Luther vs. Luther [Movie review]

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The cover art for the 2003 and 1953 editions of films about Martin Luther

That I am aware of there have been two major motion pictures about the life of Martin Luther (on top of numerous docudramas and documentaries), or more specifically, his role in the Reformation (which I still find a dubious title). There was a 1953 black and white film starring Niall MacGinnis and a more recent film starring Joseph Fiennes released in 2003. Even though I’m not someone who views the Reformation with the same celebration as some of my fellow disciples, I own and have watched both films several times and wanted to offer a brief highlights of both films, particularly in comparison to each other.

If you want the quick scoop, here’s my bang on the Wittenberg door (sorry): The 1953 movie is better history, but the 2003 movie is better cinema. Let me explain.

Both movies cover essentially the same material historically, from Luther’s decision to leave law school and enter the monastic life as an Augustinian. It covers his receiving his Doctorate in Theology, to his tower experience (though there’s no actual tower), to his hammering his 95 thesis on the Wittenberg door, and onward we go.

While the 2003 edition is certainly a much better cinematic production, the 1953 edition does a much better job at showcasing Luther’s personality. He is shown to be very intelligent but impulsive and yes, a bit arrogant. My favourite scene in this regard is when Luther finds out his colleague Dr. Andreas Karlstadt had been invited to debate notable scholar Johann Eck. When he is told this by Karlstadt Luther explodes in anger yelling at Karlstadt that he doesn’t have the academic chops to debate Eck. It’s a hilarious scene as they argue back and forth. To put it into context, it was Dr. Karlstadt that awarded Luther his doctorate in the first place!

In the 2003 edition while Luther is shown to be prone to anger, it seems a bit more controlled and more thought out. In 1953 he admits to “doubting the learning” of one of his fellow professors. So, the 1953 Luther is presented as a more flawed – more real – individual. The acting in a 1953 is certainly cheesier than the 2003 edition and Niall MacGinnis overacts several times almost to the point of making me laugh.

Another scene that I particularly enjoyed in the 1953 edition was a scene where they shows Luther adding the word “sola” (alone) to Romans 3:28 in the latin vulgate edition of the bible. This is, as you likely know, a controversial issue. Luther would answer his critics by saying he was translating the sense or meaning of the text, fully aware of the fact that the word itself is not there (this can still be a valid form of translation and is still used today). Perhaps in an effort to avoid citing the controversy, the 2003 edition omits any reference to this directly, instead using some sermons and speeches to introduce Sola Fidé.

The 2003 does illustrate one thing particularly well which is the corruption that was alive and well in the city of Rome, not so much the Vatican, but the actual city life, such as brothels for clerics. Finally, the 1953 edition does a much better job at explaining why Rome was so upset at Luther, while the 2003 edition sort of dumbs it down a bit to the basic issues; though I think it actually makes it a bit too simple and just confirms stereotypes that are largely unhelpful in contemporary debate (not that a film should be your basis for debating anything except acting, sound and cinematography). 2003 also explored Luther’s strained relationship with his father, while to the best of my recollection, 1953 does not address the issue at all.

It is important to note that both films have Lutheran connections, so it seems like they were both trying to portray their progenitor in the best possible light. If you have time, watch both, you’ll enjoy them both and enjoy the contrast. 1953 is a bit more biopic, including a narrator as was very much the style back then, whereas the 2003 edition is much more of a cinematic hollywood endeavour.

White House Down [review]

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For some reason Hollywood has decided to reenact the War of 1812 in a more modern context. Two movies this year showcase the take over or near total destruction of the White House. The first Olympus has Fallen, arrived earlier this year and the new offering is White House Down (WHD).

I really enjoyed Olympus and based on the trailers I didn’t have high hopes for WHD. I went to see it this past Sunday and boy was I surprised; it was a lot of fun. Slightly too long, but fun. Now, to put this in contact, WHD is directed by Roland Emmerich, the same man who directed Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. If you’ve seen any of this movies, you know what you’re in for. Over the top explosions, lots of action, a plot that doesn’t quite hold together, and lots of humour. WHD certainly deliverers on those promises. After 2012 Roland said he was done with making movies that completely destroyed the world – 2012 saw him kill off pretty much the entire human race. So, I guess all that’s left is well known symbols and what’s more symbolic of American power than the White House. With the exception of some brief shots aboard Air Force One, all of the action is pretty much focussed on the White House, which considering Roland is used to blowing up entire cities or melting the entire planet, this film must have been a challenge. With that in mind there is at least one too many explosions in such a small space.

