the child is my warrant” [to carry on]. “If the child is not the word of God, then God never spoke.” And another time about the child to an old man travelling companion: “To me, he’s a god.” To which the old man says, “To be on the road with the last god is a dangerous situation.” When the son asks his father. “How would the last man alive know he was the last man?” The father responds, “God would know.” The old man then says, “There is no God up there,” in this godforsaken world. But the father responds to his son quietly, “If I were God, I would have made the world just so, and not any different. And so I have you.” This would seem to suggest that the father has a view of a providential God who somehow mysteriously, and without giving us the answers, works through suffering. In a way one could read this as an affirmation of God in the midst of such suffering.

But I am not sure that is the point for the filmmakers. After all, God is replaced by the son for this man. The father puts all his hope in his son surviving to find the good guys and live with them. The son becomes the father’s hope, and God appears to be a metaphor for that hope. So when they stumble upon a survival shelter filled with foodstuffs, they pray (including the gesture of folded hands) not to God, but to the people. “Thank you, people,” they mumble, which certainly doesn’t reflect the Judeo-Christian attribution of all blessings to God, whether received through men or not. I suspect God and religion in this story is a picture of an optimistic mythic construct to help keep a person going — a metaphor for “human goodness,” which is all rather ironic, considering the bulk of humanity is out to eat them like packs of animals following an evolutionary ethic of survival. But it appears that the story contains that humanistic optimism in the goodness of man, that no matter how bad the world can get, there will always be some good people seeking to do right. The only question is: Whose right? By what standard is their right any more right than the cannibal’s right? Is their sense of right rooted in subjective humanity with its equal and opposite extremes of cruelty and mercy, or an external objective deity to whom man is accountable? Is that God hiding in the suffering or is he a metaphor for humanity creating its own values in a world without meaning? I am not sure what the story is really suggesting, but I suspect it is the latter.

