Thursday, November 14, 2019

Veterans' Month Week 3: Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (2018)
Unbroken: Path to Redemption had an interesting path to become a sequel. In Hollywood, a sequel is usually made because of money. If the original makes a whole lot of money, the studio says do it again, especially if it features a superhero or action hero, but 2014’s Unbroken was a biographical film about World War II hero Louie Zamperini based on the bestselling book by Lauren Hillenbrand.

The 2014 film, directed by Angelina Jolie from a screenplay written by Joel and Ethan Coen, told the story of Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was captured by the Japanese during World War II. He served in a prisoner of war camp and was tortured by a sadistic guard known as The Bird. He survived and was released from the camp at the end of the war, “unbroken.”

If you’ve read the book, you know that isn’t true. Zamperini was a very broken man. That's where the film ends though, at the end of the war.

The first film was made with a 65 million dollar budget and grossed about a hundred million more. Certainly, that's a respectable profit, but usually, that wouldn’t be enough to lead to a sequel.

The sequel was made was because the first film left out what many would consider the most important part of Zamperini’s story: his coming to faith in Jesus. Universal was a producer of both films, but the original was released by Legendary Studios while the sequel was released by Pure Flix. Pretty much an entirely different cast and crew were brought in for the sequel. Harold Cronk directed a screenplay by Richard Fiedenburg and Ken Hixson. Jack O’Connell played Zamperini in the first film, Samuel Hunt played him in the second film. About the only name the two films have in common is Laura Hillenbrand.

Path to Redemption opens with Zamperini visiting Tokyo in 1950. Someone tries to give him directions and he remarks that this is “not my first time in Tokyo.” It's where he served as a prisoner of war. We go back in time to the end of WWII and Zamperini’s release from captivity.

We see him being welcomed joyfully home, where his parents had been told by the government he was dead. The local priest is asked to join the homecoming. Louie greets him as “Padre.” The priest tells him, “All of Torrance was praying for you. God’s not to blame for your suffering.” 

Louie doesn’t seem to be buying it. Later in the film, he admits he felt that not only was God to blame for his suffering, God was his enemy.

The Army recruits Zamperini to go on tour to sell war bonds. Initially, this goes well, as he tells about encouraging other POWs with stories about his mother’s fine cooking. But as the tour goes on, Lou begins to drink more and more heavily, sometimes before speeches. His C.O. demands he take a break from the tour, going for several weeks of R. & R. in Florida. At the beach, he meets the woman who soon became his wife, Cynthia Applewhite (Merritt Patterson).

Cynthia asks Louie whether he prayed during his wartime experiences. “Begging (was) more like it,” he answers. She asks him about his faith and he answers, “I didn’t pay much attention in Mass.” But after they visit the church she grew up in, he agrees to a church wedding. The couple then returns to Louie’s hometown of Torrance to live.

Though they get by for some time on funds the government provided for back pay and insurance for Louie’s time in the camp, funds soon get tight. Louie can’t find work. Or at least, he can’t find a job he thinks is befitting his history as an Olympian and a war hero. So again he drinks. Heavily. Days he claims to be looking for work he’s actually spending in bars.

He also has night terrors, making him fear that he’ll harm Cynthia. He goes to see a government-provided psychiatrist, Dr. George Bailey (played by Gary Cole rather than Jimmy Stewart.) Though the doctor doesn’t use the term “PTSD,” it’s clear that's the problem. And Louie is trying to address it through alcohol.

Cynthia has a child, but that doesn’t make the marriage better. Cynthia begins to consider divorce, but a neighbor, Lili (Vanessa Bell Calloway), encourages Cynthia to “fight for him.” Lila also takes Cynthia to a revival meeting -- the Greater Los Angeles Revival -- Billy Graham Every Night, 7 PM -- which, in 1949, was scheduled to run for three weeks but continued for eight.

Louie tells Cynthia he won’t consider going with her. He describes the revivals of his youth as frauds,  saying, “Hide your wallet, the circus is in town.” While she goes to the revival, Louie drinks at home from a bottle in a hollowed-out Bible.

Eventually, Louie does go to the revival, drinking from a flask on the way. A tent on the fairgrounds is decorated with a large cross with a sign on it “Jesus Saves.” A choir sings “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Billy Graham (played by the evangelist's grandson, Will Graham) is at the pulpit. At the beginning of his message, he jokes at the beginning of his message, “I will keep the message brief, but I always say that, so don’t get your hopes up.” He goes on to say, “God has a lifeline. I do not believe that any man can solve the problems of life without Jesus Christ. Have you trusted Christ Jesus as savior? Tonight, I’m glad to tell you that the Lord Jesus can be received, your sins forgiven, your burdens lifted, your problems solved, by turning your life over to Him and repenting of your sin and turning to Jesus Christ as savior.”

Louie goes again. Billy preaches, “Why doesn’t God stop suffering? I can see the stars and I can see the footprints of God. What God asks of man is faith. I believe God is still transforming lives.” Lou starts to leave, but Billy says “Don’t leave, you can leave while I’m preaching, but not now. This is it, God has spoken to you. It is time. Come forward.”

Louie flashes back and remembers the time his plane went down and he was stranded on a raft at sea. He begged God, “If you save me, I will serve you all my life.” He was saved. By Japanese who imprisoned him, but he was saved.

At the crusade, years later, he kept that promise. When he trusted in Christ, God changed his life around.

A final title card reads: “Nearly forty years after WWII, more than 85% of former Pacific POW’s suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Every man had to find his own path; Louis Zamperini found profound peace. After his conversion, Louis never drank again. He began a new life as a Christian speaker, telling his story all over America, from grade school classrooms to stadiums. In 1952, Louis established Victory Boys Camp to help at-risk youth, which the Zamperini family continues today. Matsuhiro Watanabe “The Bird” was one of the most wanted WWII criminals in Japan. He remained in hiding for several years until he was granted amnesty by the U. S. in its efforts to reconcile with Japan. Louis and Cynthia were married for 54 years.”

Zamperini was a great man. As was Graham, the clergy member in this film. He earns our highest Movie Churches rating of Four Steeples.





Thursday, November 7, 2019

Veterans' Month Week 2: All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
World War I, "The Great War," was supposed to be the war to end all wars. If the war didn't manage the job, this film was supposed to end all wars. On DVD version of All Quiet on the Western Front that I watched, there was a trailer for the film’s re-release a couple of years after it came out in 1930. The narrator on the trailer said the film should be released every year (to theaters, he meant. No DVDs back then) throughout the world. Sadly, this plan failed. There was no sequel to the film, but there was to the war.
Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1928 best selling novel (2.5 million copies sold in 21 languages in addition to the original German), the film won the third Oscar for Best Picture, and it also earned an Academy Award for director Lewis Milestone.

