Martyn Lloyd-Jones and “Logic on Fire”

Logic On Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Directed by Matthew Robinson
Media Gratiae, 2015, 102 minutes

As Christians, our focus should always be on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our trust should never be in the flesh. Men and women will always let us down. But every once in awhile, the Lord lifts up a servant who is so strong in their love of Jesus Christ that we praise the Lord for their example. Such a man was Welsh-English pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981).

I don’t remember exactly when the Lord introduced me to the ministry of Loyd-Jones, but I’ve enjoyed gradually learning about the doctor via a book here, an article there. He was perhaps the most notable English evangelical of the last century, although I’m sure he would have despised such a title. When many English evangelicals were dallying with ecumenism with Rome in the 1960s and 70s, Lloyd-Jones would have none of it and stood firmly on the Gospel of grace. The Lord blessed the doctor with a rapier intellect. That’s right, unbelieving friend, you needn’t check your brain at the church door. But Lloyd-Jones was also interested in seeing the Gospel permeate a person’s entire being, not just their intellect. He was a strong advocate in the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of a believer, not in emotionalism or showy religious experience, but in knowing the actual presence of Holy God through the Word and prayer. Hence there was both logic and fire in the preaching and ministry of the doctor.

I enjoyed this biography documentary package of Lloyd-Jones tremendously. The first DVD includes the finished documentary, “Logic On Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones,” a biography of the doctor that relies mostly on the testimonies of family members, friends, and fellow-workers in the Gospel. The first DVD also includes three deleted sequences, one of which is the “1966 Evangelical Controversy,” in my estimation one of the most important segments in the entire package. The second DVD contains over three hours of additional interviews. The third DVD contains a segment on the dangers of church-growth pragmatism from John Snyder from his “Behold Our God” study series. Also, there’s a 128-page booklet with brief biographies of the contributors and interviewees and four sermons from the doctor.

Those who are unfamiliar with the ministry of Lloyd-Jones may want to begin with some short biographies (see here for an example) rather than this mountain of information, but I know as I continue to read his books and sermons, I’ll desire to return to this documentary package every now and then.

Praise the Lord for uncompromising preachers like Charles Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones! May the Lord continue to raise up faithful proclaimers of the Gospel!

“Logic On Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones” is readily available from Amazon. See here.

 

The “king of cool,” Steve McQueen, meets the KING of kings, Jesus Christ!

Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon
By Greg Laurie with Marshall Terrill
American Icon Press, 2017, 302 pages

Okay, okay. Yes, I’m a big hypocrite! In the 5/27/17 edition of the Weekend Roundup, I posted a short criticism of Christians who make a big deal out of celebrity conversions. So why am I reviewing a book about a celebrity conversion? I usually catch the last five minutes of Greg Laurie’s radio show every day on my drive into work and as he peddled his biography of actor, Steve McQueen, daily for a couple of weeks, I found myself becoming “curiouser and curiouser.” I can’t say I was a huge fan of McQueen growing up, but I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Virgil Hilts in the 1963 film, “The Great Escape.” Neither am I a big fan of Greg Laurie but I’ll expound on that below.

This book traces the life of McQueen, from his very troubled childhood and young adulthood to his subsequent great success as an actor with all the “benefits” of life in the Hollywood fast lane, including wealth, fame, women, and easy access to drugs. McQueen’s popular, anti-hero persona elevated him to icon status in America as the “King of Cool” in the 1960s. Laurie writes that it was often said of the actor, “Every man wants to be like him, and every women wants to be with him.” But McQueen grew tired of the emptiness of the Tinseltown lifestyle and realized there had to be more to life than empty fame and fortune. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the witness of several people, he eventually accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1979 and died from cancer the following year.