I was dubious of being able to accept Jamie Foxx as the President, but he seemed to pull it off quite well. Channing Tatum, who is being lauded has an action hero that can actually act, does a very good job as the Capital Policeman and Secret Service reject who is fighting both for his country and his precocious but highly intelligent daughter.

This is a slight spoiler, but the different between Olympus and WHD is that the threat in Olympus is external whereas the threat in WHD is internal, essentially a palace coup. It shouldn’t take too long to figure out how the real baddy is.

When I first saw the trailer for Olympus I immediately thought it was Air Force One (Harrison Ford) but on the ground. And that’s basically what it is, except the President isn’t the hero in these films in the same was Harrison was.

One thing that WHD does better than Olympus is deal with the issue of succession and the question of when is the President no longer the President. This became a major plot point in Air Force One when the cabinet sought to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Harrison Ford from the office so he couldn’t be forced to make any deals under duress. In the end it proves unnecessary.

This is never really discussed on Olympus, which is too bad. WHD however deals a lot with succession as one might expect when the Capital Building and White House are burning. Securing the president, Vice President and Speaker of the House is vital as the top three offices in the US line of succession. This concept plays an important role in the film and it made the film all the more interesting (though it falls apart a little at the end).

The very end of them movie is somewhat of a groaner and could have been avoided, but Hollywood like sunny endings – I just don’t think they needed to make it as sunny as they did.

Rating: 3.5/5

World War Zed [review]

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World War Zed (or if you’re American, Zee).

So, Brad Pitt has done it again, he’s saved the world. Actually, I can’t say if he’s ever actually done a save the world movie before, because I’m not a Brad Pitt aficionado. I don’t ignore him on purpose, but I don’t gravitate towards him either.

I’ve only seen the movie and have not read the book, so I have no idea how much they both compare, although I’m told they differ in that the book has the story being told from a different characters perspective in each chapter, whereas in the movie Brad Pitt is the constant presence.

WWZ is the zombie movie for people who don’t like zombie movies. I say that because I think that most people, when they think of zombie movies, think of blood and guts and lots and lots of gore. This is certainly true of the George Romero versions, the Zach Snyder remake of Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later.

WWZ doesn’t have any gore, not that I can recall. In fact, in several places where they could easily have been in some gore, they drag the victim behind a car or a desk. You still understand what’s going on, but they don’t show it to you. Instead, they focus on the story and the increasing madness of the world-wide disaster that is unfolding before out eyes.

This is a refreshing change from the usual gore genre and puts WWZ in a rare space as a movie that wants you to take it seriously. The action starts in the first 15 minutes or so and doesn’t really let down. With the exception of one rather implausible scenario, all of Brad Pitt’s escapes from danger are not too far fetched. The virus or whatever it is that is causing the horrific situation is dealt with as a plausible health crisis instead of a mysterious plague from space or something caused by radiation.

The ending while interesting is only a partial victory, because they are planning the possibility of many sequels.

All in all, WWZ is a fun ride, that asks you to take it seriously; or at least as seriously as you can take a zombie movie. Really though, it’s less a zombie movie and more like the movie Contagion, except when the people get sick they seek to spread the contagion through biting.

Rating: 4/5

The Boy in the Striped Pajama’s [movie review]

MV5BMTMzMTc3MjA5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk3MDE5MQ V1 SY317 CR0 0 214 317 This is a movie review with no direct spoilers, but some pretty well inferred ones.

Some stories are so large that they are nearly impossible to tell and do them justice. There have been many holocaust films, but while many have been excellent, they have been too big of a story to make it as impactful as it could have been.