This film (and the novel it was based upon) was intended to bring out a great moral message with the hope of changing humanity's actions. I would think there might be a religious component to such a message, but the church itself has a minor role in the film -- and not a very influential one at that.

The story of the film begins in a classroom of boys in Germany at the start of the Great War. Their teacher, Professor Kantorek (Arnold Lacey), is telling the boys they should serve the Fatherland and sign up to fight. “You are the life of the Fatherland… The gay heroes… I know in one school the boys have enlisted en masse... How sweet it is to die for the Fatherland. The Fatherland needs leaders; personal ambition must be thrown aside.” All the boys are stirred by this message, particularly the boy others look to as their leader, Paul (Lew Ayres).

The film follows the boys as they fight on the front of one of the most ghastly of all wars, living in the trenches, suffering injuries, and dying off one by one. All the dreams of glory inspired by the boys' teachers, civic leaders, posters, and government propaganda prove to be lies. (It is interesting to contemplate that Hollywood was willing to make this film from the German perspective and whether the film could have been made about American soldiers with those lies coming from the Wilson administration rather than the German Kaiser.)

Eventually, all of this band of friends suffer horrendous fates. The opening of the film gives this message, “A generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.” To be honest, we don’t see many men in the film who escape the shells.

For the purposes of this blog, where does the church appear? I find it interesting that we never see a Lutheran Church or pastor in the scenes in Germany. We never learn the stance that church took about the war, though it's reasonable to think the church was supportive -- the question must have at least come up. 

Instead, we see a Roman Catholic field hospital. Paul, after being injured in the field, finds himself there (the 1979 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie is more explicit about the benefits. Paul, played by Richard Thomas, says “This is a piece of luck because Catholic infirmaries are noted for their good treatment and good food.”)

Nuns are serving alongside Red Cross workers caring for the men in need, but a rather disturbing thing happens at the hospital. (Actually, I’m sure that a great number of disturbing things happen at the hospital, but we are going to look at one of them.)

One of the nuns helps nurses take a patient off to another room. She says she is taking him off to the “bandaging room.” Another patient objects that she is taking his tunic, which indicates they have no intention of bringing the man back. He claims the man is being taken to the “dying room,” which is next to the morgue.

The nuns seem to be part of ongoing patient deception, never acknowledging that the patients' comrades are dying. Perhaps they had good motives, trying to instill optimism in the wounded men. But such plans seemed to fail, and deception is deception. The nuns could give real hope if they would talk about Jesus (there is a crucifix on the wall) and the hope of a life to come after death. The nuns in this film never talk about God.

On the other hand, Paul does talk to God a couple of times in this film. He prays that a hospitalized friend will live. His friend dies. Paul is forced to kill a Frenchman with a knife in a trench. He asks God why men of one nation are pitted against one another. No answer seems to come.
So while we acknowledge the good medical work the Catholic infirmaries provide in the film, their neglect of spiritual duties brings them a Movie Church Rating of only two out of four steeples.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Veterans' Month Week 1: Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump (1994)
The central figure of this 1994 Best Picture Winner, Forrest Gump, is many things. He is a football star, a sloganeer, a table tennis champion, a fisherman, an entrepreneur, a multimillionaire, by most definitions a moron, and most importantly for this month, a veteran. Because we in the United States celebrate Veterans Day this month (on November 11th), all month we at Movie Churches will be looking at films that feature veterans, soldiers, churches, and/or clergy.

Based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom, Forrest Gump also won Oscars for director Robert Zemeckis, screenwriter Eric Roth, and the film’s star, Tom Hanks. It was a huge box office success and received generally favorable reviews. It's on the American Film Institute’s list of Best American Films. Over the years, it has become a subject of debate, with some disgruntled movie buffs complaining about the film beating Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Still, there has also been a great deal of debate over the politics of the film.

Throughout the film, Forrest the simpleton seems to be at the heart of every tumultuous event that takes place in America in the 1960s and 1970s. He follows his girlfriend Jenny (Robin Wright) to a rally in the National Mall protesting the Vietnam war. The anti-war protest leaders are presented as petty, squabbling, and scheming, and many have taken the film to be a critique of the political left.

Forrest epitomizes many conservative values -- like faith, love of country, and love of family -- that were being questioned in the era depicted in the film. Did the filmmakers intended to spoof those values by embodying the values in a fool, or was the fool used to show up the emptiness of the values of the protest movements of the time?

Fortunately, here at Movie Churches, we don’t need to answer such questions. We just need to look at how churches and clergy are depicted in the film, but it a long, circuitous route that eventually takes Forrest to church.

When Forrest is drafted into the army, he meets another soldier, Bubba, who is, um, slow. Bubba tells Forrest about his dream of owning a shrimping boat. Forrest and Bubba are shipped overseas to serve in Vietnam. During one devastating battle, almost all of the men in Forrest’s unit are killed or injured, and Forrest carries every man, dead or alive, off the field (reminiscent of the real-life WWII exploits of Desmond Doss depicted in the film Hacksaw Ridge.)

Bubba dies in that battle, but Forrest does rescue his commanding officer, Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise). Lieutenant Dan is not happy about being rescued because he lost his legs. “I should have died in the jungle. I was supposed to die in the field with honor, but you cheated me. This was not supposed to happen," he tells Forrest.

While still in the service, Forrest becomes an expert in table tennis, earning fame playing against the Chinese National Team. After he's discharged from the military, an endorsement of ping pong paddles makes him enough money to buy a shrimping boat in Bubba’s honor.

Lieutenant Dan fulfills his promise to Forrest to work on the shrimping boat, but their initial outings are not successful. Dan mocks Forrest for his optimism and says the only hope he has is supernatural, “Maybe you should just pray for shrimp.”

Forrest takes this advice seriously and begins attending an African American congregation, the Foursquare Baptist Church. It has a lively choir singing Pray that I’m Homeward Bound. Forrest narrates, “So I went to church every Sunday. Lt. Dan came sometimes too, though I think he left the praying up to me.” (Dan seems drunk in the back pew of the church.) The sign in front of the church reads, 10:30 AM Sunday School and 12:30 service. (That is one late service.)

In spite of going to church and praying, the fishing doesn’t get better. Dan again mocks Forrest, “Where the hell’s this God of yours?”

