January 07, 2007

Children Of Men Film

Saw an extraordinary new movie last night, Children of Men. Then went back this afternoon and saw it again. It's not a perfect movie — some of the dialog is clunky, and some of the acting, too — but no matter. No other movie comes close in communicating a visceral sense of the dark path we're all headed down. Stuff we've all read about suddenly becomes real. Harrowing, but not to be missed.

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October 05, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11 Out On DVD Film  Media  Politics

The Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD is out today. Amazon sales rank: #1.

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August 29, 2004

Bonhoeffer, Part 2 Activism  Essays  Film  Religion

[Continued from Part 1]

The Church had long since ducked the moral challenge of the Sermon on the Mount by taking the position that it set an unattainable standard for the purpose merely of making us see our sinful natures. Bonhoeffer, however, came to realize that Jesus' message was far more radical in its import: Jesus intends us actually to live the Sermon on the Mount, to put its precepts into practice and apply them to the moral challenges that come our way.

Bonhoeffer had no illusions about the difficulty of so doing. In Discipleship, he wrote about the difference between cheap grace and costly grace:

Cheap grace is grace without the Cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the Gospel. It costs people their lives. It cost the life of God’s Son. And nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.

To me, a non-believer, those are electrifying words, as powerful as anything I have ever read along these lines. They reveal in a lightning flash a whole new dimension of the Crucifixion story: the Crucifixion is a moral demonstration of the profoundest possible sort. The radical principles Jesus enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount (blessed are the poor, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, love thy enemies, and all the rest) are principles that worldly powers will resist even unto death. Putting those principles into practice can get you killed — even if you are the Son of God.

They are radical principles. But Jesus, the ultimate embodiment of human godliness, shows us by his self-sacrifice how seriously he himself takes those principles and how seriously he means for us to take them. They are not just noble sentiments. They are not just pie in the sky. They are principles one must be prepared to die for. They are principles the Son of God was prepared to die for. They are principles God Himself was prepared to sacrifice his Son for.

Notice that Bonhoeffer says costly grace — authentic grace — involves "the living, incarnate Jesus Christ." That is, it must be lived, it must be incarnated here on Earth, it is inseparable from what one does in this world. As Bonhoeffer wrote to his fellow conspirators after ten years of Nazi rule:

We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.

Notice also that Bonhoeffer says costly grace involves the Cross. I.e., it involves a willingness to take onto oneself struggle, self-sacrifice, and even death. Indeed, Bonhoeffer wrote, "Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death." Costly grace is earned the hard way.

Let’s read those words again:

Cheap grace is grace without the Cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the Gospel. It costs people their lives. It cost the life of God’s Son. And nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.

Bonhoeffer’s grace was costly indeed, and therefore authentic indeed. His moral struggle unto death was a modern crucifixion; he lived the drama of the Crucifixion in his own life. For Bonhoeffer, to be a Christian was to follow Christ by being in this world, as Christ was, acting on behalf of those who suffer, as Christ did, and being prepared, as Christ was, to sacrifice everything.

Compare that with the decidedly cheap grace claimed by many born-again Christians in present day America. The belief that all one has to do is accept Christ and one is thereby automatically Saved, that Christ died for our sins and saved us by His death, lets one escape paying any real cost at all. It is as if one is standing on the sidelines cheering for Jesus as he goes to his crucifixion, when what Jesus wants is for us to take up our own cross and follow him. That is, we are to follow Jesus’ radical moral example and not let even death deter us.

"Nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God."

[Click here to view a photo of Bonhoeffer]

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August 28, 2004

Bonhoeffer, Part 1 Activism  Essays  Film  Religion

In an earlier post, I wrote about religion as metaphor, and the considerable mischief that ensues when people insist on taking it as literal, factual truth. To say the metaphors are not to be taken literally, however, is not to say one cannot take them seriously. That is, one can choose to take them to heart and to allow them to resonate powerfully in one’s psyche (or soul, if you prefer) in a sort of willing suspension of unbelief, while remaining aware of their status as metaphors, and remembering that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. All of which is meant as prelude to suggest what I, a non-believer, can mean by the following.

I've recently watched the excellent documentary film Bonhoeffer, the story of the Protestant theologian, teacher, and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer of Germany. Bonhoeffer steadfastly and publicly criticized Hitler, then joined in the anti-Hitler Resistance, and finally plotted with others to assassinate Hitler. He and his co-conspirators were discovered by the Nazis and hanged.