This was a strange book to read. Laurie is clearly a HUGE fan of the “King of Cool.” It was a little bizarre reading a book written by an “evangelical” pastor that is so out-and-out…worldly. I don’t know how else to phrase it. Laurie is a Calvary Chapel pastor and periodically holds big evangelistic outreach events under his “Harvest” banner. He’s also a regular on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and, just like the Crouches and their associates, is quite ecumenical in his approach. Ecumenist, Billy Graham, clearly another one of Laurie’s heroes, gets a lot of positive ink in this book (he visited McQueen during his last days and presented him with his personal Bible). Controversial actor/director/producer, Mel Gibson, a Catholic ultra-traditionalist, is also warmly saluted and Laurie even identifies him as a “man of faith.” Huh? There’s also the requisite multiple quotes from ecumenical muse, C. S. Lewis.

It seems from what I read in this book that Steve McQueen genuinely accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and I praise the Lord for that. Maybe some cool cat-wannabe or fading Baby Boomer* will pick up this book about the “King of Cool,” pondering why the 60s “icon” who appeared to “have it all” wanted to become one of those “crazy born-agains.” That was clearly Laurie’s motive in writing this book. McQueen told friends that he wanted to use his celebrity to lead others to Christ and I pray his desire comes true with this book. Unfortunately, Laurie’s ecumenical brand of big-tent “evangelicalism” is so squishy doctrinally, a devoted Catholic or other works-religionist could read about Mel Gibson being a “man of faith” and think, “I’m good.”

I don’t recommend anyone get their theology from Laurie or the rest of the TBN crowd and this book was the first and the last I’ll ever read from one of those guys. I thank the Lord for anyone who genuinely accepts Jesus Christ as Savior through a TBN-affiliated “ministry” (with God it’s possible), but I deeply hope they find a solid, Bible-preaching church immediately afterwards .

*Speaking of fading Baby Boomers, the very large print type used in this book was appreciated.

Taras Bulba – The movie

…and speaking of Polish history! Hats off to brother Wally for motivating me to dig deep into the files for this one.


Taras Bulba
Directed by J. Lee Thompson and featuring Tony Curtis, Yul Brynner, and Christine Kaufmann
United Artists, 1962, 122 minutes

“Taras Bulba” is the entertaining film adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s famous 1835 historical novella. The story is loosely based on the revolt of the Zaporozhian Cossacks against their Polish overlords, which began in the early 17th century.

Plot

The Cossacks of the Pontic-Caspian Steppes live under Polish rule but pine for their independence. Cossack leader, Taras Bulba (Brynner), desires that his sons, Andriy (Curtis) and Ostap, receive an education so he sends them to the Polish-controlled city of Kiev where Andriy falls head-over-heels for a beautiful Polish damsel (Kaufmann). The Polish nobility of Kiev don’t appreciate a Cossack peasant making overtures to one of their young ladies and the brothers are forced to flee the city.

Bulba leads a revolt against the Polish magnates, besieging the fortified city of Dubno. When Andriy realizes his love interest is behind the walls, he sneaks into the city and switches his allegiance to the Poles. With all of the city’s food gone and the population facing starvation, the Polish knights stage a last-ditch, desperate sally against the Cossack forces. Bulba confronts his disloyal son and kills him. The Cossacks occupy Dubno and Ukrainian peace and benevolence reign supreme.

Commentary

Yul Brynner is simply outstanding as the Cossack hetman (military and political governor). He was born for the part. Tony Curtis is a bit stiff as the son who turns against his father and his people for a Polish

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Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner help Christine Kaufmann celebrate her 17th birthday on the set of “Taras Bulba.”

damsel. A Ukrainian Cossack with a thick Bronx accent? Ridiculous. German actress, Christine Kaufmann, plays the love interest, Polish noblewoman, Natalia Dubrov. In real life, 37-year-old Curtis divorced his wife, actress Janet Leigh, to marry his 17-year-old co-star. Oy vey!