Again we hear Forrest’s narration, “It’s funny Lt. Dan said that, because just then, God showed up.” Dan curses God, yelling, “It’s time for a showdown!” God shows up in the form of Hurricane Carmen while Forrest and Dan are at sea. 

But what is a disaster for most, is a blessing for Forrest. His boat, The Jenny, is the only shrimping boat to survive the storm. His business prospers, and he and Dan become very rich men. They are even featured on the cover of Fortune Magazine. Forrest’s choir sums things up with their song, There Will Be a Great Bounty.

Lieutenant Dan becomes a changed man, thanking Forrest for saving his life. Forrest says Dan “never actually said so, but I think he made his peace with God.”

Forrest tells about how he uses his fortune. He says, “Now Mama said there’s only so much fortune a man really needs, and the rest is for showing off. So I gave a whole bunch to the Foursquare Gospel Church.” And a very nice building project is seen in a montage as the choir sings, “I’ve got a new hope.”
The church seems to a good one: it changes the lives of two veterans. I’m giving it our highest Movie Churches rating of Four Steeples.



Thursday, October 24, 2019

Shapeshifters Week 4: The VelociPastor

The VelociPastor (2019)
You might have noticed that this month (admittedly with a nod to Halloween) we're featuring shapeshifters. October could have easily been werewolves month instead; we had plenty of werewolf films available and viewed. The double feature at the beginning of the month (The Curse of the Werewolf with Howling VI: The Freaks) could have been split into two posts. Movie Churches could have been All Werewolf/All October, but when I read about The VelociPastor, I knew I had to write about it. So "shapeshifters" instead of just werewolves.

The VelociPastor is in the grand tradition of such films as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Transylvania 6-5000, and Saturday the 14th. Okay, maybe it’s not a “grand” tradition, but certainly a tradition; low budget spoofs of horror with meta perspectives. These films walk a fine line between mocking bad filmmaking and being bad filmmaking. (But let me note here, AotKT is one of my all-time favorite filmgoing experiences.) This film does have more profane language and gratuitous violence than its predecessors.

Dismiss any thought that this film intends to be a serious exploration of the interplay between a modern man’s psyche with his primordial roots. One of our first clues that the film is going in another direction is the opening title card that reads, “Rated X by an all Christain jury.” A few moments into the film, our hero, Doug the Priest, looks across the street to see his parents die in a fiery explosion. Instead of seeing an actual explosion, we see a title card reading, “VFX: Car on Fire.” (Perhaps the film had some budget issues?)

Before we get onto our evaluation of the clergy and church in the film, a quick plot summary: Rev. Doug Jones (Greg Cohan) is shaken in his faith by the death of his parents. His mentor, Father Stewart (Daniel Steere) advises him to travel to China (I suspect the China scenes might not have been actually filmed in China, but rather in some very American-looking woods), 

While in China, Doug is cut by a mystic totem (it looks like a tooth). He then has what he thinks are dreams, but are actual incidents of transformation into a “dragon warrior” (or a short T-Rex).  Doug returns to the good old U. S. of A. and continues to his transformations. Carol (Alyssa Kempinski), a hooker with a heart of gold, recruits him to fight crime on the streets, but soon he must also fight a Ninja Drug Cabal that has come from China to the United States. (It seems a missed marketing opportunity that this film wasn't titled -- or even subtitled -- The VelociPastor vs. the Ninjas.)

Now that you know the plot, we need to get down to what's most important here at Movie Churches:  the ecclesiology of this Dino Epic.

The film begins with Pastor Doug in the pulpit. We can see him in the pulpit, but we can't see anything of the interior of the church (I assume because there wasn't room in the budget for extras in the pews).  

Doug is concluding his sermon, “This is the greatest lesson we can learn from the Book of Job. Though we all suffer, it is the righteous that will persevere, and to believe in God may be the greatest gift any of us can have.”

Arguably, that is a lesson from the Book of Job, but certainly not the greatest lesson. And if the righteous indeed persevere, Pastor Doug soon proves he's not righteous. When, moments later, he faces suffering, he immediately doubts God.  

I’m sure many viewers would be anxious to get on to the dinosaur and ninjas, but you, as a reader of this blog, would probably prefer we take a moment at this point to discuss the order of service. Doug and Stewart seem to be Roman Catholic priests in what's always referred to as "the Church." I'm guessing they're Catholic because they wear clerical collars and talk about their vows of chastity

However, the service seems to conclude with the end of the sermon. That's a very Protestant thing; Roman Catholic Mass concludes with the Eucharist, optionally followed by a song. It never ends right after the sermon.

Though Doug and Stewart seem to be Catholic, the church they serve doesn’t seem to be. The sign above the building reads “The Tenth Street Church of Christ.” The Church of Christ is a Protestant denomination. (Actually, several denominational factions use the name in one form or another, but none are Roman Catholic, and they all allow their clergy to marry.) Also “Tenth Street” is not the kind of descriptor likely to be found in the name of Catholic Churches which are more likely to mention attributes of God or Saints.

So what kind of clergyman is Pastor Doug? We never see him caring for congregants, though we do, at one point, see him passing a homeless man who's asking for money. In fairness, Doug is overcome with a sudden bout of dinosaur “hunger,” but he passes the man without a word of concern. Carol the prostitute, on the other hand, gives the man money. 

Those who work with the impoverished often recommend against giving away money, but couldn’t Doug at least have stopped to talk and pray with the man? This encounter by itself would really harm his Movie Churches Steeple rating. 

But then there’s the matter of killing people. In the park at night, Carol is assaulted by a mugger. Suddenly a dinosaur appears and eats the robber. Next thing we know, Doug is waking up, naked, in Carol’s bed. He's afraid he slept with Carol and seems relieved to learn that he had only turned into a dinosaur and killed a man. (Later in the film, Carol helps Doug in breaking his vow of chastity.)

Carol is impressed with Doug as a homicidal reptile and urges him to go on killing bad people. She tells him he will be performing a greater service than he ever did in the church. Since we never see Doug ever doing anything in God’s service or helping others, it’s hard to argue against her case. But Doug doesn’t seem to have any thoughts or arguments against vigilante justice, not even Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19 where Scripture declares vengeance is God’s and shouldn’t be taken into our own hands. (Doug’s grasp of the Word is not that great; at one point he refers to a verse from the 32nd chapter of Matthew. Matthew only has 28 chapters.)

In one of the only scenes where we see Father Doug serving a “congregant,” we see Frankie Mermaid (Fernando Pacheco De Castro), a pimp, come to Doug in the confessional. Frankie happily gives a long list of sins, including tossing a baby into a river. When he confesses killing Doug’s parents, Doug goes all T-Rex and slices the pimp’s throat. Call me judgmental if you will, but I don’t think priests should kill people in the confessional booth.