The Boy in the Striped Pajama’s is a powerful film precisely because the story is small, focussing largely on two little boys. It is also soul destroying because rarely has a film so completely focussed on the holocaust through the eyes of a child. The film take place in World War II Germany where we meet a military family who’s Father has just been promoted to Commandant of a Labour Camp for Jews. As we discover the Father and the rest of the soldiers serving him are the only one’s who know the true nature of the camp; that it is really an extermination camp. His wife and two children, a 12 year old girl, and an 8 year old boy named Bruno, have no idea what’s going on. The 8 year old boy is the most oblivious of all of them, believing the Jews to be farmers who wear funny pajama’s.

Disobeying his mother’s orders not to stray too far from the compound where they live, Bruno wanders off in search of adventure (he fancies himself an explorer). One day he meets Schmule, an 8 year old boy, sitting just inside the fence, out of sight of the guards and the forced labour conditions. The two boys strike up a friendship which is at once sweat and heart wrenching. The sweetness is seen in the total innocence of Bruno who doesn’t understand anything of the reasons that Schmule is in the camp or what horror likely awaits him in the end.

As the film progresses we see Bruno’s sister Gretel become more and more indoctrinated against the Jews, thanks to her tutor; we see his mother finally discover the real purpose of the camp, and the father’s adjutant brutalize many of the Jews who serve in the household.

As if the image of the obviously malnourished child behind the electrified fence isn’t enough to tear your heart out as you suddenly remember “Yes, there were children placed there and murdered there”, you are touched by the friendship that grows between these two boys as Bruno sneaks food to the boy and even plays checkers with him through the fence line.

Here in these children we see the future hope, the hope where racial hatred is not just vanquished, but that it does not even occur has an option. To even think of that lonely child, sitting apart from everyone else, day in and day out, with no hope of escape, torn out of the environment he knew for the first few, short years of his life and now his friend is a German, who is told he should be his enemy, but doesn’t understand why. To think that we are capable of abusing a child in such a fashion is too terrible to imagine.

And yet, every time we spare an angry thought that dehumanizes another person we do the very same thing. We pick something about that person to hate… and well, we know what Jesus says about hating others.

Near the end of the movie Schmule tell’s Bruno that he can’t find his Father (the implication is that he’s been murdered). Bruno discovers he can dig under the fence and says he will return tomorrow to help him look. When he shows up, Schmule brings him a pair the striped pajama’s. They both go around the camp looking for Schmule’s Father. With 10 minutes remaining in the film I knew exactly how this tragic film would end and it tore my heart out, as it would Bruno’s family.

The movie is fast paced and well worth watching. As much as I’d love to read the book on which it is based, I’m not sure I’ve got the stomach for it at the moment.

As they say in the featurette on the DVD, we have a responsibility to keep this story alive so that no generation will ever forget what humanity if capable of it we do not safeguard against it. And it all begins with us, in our everyday interactions with others. It is our responsibility to value them, even if we are in conflict with them. The Shoah must never be allowed to reoccur (even though Rwanda and Darfur, don’t currently give me much hope for a political solution. There really is only one solution and His name is Jesus Christ. 824057310

They threw down the stones…

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One of the wonderful things about film is that we get to see things that we might otherwise miss from just reading the book. This is a bit of backwards thinking because we often think the book is better. When we’re talking about films that attempt to interpret Scared Scripture, we need to be careful of course to realize that the film is not inspired or infallible, but we can still glean interesting insights.

When watching The Passion of the Christ I noticed something in a way that I hadn’t before. In the story typically titled The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:2-11), we are told that Jesus saves the woman from stoning by forcing the members of the crowd to reflect on their own sinfulness. In the movie you see the crowd throw their stones to the ground, one by one – following the scriptures declaration that they left eldest to youngest.

I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I saw things from their side, from the side of the accusers. Jesus said in v.9 “But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”

Jesus was in the middle of teaching when the scribes and Pharisees approached him with the woman (generally believed to be Mary Magdalene) and started questioning Jesus. It is not entirely clear how many were ready to join in the stoning; was it just the scribes and Pharisees or did the crowd He was teaching join in, or did they just looked on wondering which side would prevail.

