Thursday, May 26, 2016

Science and Church: Contact (1997)

 As a rule, horror films are more church friendly than science fiction films, which is odd. Church youth groups are much more likely to screen Star Wars than The Exorcist. Horror films, by their very nature, usually acknowledge the supernatural. It's not unusual to find a priest as the hero in a horror film. Hard science fiction usually ignores religion, while fantastic science fiction often relies on something like the Force (the ultimate Deus ex machina).

There are exceptions. Gravity is arguably all about prayer. There's no arguing that Contact is all about faith. The film is about science in relation to religion, reason, and faith; and by extension, science and the church. This is all the more interesting as the film is based on a novel by the late scientist/atheist Carl Sagan. Sagan obviously had a different perspective on religion than Richard Dawkins.

We never see a church in the film, but we hear the story of one very unfortunate church experience. And we see at least three different -- very different -- clergymen.

The film tells the story of a woman (Eleanor Arroway, played by Jodie Foster) who, from childhood, dreamed of the skies. She never knew her mother, and she asked her father if her mother was somewhere "out there." He couldn't give her an answer. She asked if he thought there was life out in space, and he answered, "If not, it's a real waste of space" (a phrase that is repeated throughout the film).

Eleanor grows up studying astronomy and physics and joins SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), where she listens to radio signals from space for clues of "little green men."  When a message from space is received, along with blueprints for what seems to be some kind of space transportation, Ellie's childhood dreams seem to be coming true.

Ellie's faith seems to be placed in science, and that's where she seeks truth and meaning. She seems mildly hostile toward religion, and as an adult, she tells a very sad story about the roots of that antagonism. She went to Sunday School a few times as a child, and she says she asked annoying questions like, "Where did Mrs. Cain come from?" Eventually, someone at the church called Ellie's father and asked him to keep her home; it's a very different attitude than Jesus' "Let the little children come to me." The church was practicing what seems more like stumbling block and mill stone behavior to me.

We do see a flashback of young Ellie with a clergyman in a clerical collar who tries to comfort her after her father dies. Since she was in the house with her father when he died, she frets that if she had gotten medicine to him more quickly, he might have lived. The clergyman says, "I know it's hard to understand things, but we have to accept it as God's will." Have those words ever brought comfort to anyone?

That priest or pastor is much better than the crazy-eyed Prophet Joseph. When the building project begins, based on the alien plans, the site is surrounded by fans, fanatics, and protesters. Many of the fans and protesters seem religiously motivated.  We see one protester, Prophet Joseph, who looks almost as crazy as Gary Busey. That's because he's played by Gary's son Jake.

As Ellie is being driven to the project, Prophet Joseph screams, "These scientists have had their chance; are these the people you want talking to your God for you?" Turns out Joseph, like some clergy, is not a fan of scientists or science. He believes that anyone who contemplates truth to be found in the Big Bang and Evolution is obviously on the devil's payroll.

And it turns out that Prophet Joseph is plotting a terrorist act to bring down the whole project and take many lives with a suicide bombing. Outside of ISIS, and in the vast majority of mainline churches, such a thing is not considered cool.

But the third clergyman in the film is cut from a different cloth. Rather, he says he's a "man of the cloth, without the cloth." Matthew McConaughey plays Palmer Joss, who at various times in the film is called "Pastor" and "Father," though it's unclear if he's gone through any ordination process with any denomination.

He went through seminary, but since he sleeps with Ellie the first day they meet, I'm pretty sure he never took vows of celibacy. He tells about a mystical experience that convinced him of the existence of God. Ellie responds asking him if he's ever heard of Occam's Razor, and he says he hasn't (which is kind of sad in itself). She explains that the simplest explanation with the fewest assumptions is likely to be the correct one. Therefore, Occam's Razor argues against the existence of God. If Palmer had been a little more knowledge about Occam, he could maybe point out that Occam was a theologian.

Palmer works in third world churches protecting people from exploitation.  If we heard him explain anything in depth, we might find he believed in liberation theology, but Palmer only talks about God and faith in the most general of terms and doesn't talk about Scripture or Jesus at all.

Palmer seems to think that the pursuit of truth and the possession of faith are the important things, and that whether these things are pursued through science or theology is irrelevant. I appreciate the idea of "all truth is God's truth," but Palmer's truth seems to be of the most amorphous sort.

I did appreciate Palmer's response to Ellie's denial of God based on lack of evidence. He asks her whether she loved her father. She says she did. He responds, "Prove it!" And Palmer shows her something about faith by trusting her.