And how does the Church come across in the film? I’m giving a major spoiler here, but…

The Ninja Drug Cabal is run by The Church! (In the film it seems there is only one church, undivided by theological squabbles or struggles for authority. Just one big, kind of Catholic, kind of Protestant, not at all Orthodox entity.) I didn’t ever quite understand their plan, which had something to do with hooking everyone on drugs, and then cutting off the supply so people will turn to God. Drug addicts are quite creative in finding other sources to numb their pain, but that’s what those Church Ninjas seem to be doing.

I’m giving Pastor Doug and this very odd church our lowest church rating of One Steeple.


I’d like to add a note here to the film’s writer and director, Brendan Steere. Since we’ve interacted on Twitter, there is a chance he’ll read this post, which is a new thing for me. When I wrote about The Apostle, I never thought of Robert Duvall reading what I wrote about the film. I had an even greater degree of certainty that Charles Laughton never read what I wrote about The Night of the Hunter. 

If you are reading this, Mr. Steere, I’d just like to note that the low rating is for the church and clergy in the film, not the film itself. The film itself was a kick.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Shape Shifters Week 3: Silver Bullet

Silver Bullet (1985)
The most annoying thing about the 1985 werewolf film Silver Bullet is that it dispenses with the most interesting thing about lycanthropy. It’s as if someone pitched a new version of King Kong with “But this time, he’s the size of an average gorilla.” Or The Mummy with “This time he’s only been dead a week or two, so there’s none of that awful decay.” Or The Phantom of the Opera with “When Christine pulls off the mask, she’ll see a very handsome man.”

The most fascinating thing about werewolves is that they have two natures battling against each other in one body: man vs. beast, good vs. evil. When the villain in this adaptation of Stephen King’s novella Cycle of the Werewolf isn't a werewolf, he’s still a bloodthirsty killer. But he's also (quite fortuitously for this blog) a pastor.

The hero of the film is a young boy, Marty Coslaw (Cory Haim). He's confined to a wheelchair, but his Uncle Red (Gary Busey) sees to it that The Silver Bullet, his motorized wheelchair, is stylish and fast. The film is set in 1976 in the small town of Tarker’s Mill, Maine (of course Maine, because Stephen King.)

The werewolf's first victim is an old drunk by the railroad track. It's mistaken for an accidental death, and small-town life goes on. We see Marty at a town festival at the beginning of summer. Marty’s sister Jane says Tarker’s Mill, is “a town where people cared about each other as much as people cared about themselves.” At the town picnic, the sheriff (Terry O’Quinn) introduces the Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill) who speaks on the importance of community.

But at the next full moon, there's another killing that the town takes seriously. Teenaged Stella has just discovered she's pregnant, and afraid of disgrace, she's considering killing herself. “Suicides go to hell, especially when they’re pregnant, and I don’t even care,” she says. But before she can kill herself, she is killed by the werewolf -- and that death is clearly not an accident. 

The next person killed is Marty’s best friend, Brady.

No one knows if the killings are caused by man or beast, but the town forms a vigilante committee to go into the woods to find whatever the killer may be. The Reverend tries to stop the group, arguing that there is no place for “private justice.” 

The sheriff responds, “Let ‘em go, Reverend, this is that community spirit you’ve been talking about.”

The posse's hunt doesn’t go well at all, and three people are killed by the werewolf.

Reverend Lowe officiates at the memorial service for the three killed. He also seems to have done the services for the other werewolf victims. He appears to be the only pastor in town with the only church in town.

The church's sanctuary looks like a funeral home with red pews and a white piano (Brady's body is in a white casket at his service, and there are candles galore.) "Amazing Grace" is the prelude, played by an organist dressed in pink. Rev. Lowe says he was asked to "say a word of comfort if I could. If there is, it is that the time of the beast always passes." Nothing about hope or Jesus or heaven; those are strange words of comfort. He does refer to Scripture, but he doesn’t say where the verse is located. He says,  "The Bible tells us not to fear the terror that creepeth by night or flieth by noonday, and yet we do. We do. Because there’s so much we don’t know and we feel very small.” He doesn’t go on to give any reasons why we shouldn’t fear, such as we trust in an omniscient, omnipotent God. (By the way, the Scripture he’s referencing is Psalm 91:5.)

The film also takes us into the mind of the Reverend when he performs a funeral which ends in all of the townspeople turning into werewolves. I don’t know whether this was meant to throw us off track about who the werewolf is, but we find out shortly anyway.

Because on the next full moon night, Marty confronts the werewolf. Marty had been launching fireworks (a gift from his uncle) on an old bridge. The pyrotechnics attract the attention of the werewolf. Marty shoots a rocket into one of the werewolf's eyes as it approaches, and Marty is able to escape.

The next day, Marty and his sister go to town to see if they can find anyone who's lost an eye. At the church, Jane is shocked to find the Rev. Lowe sporting an eye patch. Jane is visibly shaken, and the Rev. says, “Jane, you’re trembling, would you like to lie down in the parlor? I could give you a soda or a ride. Give your best to your brother.” She’ll have none of it and rushes home.

Cory is sure that Reverend Lowe is the werewolf. He writes a letter suggesting the reverend should kill himself for the sake of the town. The Reverend is angered by the letter and spies on Marty from his car. When Marty goes out in his chair, the Reverend tries to run the boy off the road with his car.

They come to an old covered bridge, and Marty is trapped. The Reverend goes into a long villain monologue (found most commonly in James Bond films when arch criminals who have trapped 007 in their lairs). “I’m very sorry about this, Marty,” the Reverend begins, “I don’t know if you believe it’s true or not, but I would never willingly hurt a child.”

Marty pleads, “Please, I won’t tell anyone.”

The Reverend goes on, “You should have left me alone, Marty. I can’t kill myself. Our religion teaches us that suicide is the greatest sin a man or woman can commit. Stella was going to commit suicide and if she had done so, she would be burning in hell right now. By killing her, I took her physical life, but I saved her life eternal! You see how all things serve the will and mind of God. You see, you meddling little s**t! You’re going to have a terrible accident, you’re going to fall in the river.”

I don’t know what religion teaches suicide is the greatest sin, but it certainly isn’t Christianity. That can’t be found anywhere in Scripture. The Bible I read teaches that the blood of Jesus covers all our sins. Fortunately, Marty is saved from the Reverend by old man Zimmerman.

Marty tells the sheriff about the Reverend, and the sheriff agrees to check him out. But the werewolf kills the sheriff (and the Reverend claims this isn’t his fault.)