Director J. Lee Thompson does a decent job on this film, one of those Hollywood blockbuster historical epics of the late-50’s and early 60’s. The scene where Brynner breaks into song is a bit annoying but par for the course for Hollywood films at that time. Another scene, where Curtis and a rival Cossack jump their horses over a narrow chasm in an equestrian duel, is an absolute hoot.

This movie was one of my favorites growing up in the 60’s. I wouldn’t miss it whenever it came on television. But, being Polish-American, I was a bit annoyed that the Poles were cast as the bad guys.

Like most films based on historical events, “Taras Bulba” takes some liberties. The Ukrainian conquerors enter the Polish city of Dubno at the end of the movie promising a reign of magnanimity and liberty for all. However, history records that the Zaporozhian Cossacks slaughtered 100,000 Jewish men, women, and children during the most famous of the revolts, the Chmielnicki (Ukrainian: Khmelnytsky) Uprising (1648-1654). A large number of Jews had worked as agents of the Polish magnates and were deeply resented by the Ukrainian peasantry.

For the Polish perspective on the Chmielnicki Uprising, read “With Fire and Sword” by Henryk Sienkiewicz or see the same-titled 1999 Polish film, available on DVD starring Michal Zebrowski and Izabella Scorupco.

Additional thoughts from a believer

The centuries-old conflict between Poles and Cossacks/Ukrainians was not just about ethnicity and self-determination, it was also about religion. Poles were Roman Catholic while Cossacks were Eastern Orthodox. The Cossacks resented being ruled by Romanists. But just as with the Poles, religion for the Orthodox Ukrainians meant participation in the sacraments and much ritual and ceremony. Their religion did not teach the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Pushing aside the little guy for the “greater good”

Wild River
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, and Jo Van Fleet
20th Century Fox, 1960, 110 minutes

Director Elia Kazan had visited the Cumberland area of Tennessee in the early 1930s as an idealistic, young communist. He admired the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which tamed the flood-prone Tennessee River while providing much-needed hydro-electric power. For many years, Kazan desired to make a film about the tensions involved in the push for the greatest common good as represented by the TVA versus the disruption of individuals’ lives caused by the project.

Plot

It’s the 1930s and the TVA is on the verge of damming the Tennessee River and flooding several river valleys. Chuck Glover (Clift), a TVA bureaucrat based in Washington, is sent down to Garthville, Tennessee with the mission of removing the last remaining holdout, eighty-year-old Ella Garth (Van Fleet), who has no intention of selling her soon-to-be-flooded river island. Her widowed granddaughter, CarolM&L (Remick), is attracted to the urbane Glover and the two quickly form a relationship. Glover persuades Ella’s Black tenant farmers to leave the island along with their families but the matriarch remains adamant. At the same time, resentment mounts among the local White citizenry towards Glover’s policy of paying Blacks the same wages as Whites to help clear trees. Carol aggressively pursues the ambivalent Glover, asking him to marry her at the very moment the rednecks arrive at her house in order to send Glover packing. He can only admire Carol’s spunky defiance of the gang of good ol’ boys and asks her to elope. A federal marshal is finally brought in to evict Ella from the island. She is provided a small house on higher ground but dies of heartbreak shortly after. On their way to Washington D.C. via airplane, Glover, Carol, and her two children view the river and the only portion of Garth Island still above water; the family cemetery containing Ella’s fresh grave. Glover admired Ella for her foolhardy stubbornness but she stood in the way of “progress” and had to be sacrificed.

Commentary

Kazan filmed “Wild River” on location in the towns of Charleston and Cleveland, Tennessee. Close to one-hundred locals were used as extras. Emotionally crippled Monty Clift barely held it together throughout the filming. Kazan’s accounts of the actor’s performance are quite interesting. While Kazan bragged that he bullied Clift into remaining sober throughout the shoot, town lore has it that the McClary sisters regularly snuck liquor up to his room at the Cherokee Hotel. Twenty-five-year-old Lee Remick is superb as the young, love-starved widow. When she confidently and aggressively courts Clift, it’s all he can do just to sit alone, gape-mouthed, on the couch, leaving every viewer scratching their head. Jo Van Fleet is fantastic as Ella, skillfully portraying the eighty-year-old matriarch at the age of forty-five. Albert Salmi is entertaining as the alpha good ol’ boy. Overall, it’s a wonderful cast which includes several Kazan regulars.