But I'm still afraid that the one church we hear about and all three clergymen average out to a One Steeple rating. (Don't mistake that for a rating of the film, which I quite admire.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Maryland films on the small and big screen

On the small screen

While visiting in Maryland, we noticed it was hard to stay in the state. We were so close to the Virginia and District of Columbia borders that we found ourselves crossing back and forth. That makes me feel a little better about going with the film Broadcast News as our Maryland movie, even though only part of the film is set there. It's also set in Virginia and D.C., so the film was like our time in Maryland.

James L. Brooks' 1987 comedy was certainly prescient about the future of televised news, predicting the growth of fluff and human interest to drown out hard news, as well as the growth of the celebrity culture. William Hurt, Albert Brooks, and especially Holly Hunter in tears bring their characters to life to a degree that I almost wonder what Tom, Aaron, and Jane are up to these days.

There are no churches in the film, but there is one interesting theological point well illustrated. Albert Brooks says that Tom the anchorman is the devil. He argues that the devil would not appear with horns and pitchfork, but rather as an attractive person persuading others to lower their standards just a bit at a time. The Apostle Paul made the point before, in II Corinthians 11:14, but it bears repeating. 

There are quite a few Maryland films, more than we can cover here. But there are some interesting authors in the state who have located their work locally. Edgar Allan Poe doesn't seem to be one of those; for all I can tell, all of the Poe films are located elsewhere. But Anne Tyler, a favorite writer of mine, usually locates her work around Baltimore. The Accidental Tourist, which also starred William Hurt and won Geena Davis an Oscar, is set in Baltimore.

Baltimore native writer, filmmaker, and eccentric John Waters usually makes films locally. Since Waters prides himself on his bad taste, there are a number of films I won't mention here because even his titles some find offensive. His most popular work was almost certainly 1988's Hairspray,  which was made into a Broadway musical and then made into a film again  (I prefer the original). If you like that film, you might want to give 1990's Cry Baby with Johnny Depp a try.

Another Baltimore talent is the Oscar winning writer and director Barry Levinson. 1982's Diner, 1987's Tin Men, 1990's Avalon and 1999's Liberty Heights are all set in Baltimore and have more than a bit of autobiography in their making.

Of course, non-Marylanders have made films in the state. Alfred Hitchcock set much of 1964's Marnie with Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren in Baltimore, and there is much argument in the film community to this day about whether that film is a masterpiece or a disaster.  Norman Jewison's ...and justice for all is set in Baltimore and features what may be Al Pacino's greatest set-chewing performances ("You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!").

And, of course, though we usually only talk about fictional films here, the documentary The Blair Witch Project was all filmed in the forests of Maryland. At least the internet told me so, and why should I ever doubt it?

On the big screen
We came upon a pretty wonderful place to watch movies in Baltimore, the Senator Theatre. With a unique circular design, the theater does what every great movie theater does: makes guests feel they are entering a different world. An art deco flavor and more modern touches (the large theaters have screens that can be viewed from the lobby for the ultimate cry room) make this a very cool place.

But even before you get inside, in a blatant but loving rip-off of Grauman's Chinese Theater, the sidewalk squares on the street feature films that have debuted or celebrated anniversaries at the Senator with autographs of actors and directors.

The film we watched at the Senator was The Family Fang, directed by and starring Jason Bateman (Little House on the Prairie, Arrested Development). This black comedy about a performance artist (Christopher Walken) who uses his family for his work is at times funny and at times disturbing, but what I appreciate most about it was that it introduced us to the Senator.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Science & Church: The Theory of Everything (2014)

There's not much church in this docudrama of the life of Stephen Hawking, and one assumes that's would be fine with him. When Stephen (played by Eddie Redmayne for an Oscar win) met Jane, who is to be his first wife, he told her, "I'm a cosmologist. That's religion for intelligent people." (You know, as opposed to idiots like Augustine, Aquinas, and Newton who held to orthodox Christianity.)

Jane replied, "I'm C.of E. [Church of England]"

"I suppose someone has to be," Stephen responded.

He told Jane that he can't allow his calculations to be muddled by belief in a supernatural creator, although physicists like William Henry Bragg seemed to be able to do maths well enough to get a Nobel Prize in spite of preaching in the Anglican Church on the weekends. Ernan McMullin managed to find room in his life for the "religion" of cosmology as a Roman Catholic priest. Charles Hard Townes was another Nobel Prize winner for physics who found room on his shelf for the Templeton Prize for religious achievement.

