“No Country for Old Men” – a movie review

If Tommy Lee Jones is in a movie, I am a fan.

No Country for Old Menis a film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film features Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem (just have to love Bardem’s haircut for the movie). No Country for Old Mendraws heavily on the themes of chance and fate. It tells the story of a drug deal gone very wrong and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama as three men crisscross each other’s paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas – a man who found money in a drug deal gone bad he happened to come across and took, the man who is being paid to get that money back into bad hands, and the sheriff who is trying to protect the man who found the money in the first place (By the way just looking at the film made me feel good that there is one place I do not live – West Texas).

The reality is that the sheriff finds that he is getting too old to fight evil, hence the title, No Country for Old Men. Evil is clever, relentless, and in its own way principled. The man paid to get the money back into the bad hands of those doing the deal does one thing – get the money back, whatever it takes. What he promises he will do, he does, and no amount of pain or gore will keep him from doing what he says he will do. The sheriff is always trying to catch up and finds that evil outruns him.

Cinderella Man it is not. At the end the good man fatigues and retires. There is no sweet ending. The battle simply goes on.

At first my impression of the movie is that it is slow. A morning later I want to see it again and really listen to the dialogue. It is a movie that focuses more on a character study than stimulating plot line as three men coming from very different places end up getting to know one another if only from a distance.

For Christians who love resolution this won’t be your movie. But perhaps us Christians need to sing more than praise songs and learn to sing the laments and mournings of the psalms as well.

Charlie Wilson’s War

My boys are home for Christmas, so it is movie time!!!!  Last night we went to see Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie Wilson was a US Representative who saw to the funding of the largest covert US operation in United States history, funding the Muhajadeen in Afghanistan in their war against the Soviets. He took the $5 million in funds and eventually oversaw its expansion to $500 million US dollars without any leakage to the press. Of course, this led to the only military defeat of the Soviets in their history and opened the way to the eventual collapse of the Soviet empire. It’s quite a story.

Charlie Wilson was a hard drinking, womanizing, fast living congressman from a no account district in Texas who got hold of an idea and was positioned to see it through. And he did. Some observations:

1. Wilson was no saint in his personal life and yet he did the US a great good and the people of Afghanistan a greater good. I have always wondered at the observations that you can’t trust a man in politics who will cheat on his wife (a phrase often thrown at Bill Clinton). The truth: that’s not true. It seems as if the role of religion in the Republican primaries is becoming an acid test for electability. If Huckabee says Jesus enough, then perhaps he is the one people should vote for. The reality is much different. Religious men like Jimmy Carter can be abysmal failures in the Presidency and rather religiously indifferent men like Ronald Reagan can do great things.

2. One person can do a great deal of good.

3. One person can see what so many others do not see.

4. All the great things Charlie Wilson did merely paved the way for a greater good that was waiting to be done – rebuild Afghanistan with schools, infrastructure, etc., to give that society a chance at modernity and progressiveness.  These are the things that no one was interested in. Stay through the movie and see the quote on the screen by Charlie Wilson at movie’s end. It’s worth the price of the ticket.

There are people who are doing real hard work behind the scenes who are changing history without applause simply because there are right things to do. You know some of those things to do. Do them.

I Am Legend

My boys and I went to see Will Smith in “I Am Legend.” Great movie. You won’t drift during this one. It’s one of those movies when everything is very quiet and then all hell breaks lose making people all over the theatre spill their drinks. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when.

This is the story of a killer virus at work that is the result of biotech engineering gone wrong. A few are immune to it, and Will Smith is one of those. Rather than fleeing the scene of its outbreak in NYC, he stays (as far as he knows the only one in NYC still alive) to do experimentation to find the cure. He is in constant dangerous from the remaining infected ones who have been turned into those who hunt by night and like vampires must avoid the light of day.

Will Smith carries the movie since he is essentially the only actor. He pulls it off.

The bottom line is that he finds the cure which is his own blood. That blood will save the few who have fled to far away Vermont where the zombies cannot find them. Let me see, a single hero whose own blood will save those who receive it!! Where have I heard this before?

This reminds me of GK Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man. Chesterton makes the point that before Christ the myths of the world pointed to something that would one day come true, a Savior who redeem the world. Then Christ came and became what CS Lewis called a True Myth, the fulfillment of all myths. All the world’s stories were a preparation for The Story.

“I Am Legend” is a myth that is in us. We don’t make it up. It comes out of us. We are all infected. We are creatures who live by night and dread the light. There is one who walks in the light and his blood will save us.