The Alamo

Somewhat Recommended. Not a very exciting movie, by modern action movie standards, but acceptable. Okay, I gotta say that I am not fully apprised of the “actual history” of this event. I put “actual history” in quotes because revisionist history is a tricky thing. Although most revisionist history that goes on these days is politically correct, and is more accurately described as postmodern propaganda, the reality is that not ALL revisionist history is wrong. Some people who claim movies like this are revisionist history that attack our cherished beliefs are naïve if they fail to recognize that their cherished beliefs are themselves often based on a “revision” of history. The fact of the matter is that ALL history is subjective. As Robert the Bruce in Braveheart says, “history is written by the winners.” And if we fail to acknowledge this truth and the particular prejudice of every side in an issue, we are the biggest dupes of all. All history is subjective interpretations of individuals, whether they were actually there or not. This is not to say that because all history is subjective, there is therefore NO history that is true. That is relativistic reduction to absurdity. It is merely to be balanced and aware of a higher truth that governs proper analysis. Only then may we be able to sift through the opposing versions and find a more accurate or full picture of what may have really happened. And even if we find out the WHAT of what happened, the WHY will always be ultimately elusive because of individual bias. The fact is, some historical revisionism is good, if the “history” or myths we cherish are wrong. Having said that, I would say that this movie, without having the benefit of knowing particular facts about the history myself, seemed to be a fair and balanced treatment of the events. I saw The Alamo with John Wayne just a couple years ago, and I gotta say that it was long and rather boring, and very heroically mythical in a naïve sense. You have these men like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie portrayed as heros who are as big as their legends and aware of it, scampering around making wisecracks that reinforce their own greatness. Well, you know, I don’t believe it. People are more complex than that. Even heros are not perfect. Every human has flaws and sins that haunt him. To deny this is to propagate a myth that may make us feel good about so-called heros that inspire, but it is simply not true, and ultimately detrimental to our spiritual good. Look at the Bible. It doesn’t whitewash its heros. It unabashedly exposes Moses’s fear, David’s adultery and murder, Jacob’s deceptive nature, Peter and Paul’s arguments. But that does not negate their heroism, it merely reminds us that men are not the ultimate heros, God and the truth is. Just because men have faults, does not mean they cannot do great things or be heros. It is just to say that they are not gods. Ain’t nothing wrong with having heros, but it is wrong to deify them in clouds of perfection and sinlesseness. So just because a movie may show a man’s weakness does not make it a character attack. I believe that The Alamo 2004 is fair in this way. Some will no doubt complain that in this movie, Colonel William Travis is depicted as a heartless adulterer, Jim Bowie as a renegade land-swindling slave owner, Davy Crockett as a frightened vagabond war criminal who participated in an atrocity and exploited his own false reputation, and General Sam Houston as a venereal ridden drunkard. Well, look, if any of these things are false, or that is, cannot be supported by some historical account, then, maybe there is reason to complain. But even then, I don’t consider them all that bad, because, in the end, the movie does portray all of these men as heroic and honorable and courageous in spite of their flaws – and that is the key. It does not characterize them as villainous or false heros. They overcome their character flaws and find the courage and honor and nobility they required. And not only that, their cause of Texas is upheld as noble in the movie. I expected the typical hate-America-first revisionist tactic of making America the bad guys, and Mexico the good guys. But I personally did not see this. General Santa Ana was shown as a detestable lowlife, a spoiler of innocent girls, a glory-seeking scumbag who did not value his own soldiers. He says, “What are the lives of soldiers, but so many chickens.” This is classic villainism if you ask me. Not only that, but the couple African slaves in the fort are shown with opposing views. One wants to help the Texans, the other wants freedom. Good balance there. And they make a point of showing that there were Mexicans who were fighting with the Texans against the Mexicans! As for the faults of the heros, Travis grows into a sensitive leader who dies for a higher cause, Jim Bowie learns to respect his leadership and Davy Crockett is the coolest of all. Hey, the fact is, people do make godlike legends of their heros, and Davy Crockett is shown as a man who rises to the grandeur of his own legends. His courage is much more realistic to me because I do not believe it is honest to show men who do not care for their lives AT ALL in service to their cause, no matter how much higher it is. Courage is not the absence of fear it is the facing of fear. And that is what Crockett does in this movie. Really, he ends up being just as big as his legend if you ask me. When talking to Bowie, he says that if it were up to him, he would hop the wall and take his chances at escape, but this is so much bigger than him. He knows he is an example to other men of courage and he must live up to that courage for everyone’s sake. Also, in the end, when Crockett is captured, literally, the last man standing on the Texan side, and he is given the chance to beg for his life, he calls for Santa Ana’s surrender. What a great heroic stand of defiance and greatness. And you know, so what if Bowie was a slave owner. So was Jefferson, so was Washington, so were most people of that day. It was a collective prejudice that was wrong, but it does not invalidate their greatness, it simply shows a weakness or imperfection. Yes, this is a character flaw, but not an unredeemable one. Just cause someone owned slaves does not make everything he does bad. That is simply ad hominem nonsense. And I think the movie agrees. In my view, this movie was not a hit piece on heros, it reinforced their heroism. Having defended the movie, I would balance that with the acknowledgement that the central conceit of modern “realism” is in fact it’s own mythical fallaciousness. Think about it. A movie, which is itself mythical in nature, portraying the “reality” as opposed to the myth. Does anyone spot the self-refutation here? The fact is, all these movies, like the upcoming King Arthur and others that claim to be showing the “real story behind the myth” are all just a bit too disingenuine. How do they know the “real” story? All they are doing is countering one historical source against another, or worse, guessing at what “really” happened based on their prejudice against accepted history and proclaimed privileged position, which is actually a bias itself. So they have faith in one source over another, one prejudice over another. The fact is, these movies are not replacing myth with history, they are replacing one myth with another myth, a new myth, based on new prejudices and biases.

