Sunday, January 31, 2016

Seen in Oklahoma (on the small screen)

When we were choosing the films we'd watch in every state, much thought and research went into choosing the film for Oklahoma. So, I'm imagining the surprise and jaws a'droppin' when you learn we went with Oklahoma! The 1955 musical is as corny as an elephant's eye (I think that's how the lyrics go) but it still is fun, and it has a classic score. Very talented people were involved, though the star, Gordon MacRae, did very little else that anyone cares about. The director, Fred Zinnemann, won two Oscars (for From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons), and Shirley Jones and Rod Stieger went on to win Oscars as well.

As for the Movie Churches angle, there's not much to be found in the film. Even when Laurey and Curly get married (SPOILERS!), the service doesn't seem to be performed by a member of the clergy. But one of the reasons I was happy to see it was that I was in the play in high school. (I played Jud Fry and, as I've tried to explain to many through the years, he's not a villain; he's just misunderstood.)

The real disappointment was to discover that the film was not filmed in Oklahoma but rather in Arizona (and California studios). But that's OK.

There are other films that use the state name in the title. There's Oklahoma Crude with George C. Scott and Faye Dunaway. But I haven't seen it.

There's The Oklahoman, a western with Joel McCrea, but I haven't seen it either.

Someday I must see The Oklahoma Kid with the most incredibly unlikely Western stars, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, but I haven't yet. And none of them were actually filmed in Oklahoma.

I have seen Hang 'Em High, one of Clint Eastwood's first American-made Westerns, which is set in Oklahoma. But not filmed there. I've also seen Cimarron, the Western that won the 1931 Oscar for Best Picture. It also is set in Oklahoma but not filmed there and is boring as can be.

To find films set in Oklahoma and actually filmed in Oklahoma it's best to go to the world of juvenile fiction. Where the Red Fern Grows, based on the classic children's novel, is set and was filmed in Oklahoma (primarily Tahlequah). Several works by adolescent author S. E. Hinton were set and filmed in Oklahoma. You might wonder if the phrase "adolescent author" means a young author or an author who writes for young people. Both definitions apply to The Outsiders, which was written while the author was still a teen. Francis Ford Coppola (of The Godfather fame) adapted the novel to the big screen (as well as Hinton's Rumble Fish). And Disney adapted her novel, Tex, as a feature. All three films were set and filmed in Oklahoma.

But perhaps the greatest film set and filmed in Oklahoma is the masterpiece written by the great "Weird Al" Yankovic. Sadly, UHF still awaits the critical appreciation and public adoration it deserves.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Heavens Above! (1963)

 Peter Sellers was a great comic chameleon. He might be an idiot detective (The Pink Panther series), an idiot Indian movie star (The Party) or an idiot spy (Casino Royale) but he really became that idiot. He wasn't always an idiot, but he was always someone else; in Dr. Strangelove he was three someones (President, army captain, and mad scientist). In Heavens Above!, he wasn't just imitating a Vicar, he was imitating a Vicar who was trying to imitate Christ.

During the fifties and sixties there were many great little screwball comedies and satires, from The Lavender Hill Mob to The Man in the White Suit to The Ladykillers to The Mouse That Roared. But this one's a little different. It's based on an idea by Malcolm Muggeridge, one of the great Christian thinkers of the twentieth century.

Sellers plays the Reverend John Smallwood not as an idiot, but as Christ's fool. A clerical error brings him from serving in a prison (where the warden complains that he cares more about the prisoners than the people in authority who could do him some good) to the small town of Orbiston Parva. By tradition, the Vicar of Trinity Anglican Church has been at the beck and call of the Despard family because of their great wealth. Smallwood has other priorities.

The Despards are looking for very specific qualities in a pastor. He shouldn't be poor, because "a poor parson's an embarrassment." He shouldn't drink too much, of course, but a teetotaler makes people uncomfortable. He should be married even if the Apostle Paul was not ("Paul was a queer man"). The Bishop meant to send a man named Smallwood who fit these qualifications nicely, but a secretary pulls the wrong Smallwood from the card catalogue (for our younger readers, a "card catalog" is... oh, never mind).