Anyway, back to the meager appearances of the church in this film. When Stephen asked Jane on a croquet date on Sunday morning, she replied, "I'm busy Sunday morning."

"Oh, yes, Him," Stephen replied. We then see Stephen waiting for her to leave church on Sunday.

If you have any acquaintance with the life of Hawking (and why would you watch this film without it?) you know he has battled Lou Gehrig's Disease for the majority of his adult life. In spite of his ailment, Stephen and Jane had three children. In the film, we see photos of the family after their third child's christening at an Anglican Church. Apparently, all three of his children were christened. One would assume this was by Jane's choice.

Not surprisingly, the film portrayed Jane facing many challenges in life due to her husband's illness, academic pursuits, and initial meager income. She went to her mother for advice on finding more in life. When her mother told her she should join the church choir, Jane responded, "That's the most English thing I have ever heard."

But she joined the choir. We see her enter a lovely Anglican church with beautiful stained glass but wooden chairs in place of pews. The choir director, Jonathan Jones, accepted Jane as a music student and soon became a family friend, discussing science and religion with Stephen, who assured him that physics will bring about the death of God (which reminded me of something Mark Twain said about great exaggeration).

Eventually, Stephen took a lover and forsok Jane, so Jane returned to her church and, eventually, the arms of Jonathan. I can't help but wonder if the church's clergy was at all concerned about the behavior of its musical staff.

The little we see of the church in the film doesn't seem to merit the disparaging remarks Hawking made, so we're giving it Two Steeples.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Washington D.C. films on the small and big screen

On the small screen
Back in 1951 there was a lot more room on the National Mall in Washington D. C. There was much more room for a flying saucer to land. We learned this while watching the classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still during our stay in D.C. Directed by Robert Wise (Sound of Music, The Haunting), the film tells the story of an alien that come to bring peace to earth - or else. It made the National Registry of Films and led to memorizing he words "Klaatu barada nikto" being an essential to the life of a nerd.

There is no church in the film, but there are clergy to be spotted in the crowd of UFO observers, and one doesn't need to look far for spiritual metaphors in the film. Klaatu, the visitor from outer space, performs what seem to be miracles, dies, and comes back from the dead (Spoiler!). If that isn't enough, he goes by the name of John Carpenter (note the initials and professional reference). Screenwriter Edmund North admitted he was going for a Christ analogy but hoped it would be subliminal. The censors were bothered by the enormous power of the alien, and forced the insertion of a line of dialogue about the power of life and death being "reserved to the Almighty Spirit.". (By the way, I cannot urge you too strongly to avoid the 2008 remake.)

For such a small area (less than 100 square miles), the District of Columbia has been the setting of many films, more than we can mention here. Many have, not surprisingly, been about politics, particularly the Presidency. In Ivan REitman's 1993 comedy Dave, Kevin Kline plays both the President and a man who must double for the President. In a more cynical comedy, 1997's Wag the Dog, the President fakes a war to help with troubles in the polls. And in 1964's even more cynical, Dr. Strangelove or  How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, nuclear war comes about in Stanley Kubrick's classic comedy.

Clint Eastwood has made a couple of Presidential action films set in the Capital, 1997's Absolute Power about corruption in the highest places and 1993's In the Line of Fire about a good man in the Secret Service protecting the President. 2013 was a bad year for the White House, being attacked both in White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen (neither of which proved to be too happy of a thing for film goers either). A better fictional film about the Presidency in peril is 1964's Seven Days in May and better still is the true-ish story told about Washington Post reporters investigating a President, All the President's Men.

Of course, not all Washington political films are about the President. 1950s Born Yesterday is about a corrupt man content to buy congressman, which earned Judy Holliday an Oscar in her role as the crook's mistress. 2007's chilling true story about a mole in the FBI is set in D.C. but not in the White House. And the delightful 1943 comedy, The More the Merrier is about much more lowly government workers and the housing shortage in D.C. during World War II. The Exorcist is much more about clergy than politicians (and locations of the horror classic's filming are a part of many Georgetown tours).

But my favorite Washington D. C. film is probably the Frank Capra classic Mr.  Smith Goes to Washington starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur. Hard to watch this heart-warmer without thinking that those Founding Fathers were really on to something.

On the big screen
The film we watched in a theater wasn't set or filmed in America, let alone in the District. Sing Street is set in Ireland in the 1980's and tells the story of many a young man who started a band to get the attention of a girl. 