It all comes down to a confrontation between Marty's Uncle Red and the werewolf on Halloween night of 1976 --which happens to be a full moon. (Which is it was not. I looked it up and the moon was at 66% on Halloween of 1976.) They are able to kill the werewolf, which turns back into the Reverend.

Because the Rev. Lowe was less vile as a wolf than a human -- though perhaps a less efficient killer -- I’m giving him our lowest Movie Churches rating of One Steeple.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Kingsman: The Secret Service

(I'm reposting this Movie Churches review because the scene featured in this post has recently come up in the news as it has been re-edited with President Trump as the shooter. Controversy has ensued.)

For quite a few years now, Hollywood has had a villain shortage. I’m not saying there aren’t bad guys in movies anymore. But the screenwriter's challenge has been to find villainous groups.

Back in the day, Westerns had Indians (no, they were never called Native Americans then) as the bad guys. So there could be action sequences where dozens of Indians were shot off their horses by our heroes, the Cowboys, with reasonable assurance the audiences would cheer their deaths. But now that we think of them as Native Americans (and, you know, people), cheering their deaths just doesn’t seem like the American thing to do.

The Nazis made great villains, from a little before World War II to well beyond. When the Dirty Dozen (made in 1967) attacked a ballroom full of Nazis, no one was too concerned that some of them were pretty women in gowns. As Indiana Jones said, “Nazis, I hate those guys.” But Nazis now are a little pathetic; sure they’re villains in The Blues Brothers, but comic, mockable villains.

Communists provided fine villains throughout the Cold War, but that’s been done for decades now. Terrorists would be the go-to villains, but since the terrorists we’re concerned with are Islamic terrorists, that causes a problem. Hollywood has a concern about not portraying all Muslims as bomb-happy; a reasonable concern.

So what does a screenwriter do when they want to have a set-piece with a lot of human carnage that won’t upset audiences unduly? The makers of the spy film Kingsman: The Secret Service found their solution in the church.

SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS

To talk about the movie church in this film, we need to give away major plot points. This shouldn’t greatly disturb some of our readers because Kingsman: The Secret Service is hardly a film that will be used on a church’s family movie night. There is extreme violence and gore in the film, but some of it is animated and stylized to show it’s all in good fun. There is a crude gag used at the end of the film that might lead James Bond himself use the word "misogynist."

But as always, we aren’t here to review the film, but the church and clergy in the film.

As I said, the filmmakers had a problem. The arch-villain in the film, Valentine, has developed technology to make people viciously attack and kill each other. He must find a group of people to test the tech on. Since he sees himself as a sweetheart (played by Sam L. Jackson) he’s not going to test it in a kindergarten class.

So we are introduced to the South Glade Mission Church. This fictional church is obviously based on the sadly real Westboro Baptist Church, which gained fame by protesting at military funerals with the twisted rationale that the government-supported homosexuality.

In the film, South Glade Mission Church is preaching against Jews (the preacher uses this word), workers in the sex industry (he uses a different word), Catholics (he uses this word), gays, and African Americans (alternate words for the latter two). The super spy, Galahad, played by Colin Firth attends this service as part of his investigation.

During the service, Valentine activates his device and everyone in the congregation attacks one another. Apparently, knives and even guns are brought to this church only a little less commonly than Bibles. Bloody chaos ensues, but since Galahad has more experience at hand-to-hand combat than the average usher, he eventually stands alone over a sanctuary full of corpses.

It seems that filmmakers are saying, in this world full of division, isn’t this a group we can all hate together? In the past, there have certainly been individual clerical villains (Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter comes to mind), but now apparently whole congregations can be the bad guys.

If this hateful congregation, far from the teachings of Jesus, is the image anyone has of the church of Christ, then it seems Christians have some P.R. to do.

(Bonus clergy bit in the film. One can see a tabloid with the headline, “Naughty Nun Touched MyBum.” And theological bonus, Valentine argues that he isn’t a villain for wanting to cull the world’s population any more than Noah or God in the story of the Flood.)

When I posted this years ago, I wasn't using the Church Steeple Ratings, but we are certainly talking a One Steeple Church here on our 1 - 4 rating system.     


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Shape Shifters Week 2: Howling VI and Curse of the Werewolf

Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)
Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
As I admitted last week, the werewolf has been my favorite monster since I was a kid. Maybe it's the idea of a “sometimes-monster.” The sometimes good, sometimes bad of the creature is easier to relate to than the always-evil vampire and not-very-bright killer zombies. Sadly, there aren't nearly as many werewolf films as vampire and zombie films, and the percentage of quality horror films is very slight. In other words, there aren’t many good werewolf films.

By an amazing historical fluke, three of the best werewolf films ever made premiered in the same year. The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, and Wolfen (arguably not a werewolf film, but a film about really smart, dangerous wolves) all premiered in 1981, and all of them are excellent films. But since all three are fairly church- and clergy-free, they do us no good here. 

Unlike vampire films (the critters are stopped by a cross, after all), most werewolf films don’t have an overtly spiritual focus. Last week we had arguably the best werewolf film ever made, and it had a church and a pastor. We have churches in this week’s werewolf double feature but the quality of the films is… not great. Doesn’t matter, not what we’re here for.

Curse of the Werewolf was produced in 1961 by Hammer Studios. Hammer was an English company that made much of its fortune by taking famous Hollywood properties not under copyright, primarily Universal’s monster movies, and remaking them -- adding some things that couldn’t be included in the original productions like color, cleavage, and gore. They reinvented Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and eventually got around to the Werewolf.

Set in 18th Century Spain, Curse of the Werewolf didn’t stick with the Universal mythology of lycanthropy. Instead of becoming a werewolf by being bitten by another werewolf, Leon is a werewolf because he was an illegitimate child born on Christmas Day. (Maybe I should have saved this film for December.) A kind older couple agrees to adopt Leon and take him in to be the local Catholic Church to be baptized. As the couple approaches the baptismal, the sky outside becomes stormy. Lightning flashes and thunder crashes. And then the holy water in the baptismal boils over, and for a fleeting moment, the image of a devil is seen in the water. This is, in the world of horror movies, not a good sign. But the baby is baptized and given the name “Leon.”

We next see Leon as a young man (played by Oliver Reed). There is a hunting incident, and something not quite human makes an appearance. Most werewolf films have a prolonged period when everyone argues whether a killing was the work of a man or an animal, but in this film a priest quickly assesses the situation. He knows there’s a werewolf.