The Missing

Not Recommended. This is a very well done Ron Howard remake movie of the John Wayne movie, The Searchers. It’s about a woman in the western frontier, played brilliantly by Cate Blanchette (Isn’t she always brilliant?), whose daughter is kidnapped by some rogue Indians in order to sell as a slave in Mexico. She teams up with her father, (played by Tommy Lee Jones) an Indian convert himself, who she hates for abandoning her as a young child, to track them down and rescue her daughter. Its got it all. Excitement, suspense, pathos, great acting, good storytelling, etc. But it also has anti-Christ bigotry. The woman is clearly set up as a Christian and modernist because she is a nurse of sorts who helps people over their superstitions. The father comes around after abandoning her many years ago as a child and she cannot forgive him. Even though he is shown as in need of her forgiveness, in our politically correct culture, the judgmental exclusivist (read: Christian) is always the bad guy against the “open –minded” pluralist (read: Indian). SO casting the Christian as judgmental and contemptuous of other religions places her in an inferior position and her faith as undesirable. Her name is Magdalena, like the disciple of Jesus. Anyway, the Indian father may have a past that he is trying to reconcile, but he is shown as more sincere about his Indian religion than Cate is. She has nothing but contempt for his “savage” religion as she calls it. She is shown as prejudiced and arrogant and unforgiving. Okay, fine. Everyone has something wrong with them that they need to change. But her faith is clearly shown as without power compared to the Indian religion in the context of the movie. When the father gives her daughter, his granddaughter, who is with them, some moccasins to wear, Cate rejects them, until the little girl loses them and Cate is obliged to give in and let him give the moccasins to her. Then when he offers magic beads to protect them from the spirits, Cate rejects them also with condescension. When he scares her with a story about evil spirits, she lets him put the beads on the kid just in case. This is an obvious surrender, showing the weakness of her own religion to really truly protect. And when the Indian sorcerer who they are tracking gets a hold of a personal item of Cate’s he performs a voodoo ceremony that makes Cate sick with evil spirits. Her father and another good Indian set about to counter the black magic with good magic and they fight to heal Cate. Meanwhile, the little girl recites the Bible as well, so when Cate is finally released from the evil spirits, it is a bit ambiguous as to which religion made the difference. But it isn’t really. It’s really favored to the Indian side. It’s clear that the Indian voodoo has power over Cate, her relationship to Christ having no power to protect her (unlike the Bible and real Christian experience that indicate just the opposite). The little girl reads an irrelevant passage of “begats” in the Bible, making it words that are meaningless to the situation and ultimately irrelevent, and the girl’s words quickly blend in to sound not too different from the babbling tongues of the Indians, making her really subordinate to their magic. Also, Cate, after being healed, gladly puts on the protection beads, showing once again that her religion needs to keep submitting and changing it’s view because it has no real power. Cate’s faith is also without much conviction worthy of following when she is shown as being a fornicator, sleeping with a man who is not her husband. Meanwhile, the father is shown as happily and satisfyingly married to several woman, some at the same time, another pagan antichristian jab. Also the father’s religion is made out to make him “one with nature” as he talks to a hawk who leads him magically on to safety at one point in the film. The little granddaughter learns about dreams from the Indian father and she has a dream about their rescue, just like granddad suggested. So the little girl is helped and grows because of her attachment to Indian beliefs, not Christian ones. The Indian beliefs are shown as magical and with real power, while the Christian ones are not, and just lead to arrogance or condescension. At the end, Cate gives a cross back to her rescued daughter and says, “I thought I’d die wearing it,” another subtle negative reference to all things Christian. And you know, its funny, but you would think having Indians be the villains would be politically incorrect. But not here. You see, the bad Indians are only bad because they are US Cavalry scouts led astray by some caucasian army deserters. The Indians are only bad cause they’re hanging with white boys! So it is the white man who is really responsible for their corruption. Also, the sorcerer bad guy is portrayed as so ugly and mutated in his size and looks that he ends up being a freak oddity never to be confused with “normal” Indians. The rampant anti-Christ propaganda made this movie hard to appreciate and harder to recommend.