This is a truly delightful film from writer/director John Carney (Once) telling an autobiographical tale. Sadly, the clergy in the film do not come off well (though notes in the credits indicate things have gotten much better at Carney's parochial alma mater). What Mindy and I really loved about it was the message that you can take the chance of an adventure in life. (One thing the film gets wrong - you don't have to be young to do so.)

We saw this film at the Landmark E Street Theater in Washington on the same evening there was a D.C. type event going on -- a special screening of The Abolitionists, a film about human trafficking. We talked to some folks putting on the event who hoped to put the focus on the very real contemporary tragedy of children trapped in slavery. Word was Orrin Hatch was going to attend the screening, but we were not able to see him. (I believe Hatch has been one of Utah's senators since the state entered the Union.) I do hope the film is successful in bringing attention to this important issue.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Science & Church: Inherit the Wind (1960)

1960's Inherit the Wind is a highly fictionalized retelling of the Scopes Monkey Trial (more properly "The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes"), and I sincerely hope that among the many things director Stanley Kramer and writers Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee got wrong was the portrayal of the church.

I know for sure the portrayal of the defendant in the trial is far from accurate. In the film, a high school biology teacher is going about an average teaching day when a pastor and a town official enter his classroom. Nonplussed, he carries on with the day’s lesson, the beginning of life as presented by Darwin’s book, The Origin of the Species. The teacher, Bert Cates (played by Dick York, TV’s first Darrin from the television show Bewitched) is arrested and sent to jail. The town is rocked, particularly Cates’ devoted students and his fiance (the daughter of the Rev. Jeremiah Brown, one of the parties to Cates’ arrest).

The situation of the real defendant, Scopes, was nothing like this. He was a substitute teacher recruited to test the state law against the teaching of evolution. The whole trial was a staged publicity stunt that religious fundamentalists and people termed “Modernists” used to promote their respective causes.

Understandably, the film would rather present the drama of individual lives at stake rather than just ideas at stake. Cates is presented as the hero, and if there is a villain in the piece, it's the Rev. Jeremiah Brown.

In the historical case, William Jennings Bryan, the great populist hero of the Democratic Party, represented the defense. In the film, his place is taken by Matthew Harrison Brady, who also ran for president three times and served as an advisor to Woodrow Wilson.

When Brady arrives in town, he asks in a public meeting, “Who is the town’s spiritual leader?” That is a strange question to ask in a moderately sized town like Hillsboro (subbing for Dayton,Tennessee), where there would surely be a number of churches representing a number of denominations. But one gets the feeling there is only one church in town. It is never named, but it is run by the Rev. Brown, who is presented to Brady as the town’s spiritual leader.

At the conclusion of the first day of the trial, the judge announces an evening prayer meeting in the park to be led by the Rev. Brown (the defense quite rightly objects to the announcement).  At the park prayer meeting, Brown preaches through the creation account of Genesis (and includes a baffling section about God scowling and being extremely unhappy with His creation prior to the creation of man.)

Brown goes on to pray for God’s judgment to come on the heretics who teach creation. Brown curses to hell the defendant of the trial. He seems to be asking for Cates to receive a much stricter sentence than a Tennessee jury could grant. One would think Brown would pray for Cates to come to repentance, but that’s not his style. Brown’s daughter, Cates’ fiance, doesn’t take this well. It’s too much for Brady as well, but he blames the radical, judgmental attitude of Brown on the terrible pressure the modern world puts on simple religious folks.
During the trial we learn that Cates quit going to Brown’s church because of a particular incident. A twelve year old boy drowned in a local swimming hole. At the boy’s funeral, Brown preached that the boy was experiencing the fires of hell because the kid was never baptized.

When I preach a funeral sermon, I try not to assume that I know what was going on in the heart and mind of the deceased, and especially not what is going on in the heart of God, but Brown is apparently much more perceptive of eternal truths than I am.

Brown is apparently also behind town demonstrations that hang Cates in effigy and change the lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic into a lynching song.

As I said, I do hope that Lawrence and Lee were as inaccurate in their representation of the Reverend Brown as they were in the character of Cates, because I’m giving Brown and his church our lowest rating, One Steeple. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Virginia movies on the small and big screen

On the small screen
Shirley Temple was one of the most amazing child performers of all time, perhaps the single best ever on film. Watching her is usually a joy -- but even with her presence, it's tough to watch The Littlest Rebel for several different reasons. The 1935 film, set during the American Civil War, stars little Shirley as the pampered daughter of Southern gentry living on a Virginia plantation. The film opens before the War at the birthday party for young Virgie (that's Shirley... Get the pun for in her character's name?) During the party, all the children call for one of the slaves to dance for them, which he happily does. Then all the black slave children present Virgie with a black doll, which she graciously receives. All the slaves are so gosh darn happy to be able to serve Shirley's family.