“Wild River” was one of Kazan’s favorite films although its limited art house release guaranteed unprofitability. Fox was convinced 1960 movie audiences would not be interested in a film about the TVA. The movie was rarely shown on television and was only recently (2013) released on DVD.

Kazan had attempted to write the film script himself but eventually hired seasoned screenwriter, Paul Osborne. Kazan especially admired the conflict between Glover and Ella in which both held to positions that were simultaneously right and wrong. Relations between Blacks and Whites in the 1930’s segregated Deep South are portrayed quite candidly for a movie made in 1960.

I’ve seen “Wild River” many times but I appreciated watching it for the first time in HD on Blu-ray. Commentary is provided by Time magazine film critic, Richard Schickel, who doesn’t hide his deep admiration for “Wild River” or for Kazan and Remick. This is a pretty good film but Remick’s performance as someone attempting to straddle both “tradition” and “progress” was Oscar-worthy outstanding.

Additional thoughts from a believer

The Black workers on Garth island and Carol and her children regularly sing old Gospel hymns, with “In the Garden” featured most prominently. Kazan contrasts Christianity and “traditional” values (which includes negative attitudes such as racism) with utopian Liberal Progressivism. I’m all for improving people’s physical circumstances but true redemption can’t be found in either progressive or conservative politics. Jesus Christ transcends politics and physical conditions. But in all fairness to Kazan, one of the main messages of this film is that even the most “successful” progressive social engineering project will have its share of victims.

“Demagogue in Denim”

A Face in the Crowd
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and Lee Remick
Warner Brothers, 1957, 125 minutes

Director Elia Kazan and writer Bud Schulberg had had a huge success with “On the Waterfront” in 1954 and teamed up one more time for this quirky and extremely prescient movie.

Plot

A radio show producer, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), discovers a talented drifter, Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith), in a small-town Arkansas jail, and presents him with the moniker, “Lonesome.” Rhodes is given a slot on a local radio station and his folksy, irreverent humor is so popular he’s soon invited to host a Memphis television program. Although Rhodes infuriates the show’s sponsor, his audience loves him. A wheeler-dealer office gopher, Joey DePalma (Tony Franciosa), sets himself up as an agent and brokers a deal on behalf of Rhodes for a nationally televised show broadcast from New York City. Predictably, Rhodes’ soaring popularity and influence goes to his head. He’s rude to his staff and dumps fiancé Marcia for a 17-year-old baton twirler, Betty Lou Fleckum, (Lee Remick). Rhodes’ politically conservative sponsor soon has him playing kingmaker by having him stump for ultra-right-wing Senator Fuller for President. Staff writer, Mel Miller (Walter Matthau), attempts to turn Marcia against Rhodes, but she’s already souring on her discovery. When Rhodes candidly berates his viewership during the closing credits of his show, Marcia, unbeknownst to him, manipulates the sound board, purposely broadcasting his insults over the airwaves. His audience and sponsors abandon Rhodes overnight. When no one shows up at his gathering for conservative politicians and corporate big wigs, Rhodes calls Marcia threatening suicide. She goes to Rhodes’ penthouse to reveal she was the one who betrayed him. The movie ends with Rhodes screaming for Marica to come back as she rides away in a taxi cab.

Commentary

Andy Griffith is an absolute hoot in his film debut. Few people saw this, his finest performance, but Griffith would find his audience three years later on “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-1968) on television, playing a character quite unlike Lonesome Rhodes. Patricia Neal gives a great performance. The film did poor box office, which is understandable given the protagonist is an unlovable monster. There’s no doubt the movie was ahead of its time as Bud Schulberg’s script eerily foretold the role of television in politics. Sources reveal the character of Rhodes was inspired in part by Arthur Godfrey and Will Rogers.