The priest talks with Leon’s adopted father about what he thinks is happening. Just as the origin of the werewolf is unique to this film, the whole werewolf mythos differs. The priest explains a werewolf is caused by a roving spirit that enters the body. It is a form a possession where the spirit of an animal fights within a person against the spirit of a man. He explains that only love can cure (and save) a werewolf. 

As in most werewolf legends, the werewolf turns on the night of the full moon. The bishop comes up with the sensible plan to chain Leon the werewolf in the monastery to keep everyone safe, but instead, Leon is put in the local jail. As a werewolf he is able to escape the jail and run wild through the town. And he is not cured by love, but instead by a silver bullet made from a melted down crucifix.
If only people had listened to the priests in this film.

As I mentioned earlier, The Howling is a great werewolf film (though it certainly earns its R rating). Few first sequels are as good as the original film, and many series have a marked drop by movie number three. So it's not a surprise that when Howling VI: The Freaks is not a good film. But it does have a church.

Ian (Brendan Hughes), comes to a small town as a stranger, and the town sheriff threatens to arrest him for vagrancy. A man named Dewey (Jered Barclay) says Ian can stay with him if he helps repair Dewey's “building.” That building is an old church.

The church is run down. The stained glass doesn’t have very religious imagery (well, there are grapes), but Ian does refurbish and mount a cross. A sign advertises Sunday worship at 11:00 am and Wednesday night prayer meetings. Dewey appreciates Ian’s hard work and tries to figure out what is troubling the young man, but Ian responds, “You’re a nice man, Dewey, but don’t try to play preacher man with me.”

Ian’s trouble is that he is a werewolf. And Dewey isn’t the only person who offers him sanctuary. A man named Harker has come to town with a freak show. He tries to convince Ian to be one of his displays and when Ian refuses, Harker abducts him. Turns out, Harker is a vampire.

Dewey is willing to go to battle to rescue Ian and the other “freaks” imprisoned by the traveling show. He prays for a blessing on silver bullets (“Dear Lord, Who can defeat all evil...”) and is serious about fighting. “There’s no reason to be polite. You see the devil, you shoot him.”

Of course, if we were rating the quality of these films with a traditional “star” system, we would be looking at a very dark night. But here at Movie Churches, we rate the churches and clergy in films. If werewolves were real, I’d be happy to have clergy from either of these films on my side. So the churches and clergy of Curse of the Werewolf and Howling VI: The Freaks earn our coveted 4 Steeple Movie Church Rating.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Shapeshifters Movie Churches (1) The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man (1941)
Growing up, I very much loved the Universal Monster Movies. Still do. For a time I could only admire my brother’s Aurora models of Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, and company and look at the pictures in his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. When the films played on Creature Features (Saturdays at 9:00 pm), it was after my bedtime. I could watch the monsters featured in Abbott & Costello movies (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Meet the Invisible Man) because they ran on early on Sunday mornings. Finally, I was allowed to stay up to watch Creature Features themselves, and The Wolf Man soon became my favorite.

When I decided this October at Movie Churches should be Shift Shaper Month (primarily werewolves), I knew I’d have to watch the 1941 version of The Wolf Man because it's the classic telling of the story. I hadn’t remembered it featured a church and clergy, let alone enough to write about, but here we are.

The Wolf Man (1941) tells the story of Lawrence “Larry” Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) who returns from a stay in America to reconcile with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) at their country estate in Wales. One evening, after visiting a fortune teller in a traveling gypsy camp, Larry is attacked by a creature he assumes is a wolf, but it is, of course, something worse: a werewolf. In human form, it's aa gypsy named Bela (Bela Lugosi). Larry kills the creature but is bitten. The bite turns Larry into a werewolf as well.

One of the things I love about the werewolf legend as presented in this film is that it captures truths about human nature. There is a bit of folk wisdom, a poem, that is repeated by almost every important character in the film. Sir John; Larry’s love interest, Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), and the old gypsy woman, Maria (Maria Ouspenskaya). The poem even appears on a title card at the beginning of the film: “Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

The werewolf seems to represent the dark impulses in even the best of men. Larry and his father have a conversation about the psychological and spiritual divisions in the mind and soul. The father doesn’t believe in literal werewolves, but believes they are a metaphor of a human truth. (Their conversation reminded me of the internal debate of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”)

As Larry and Sir John talk about such things, they hear church bells ring. Sir John says, “Time for church. You know, Larry, belief in the hereafter is a very healthy counterbalance to all the doubts man is plagued with these days. Come on.” 

This all takes place after there have been mysterious deaths in town and there have been suspicions cast Larry’s way.

When Larry arrives at church, people outside the building are gossiping about the latest death. It seems to be a very large church in a very small town. Larry enters to see the pews filled, and almost everyone turns to stare -- to glare -- at him. Larry doesn’t stay, but leaves his father and hurriedly exits through the back door.

It is an interesting question: should everyone be welcomed into a church? I remember a conversation with a student in a Sunday School class who insisted that everyone should be welcome in church. I asked if that included drug dealers and sexual predators in the congregation with children. 

“Everyone should be made welcome,” she insisted. 

I think a little more nuance than that should be involved in a decision-making process, but certainly, the people of the congregation shouldn’t have been gossiping about the outsider -- Larry Talbot -- and should have made him welcome. (Although with an evening service on the night of a full moon, maybe not.)

There is also a clergyman in the film. A minister (probably Anglican) goes to comfort the old gypsy woman, Maria, in the loss of her son, Bela. The minister wants to hold a formal service saying, “My dear Maleva, we can’t bury this man without prayer.”

She answers, “There is nothing to pray for, sir. Bela has entered a much better world than this. At least that’s what you ministers always say.”

He answers, “And so it is. But that’s no reason to hold a pagan celebration. I hear your people are coming to town dancing and singing and making merry.”

She says, “For a thousand years, we Gypsies have buried our dead like that. I couldn’t break the custom even if I wanted to…”

The minister sighs and says, “Fighting superstition is as hard as fighting against Satan himself.”

Of course, the minister would probably consider werewolves a supers0tition. Gypsies know better in the world of the film.

But still, the minister seems to be a man of compassion. And Sir John seems to have found comfort in his local congregation. So we are going to give both a rather generous Movie Churches rating of Three Steeples.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Back to School Month: Girls' Town (with Robots)

Girls' Town (1959)
We often say we’re here to review churches and clergy in films, rather than review the films themselves, but we still want (as much as possible) to view the films as the filmmakers would prefer their work to be seen.