Shortly after arriving in town, Smallwood goes door to door asking people about their faith. Most say that "religion is all right in its place, but you can't let it interfere with your ordinary life." A number of people come to hear Smallwood's first sermon, and they don't like what they hear. He began by saying, "I'm not a good Christian, but I'm trying to be. If we want to join Jesus' club, we need to do as He told us, live as He showed us. This town is full of people who call themselves Christians, but I haven't seen enough Christians to feed one decent lion." The Despards are not pleased with this sermon.

The Despards are also not pleased when he appoints a black rubbish man as his warden and invites poor people to live with him in his vicarage ("I didn't know what to do with all this space.") Lady Despard (Isabel Jeans) brings Smallwood to her home for a talking to, but Smallwood takes her to the Gospels and the story of the Rich Young Ruler. She's troubled by the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom of Heaven (later in the film the Bishop tries to assure her that we have "modern ways of interrupting that passage").

Lady Despard decides to give to the poor, and that's where the real trouble begins. She confers with Smallwood, and they decide to make food free to all who ask in the town. This does not please the local merchants and grocers, and people take advantage of the situation. Sadly, though they know the passage about giving to the poor, they neglect the wisdom in Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians ,  "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

Trouble also comes in the form of Smallwood's preaching about the products of the local factory. He states that satisfaction can't come from material goods but only from God. That, along with Lady Despard selling her stock in the factory, leads to economic chaos for the town.

When people try to follow Christ, things don't always turn out swell. Sin and the Devil will still spread discontent and misery, but we must try to follow Christ's call nonetheless. Which is why I'm giving the Vicar and the church in this quite funny film Three Steeples.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Seen in Texas (on the large screen and small)

Texas is known, obviously, for its bigness. When many of us think of Texas films we think of Westerns with wide open spaces. So the Texas movie we're going with here is... Office Space. A film about guys working for a tech company, confined to their tiny little cubicles. It has become a cult favorite that is oft quoted, especially in the work place. "Someone's got a case of the Mondays" and a Gary Cole Lumbergh accented "That'd be greeeeaaaat" have brightened the life of many an office drone. Written and directed by Texas native son, Mike Judge (creator of Texas-set Idiocracy and Texas-set animated TV show King of the Hill) has throughout his career shown there is a lot more to Texas than just cowboys.

There's not much spiritual content to Office Space on the surface, but at its heart the film is about the search for meaning in a sterile corporate world.  The film resonates with the Preacher of Ecclesiastes that "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity." Those who feel a brotherhood with Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), Michael Bolton (David Herman), and Samir Nagheenanajar (Jay Naidu) in their life of meaningless code should turn to that book.

But there are so many other films set and filmed in Texas. One of my favorite writers is Larry McMurtry, whose novels in the Lonesome Dove series went to television. Many of his Texas novels went to the big screen, such as The Last Picture Show and its sequel Texasville, and best picture Oscar winner, Terms of Endearment. But my favorite McMurtry Texas film is Hud with Paul Newman.

Some of the best filmmakers working today have made films in Texas. The strange and delicate Wes Anderson's first two great films, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore are set in Texas. Texas native son Richard Linklater set his classics Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Boyhood in Texas. My favorite filmmakers working today are Ethan and Joel Coen, who set two of their better films, Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men, in Texas.

I would call two of Robert Duvall's films the best films ever made about church, Tender Mercies and The Apostle, which are both set in Texas. A great Christian film, The Trip to Bountiful is also Texas set.

I probably can't avoid mentioning one of the most critically acclaimed horror films of all time, The Texas ChainsawMassacre. I know this will surprise you, but it was filmed and set in Texas. And yes, there are Westerns set in Texas. Why not go straight to straight to San Antonio. There are two versions of the greatest of Texas legends, The Alamo with John Wayne and the version with Dennis Quaid.

Speaking of the Alamo, we did go to see a Western, The Revenant, at the North Park Alamo Drafthouse. For years I've read about the Drafthouses being on the frontline of again making movie going a pleasurable experience, and they do many, many things right.