“A Face in the Crowd” has some wonderful scenes and some great performances but it’s not quite a five-star movie. Schulberg and Kazan over-reached the mark with this undisguised left-wing, preachy, soapbox. One gets the feeling that with “A Face in the Crowd,” Schulberg and Kazan were saying, “Sure, we may have named names before HUAC but see, we’re still good liberals!”

Ted Turner’s Turner Movie Classics (TMC) cable channel aired “A Face in the Crowd” repeatedly during the 2016 presidential primaries and campaign. Evidently, the folks at TMC felt there were more than a few parallels between Lonesome Rhodes and candidate Donald Trump’s blustering brand of populism.

The DVD includes no commentary but there is an interesting documentary, “Facing the Past” (2005), featuring interviews with Schulberg, Neal, and Griffith.

Trivia alert: Kazan filmed the opening scenes of “A Face in the Crowd” in Piggott, Arkansas. As in most of Kazan’s later films, many non-actor locals were used in small parts and as extras. The house with the swimming pool was the home of businessman Karl Pfeiffer who often entertained his sister and her husband, Ernest Hemingway, poolside.

Additional thoughts from a believer

With “A Face in a Crowd” Kazan and Schulberg warn of the burgeoning influence of television and right-wing manipulation via media demagogues. Sixty years later, we’ve witnessed both ends of the political spectrum attempting to sway public opinion through the media but the reality is that the Left has actually become much more adroit at media manipulation than the Right.

So then, what is our bottom line? Atheist Kazan saw society in terms of a battle between Left and Right, in which the Right had to be defeated in order for society to advance. But are political solutions the answer to man’s overarching problems? Is either the Right or the Left capable of ushering in a “Great Society” of peace and prosperity for all?

As believers, our hope is in our Savior and Lord and we anticipate His coming kingdom. The political ebbs and flows of this world may affect us in varying degrees, but our focus is always on our Heavenly King as we endeavor to fulfill our mission as His ambassadors and emissaries on our brief journey through this world.

“Born in China” – Stunning cinematography but…

Born in China
Directed by Lu Chuan
Disneynature, 2017, 76 minutes

A few weeks ago, my wife and I saw the very good film, “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” and one of the accompanying previews was for “Born in China,” which looked very good. When we mentioned the movie to our five-year-old granddaughter, she knew all about it and wanted to see it, too. So Friday evening, the five of us (my wife, our oldest son, our 18YO and 5YO granddaughters, and myself) packed into my wife’s Jetta like sardines and went to see “Born in China.”

This nature documentary follows a year in the the lives of a panda bear and her cub, a snow leopard and her two cubs, a golden snub-nosed monkey, and a herd of “chiru” antelope in the backwoods of China. The scenery and photography are breathtaking – what a Creator we have! – and the stories are fascinating. However, the struggles between predator and prey are way too graphic for young children. The MPAA association goofed by awarding this film a G-rating. It’s definitely too violent for a 5-year-old.

Something else bothered me about this movie. A couple of times the narrator interjects an Eastern philosophy, “cycle of life” monologue explaining how some Chinese believe the spirits of dead animals are carried up and away by red-crowned cranes to eventually become new animals. Wow! So Disney is now introducing its young audiences to reincarnation? Lovely. There’s also a mention of Eastern religion’s concept of the ying and yang. These references to Eastern religion are going to fly over the heads of most young children but they are causes for concern, along with the sometimes very graphic displays of animal survival. For older kids, the reincarnation references could be used as an excellent “teaching moment” opportunity after the movie.

After the show we stopped in at a nearby Chipotle for burritos all around (no scolding comments please, I ate only HALF of mine). It was my first visit to Chipotles and I liked it very much. No qualifiers on the food!