When we can, we watch films in a movie theater since films are designed to be viewed on the big screen. If that isn’t possible -- and since we usually aren’t viewing current films, it usually isn’t -- the next best thing is to watch films on DVD or streaming on a decent home screen. Watching a network or cable broadcast of a movie that's interrupted by commercials and edited for length and content is far less desirable. Even worse are films recorded from broadcast television and posted to Youtube. The video and audio quality of such postings are generally abysmal, but sometimes that’s the only place I can find some films.

On the other hand, sometimes I find movies on Youtube that aired on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and that can be the most pleasurable way to watch a film possible. The show is known to its fans as MST3K, and it began on an independent Minneapolis station in the 1980s. The show eventually moved to Comedy Central, then the SciFi Channel. It now makes its home on Netflix.

The premise of the show is that a man trapped on a satellite in space is forced to watch bad films with his robot friends. The hosts (first Joel, then Mike, and now Jonah), watch the movies with us, mocking them along the way. I doubt filmmakers appreciate having their films deemed satire fodder for the show, but it's fun for the viewer.

And it was through MST3K via Youtube that I watched Girls’ Town, a 1959 teen exploitation film about a Catholic girls' reform school. The film focuses on one of the young women, Silver Morgan (Mamie Van Doren), suspected of killing a young man, who's sent to Girls’ Town because there's not enough evidence to send her to prison. Silver struggles to get along with the nuns who run the institution and with the other girls who reside there. She also must deal with the vengeful friends and family of the dead man.

There is much for the robots (and the host) to mock in the film. For one thing, there are the young pop idols found in the cast. Mel Torme plays Fred, a young thug who's involved in a strange form of no-hands drag racing (one of the robots thinks Mel looks like “a young Jabba the Hut.”) The film introduces Paul Anka to the screen as a good guy who does charitable performances at Girls’ Town, even singing “Ave Maria” (“I love the Paul Anka Mass!” exclaims one of the 'bots.) The Platters give quite a decent performance, which puzzles the robots and Mike (they're not used to quality acts -- at Anka’s concert, one of the robots says, “You know, if they were Baptists they could have got the Platters.”)

On the other hand, the nuns of Girls’ Town come off very well. Mother Veronica (Margaret “Maggie” Hayes) welcomes Silver by saying, “Most of the girls call me ‘Mother.’” Silver is surprised to see no walls or fences around the buildings, and girls happily playing volleyball.

One of the nuns suspects Silver will be a hard case and says, “That one will get the back of my hand.” 

Another nun responds, “I think it would be better to give her patience.” 

“And when patience runs out?”

"Pray earnestly, until you give her a pop to the kisser.” 

It should be noted we never see corporal punishment used by the nuns.

Silver sees a statue of a saint and asks about it. She’s told it is St. Jude, the Patron Saint of lost causes (one of the robots says, “He used to be with the Mariners.”) Silver is told she can bring her requests to him. Silver asks what good that would do. She is told, “Just as television and radio carry voices from great distances, think of him as a microphone that brings your requests to the ear of God.”

As a Protestant, I’m not a big fan of praying through the saints, but Silver eventually comes to a breaking point and brings her requests to the statue of St. Jude. And God hears her requests.

Silver has problems following the rules of her new home, such as not smoking. The girls have their own system of discipline, and Silver is sentenced to mopping up the floor of the room where the Paul Anka concert was held. Mother Veronica comes alongside her to clean, but Silver says, “I don’t need help!” 

The Mother responds, “We all need help.”

And Silver definitely needs help. When her sister, Mary Lee (Elinor Donahue) is abducted by Fred and his thugs, the other girls at the home help rescue her. Even Mother Veronica, some other nuns, and Paul Anka come to her aid to take on the delinquents.

Silver tells Mother Veronica that she’s her “henchman” (her term for a reliable friend). Mother Veronica responds, “You’ve become my henchman too, Silver.”

Mike and the robots are not wrong to mock the hokey cultural relic that is Girls’ Town. But Mother Veronica and the other nuns in the film are compassionate and do seem to really change the lives of these troubled girls, earning our highest Movie Church rating of Four Steeples.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Christian School Month: Breakthrough

Breakthrough (2019)
It’s Christian School Month here at Movie Churches, but of course, we need to talk about church and clergy as usual, as well as schools. This week, we need to start off by talking about the NBA (National Basketball Association, if you’re acronym averse).

It's right there in the opening credits: “Executive Producer Stephen Curry.” Yes, that Stephen Curry, who plays for the Golden State Warriors.

My dad took me to my first NBA game in 1976, the year after Golden State won their first championship. Rick Barry was their star in those days. Today, Stephen Curry is their star, leading the Warriors to championships in 2015, 2017, and 2018. When we were on our bar and a church in every state tour in 2016, we watched every Warriors game we could catch as they went on to set the record for most wins in a season. (Even now, as I write, I am wearing Stephen Curry socks. I put on the socks because I knew I’d be writing this, but still…)

Anyway, Curry started a production company, Unanimous Media, and 2019’s Breakthrough is their first project. Curry said, “It’s a story about the power of prayer and perseverance and one I immediately connected to. After reading the script, I knew I wanted to be a part of bringing it to life onscreen.”

The script is the true story of John Smith, a 14-year-old boy who fell through the ice in a lake in Missouri, was declared legally dead, but revived when his mother prayed for him. John recovered fully, and his mother wrote a book about their story.

When we first see John (Marcel Ruiz) in the film, he’s talking with his dad at breakfast as John gets ready for school. His dad, Brian (Josh Lucas), talks to him about the upcoming game between the Kansas City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors. (I couldn’t help but wonder if that was in the script before Steph signed on.) His mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz), takes John to Water of Life Christian Middle School. (Most Christian schools I know don’t have a separate middle school. Most I’ve known are K - 12 or K - 8. But such things do exist, and the real Water of Life school seems to be pretty big.)

John goes to his history class, where his teacher, Mrs. Abbott (Nancy Sorel), leads students in the Pledge of Allegiance. After that, each student is supposed to give an oral report on their family history, but when John is called on, he says he didn't have time to prepare it. He eventually presents a slap-dash report where he says that he's from Guatemala. “My mother didn’t want me.” The Smiths, who were missionaries there, adopted him and brought him back to the United States. John is obviously troubled and angry.

Basketball is important to him, but even there he’s having difficulties. He gets into fights with other players. (I was puzzled by John’s basketball schedule. He plays a game on Sunday afternoon of Martin Luther King Weekend. I’m rather surprised a Christian school would schedule Sunday games, especially on a holiday weekend.) After the game, during that holiday weekend, John and his friends play on a frozen lake, and all of the boys fall through the ice.