For those who miss shorts and cartoons before a film, the Drafthouse shows fun things, not commercials, even before the lights dim. It seems they also custom the short for the film being shown. Before The Revenant, they showed a trailer for Man in the Wilderness, a film from the 1970's based on the same true story as the feature film. But better yet, they had a series of shorts about a couple from India pursued by a CGI bear, and a film series entitled, Guy on a Buffalo.

Another plus for the theaters is that they try to crack down on the use of cell phones and texts. But some guy in our road still answered a call. He was done before an usher could address the issue.

Another great plus with a little minus is the ability to order food and drinks from a broad menu from your theater seat. You just write what you want on a slip of paper and an usher/waiter picks up the sheet and fills your order. (We ordered the bottomless popcorn bowl, and yes, we did get a refill.) The downside to this is that you might get your bill at a climactic moment in the film. 
The theaters also have wonderful memorabilia and schedule interesting special screenings and revivals. They definitely earn our two thumbs up. 

(We ended up writing about the Drafthouse in one of our Bar posts and one our Church posts this week)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Funny Churches Month: Foul Play (1978)

After Chevy Chase left Saturday Night Live, his first big project was the film Foul Play, written and directed by Colin Higgins as an homage to the comic suspense films of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock often discussed a feature of his films, the MacGuffin, a device of no importance in itself that moves the plot along. In a lecture at Columbia University, he cited this joke as the origin of the idea of the MacGuffin:
It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?” and the other answers “Oh that’s the MacGuffin.” The first one asks “What’s a MacGuffin?” “Well,” the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.” The first man says, “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,” and the other one answers, “Well, then that’s no MacGuffin!” So you see, a MacGuffin is nothing at all.

In Foul Play the MacGuffin is a pack of cigarettes with hidden microfilm containing IMPORTANT INFORMATION. Goldie Hawn plays an ingĂ©nue named Gloria who is given the pack by an undercover policeman shortly before he is murdered. This sets the bad guys on her trail, making attempts on her life, bringing Officer Tony Carlson (Chase) of the San Francisco Police to her aid. The proof of the “MacGuffin” nature of the pack of cigarettes is shown when ultimately it's casually tossed in a fireplace and burned without the information inside ever being examined or used.

But there is another MacGuffin in the film. That other MacGuffin is the reason I’m writing about the film. It's the Roman Catholic Church.

The film opens with the murder of an Archbishop. We see the clergyman leaving his chauffeured limousine and entering a mansion, apparently his home. A servant asks how his evening went, and he responds, “The opera gala will be a triumph!” He thinks he is alone in his study as he puts a record (The Mikado) on his stereo, but he isn’t. An unseen assailant draws a knife and kills him.

Then we see Gloria and listen as she describes her dating woes to a friend at a party. Her friend urges her to take chances. She takes a chance and picks up a hitchhiker on her way home from the party, who happens to be the undercover policeman mentioned above, and the plot is in motion.

Throughout the film we hear TV and radio news stories about Pope Pius XIII visiting the United States. We hear about his address to the UN where he is warmly welcomed for his message on world peace. We hear of his meeting the President and congressional leaders and sharing a message of brotherly love. We also learn from newscasts that he will be visiting San Francisco, the film’s location.

Eventually, sleuthing leads to the name of the organization that murdered the Archbishop and has made numerous attempts on Gloria's life: The Tax Churches League. This is a rather unique twist for a Hollywood film. Usually the twist is that some mucky-muck or other in the church is the guilty party, but we learn that the bad guys are attacking the church, plotting to assassinate the Pope. (Years earlier, we learn, they had unsuccessfully tried to kidnap Billy Graham.)

Eventually, when the villains have Goldie and Chevy tied up, they explain their plans, doing the monologuing that movie scoundrels so love. “The Pope is a symbol of the vast wealth and corporate power of the world’s churches. The sham of organized religion is robbing true spirituality of its life. We tried years ago to organize a peaceful campaign to tax these corporations, but we were attacked and laughed at and finally imprisoned. We decided to pursue the historically proven path of violence.”

I don’t think you’ll mind too much if I let you know Ms. Hawn and Mr. Chase escape and foil the plan to shoot the Pope at the opera. But when one sees the Pope luxuriating in the prime seats of the theater, and his rather dim response to the violence that eventually erupts to save his life, one can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers share the sympathies of the Tax the Churches League.