Baby Doll: “Sometimes, big shot, you don’t seem to give me credit for very much intelligence at all. I’ve been to school in my life – and I’m a magazine reader!”

Baby Doll
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, and Eli Wallach
Warner Bros., 1956, 114 minutes

All of Elia Kazan’s previous eleven films contained some type of hard-hitting social message. With the farcical, dark comedy, “Baby Doll,” Kazan would break the mold.

Plot

Middle-aged, Archie Lee Meighan (Malden), is at the end of his rope. He had bought the dilapidated Mississippi Delta plantation mansion, Tiger Tail, with plans to renovate it for his child-bride, Baby Doll (Baker), but a modern, syndicate cotton gin plant has put the small independent ginners in the area, like Archie Lee, out of business. Compounding his financial humiliation is the publics’ knowledge of Archie Lee’s wedding pledge to Baby Doll’s father not to consummate the marriage until her twentieth-birthday, just a few days away. But Baby Doll is repulsed by the financially strapped and increasingly unhinged Archie Lee. The last straw comes when all of their furniture is repossessed. Even the Black folk of the area hold Archie Lee in derision.

Archie Lee gets revenge for his misery by burning down the syndicate gin. The owner, Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach), suspects Archie Lee is the culprit and the very next day arrives at Tiger Tail with a convoy of raw cotton. While Archie Lee is gleefully occupied processing the cotton at his broken-down gin, Vaccaro and Baby Doll remain at the mansion and he coaxes her into signing an affidavit admitting her husband was responsible for burning down the syndicate gin. That evening, Archie Lee returns to the mansion, and with the affidavit safely in his pocket, Vaccaro goads him to the breaking point. Archie Lee grabs his shotgun while Vaccaro scoots up a tree. When the local sheriff hauls Archie Lee off to prison, Vaccaro victoriously proclaims he’ll be back the next day with more cotton to gin. Baby Doll turns to her demented Aunt Rose Comfort (Mildred Dunnock) and says with a mixture of hope and despair, “Well, let’s go in now. We got nothing to do but wait for tomorrow and see if we’re remembered or forgotten.”

Commentary

“Baby Doll” was quite controversial when it was released in 1956. The Catholic church gave it a C – “Condemned” – rating, meaning anyone who saw the movie committed a “mortal” sin. Francis Cardinal Spellman, archbishop of New York City, ordered parish priests to position themselves in theater lobbies to intimidate parishioners from seeing the movie, although we now know that Spellman was personally racking up a truckload of “mortal” sins “behind closed doors” at the time. Due to the controversy, “Baby Doll” was pulled from theaters after only a short run. My, things have certainly changed. “Baby Doll” would probably earn no higher than a PG-13 rating today.

Baker, Dunnock, Tennessee Williams (screenplay), and Boris Kaufman (cinematography) were all nominated for Oscars. Malden is excellent as the tragically comic foil. The movie was filmed in Benoit, Mississippi and the nearby abandoned Burrus Plantation Mansion, which has only recently been renovated (see here). As in many of his other films, Kazan used local citizens to augment the cast, including many African-Americans. There are several examples in the film of the segregation of the Deep South in 1956. It’s ironic that Archie Lee seeks swift justice for the perceived wrongs he has suffered while the segregated Blacks of the town must silently endure systematic abuse from Archie Lee and the rest of the White population.

Additional thoughts from a believer

Although it’s a simple farce without much of a plot or message, “Baby Doll” is ultimately about revenge and justice. Archie Lee seeks revenge and justice by burning down what he sees as the cause of all of his problems, the rival syndicate gin. Vaccaro seeks revenge and justice by seeing that Archie Lee is successfully charged with arson. Baby Doll wants to extricate herself from her hopeless situation and sees in the suave Vaccaro a possible escape.