It’s a remarkable film that I recommend highly, not least because of its relevance to us in these dark times. Bonhoeffer was one of those rare individuals who refuse to absolve themselves in any way from the responsibility to confront the injustices of this world. He wrestled with the deep moral questions of his day with every fiber of his being, in a struggle that continued until his death. You can see it in his magnetic young face and you can hear it in his words, and his example is profoundly instructive, inspiring, and moving.

A variety of influences made their mark on Bonhoeffer, from the Christ-centered theology of Karl Barth, to the nonviolent activism of Gandhi, to the heartfelt immediacy of African-American worship and spirituals. The bedrock of Bonhoeffer’s moral vision, though, was the Sermon on the Mount. As he wrote:

I think I am right in saying that I [will] only achieve true inner clarity and sincerity by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. This is the only source of strength that can blow all this [Nazi] nonsense sky-high.

[Part 2 tomorrow]

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August 22, 2004

The Corporation Film

I went to see the film The Corporation tonight.

It's an amazing work. I don't know if I've seen a more important film in my life. I mean that literally and most sincerely. It's enormously informative, it's infuriating, it's horrifying, it's inspiring, it's motivating, it's eye-opening, it's mind-altering.

And the scope is breath-taking. So many issues are covered so powerfully and so well — enough for half a dozen films — but somehow the film-makers manage to capture the essence of each issue, powerfully and memorably. It's an absolute tour de force of focused communication.

I'd like to write more substantively about the film's content, but I don't have time tonight to even begin to do it justice. So, mainly what I want to say is that if you live somewhere where The Corporation is playing, I urge you to go see it. If you don't have access to it now, be sure to see it when it comes out on video. An amazing, amazing film.

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July 22, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11's Impact Film  Politics

Surprising and exciting news from an AP story:

Republicans initially dismissed "Fahrenheit 9/11" as a cinematic screed that would play mostly to inveterate Bush bashers.

Four weeks and $94 million later, the film is still pulling in moviegoers at 2,000 theaters around the country, making Republicans nervous as it settles into the American mainstream.


Based on a record-breaking gross of $94 million through last weekend, theaters already have sold an estimated 12 million tickets to "Fahrenheit 9/11." A Gallup survey conducted July 8 to 11 said 8 percent of American adults had seen the film at that time, but that 18 percent still planned to see it at a theater and another 30 percent plan to see it on video.

More than a third of Republicans and nearly two-thirds of independents told Gallup they had seen or expected to see the film at theaters or on video. [My emphasis]

So, well over half of all American adults plan to see it, including about 1/3 of Republicans and 2/3 of independents.


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July 07, 2004

July 4 Weekend Box Office Film

Weekend box office figures from Yahoo:

Film$ (millions)ScreensPer-Screen Avg
Spider-Man 2115.8415227,890
Fahrenheit 9/1122.0172512,750
White Chicks11.528004,100
The Terminal10.827823,880
The Notebook10.423234,475

Fahrenheit 9/11 continues to crush everyone but Spidey, especially in per-screen average.

Postscript: Michael Moore has started a blog.

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July 06, 2004

Nightmare on Mel Street Film

Amusing and somewhat startling take on The Passion of the Christ (which I haven't seen) at The Talent Show.

I'm amazed that the stuff pointed out there has gotten so little mention elsewhere. What's up with that?

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July 03, 2004

Bedtime for Bozo 9/11, "War On Terror"  Film

A blog I like a lot, The Talent Show, recently had a post called Fahrenheit's Missing Question. Here's how it starts:

When I met Michael Moore last January, we spent most of the time talking about the Democratic primaries and how disastrous the Bush presidency has been, but one of the subjects that naturally came up was Bush's actions on September 11th. Now there's been a lot written about the "seven minutes" sequence in Fahrenheit 9/11 for good reason (it's pretty damning to watch the leader of the free world sit still while his nation is under attack), but that wasn't the question that seemed to tug at Mike the most. When we spoke, his big question was about the reports that on the evening of 9/11, Bush went to bed at his normal time, around 11PM. [My emphasis]

"How could he have just gone to bed after all that? Everyone I know was glued to their TVs and unable to sleep." he said.

Our Commander in Chief, at the center of what must have been an absolute tornado of frantic activity and near-panic, can think of nothing better to do than to climb into his jammies and go to bed.

Man, I wish Michael Moore had put that in the movie.