When war breaks out, Shirley asks slave Uncle Billy (the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson) why there's a war, and he responds, "I guess some fellow in the North wants to set us free, but I don't know what that means." The happy slaves do their best, throughout the war, to aid the Confederate cause, but even their best efforts fail. It's up to Shirley to save her father and preserve Southern honor. Remarkably, Shirley does not age a visible day throughout the four years of conflict. Though set in Virginia, the entire film was made in a California studio.

We can hope for a more truthful telling of the black experience in a couple of films coming out later this year. The Birth of Nation (not D. W. Griffiths' racist epic) will be released later this year. Directed, written, and starring Nate Parker, the film tells the story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion (if only he'd known the joy of living on little Shirley's plantation). That film is set and was filmed in Virginia, as is another film coming out this year, Jeff Nichols' Loving. That film will tell the true story of a couple imprisoned for the crime of interracial marriage in 1958.

A different bit of dubious history for children is found in Disney's 1995 animated feature, Pocahontas. This telling of a Virginia tale was not filmed in any part of the real world, let alone Virginia. For a much better telling of that story, turn to Terrence Malick's 2005 feature, The New World, which was filmed in Virginia.

There are too many Virginia films (set and filmed in the state) to discuss here, but I'll mention one last historical film: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln has many scenes set in Washington, D.C., but it also has scenes set in Virginia. From what I can tell, the great majority of it was filmed in Virginia. Man, oh man, do I wish I could cast a ballot for Honest Abe this November.

On the Big Screen
I've complained some in these parts about Regal Cinemas, so when our friends in Louden Country, Virginia, suggested going to a Regal to see Captain America 3: Civil War, I was less than thrilled. Fortunately, this proved to be a very nice theater compared to the Regals we attended in the past (just as the Civil War in the film was much better than the Civil War in The Littlest Rebel). The staff of the theater was pleasant and competent, the film was well projected, and the seats were very comfy. My only complaint would be the TV commercials that preceded the trailers and the fact that there were twenty minutes of trailers.
We enjoyed the film very much, particularly the introduction of a new Spiderman. Finally, a high school Spidey that looked like shaving was a new thing to him.

Turns out this new Captain America film even had a memorial service in a church. Not only is the setting used for a somber service for a beloved character, it was also interesting to see a church used as a place for moral reflection and choice. As it should be.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Science & Church: The Genesis Code (2010)

As always, we're here to talk about the church in The Genesis Code, not the movie itself, but I have to address a couple of other things first.

First, the supporting cast of this Christian film is pretty amazing. Playing the grandparents of college hockey star Blake Truman are two Oscar winners, Ernest Borgnine (for Marty) and Louise Fletcher (for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). Blake's mother is played Susan Blakely (who ran around in her underwear in The Towering Inferno). Blake's mother's doctor is played by Lance Henriksen (the android from Aliens). The judge deciding (spoiler alert) whether to take Blake's mother off life support is played by Fred Thompson (he ran for President).  And the film was directed by C. Thomas Howell (yes, Ponyboy Curtis from The Outsiders).

The other thing I want to talk about before getting to the church in the film is the academic career of Blake's love interest, Kerry Wells. (Kelsey Sanders plays Kerry. She hasn't gotten an Oscar yet, but she did play Ann-Margret's lookalike on Mad Men.) Kerry has a double major in college (and yet still has a 3.9 average!). She is majoring in paleontology, but realizes it might be difficult to make a career or big bucks in dinosaur studies, so she has a second major in journalism as a back-up, because we know the fortunes to be found in the newspaper biz these days.

But we're here to talk about the church in the film. Kerry's dad is the pastor, but we never hear the name of the church. Kerry tells Blake to come to "the church at the corner of Lafayette and Third" because why would you identify a church by a name? If a denomination was mentioned it might wreak havoc on audience identification. What if they made the church Presbyterian, but it was screened in a Lutheran Church? Madness.

It probably is a mainline church of some kind, because the Reverend Jerry Wells wears a clerical robe for the services. But don't think that because he wears a robe he's some kind of wimp. As Kerry says, "He likes manly things like football and weight lifting and shooting." It's true. When Blake goes to ask Wells questions about faith, Rev. Wells is in a room at the church lifting ("Wow! 400 pounds!"). So Wells takes Blake to the firing range for some handgun practice. No better place to discuss theology.