Gone, Baby, Gone

Mystic River redux.  This is a great flick. I need to see it again.

Casey Affleck (Ben’s brother) is the protagonist, an understated, low-key, baby-faced, soft-voiced PI. It’s great to have a main character who isn’t so cool you actually want to be him but interesting enough to watch and appreciate.

This is one of those movies that just when you think it’s over it ain’t….and then you put on your seat buckle for another round…and then you think it’s over, but it ain’t…and this time you hope your seat buckle still works. I love movies like this.

 The movie revolves around the question of whether or not it is best to do the right thing, though someone who is innocent might suffer terribly for it, or the thing that seems to common sense to bring the most good. I think we face this all the time. I do as a pastor. Affleck makes the decision for the right thing, the lawful thing, and then finds that he is alone.

Of course, if you’re from Boston it’s great to see the sites of the film, even if some places aren’t quite so pretty  – lower income city neighborhoods, people who grow up believing that life has three career options (firefighter, policeman or criminal), kids stuck in places that kill the soul, and adults who can’t get past their own issues.

Mystic River beats Gone, Baby, Gone – but not by much. The former has so much character development that you can’t get away from it. But the performance by Affleck holds its own. And the audience is riveted enough you won’t have to ask anyone to shhhh!!

Hollywoodland – Movie Review

There is certainly one thing this movie gets right – all people my age remember the day Superman died. George Reeves shot himself.  We knew he was only acting a Superman role, but shouldn’t someone who is even acting like Superman be stronger than the rest of us? 

This is an interesting movie but not a great one. Its themes are very human.

For one, it presents the struggle between image and reality, the conflict we all engage. People think one thing, but we are another. And for some people in our world the image we portray is useful. It gets them something they want. To be who we are, we have to end up disappointing people. That’s a weight that can be too heavy to bear.

Two, of all the scenarios that explain a downfall the one that makes sense ultimately is that we are the architects of our own demise. The PI investigating Reeves’ death initially concludes that murder and not suicide explains it. But part of the movie is the PI’s journey to the conclusion that suicide is every bit as reasonable an explanation as murder. Reeves was a man who depended too much on being taken care of by others, and when they called in the chips, he couldn’t take the hit. He could have walked away at any time, faced himself and then lived with what he found. That takes courage. It was a courage he didn’t have.

Three, we can get in too deep until extricating ourselves becomes so painful that death seems preferable. Denial and death are twins. But we don’t see it until it’s too late.

Four, being a hero and playing a hero, even if it is in the movies, sets up some very painful moments.

The fact is that we live in a world where others have something to gain by us staying where we are. Not to fear them is the armor.

Amazing Grace – Movie Review

Simply put – it’s a good movie if you come with questions and desire.

The movie starts slow and stays low for a period of time. And perhaps there is not enough tension in the main character to keep the viewer fully engaged. He is somewhat stereotypically religious despite his quirks and oddities. But there is enough here for the serious Christ-follower to fill in the blanks and create a story all by himself/herself.

The bottom line reality is this: Jesus and the impulse he set loose in the world is THE great fact of history, to paraphrase Kenneth Latourette, Yale church historian. Wherever the Spirit of Jesus goes the world gets changed, one way or another. No sincere Christ-follower can escape feeling the suffering of the word. Jesus tenderizes the heart, and there comes back again and again to the Christian heart the words of Jesus, “For God so loved the world…” The response of the Apostle Paul captures this: “When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones.” (2Co 11:29)

This is what makes Amazing Grace captivating. The Christ-follower gets a look at what happens when a heart is compelled by the love of Christ. Self-reflection is what keeps me riveted to the movie. Is this me? Would I bear that price? Would I persevere that long? Would I spend and be spent?

I am not acquainted with the politics of Wilberforce and how he played the game. The movie suggests that Wilberforce’s cause did not prosper until he learned to play that game. I wonder. The message reminded me of the aphorism of Jesus about being a wise as serpents and gentle as doves. The movie makes the point is that we cannot simply be moral – we must be engaged for real change. Certainly in our day we think of James Dobson and Chuck Colson.

Sometimes I wonder about the conservatism of evangelicalism. Woodrow Wilson said that a conservative is someone who sits and thinks, but mostly sits. That would describe a lot of our churches. We will send money for missions all over the world – medical missions, literacy missions, educational missions, etc., but we won’t do the same thing in our cities and towns. This is a generalization, to be sure, but a generalization that we all know is true enough to make us uneasy.

See the movie. Ask yourself what part of the world’s suffering touches your heart. And then launch. Don’t just be good. Do some good.