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Deja Vu? Film  Iraq  War and Peace

Interviewed for Errol Morris' film Fog of War (2004), Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense, 1961-68), referring to our present situation, said:

What makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe we should ever apply that economic, political, or military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn’t have been there. None of our allies supported us, not Germany, not Japan, not Great Britain or France. If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we’d better reexamine our reasoning. [My emphasis]

Fog of War also includes 1965 footage of McNamara saying:

This is not primarily a military problem. It’s a battle for the hearts and the minds of the people of South Vietnam. As a prerequisite to that, we must be able to guarantee their physical security.

Sound familiar?

The Vietnam war dragged on for another 10 years before the US finally saw what should have been obvious all along: we were the source of the violence. By McNamara's own estimate, the result was 3.4 million Vietnamese killed, the equivalent, he says, as a percentage of population, of 27 million US deaths.

Iraq is not Vietnam, of course, but — as in Vietnam — we've inserted ourselves into a situation where our mere presence is the cause of ongoing violence. We say the violence must end before we can leave, and then we wonder why we never end up leaving. Not exactly rational.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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June 29, 2004

MPAA Censors Ad for Fahrenheit 9/11 Film  Politics

Buried in an article on Yahoo News:

The distributors [of Fahrenheit 9/11] grudgingly agreed on Monday to abide by a Motion Picture Association of America ban on the use of movie critic Richard Roeper's quote, "Everyone in the country should see this film," in advertising blurbs for the film. [My emphasis]

The studio industry group ruled Roeper's phrase ran counter to the MPAA's R-rating for the film, which restricts anyone aged 17 and under from seeing the film unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

Word on the ruling came after a conference call on Monday among MPAA president Jack Valenti, Roeper and fellow critic Roger Ebert and executives for Lions Gate and IFC.

Tom Ortenberg, Lions Gate distribution president, called the MPAA decision "unfortunate," but said exit polling showed that "everyone is indeed seeing it, and we are thrilled." He said the film played strongly in big cities and small towns, alike, and in Democratic as well as Republican states.

Call me cynical, but I'm guessing this wouldn't have happened to The Passion of the Christ, also R-rated.

(Thanks to reader Charyn for the tip.)

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June 28, 2004

Bush in the Classroom on 9/11 9/11, "War On Terror"  Film

Bush supporters complain bitterly about Fahrenheit 9/11, but the film could have been far more inflammatory than it was.

Consider, for example, the sequence in which Bush is shown sitting with a 2nd grade class for a number of minutes after the second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.

If you watch the original video of that occasion (available in several versions on the web, for example here), you will see Bush enter the classroom at a time when authorities already knew that at least two planes had been highjacked, and one of them had already crashed into the World Trade Center, long known to be #1 on the terrorist target wish-list. Bush jokes with the 2nd graders and poses for photos with their teacher. Just another photo op morning. After a minute or two, the smiling President takes his seat, and the reading demonstration begins.

Now suppose Michael Moore had done the whole sequence in split screen. We see Bush on one half, joking and posing, and on the other we see the burning WTC. Maybe we see people beginning to jump from the top floors. A few minutes go by, then we see the second plane slam into the WTC, and Andrew Card comes and whispers in Bush's ear to tell him "America is under attack." Soon the kids begin to read My Pet Goat, and Bush picks up a copy to follow along. Meanwhile, on the other half of the screen, both towers are now in flames, smoke pouring out, people jumping. Minutes pass.

Suppose further that Moore had let the video continue all the way to the end, where Bush again jokes with the 2nd graders as if he's got nowhere else to go that morning, and again poses for photos before finally leaving to go do his job as Commander in Chief. Still in split screen.

Moore was smart not to go that far, and I'm glad he didn't. But just imagine if he had.

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Nuclear Denial Film  War and Peace

I watched Errol Morris' extended interview with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Fog of War, the other night.

McNamara asked the following rhetorical question, the importance of which cannot be overstated:

Is it right and proper that today there are [still] 7500 strategic offensive nuclear warheads, of which 2500 are on 15 minute alert, to be launched by the decision of one human being?

McNamara also related an anecdote about the early 60s that can be taken to illustrate the danger of putting that kind of power in the hands of one person or a small group of people:

At the time we had a 17-to-1 strategic advantage in nuclear numbers. We’d done 10 times as many tests as [the Soviets] had. We were certain we could retain that advantage if we limited the tests. The [Joint] Chiefs were all opposed. They said the Soviets would cheat. Well, I said, how will they cheat? You won’t believe this, but they said, they’ll test them behind the moon.

The anecdote is telling in a couple of respects. For one thing, it indicates the US' true motives for backing limitations on testing. Far from being a move to promote peace, it was a move to retain a decisive advantage. The relevant aspect for the point I'm making here, though, is that it shows people can reach the highest levels of responsibility and still have exceedingly wacky and dangerous ideas. 'Behind the moon', indeed.