Now don't get the wrong idea about Pastor Wells. He may be a man's man but he's also an intellectual. When Kerry's college advisor (played by Catherine Hicks, Kirk's love interest in Star Trek IV) comes to see him about Kerry's excessive religiosity, he dazzles her with his intellectual prowess. She refers to "that church with the pictures on the ceiling," and he says, "You mean the Sistine Chapel?" As they say in click bait headlines, he "Totally Destroys" her arguments for moral relativism and against absolute truth.

But the craziest thing about the church is Pastor Wells' liturgical choices. As the title of the film is The Genesis Code, it probably won't surprise you that he's preaching on Genesis. That's sort of the major theme of the film, showing the creation story of Genesis doesn't contradict the teaching of science. Here's the crazy part though: the film starts with a hockey game, and we hear that there's only one more game before the Christmas break. Christmas carols are being sung everywhere, such as at a campus karaoke competition. Christmas directions are everywhere, including in the church.

So, right before Christmas, what is the church singing? Not "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" or "Joy to the World" but "This Is My Father's World" ('cause, you know, it fits the theme of the film). That's a little weird. What is really weird is that Pastor Wells, in mid-December is beginning a series on Genesis. He reads from Genesis 1, and talks about it in general terms, saying they'll be examining it in depth in the weeks to come. All the fans of shepherds, wise men, and mangers are going to be EXTREMELY disappointed. But it's not a bad sermon.

And the pastor is good about reaching out to the students on campus and  doing hospital visitation. So Generic Church of College Town USA gets Three Steeples.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

West Virginia movies on the small and big screen

On Small Screen
I almost wonder if there is some technical problem with getting film cameras to work in West Virginia. I found a film set in West Virginia, free on Amazon, starring Peter Weller (yes, the man who played Buckaroo Banzai and Robocop, so one of the best actors ever), 1986's A Killing Affair. So I watched it. It was obviously made with a low budget, but it did have some interesting scenes for movie churches. John Glover (of Robocop 2) plays a fundamentalist preacher quite willing to preach about the need for women to submit to their husbands, but as for husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church... Not so much. If I was giving out Steeple Ratings for the minister and his church in the film, he'd probably have to settle for one. But when I went to look up where this "West Virginia" film was made, it was filmed in Georgia.

Mindy and I were in Coalwood, WestVirginia, the setting of a much beloved film about boys in a coal town encouraged to pursue science, 1999's October Sky. It's a true story, so surely the film makers would want to go to the original location. Nope. It was filmed in Tennessee.

In Point Pleasant, West Virginia, there have been bizarre local legends about a mansized bird that terrorized the country side. So in 2002, when a film, The Mothman Prophecies, was made starring Richard Gere (not as the creature), it was filmed, of course, in Pennsylvania.

There have been a series of no less than six awful films about hillbilly cannibals set in West Virginia. They're called Wrong Turn (the original) and then 2:Dead End,  3:Left for Dead, 4:Bloody Beginnings,5:Bloodlines, and 6:Last Resort. I'm happy to say I haven't seen any of these films, especially because they were all filmed in Canada. A film I have seen, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, is a spoof of movies like the Wrong Turn films. It's a clever and funny film which is set in West Virginia -- but was also filmed in Canada.

You will be glad to hear that there is at least one major motion picture that is set in West Virginia and even filmed in West Virginia. 2006's We Are Marshall, starring Matthew McConaughey, is about the football team of Marshall University which was lost in a plane crash. It's a rare chance to see West Virginia in a feature film.

On the big screen
We went to the movies in the state capital, Charleston. The Park Palace seems to be aiming for complete automation, but the ticket selling machine was broken so we bought tickets from the nice cashier. She also sold popcorn cups and soda cups for the self-serve machines. If they can figure out a way to automate cup dispensing, The Park Palace might become a human free place (except, perhaps, for the customers).

The film we saw, My Name is Doris, starred Sally Field as an elderly woman with a crush on a young co-worker. It does open with a scene in a church, a funeral in which a useless pastor talks about the deceased only as a mother. This church would also only earn one Steeple.

The film seems to believe that Millennials are the sole users of Facebook. The film also apparently could not get the rights to Facebook so the screenshots are nothing like the real site. Also a hip new term used by the young people is "doners" for when one is finished with a relationship. I got the feeling the script was written to be current but took a decade to reach production.