risen-posterRaising the Bar

I have a hard time with religious movies…often.

They seem to encourage a black and white thinking that our culture traffics in to our great detriment. Not many treat our tradition with a sophistication I recognize from 40 years around believers. Mostly religious movies seem aimed at adolescents. (That may be true of 90% of movies in theaters now that I think of it…)

Christian movies as of late also relish a victim mentality with mostly phony persecutors at hand so we can feel the self-righteous underdogs (in spite of being the  most privileged people in history). None of it does our brand any good.

I recommend Risen because it is a little better than most in doing what it has to do historically: it is hard to make a compelling tale out of such a familiar story when your audience (Christians; this movie mostly preaches to the choir) demands a fairly literal and limiting fealty. This story does proceed pretty predictably.

But there are also a number of artistic and compelling scenes here from crucifixion through to the Ascension. The director has dared leave in some ambiguity where sentimentality and obviousness typically reside. We are invited in to what some have referred to as CSI: Jerusalem.

Risen does better than most theologically in creating some great conversations with the Risen Jesus and his disciples. Relationships between the lost disciples and the Roman officical (played with great impact by Jospeph Fiennes ) at the heart of it all brings a vital human scale and feeling to our Cosmic Centerpiece. This is a decent addition to the growing collection of cinematic tellings of the story of Jesus.


Not Quite “Wild” Enough

Wild2014PosterI really wanted “Wild” to be an inspiring movie about female empowerment, adventure, and finding yourself against the odds.  So I took my wife.

Cheryl Strayed’s best seller (from which this is taken) has been that kind of book for many apparently. And this movie kinda made me want to read it. Continue reading

A Painful, Beautiful, Whiplash


It is indeed, as a poster claims, a “groove,” a “duel” and a “revelation” and certainly one of the best movies I saw from 2014. “Whiplash” is a tense and surprising “overcoming obstacles” story that provides enough twists to keep you eager for more.

The world of jazz students in their 20s attending a demanding academy feels claustrophobic; there is little else to occupy the story. But it is this focus and intimacy in the film that makes it work so well.

I love it when storytellers know when to stop augmenting and allow a narrative to stand alone! (If more of us preachers knew this sermons would be shorter and more memorable). This is a more disciplined small “film” than standard Hollywood “entertainment.” Thankfully.

Continue reading