Forty years ago, the military leaders were crazy and the civilians acted as a moderating influence. Today, it's the other way around. Given that it's the civilian leadership that has the ultimate decision-making power, we're worse off.

Either way, it is insane (literally) that we still have thousands of thermonuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, and it is insane (literally) that we allow one single member of our irrational primate species to have exclusive control over the button.

As McNamara stresses repeatedly, so far we've just been lucky. We can't be lucky forever.

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Something's Happening Here... Film  Politics

Sell-out crowds in Fayetteville, NC, and now this.

Very, very cool.

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June 27, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11 Tops Weekend Box Office Film  Politics

From CNN:

Michael Moore's red-hot documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" earned more in its first three days of release across North America than his Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine" did in its entire run, the film's distributors said Sunday.
"Fahrenheit 9/11," in which Moore takes aim at President Bush, and the war in Iraq, opened at No. 1 after selling about $21.8 million worth of tickets in the United States and Canada since June 25.

The film opened in two theaters in New York Wednesday to help build even more media buzz before expanding to a relatively modest 868 theaters two days later. (In contrast, most of the other movies in the top five were playing in more than 2,500 theaters each.)


[T]he film played strongly in both Democrat and Republican states, even drawing sell-out crowds in Republican strongholds like Nassau County, New York and Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg. [My emphasis]

Bush is toast.

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June 26, 2004

Opening Night 9/11, "War On Terror"  Film

I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 tonight. It's an extraordinary film. It's currently showing in just one theater here in Madison, WI, but all shows are already sold out through tomorrow, including the midnight shows they've added to try to meet the demand.

The trailer for the film had a rabble-rousing, fist-pumping electricity, with a rock 'n' roll soundtrack; the film itself isn't like that at all. The tone is a lot more measured than we’ve seen from Michael Moore in previous films, with considerably less of his trademark goofiness and hyperbole. There are laughs to be sure, but the overall effect is that this time, he’s serious, and it’s a whole lot more likely to make you cry than cheer.

The picture that emerges of George Bush is just devastating. For me, what did it wasn’t so much the various factual charges that Moore levels against Bush, though if I hadn’t already been familiar with that material I’m sure I would have been shocked and appalled.

Instead, it was just seeing so many clips of George Bush back-to-back. It leaves one with a deep and very troubling sense of how profoundly shallow, mean-spirited, inauthentic, and juvenile he is, how third-rate, how stunted. He seems hollow. One looks in vain for genuine warmth, for depth or self-awareness, for basic humanity, and he is so shockingly and obviously unequal to being President. He’s faking it – and there's no hiding that fact. He's a nasty, self-important little man, and it's just creepy to watch.

None of this is news, but the impact here is visceral and quite unforgettable.

November can’t come soon enough.

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June 24, 2004

Go Michael, Go Michael! Film  Politics

CNN reports that Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" broke the single-day records at the two New York theaters where it has opened early.

At Loew's Village 7 theater, it beat the theater's single-day record previously set by "Men in Black." At the Lincoln Plaza theater it topped the record set by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

The film opens Friday in at least 868 theaters nation-wide. CNN reports:

Online ticket service Fandango.com reported Wednesday that "Fahrenheit 9/11" was making up 48 percent of advance ticket sales for the weekend ahead, compared to 11 percent for "Dodgeball" and 9 percent for next week's "Spider-Man 2."

I've got my tickets for Friday. Can't wait.

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June 17, 2004

More Must-See Movies Film  Politics

In an earlier post I linked to pages where you could download and view the trailers for a couple of upcoming must-see films.

Here are a couple more:

  • The Corporation, and

  • The Control Room.

    Both look very interesting. Let's hope we get the chance to see them in a theater. So far, they don't appear to have significant distribution.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:11 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    June 10, 2004

    Must-See TV Film  Politics

    A few things you'll want to download and watch, if you haven't already:

  • The electrifying trailer for Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11".

  • The trailer for "The Hunting of the President".

  • John Stewart's hilarious review of Ashcroft's Senate testimony. (If your media player plays the audio only, you need to download the DivX decoder. Go here and click on "Standard DivX Codec (FREE)". You'll definitely want to see the video as well as the audio.)

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, Michael Moore's trailer is effectively the best anti-Bush ad that's been produced to date. It's far more powerful than anything that's come out of the Kerry campaign, and it will be playing in theaters and, in a shortened form, on television. I can't wait to see the trailer - and the film - in a theater full of people. It should be quite a moment.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:38 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

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