The other two boys are rescued pretty quickly, but John slips under the ice and spends many minutes in the freezing water. When he's found and pulled out, he's taken to the hospital and eventually declared dead. His mother prays for him, and John revives. Because he spent so long without oxygen, it's assumed he'd have brain damage and physical impairment, but he recovered fully. He was back to school in a month.

Topher Grace is the Hip, Young Pastor
When he returns to Mrs. Abbott's history class, she asks him to stay after class and asks him one of the most incredibly inappropriate questions I can imagine a teacher asking a student. “John, why does God chose to save some and not others? You see, my husband died two years ago, and…” 

Does Mrs. Abbott want John to suffer from survivor’s guilt? It seems like a lot to throw at an eighth-grader, but later, at a church worship service, he talks about his appreciation for her. He even quotes her. he does say nice things about Mrs. Abbott later at his church’s worship service, he even quotes her. 

Speaking of that church, and we do speak of churches here (it’s kind of the point of this blog), it sure has one happening pastor. Pastor Jason Noble (Topher Grace, yes, That '70's Show Topher Grace) is new, and Joyce doesn’t like him. She doesn’t like when he asks her to call him “Jason” rather than Pastor. She doesn’t like that he’s gotten rid of the organ and hymns and replaced them with choruses and a worship band. She doesn’t his haircut. She doesn’t like how he calls John, “J-Money”.

But when John is in the hospital, the pastor is there. Joyce tells him it’s not the time for him to interfere in her family's life, but he responds that it is his role to be there. He’s not leaving. He stays through that first night in the hospital. After John has had time to recover, Jason allows him to tell his story in a worship service. Firefighters, paramedics, hospital staff, and almost everyone from the school is there. The local news, which has covered his recovery, is there. Eventually, Joyce begins to appreciate Jason for his care and faithfulness (but she still hates his haircut).

As for our Movie Churches rating (which, of course, is not a rating of the film) for the church and Christian school, we’re giving them a Four Steeple Rating for the way they support of John and his family.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Back to School: Heaven Help Us

Heaven Help Us (1985)
I’m a sucker for coming of age films. I love classics like American Graffiti, The 400 Blows, Say Anything and Boyz n the Hood. In the last few years my favorites have included The Way, Way Back, Boyhood, and Sing Street.

This week’s “Back to School” film is very much a coming of age story. Set in Brooklyn in 1955, Heaven Help Us (1985) has all the elements of the genre: young love and a first kiss, learning to stand up to bullies, schoolhouse pranks, driving mishaps, and even our young hero coming to a new school. Especially good for us, that new school is a Catholic school -- which allows us to examine it here at Movie Churches.

Andrew McCarthy plays Michael Dunn, the new kid at St. Basil’s Boys Prep. He soon makes friends with the academic nerd, Caesar (Malcolm Danare), and makes an enemy of the school bully, Rooney (Kevin Dillon). And he finds love with Danni (Mary Stuart Masterson), a teen girl who manages her father’s malt shop down the street. These are all fun characters played by charming young actors but they aren’t our concern. We're here to look at their school's teachers and administrators, who are all Dominican Brothers. We’ll look at four of these clergy and see how they rate on the Movie Churches steeple scale.

Brother Timothy (John Heard) is also new to St. Basil’s. We first see him playing a game of chance with Rooney with baseball cards at stake. He takes the kid’s Mickey Mantle (but returns it later.) He hangs out in the malt shop where the boys from the school and girls from the neighborhood hang out and buy their cigarettes. (He smokes there as well. The Surgeon General’s Report on smoking came out in 1964.) It should be noted he doesn’t seem to be doing these things to be cool. He’s a young guy, and these are the things he does. And it does help kids relate to him. Michael feels comfortable even talking to him about girls. Brother Timothy encourages Michael to ask a girl to dance during a school function. Michael asks, “What if it doesn’t work?” 

Timothy responds, “Start thinking about joining a religious order.” Both of them laugh. 

All the boys seem to respect him and learn from him. He’d get at least 3 Steeples in the Movie Churches ratings.

Brother Constance (Jay Patterson) has been at the school for many years. When Caesar comes into his class chewing gum, the Brother forces him to keep the gum on his nose for the remainder of the day -- which is a minor thing compared to his treatment of Rooney. 

Rooney didn’t do an assignment, so he pretends to read from a blank sheet of paper when he's told to present his report to the class. Brother Constance pulls him to the front of the classroom by the ear, slams his head against the blackboard, and forces him to eat the blank piece of paper. Another time, when Rooney removes all the screws from Caesar's desk so it falls apart, Constance has all the students get down on their knees until “the joker comes forward.” Constance tells the students, “I’m not a man who enjoys violence, in fact I get better results with ‘Patience.’” 

He brings out a paddle with the word “Patience” burned into the wood. In a climactic moment towards the end of the film, Brother Constance punches a student. A student punches him back, bringing cheers from the whole school. Brother Constance would probably receive our lowest Steeple score of One.

Father Abruzzi (Wallace Shawn) has less time in the film. His big moment comes at the school dance, when the girls of Virgin Martyr get together with the boys of St. Basils’. He is given the assignment of giving a lecture before the fun begins. He says the purpose of the dance is to help “boys and girls grow with strong moral fiber.” He warns the students to “never confuse love with the deadliest of the seven deadly sins, lust.” Which confused me, as I’ve always thought of pride as the worst, it being Satan’s fatal flaw and all. He goes on to warn about “the deadly beast within you” that will take you “down in the farthest pits of hell… where your flesh will be ripped from your bones by hell’s serpents.” He closes this opening sermonette with, “Have a nice time, enjoy the dance.” His neglect of the grace and forgiveness found in the Cross leads to a lowly Two Steeple rating for Vizzini… Sorry, I meant Father Abruzzi.

And finally we come to Brother Thadeus (Donald Sutherland), the principal of St. Basil’s. Thadeus welcomes Michael to the school, informing him that at St. Basil’s the Mass is still in Latin, students should wear black shoes rather than brown, and that he will be addressed as “Brother Thadeus rather than sir” (to which Michael responds, “Yes, sir, Brother Thadeus, sir, I mean…” Michael seems quite intimidated.

Brother Timothy observes Brother Constance’s abuse of students and he brings his concerns to Brother Thadeus who tells him that Constance is a quite able teacher and being new, Timothy shouldn’t stir up trouble.

In the film’s conclusion, Brother Thadeus eventually demonstrates that he agrees with Brother Timothy, but this comes after many years of Brother Constance harming students. We can't do more than to also give Brother Thadeus a Two Steeple rating. And that brings St Basil's score to an average rating of Two Steeples.