But ultimately the silliness of the whole enterprise keeps one from thinking the film has anything serious to say about the state of the church. Still, the Pope in the film is in favor of world peace (quite the bold stand), so we’re giving the Movie Church of the film Two Steeples.

(There is another religious figure in the film. Billy Barty plays a Bible salesman hawking the New American Bible, which happens to be the Catholic translation. But Goldie isn’t in the market.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Seen in New Mexico (on the large screen and small)

They never say in the film Silverado that it takes place in New Mexico. From the dialogue one only knows it's set in the mythic, generic Old West, a way stop between the East and California. But if you've been to New Mexico you don't have to wait for the end credits that state the film was filmed in its entirety in the state; it's self-evident.
Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the screenplays for Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back) wrote and directed this story of two brothers (played by Scott Glenn and an unusually playful Kevin Costner) join up with a saloon keeper (Kevin Kline) and an expert rifleman (Danny Glover) to save a small town from an evil cattle baron.
The film sits awkwardly in the category of Movie Churches because though there is, indeed, a church in the film, it's only a structure. A church sits on the edge of town and is often seen, but we never see the interior of the church and never hear mention of clergy or a worship service. The church is only mentioned as a place of meeting. (And as Admiral Ackbar says, "It's a trap!") There is no talk of God or spirituality, but in the tradition of the genre, there is good and evil, and the good wins out.

Other New Mexico films:
Many other westerns have been set and/or filmed in New Mexico. Because Billy the Kid robbed and died here, the state can claim The Left Handed Gun with Paul Newman, The Outlaw with Jane Russell, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid with Bob Dylan. The Western comedy City Slickers was set and filmed in New Mexico, as was the Western science fiction film, Cowboys and Aliens.
When not set in Asgard, much of Thor takes place in New Mexico. The giant ants of Them! are discovered in New Mexico. Jeff Bridges won his Oscar for playing a country singer in Crazy Heart, which is set and filmed in New Mexico. Billy Wilder made one of his most cynical films (and that's saying something) in New Mexico: in Ace in the Hole, Kirk Douglas plays a reporter who can't give up his story of a man trapped in a mine, so he finds ways to delay the rescue. 
There are many others, but I'll quit with what seems a timely mention of The Man Who Fell to Earth -- which proved without a doubt that David Bowie was not of this earth. But he might have been of New Mexico.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico we went to a wonderful theater to see an awful film. The Icon Cinemas offer a choice of vibrating and reclining seats. You choose your exact seat from a chart at the box office. On the day we visited, it was a discount day and the popcorn was all you can eat as the sodas were all you could drink.
So it was a quite pleasant experience, except for the film. I won't dignify the film by mentioning it by name. But I will say it answered the question that no one was asking, "What would happen if you cast a crass teen comedy with middle aged sitcom stars?" The answer to that question is not pleasant.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Funny Churches Month: The North Avenue Irregulars (1979)

Disney films have surprisingly few Movie Churches. Faith is a big thing in Disney movies, but usually the films are about having faith in yourself rather than faith in God. People went to Disney comedies with the expectation of wholesomeness -- but not righteousness. In the movies, clubs are much more common than congregations. I'm pretty sure there have been many more ad executives in Disney films than clergy.

But The North Avenue Irregulars was a Disney comedy with both a Presbyterian Church and a Presbyterian pastor. Whether either would be recognized by Presbyterians in the real world as one of their own is a different matter altogether.

The film begins with the Reverend Michael Hill (Edward Herrmann, rich dad from Gilmore Girls) arriving with his children at North Avenue Presbyterian Church. He's a widower because actual married couples, living mothers married to and living with living fathers are even more rare in Disney films than clergy.

No one recognizes the new pastor upon his arrival, and thus zany situations ensue. (The pastor's kids ring the bell in the church tower, nearly sending a handyman on a fall to his death. As I said, zaniness.) This is rather odd, because in the Presbyterian Church the congregation votes for the pastor after he preaches a candidating sermon. They would know who this guy is. This could possibly happen in a church where the pastor is assigned, like say, the Methodists, but seems highly unlikely with Presbyterians.

