Bringing balance back to the Force

I can’t claim aesthetic objectivity here, but I really, really liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I lucked out last night when a friend of mine announced on Facebook that he had an extra ticket to a showing at the National Air and Space Museum’s IMAX theater. Pretty sweet!


Anyway, I pretty much agree with the critical consensus: J.J. Abrams et al. don’t do anything radically new with the franchise; it’s a more-or-less paint-by-numbers refresh of A New Hope (or just “the first Star Wars” as we used to call it). But it really is refreshing: a breath of new life into the stilted museum-piece George Lucas’s universe had threatened to turn into. The new characters–Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo Ren–are just as easy to invest in as Luke, Han and Leia were the first time we met them. I’m more excited to see future stories with the new cast than to see more of the veterans. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a particular standout. (Though don’t get me wrong: The return of Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, not to mention Chewie and everyone’s favorite droids, was more than welcome.)

And just on a basic level of craft (sets, direction, dialogue, performances) the new movie is galaxies away from the prequels in particular. It is legitimately exciting, funny, and affecting at various points. You could easily argue that the plot is a bit undercooked, but that didn’t stop it from being the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time.

Basically, if you love Star Wars (as I do), you’ll probably love The Force Awakens.


Do we need another Jesus movie?

Probably not, but we’re getting one anyway. Here’s the trailer for Son of God, due out this month:

Apart from some snazzy modern special effects, this looks depressingly by-the-numbers, right down to the very Caucasian-looking Jesus.

My favorite film versions of the story of Jesus are still Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth and Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ. Neither are without their flaws, but the former, in my opinion, is the best straight-ahead film version, while the latter takes the most interesting risks with the story. Maybe it helps that both are based on solid books–Zeffirelli’s on Anthony Burgess’s novelization of the gospel story (Burgess also helped write the screenplay), and Scorcese’s on, of course, Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel.

It’s too bad (though maybe not surprising) that the story of Jesus hasn’t inspired filmmakers to do much more than create period costume dramas of varying quality.

Miscellaneous links and such, mostly theological

This post strikes a good balance in responding to the controversy over a tweet Calvinist preacher John Piper posted immediately after the tornado in Oklahoma.

I enjoyed this podcast of some philosophers discussing Schleiermacher’s “On Religion.” Although they don’t seem to be very familiar with his more explicitly theological work–particularly The Christian Faith–which provides some important context in discussing his views and overall project.

The new pope seems to be taking the “preferential option for the poor” pretty seriously (via bls).

I’m in the middle of this biography of John Wesley. So far my takeaway is that Wesley was in many ways an extremely admirable person, if not necessarily a very likable one. (Of course, the same could be said of many great figures in church history.)

And here’s a new trailer for the upcoming Superman movie:

Quote of the day

What makes “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” interesting, to the extent that something that’s so fundamentally idiotic and soul-deadening can also be “interesting,” is what you might call its aesthetic and ontological ambivalence.

From Andrew O’Hehir’s review at Salon.

Friday Links

–A challenge to libertarians on the coecivene power of private entities.

–A.O. Scott on superhero movies as a Ponzi scheme.

–Richard Beck of Experimental Theology on why he blogs.

–A political typology quiz from the Pew Research Center. (I scored as a “solid libera.l” Although I’d take issue with the way some of the choices were presented.)

–An end to “bad guys.”

–Def Leppard’s Hysteria and the changing meaning of having a “number 1” album.

–The folks at the Moral Mindfield have been blogging on the ethical implications of killing bin Laden, from a variety of perspectives.

–Ta-Nehisi Coates on Abraham Lincoln and slavery.

–Marvin had a good post earlier this week on the death of bin Laden and Christian pacifism.

–Christopher has a post on problems with the language of “inclusion” and “exclusion” in the church.

–I don’t always agree with Glenn Greenwald, but I’m glad he’s out there asking the questions he asks. He’s been blogging up a storm this week on the circumstances surrounding bin Laden’s death.

–Brandon has a concise summary of the history behind Cinco de Mayo.

ADDED LATER: How do you feed 10 billion people? By eating less meat for starters.

Friday links

–Augustinian and Pelagian software.

–A John Polkinghorne lecture on science and religion.

–Batman as plutocrat.

–Korn and Limp Bizkit: the soundtrack to nihilism.

–Martha Nussbaum on John Stuart Mill: between Bentham and Aristotle.

–The disconnect between the science and economics of climate change.

–Peter Berger, who describes himself as a political conservative and a theological liberal, has some reflections on same-sex marriage.

–The trailer for the X-Men prequel: “X-Men: First Class.”

–Toward an agenda for the left.

–B. R. Meyers’ moral crusade against foodie-ism.

–Noam Chomsky on how global warming became a “liberal hoax” (and a bunch of other stuff).

ADDED LATER: Sunken ship commanded by real-life ‘Moby Dick’ captain discovered. And here’s a link to the “Power Moby-Dick” website referred to in the article.

Jesus at the movies

Crystal, who blogs at Perspective, had a post recently that referred to the 1999 TV movie Jesus. This got me thinking that I still regard Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (with scripting by Anthony Burgess, based in part on his book Man of Nazareth) as the definitive film adaptation Jesus’s life. I also enjoyed Scorsese’s Last Tempation of Christ, and think that it’s actually more reverent than its reputation would lead you to believe. (Though I still have a hard time with Harvey Keitel as Judas.) If it’s classic Hollywood epic you’re after, George Stevens’ The Greatest Story Ever Told is hard to beat. (Charlton Heston as John the Baptist! John Wayne as the centurion at the foot of the cross!) There was also the 2003 movie The Gospel of John, which, if I recall correctly, was a word-for-word retelling of the fourth gospel (and starred Henry Ian Cusick–a.k.a. Lost‘s Desmond–as Jesus!). And who could forget Mel Gibson’s notorious Passion of the Christ, which I have to admit I found powerful, even if troubling in several respects.

What’s your favorite portrayal of Jesus on film?

This will either be really terrible or kind of awesome (possibly both)

This is news to me:

2010: Moby Dick is an upcoming film adaptation of the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. The film is an Asylum production, and stars Barry Bostwick as Captain Ahab.

The film takes place in the modern day, and follows Dr. Michelle Herman (Renée O’Connor), who has recently joined a submarine – the USS Pequod – commanded by Captain Ahab (Barry Bostwick), who is on an obsessive hunt throughout the seas for a giant whale.

Herman becomes anxious as Ahab’s insanity worsens throughout the voyage, and crescendos as the submarine finally crosses paths with the giant whale.

Spoiler alert!

This trailer for the 1956 John Huston/Gregory Peck film version of Moby-Dick gives an awful lot away.

Maybe they were assuming most people had read the book?

I haven’t seen it yet, but the New York Times liked it quite a bit.

From hell’s heart I stab at thee

Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!

Moby-Dick, chapter 135

And, the original: