All posts from “March 2012”

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March 29, 2012

Jesus Comes Back . . . to Primetime TV

Originally a CBS miniseries in 2000, 'Jesus' to air on GMC three times during Easter Week

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It's been almost six years since we posted our list of Top Ten Jesus Movies, but it still gets a surprisingly high amount of traffic every month. Apparently there are a lot of people who want to know what are the best movies about the Son of Man. (FWIW, our Top Ten Movie Robots list, seven years later, also still gets a lot of hits every month.)

One of those Top Ten Jesus flicks was a TV miniseries simply titled Jesus, which aired on CBS in 2000. Starring Jeremy Sisto in the title role, the film was "kind of like The Last Temptation of Christ without the heresy," our top 10 listmaker, Peter T. Chattaway, wrote. "That is, it presents Jesus as a haunted and vulnerable human being who struggles with romantic attractions (to Mary of Bethany, this time) and a growing awareness of his destiny—but instead of fleeing God, he always chooses God's will for his life. Some viewers found Jeremy Sisto's interpretation of Christ a little too casual and buddy-ish, but this is one of the few Jesus films to understand that being human is about more than having emotions and dancing at parties; it is about finding God's will, and following it to the best of our ability. Note also the scene where Satan visits Jesus in Gethsemane and, taunting him with visions of nations and churches committing atrocities in Jesus' name, tries to convince him his death on the cross will be in vain; this is a far more sobering 'last temptation' than anything imagined by Martin Scorsese."

Sisto is joined by an impressive cast that includes Jacqueline Bisset as Mary, Debra Messing as Mary Magdalene, and Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate. The film will air on GMC three times (all times Eastern): April 1 at 7 p.m., April 6 at 9 p.m., and April 8 (Easter Sunday) at 1 p.m.

Click here to watch the trailer.

March 28, 2012

Documentary on Hell Will 'Push Your Buttons'

First trailer of 'Hellbound?,' upcoming documentary about the current debate, debuts

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Writer/director Kevin Miller says Hellbound, due in theaters this fall, is "my attempt to get to the bottom of the debate we're having about hell. . . . And of all the doctrines we could be fighting about, why does hell seem to be at the top of the list?" Miller says he hopes the film will "provoke informed discussion," and suggests that the film will be "somewhat controversial, because no matter what your beliefs on hell, this is gonna push your buttons."

Miller says his team interviewed "all sorts of people who have a dog in this fight, from theologians to pastors to death metal musicians to exorcists to people who claim to have seen hell first-hand."

Here's the trailer:

March 27, 2012

Chick Flicks with Brains

Vermont film festival highlights excellent movies by, for, and about women

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Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation highlighted a group of strong, nuanced, and thoughtful films at the recent Women’s Film Festival in Brattleboro, Vermont. A compelling, persuasive argument about how the media shapes cultural attitudes toward women to the especial detriment of girls, Representation avoids partisan politics—Condoleeza Rice and Nancy Pelosi both appear. It deftly mixes personal testimonies from women in the entertainment industry, interviews with academics and social policy makers, and young people who talk candidly (and often heartbreakingly) about how it feels to grow up in a sex-saturated culture.

Two short films, Angel for Hire and Eggs for Later, deal with the moral implications of fertility technology. Partially a biographical sketch of Noel Keane, the Michigan lawyer who drafted the first surrogacy contract, Angel is most interesting when it shows how implicit conflicts of interests between the prospective adoptive parents (who prioritize the life and health of the unborn child) and the surrogate mother (who may prioritize her own financial and health interests) when complications arise in a surrogate pregnancy. Eggs is a bit more introspective, in part because Marieke Schellart is both documentarian and subject. Thirty-five and single, Schellart hears of a new technology that allows women to harvest their own eggs and freeze them for later insemination and implantation. While most of Schellart’s friends and family are supportive of her attempts to extend her fertility window, her father raises questions and concerns that she struggles to answer. Even if science could enable her to become pregnant after she has stopped ovulating, has she considered the consequences of pushing back not just pregnancy but motherhood?

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Pregnancy also plays a key role in Maggie Betts’s The Carrier, the story of Mutinta Mweemba, a Zairian woman who is HIV positive and terrified of passing on her virus to her unborn child. Betts carefully and dispassionately lays out the social and political conditions affecting African women and making it hard for them to protect themselves. Mutinta’s marriage is polygamous; she claims her husband lied about already being married but her parents could not afford to return the wedding dowry. Even as she struggles to keep from passing the disease on to her own child, she faces fears of who will raise her children as one of her husband’s other wives dies of the disease and the other faces an initial diagnosis.

Additional films of note at the festival included Living Downstream, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, Aung San Suu Kyi: Lady of No Fear, and Jane’s Journey, about anthropologist Jane Goodall.

Kenneth R. Morefield, a CT film critic, is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema (Volumes I & II) and the founder of 1More Film Blog.

March 11, 2012

Pray for Japan

Documentary recounts disaster one year after the fact, raises funds for relief efforts

The Japanese tsunami of 2011 was a disaster of such epic proportions that the footage looks like something out of an overblown Hollywood blockbuster. The initial earthquake shut down the country’s infrastructure almost immediately: no electricity, no Internet, no cell phones.

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Then the ocean wave hit, washing away entire neighborhoods—along with everything and everyone in them. A mass of houses float away, like some misshapen barge. In the days that followed, gasoline became scarce. Food was severely rationed; at one shelter, a thousand people survived for three days on just four bottles of water. And then there was the Fukushima nuclear near-crisis. In the end, 20,000 were dead or missing, and there was $325 billion in damage.

Details like these help make the first thirty minutes of Pray for Japan compelling, leaving viewers with nothing to say but simply, “Oh my God.” The documentary releases to limited theaters for just one day—Wednesday, March 14, the one-year anniversary of the disaster—as a fundraiser, with all money going straight to relief efforts in Japan.

Pray for Japan recaps the fateful details with amazing footage and interviews. (The film is largely in Japanese with English subtitles.) The tsunami is only a prologue, however, with the film predominantly focused on what happened in the following weeks as people fought to survive and somehow return to a sense of normalcy.

But Pray for Japan starts to falter for its remaining hour, its scope too limited for a tragedy so big. Some might argue that narrowing things helps scale down the nation’s tragedy to a more personal level, but there are too many topics left untouched. There’s no mention of the Fukushima crisis, no stories related to the Japanese government, and no reports of the impact on Japanese industry.

The film focuses on the portside city of Ishinomaki in the northeast, and specifically reduces the tragedy to four topics. After a middle school locates its student body (all miraculously accounted for), the faculty searches for a place to continue the children’s studies and community. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old learns that most of his family didn’t survive, and resolves to honor his five-year-old brother’s death while bringing his community together. A shelter led by a local councilman and assisted by Pakistani volunteers strives to maintain order and civility among its survivors. And in the least focused subplot, domestic and international volunteers assist the community.

Like many documentaries, Pray for Japan settles into a rut, bouncing between the four threads every five minutes with short poetic interludes in between. These stories are good for ten minutes each, but are not enough to sustain a 97-minute film. There’s no question that this film could have told many more stories to better hold the audience’s attention.

It’s interesting that it’s not titled Remember Japan or Save Japan or something else entirely. There’s no spiritual component to this film, aside from a celebratory funeral that is more cultural in tone than religious. But clearly, the film’s content alone is a good reminder that we should indeed continue praying for Japan, and helping in any way possible.

Here’s the trailer:

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