On the other hand, the Rev. Hill seems to have no idea about the church. When he arrives, the church secretary hands him church reports and the membership list, and he seems quite surprised by the low attendance.  Again, in the Presbyterian Church, the pastor would have visited the church and learned about it before agreeing to serve there. But greater realism would result in fewer amusing double takes.

The secretary of the church and the new pastor have differing philosophies on delegation. The secretary and her father (the late former pastor of the church) used to do all the work in the church because then it was done right. Pastor Hill says he's given it some thought, and he believes sharing responsibility will cause the church to grow. So he randomly asks a woman, whose name he doesn't even seem to know, to be in charge of the sinking fund (meant to help with future capital expenses). I'm all for getting people involved in ministry, but it helps to learn their gifts and abilities before entrusting them with responsibility.

 The woman entrusted with the sinking fund promptly gives it to her husband, who bets it all on a horse race. She informs the pastor of this during the service. Hill isn't in the service when the woman talks to him. Apparently, he stays in his office during the worship preliminaries such as the choir number until it's time for the service. (Hill doesn't seem to care for the choir much. He also hires a local garage band, Strawberry Shortcake, to take their place. You know, for the kids.)

Because he is more interested in the gambled sinking fund money than in teaching the word of God, Hill does a one minute sermon on "Japheth the soldier was a man of mighty valor" so he can rush out to see the bookie who took the bet. Maybe this is for the best, because I kind of doubt there was much interesting content in further exposition of that text.

The Reverend Hill's unsuccessful attempt to get money back from the bookie leads to the main plot and, quite amazingly, the true part of the story. The movie is based the Reverend Albert Fay Hill's true account of his fight against organized crime. The real life Rev. Hill was approached by U.S. Treasury agents to organize a citizens' task force while he pastored the North Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Rochelle, New York. He approached men in the congregation to help, but since they weren't interested, the women in the congregation took on the job. Women from his church made bets with bookies and followed money runners; that information was used to by the Treasury to prosecute cases.

In real life, Hill's efforts were widely admired, winning positive national attention. In the film, the Reverend's efforts nearly get the church's charter dissolved. (The process for closing a church in the film seems to be quite simple. "The council" which meets in the "head office" somewhere votes to close the church. Then, during a sermon, the pastor announces, "this will be the last service of the North Avenue Presbyterian Church.") Don't worry, though: (SPOILER!) the church is saved.

Which is just as well, because in this town the police are slacking, and someone has to do the crime fighting. As Rev. Hill says, "If the church is not a moral force in the community, then it's just another building with stained glass windows and a steeple." Which is why, in spite of the incredibly theologically shallow offerings of Strawberry Shortcake in the morning service, we're still giving North Ave. Pres. Two Steeples.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Seen in Arizona (on the large screen and small)

This may be the first (but certainly won't be the last) Coen brothers movie used for a state film -- when we have the chance to go with Joel and Ethan, we will. So our Arizona film is Raising Arizona, the silly and slapstick (and yet somehow also poetic) story of an ex-convict and his police officer wife who go to rather extreme measures to overcome their childless state. Though the credits say it was directed by Joel Coen, surely Ethan helped as well. And they both wrote. Familiar faces include Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, and Frances McDormand.

Don't have to go much farther than the title to see the Arizona connection in the film, but the title refers to the name a person, a family, the state, and an unfinished furniture emporium. The film is set in Arizona and pretty much filmed in the state, in all its emptiness and grandeur; in Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale and also in Dudleyville, Superior, and Carefree.

Is there any spiritual content in the film? Well, some of the marketing referred to it as  "a comedy beyond belief." We hear Ode to Joy early in the film. H.I. and Ed are married by what appears to be a Methodist minister.  And as a narrator, H.I. says, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" before telling the tale of a kidnapping. And the final dream sequence of the film has a lingering tone of grace.