They went away
when they faced the challenge posed by Jesus’ words – and perhaps whatever he was writing in the sand – they immediately responded to His teaching and left. There was no debate, no argument, they just threw down their rocks and left. They knew they were beat, they knew they had heard the truth and had no comeback, no way of countering what Jesus has said to them. Here’s the important detail: this required that they recognized in themselves their own sinfulness.

This is no small detail. We’re not talking about ordinary everyday Jews here. These are the scribes and Pharisee’s, some of the most educated people around. They knew Sacred Scripture backwards and forwards. They lived the Torah and endlessly debated what it meant and how best to live it out and they ferosciously policed others behaviours.

One by one
this realization did not perhaps strike them all at once. In a patriarchal culture like Judaism, they would have looked to the leader of the pack to make the first move.

beginning with the older ones
and so they looked to the older one’s, the elders, to make the first move. The older one’s who had been studying the Law longer than anyone and should know of a loophole if there was one. If these guys don’t know how to counter the words of Jesus, the younger one’s certainly couldn’t. Even if the younger one’s could, it’s doubtful they would have challenged the authority of the older ones. 

and Jesus was left alone
When all the crowd had left, Jesus was left alone with the woman. He affirmed her of His love for her and admonished her to “sin no more”.

The lesson for me… (and maybe you)
We often hear the Pharisee’s and scribes portrayed as arrogant, self important people and indeed they were that. At their hearts though they loved God. The problem is that they got wrapped up in their own status and their own righteousness (Luke 18:11-12) and they got lost in the details and minutia of the law (John 5:39).

The lesson for us: the hypocrites in the church think they love God and that has to be our starting point. Rebuking them for their attitude but acknowledging what it is they are looking for. At one point they were genuinely searching for God and somehow stalled and got stuck in some unholy rut. It is our role to hold them accountable in the true love of Christ, while acknowledging our own sinfulness.

Sacred Scripture assures us that not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). In eschatological terms, in contrast to the number of professing Christian today, Jesus will be left alone in the Kingdom of God.  Calling on His name is not a magic formula or an incantation, there has to be true desire for God and true repentance for sins behind it. Matthew 7:21 concludes saying that “only the one who does the will of my Father  who is in heaven [will enter the Kingdom].

The Pharisee’s were not doing the will of the Father, but the sad thing, is that they earnestly thought they were. They were zealous and passionate (think: Saul/St. Paul) for the Lord, but lost their way. Never take your salvation for granted. Even if you hold to “once save always saved”, arrogance is not a good sign. Pray continuously that you might be reminded of the Opus Dei – the work of God – and that you might be strengthened to persevere until His return.

Mel got Satan right

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The above image is a still from the History Channel’s The Bible of the Satan character. Comments aside about his resemblance to the current POTUS, I don’t like this Satan. I mean, I don’t like the actual Satan, but I don’t like this depiction of Satan in particular. It’s better than the red faced, horned devil of old, mind you. I don’t like it because there’s nothing attractive about it. Wait, what? Hold on, I’ll explain. Look at this next image.

 

Devil

 

This is an image of the Satan character from Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (a movie I personally love). It is a woman, head and eyebrows shaved. She is intended to be a bit androgynous looking and partly angelic. In other words, confusing. She’s supposed to look beguiling, like someone you could find yourself attracted to but at the same time, know you can’t entirely trust her/him/it.

That sounds more like the Biblical Satan and certainly sin to me. Sin has an attractive quality to it, it must, or we wouldn’t do it! We must remember that Satan is a fallen angel and angels are well angelic or beautiful. Now, misnomers about angels aside, that’s another post, a beautiful Satan figure makes more sense to me than an ugly, old man, image.

Satan #1 might reflect and accurate portrait of the true nature of evil and sin, but I think Satan #2 reflects how we see sin in our fallen state.

What do you think? Which image makes more sense to you as an accurate depiction of evil?

 

 

 

 

A Lesson from Olympus Has Fallen

 

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My wife and I went to see the movie Olympus Has Fallen this past Saturday. In short, it’s an amazing movie and the best action flick I’ve seen in a very long time. This isn’t so much about the movie though, but it does provide an illustration about why many people find the story of Jesus’ death so difficult too believe.

