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On Sex, Marriage, and the Movies, by Esther O’Reilly

3 Jul

When it comes to sexuality in the movies, many conservative Christians tend to err on the side of extreme caution. Some might use a service like VidAngel to filter out sexual content, while others prefer to skip a given film/show entirely. Rather than making case-by-case judgment calls based on the extent or context of specific scenes, they simply cut the Gordian knot: If it has something sexual in it, it can’t be good, end of story.

As a rule of thumb, this certainly has merit. Few films were ever improved by adding a sexual scene. Pick one at random, and you can safely bet it will be heavy on indulgence, light on edification. Hollywood’s track record in this department does not impress, to say the least.

But already, I know there are some people who would be uncomfortable with my wording just there. “Few? What do you mean? Why not just say ‘no’?” If I say Hollywood gets sex wrong more often than not, some may ask, “What would it mean to get it right?”

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MTOL Updates!

27 Apr

There’s no episode this week, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty going on at More Than One Lesson, including:

Tyler’s talk at the International Christian Film Festival
Tyler’s book, Worth Watching
Rushmore review
The Vampire Bat review
Colossal review
The Lost City of Z review
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan review
Free Fire review
The Fountain review
The Fear of God: Signs
Salty Cinema: Steve Taylor
Thimblerig’s Ark: Wildflower

There Is a Fountain, by Esther O’Reilly

15 Apr

Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is a mess of mythical proportions, literally and figuratively. A jumbled, uneven blend of sci-fi, historical fantasy, and romance, it was commercially ignored and critically snubbed upon its release in 2006. But since then, it’s gained a cult following. Stylistically, it’s a visual tone poem in the mold of Stanley Kubrick or Terrence Malick, impressively created with mostly practical effects. Like The Tree of Life, it aspires to be a story on a universal scale that remains rooted in the intimately particular sorrows of everyday human existence. This is encapsulated in one of the film’s earliest images, when we are introduced to a futuristic astronaut named Tom. The floating biosphere he inhabits, nearly taken up by an immense tree, seems like it couldn’t be more unmoored from reality. But when he turns, a vision comes to him: a young woman with close-cropped hair, lying asleep on a hospital bed.

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A Brand That Sticks, by Esther O’Reilly

6 Apr

James Mangold’s Logan is not the first film to market itself as an “adult” superhero story. It’s just the first to actually tell one. Set aside, for a moment, the slashing (sometimes necessary, sometimes gratuitous) and the swearing (sometimes amusing, sometimes gratuitous). These are secondary to the fact that no superhero film has ever offered such a devastatingly poignant portrayal of what age does to a man’s body and soul.

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He Shall Feed His Flock: A Christian Reflects on Manchester by the Sea, by Esther O’Reilly

17 Jan

Several New Year’s roundups noted the plethora of faith-friendly films released in 2016, including more than one positive depiction of Christians from heavyweight Hollywood directors. Perhaps the two most notable were Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Martin Scorsese’s Silence (if you count the latter’s limited 2016 release). Gibson, drawing from life, and Scorsese, drawing from literature, presented full-bodied Christian characters that demanded to be taken seriously. They were neither caricatures nor cardboard cut-outs, but complex men putting skin in the game for their deepest convictions. Tim Gray at Variety also noted John Hurt’s portrayal of a wise priest in the biopic Jackie. It may seem pathetic to be grateful when Hollywood gives us a priest who is neither a megalomaniac nor a pedophile, but the change is still welcome.

Despite this good news, an effectual Christian presence was lacking in one Best Picture contender, ironically one of the films where it was most sorely needed. I’m speaking about Manchester By the Sea.

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The Sacramental Void in Evangelical Film, by Esther O’Reilly

27 Dec

One of the salient features of a particular kind of film marketed explicitly to evangelical Christians is the use of what Tyler Smith calls “the emblem.” Among other characteristics, it typifies what Tyler has classified under the umbrella of “Christian social drama” in his master’s thesis. Examples of this genre include movies like Fireproof, Courageous, War Room, God’s Not Dead, and Do You Believe. The form of the emblem varies from movie to movie, but consistently, there’s some monument or object that represents the characters’ commitment to family and faith.

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A Step to the Block, by Esther O’Reilly

7 Sep

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Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them. – T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

You can trace every wrinkle on her face. She speaks carefully, measuring each word. Every now and then, she strokes the necklace around her throat. Surrounded by nothing but the studio’s pitch blackness, she seems suspended timelessly in time and space. She looks ahead with now sightless eyes, her vision fixed on something we cannot see. Her words hang in the still air, unpunctuated by narration, music or sound effects. She is 105 years old. She is Brunhilde Pomsel, former stenographer for Dr. Joseph Goebbels.

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One Thing of Beauty, by Esther O’Reilly

2 Sep

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The Soloist is one of those movies that should have been Oscar-level big, yet somehow never cleared the bar with critics or fans. In the spirit of Rain Man, you had one big-name actor doing a single-note virtuoso savant impression (Jamie Foxx), while another big-name actor took the more nuanced role of the protagonist who grows and changes through his encounter with the savant (Robert Downey, Jr.). Plus, this too-good-to-be-true story of a homeless, schizophrenic Juilliard drop-out and the journalist who discovered him had the benefit of actually being true, albeit a little fictionalized. But Joe Wright’s jerky direction, coupled with a sometimes cryptic script that went out of its way to avoid hitting sentimental beats, left this would-be Oscar bait hanging without so much as a nomination. Yet, despite its flaws, it’s a movie that’s stuck with me ever since I first saw it.

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