Other Arizona films
Tombstone, of course, with one of the most manly modern casts ever assembled (Kurt Russell, Sam Elliot, Powers Booth, Bill Paxton, and yes, Charlton Heston...and on and on). Many others westerns have been set and/or filmed in Arizona:
3:10 to Yuma (1957 & 2007 versions)
The Outlaw Josey Wales (one of Clint Eastwood's best)
Rio Bravo (without a doubt Ricky Nelson's greatest film)
Stagecoach (probably the first great western)
Parts of the science fiction film Contact were filmed in Arizona (we'll be posting about this film later this year when we look at Science Churches)
Parts of Easy Rider were filmed in Arizona, and all of Electra Glide in Blue was filmed in Arizona. Electra Glide, the story a motorcycle cop, was made in response to Fonda and Hopper's iconic biker film and is arguably much better.
One of the scariest and creepiest of vampire movies, Near Dark, was set and filmed in Arizona. Another cult film, Robert Zemeckis' Used Cars, is a black comedy set and filmed in AZ as well.
Thelma and Louise, Nurse Betty, and, of course, Disney's Brighty of the Grand Canyon all make good use the Grand Canyon.
A Movie Church featured last year, Lilies of the Field, was also set and filmed in Arizona.

We did get to the movies in the movies here in Tucson, going to The Loft, an independent art house. Though the weather was rainy and chilly, one can tell by the patio that the place has a southwestern feel. We went to see the documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut. There was a slight Arizona connection in the film, as it featured the opening scenes of Psycho (which were set and filmed in Phoenix). It would have been nice to be around for their Mondo Mondays, which this week features The Giant Spider Invasion (though I guess we should save that film for Wisconsin).

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Funny Churches Month: Moms' Night Out (2014)

 Not long after starting doing these reviews of Movie Churches, I posted why I thought it was worthwhile to do so. I said that there are many people who don’t go to church, and their ideas of what church is come from how churches are portrayed in the media. Therefore, it is worthwhile to point out when the churches in film (and this blog is about film; someday I may get to TV or novels, but not yet) get churches wrong. Back then, someone commented about a Movie Church that was annoying: the one in Moms' Night Out.

Watching the film, I had to agree with the commenter. What makes the church in the movie a little more sad is that this film is obviously made by Christians, but they couldn’t get their portrayal of the church right. So after giving the basics of the film, we’ll look at the church in it and try to guess why the filmmakers got it wrong.

The basic plot could be taken from numerous family sitcoms, but then given a Christian spin.  Allyson (Sarah Drew) feels trapped by parenting her kids and wants a night out on the town with her girlfriends. Her husband, Sean, played by Sean Astin (one assumes they used his real name so people would know he wasn’t Sam Gamgee this time out), agrees to “babysit” the kids -- and we sitcom watchers know that will surely lead to zany shenanigans, men watching children and all, and chaos will ensue, and it does.

One of the things my wife Mindy appreciated about the film was its depiction of the desperation of a mother at home with babies, toddlers, and other little ones that bring weariness and feelings of entrapment. An at-home mother does have very real needs for rest, encouragement and affirmation. One would hope the church would look for ways to meet those needs.

The church in the film does nothing of the kind. Upon arriving at church, Allyson looks at the other mothers and compares their appearance to hers. These kinds of comparisons seem common in the church in the film. No one seems to want to be honest about who they are or their struggles. Even the pastor’s wife (played by The Middle’s Patricia Heaton) feels compelled to lie about her past. She was a bit of a wild child who went to rock festivals and got a tattoo in her youth, but she denies it all until she has no choice about being honest.

Allyson’s husband is out of town, so she takes her children to the church nursery partly because she hopes that she'll enjoy a bit of peace during the service. (This nursery is run by one of Allyson’s friends with the help of her husband. Her husband doesn’t really like kids, a quality not high on my list when recruiting nursery workers.) Not long into the service, Allyson is called out of the service because her youngest got his head stuck in a toilet. One wonders how well the workers were watching the kids to allow this to happen.