The movie is basically about terrorists that attack the White House and take the president hostage, along with several members of his cabinet. During the high impact, heart pounding attack sequence, we see several capital police and secret service agents shot down trying to repel the attackers and protect the visible centre of America’s power. This is something we can accept. Those of lower status (police and secret service agents) protecting those of higher status. We see the bodies strewn about the lawn and hallways of the white house and we understand that they willingly gave their life to a greater cause. Now, realistically, no one dies to protect a person in this situation, they die to protect an office; an idea greater than themselves.

The story of Christ is exactly opposite. It is the story of a person of higher status dying for the sake of those who are legitimately lower in status than Himself. Not only that, He does it by becoming one of them. If the President died while pretending to be a secret service agent and trying to protect one of them, we would think him foolish and irresponsible. He’s not allowed to play games with his life. So, we think with God. How could he lower Himself to our level and take a bullet for us? Christ died for a purpose higher than us, he died for His own purpose. It’s strange, it’s backwards and it’s no wonder so many don’t believe it.

In return for His sacrifice then, a sacrifice that is completely the opposite from what we understand in popular culture, how do we respond? Do we live a life worthy of that sacrifice or do we say “what have you done for me lately”?

Will you take a bullet for Jesus as He took the nails for us?

Miracle Landing:: Movie

This doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but I found this movie on YouTube. I remember when it first aired in 1990 and I loved it. I still like it. It’s based on the true story of a airplane that lost part of its fuselage in mid-flight and was still able to land with minimal loss of life.

Give it a watch.

Movie: Whistleblower : Disturbing, intense, & engaging.

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My wife and just watched a disturbing but engaging film called The Whistleblower. The 2010 film starring Rachel Weisz dramatizes the true life story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the U.N. for covering up a sex scandal. The scandal was the trafficking of young girls into the sex trade. Not only were UN and various international personnel involved as clients, they also became directly involved in the trafficking of the girls, using UN clearances and vehicles for the task. As one character in the movie said “After the war, all our men are dead. So, who is using these girls?”.

The film is quite graphic, just as much in what it implies, as what it directly shows. If the girls speak to Bolkovac and are discovered they risk being tortured, or in one case, murdered. There are billions in government contracts as well as reputations on the line. To make things harder, all international personnel have diplomatic immunity and are never prosecuted by their home countries. Unfortunately, the movie does not have a happy ending. The girls aren’t recused and some are left in a worse state because they spoke to investigators.

I can’t recommend the movie enough, but not for the squeamish. The one lesson you should take away from this movie is that sex trafficking is real and modern day slavery is alive and well. Girls become the worst kind of property, are abused, tortured and sold like cattle (and I dare say cattle are likely treated better).

Sex trafficking is a problem everywhere. I live in Toronto, Canada’s most populace city. I know it happens here. I know somewhere in this city there are young girls being prostituted. They have been torn way from their families and are told they are “working off their debts” to their captors. It disgusts me, as do the ancillary industries that it supports like strip clubs and pornography. We are loosing what it means to be human. We have, as Pope Benedict XVI said “The world has lost its story”(1) and with an understanding of the human story.

If you’re interested in knowing more or getting involved in action against this evil, there are several organization working to end this evil. If you are interested, here’s three of them that friends have pointed me to.

Additional article
What the UN Doesn’t Want You to Know (Telegraph UK)

(1) Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times (Ignatius Press), Peter Seewald in conversation with Pope Benedict XVI.

Meet Bishop Welcome (Les Mis)

One of my favourite characters in Lés Miserables is someone who has very little screen/stage time but who is very much the hinge on which the story turns. I mean of course the Bishop who shows Valjean unconditional love and brings him to God. This is a fascinating article on the development of the character and what Victor Hugo was trying to do with such a positive portrayal of a cleric in a time when the church was seen as hopelessly corrupt.

The book’s first hundred pages or so are a detailed chronicle of Myriel’s exemplary life, showing that his intervention on behalf of Jean Valjean was part of a long track record and not a singular aberration. Apparently Hugo recognized no contradiction between his anticlericalism and the possibility—or certainty—that grace could be mediated by a just priest who was transparent to the divine and never betrayed the human.

Read the whole article, it’s not that long. I want to read the book even more now, just to read more about Bishop Welcome.