We do hear a bit of the sermon. It seems to be a Mother’s Day sermon based on the text of Psalm 127 which says that, “Children are a blessing from the Lord, a reward from Him.” The pastor quickly says that this shows what an honored place mothers have. But it seems to me this passage is about parents (or probably, at the time, more likely about fathers) and not just mothers. But the film seems to have the take that kids are a woman thing.
Allyson attends a women's group that seems to be church related (since the pastor’s wife and other women from the church are there. Maybe it’s a book club, since a woman from the church keeps yammering on about a book called The Favor which seems to be The Secret in disguise. Prayer is apparently presented in the book as a magic thing that gets one the premium parking spaces and every material thing one’s (greedy) heart desires. Why the pastor’s wife listens silently to this drivel is a mystery.

So why do Christians present such a poor example of the church in their film? I think it was their desire to exaggerate the failing of the church for the sake of comedy and satire. This is not an unworthy goal. But sadly, the film really isn’t that funny. And the satire is so mushy that viewers aren’t quite sure if the filmmakers know what’s wrong with the church.

The really sad thing is to think how many mothers really needed a night out… and spent it watching this. I guess the craftsmanship of the film might make some parents appreciate the artistic merit of their kid’s scribbles on the wall. The church in the film gets 2 steeples.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Seen in Nevada -- (on the large screen and small)

Every week we plan to watch and post a film about the state we're in during our year long trip. We've mapped out the films in advance, but there is room for flexibility, as happened this week when we went to see a current film and were surprised to find it featured Las Vegas, our present location.

Cast and Crew: Writer/Director Adam McKay (Anchorman), based on the book by Michael Lewis (Moneyball), Starring Steve Carell (The Office), Christian Bale (Batman), Ryan Gosling (numerous women's fantasies)

Plot Summary: A slightly fictionalized version of the 2008 financial meltdown from the perspective of financiers who anticipated the pop of the real estate bubble and sought to profit from it.

Nevada connection: At one point in the film, all of the principal characters trek to a convention in Las Vegas.

Was it really filmed in Las Vegas? Yes. It wouldn't have been cost effective to reconstruct Caesar's Palace in such detail.

Church? Spiritual or religious themes or references? There is not a church or clergy in the film (except for a brief glimpse of Jim and Tammy Bakker). At one point a character disgusted by rampant financial misdealings states he's going to "seek moral redemption at the roulette wheel." That same character says, "There are no saints on Park Avenue," and states that people have lost faith in all the major instititions including religion.

The entire film could be viewed as an illustration of Jesus' words from Matthew 6:20, "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." (NIV)

Some other Nevada films: Lost in America (This was going to be our featured Nevada film. It's about a couple, Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty who decide to leave their jobs and see the country "like in Easy Rider". Can't think of what attracted us to that film.) Leaving Las Vegas and Honeymoon in Vegas (two good Nicolas Cage films, drama and comedy respectively.) The Gauntlet (Clint Eastwood). The Shootist (John Wayne's last film). Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the strange world of reporter Hunter S. Thompson). Rain Man (went to Vegas and won big at the Oscars table). Cherry 2000 (a strange science fiction comedy we don't expect anyone else to appreciate).

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Dean and Mindy Go to the Movies in Nevada

In our church blog we have a stated goal of visiting a church in every state just as in our bar blog we have a stated goal of visiting a bar in every state. Here at Movie Churches we have less confidence that we'll go to a movie theater in every state, but so far we have a perfect record. One state, one

It wasn't a great shock to find that the theater we were going to was in a casino, because here in Las Vegas you can find almost anything in a casino. We went to the Brenden Theaters in the Palms Casino.

What was a pleasant surprise to find that the movie we were going to see anyway had scenes set in Las Vegas.We already figured Las Vegas would be a good place to see a film about the 2008 financial meltdown, because where are worse financial decisions made than Vegas? (Okay, maybe Washington D.C.) But because The Big Short is partly set in Nevada, it can double in the program as our state film in the next day or two. (Watch for the post.)

The Brenden Theater has IMAX screens, but we didn't think we needed to see bonds trading on the big screen. More amazing is that some people think they need to see the new Alvin and Chipmunks film in IMAX.

The lobby of the theater was brightly decorated and fit in well with the rest of the casino. Star Wars characters were still in a yuletide mood, and stars could be found in the floor. The staff was polite, and the seats were comfortable. I was disappointed to be charged fifty cents for a "courtesy" cup of water. But as you can see, it wasn't too crowded for the morning matinee.