Can a follower of Jesus Christ garner anything from this “tiger’s tail”? Elia Kazan may have been an atheist but his films often had excellent critical insights into the “human condition.” How much of our energy goes into striving to rise above others through our jobs/careers and number of possessions? How much of our self-worth is tied to money, the things we own, and social status? When we suffer loss or embarrassment, is our kneejerk reaction to seek revenge? How many of our undesirable circumstances are the “other guy’s” fault. How much do we live by, “Doeth unto them before they doeth unto you”? Why does it feel so good to hang onto a grudge?

We are all sinners full of self-serving hypocrisy and until you can admit to that, there is no hope for you. But God provided a way out from the eternal punishment we deserve through His Son, Jesus Christ. Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior by placing your faith in Him alone.

“I did not come to call the [self-proclaimed] righteous [who see no need to repent], but sinners to repentance [to change their old way of thinking, to turn from sin and to seek God and His righteousness].” Luke 5:32 AMP

Unsettling

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Woodlawn
Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin
Pure Flix Entertainment, 2015, 124 minutes

Every morning on my drive into work, I catch the tail-end of evangelist Greg Laurie’s radio show. I’m not a big fan because of Laurie’s ecumenical leanings but many months ago I heard him discussing “Woodlawn” with one of the movie’s directors and I picked up the DVD out of curiosity. This week I finally got around to watching it.

Plot

In 1973 in his sophomore year, African-American student, Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille), is bused to Woodlawn, a previously segregated all-white high school in Birmingham, Alabama. Nathan is an extremely talented athlete but Coach Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop) keeps him on the bench because he doesn’t want to rile the good ol’ boys of the community who are already on edge. Racial tensions on the team compound an already dismal start to the football season. A Christian evangelist, Hank Erwin (Sean Astin), asks if he can give a motivational talk to the team and most of the players profess accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior. Racial tensions ease as the players are increasingly united in their faith. Nathan is given the starting job as the team’s featured running back, but as the wins begin piling up he must reconcile his growing popularity with a budding romantic relationship and with his faith in Christ.

The Gospel begins to spread through the high school campus and Bible studies and prayer groups become the norm. Even reluctant Coach Gerelds accepts Christ. Impacted by what’s happening at Woodlawn, the revival spreads to other high school campuses. A large number of the players from the Banks high school football team, once a bitter rival of Woodlawn, also accept Christ. Forty-thousand fans turn out to watch Woodlawn play Banks but it’s more about cheering for Jesus and racial harmony than for a ball game.

Commentary

The writing, acting, and production standards of this film all leave a lot to be desired.

Additional thoughts from a believer

It was somewhat inspirational to see this portrayal of faith spreading so quickly among so many, but how many of the young people of Birmingham actually accepted Christ in 1973 and how many were just caught up in religious emotionalism and hysteria? “Woodlawn” left me with an uneasy feeling. This film gives a great deal of credit for the Woodlawn “revival” to the after-effects of “Explo 72,” a Campus Crusade for Christ conference that drew more than 80,000 college and high school students to the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas, Texas over the course of five days in 1972, featuring Billy Graham and Bill Bright as the main speakers. An affiliated, one-day music concert, later dubbed as the “Christian Woodstock,” drew over 100,000.

Graham is hailed as the greatest evangelist of our times yet no one has done more to blur the Gospel of grace and further evangelical ecumenism with Rome. At the end of the film, viewers are encouraged to attend Laurie’s Harvest 2016 happening in Dallas as well as the ecumenical “Together 2016” event in Washington, D.C., which included a video message from pope Francis. When the credits rolled at the end of “Woodlawn,” I was not surprised to see the executive producers were Roman Catholic/New Age ecumenist, Roma Downey, and her husband, Mark Burnett.

“East of Eden”: The “gospel” according to two atheists

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East of Eden
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, and Jo Van Fleet
Warner Brothers, 1955, 117 minutes

John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, “East of Eden,” had been very well-received by the public and director Elia Kazan used the last third of the book as the basis for his eleventh film.

Plot

Adam Trask (Massey), an aging rancher in Salinas, California in 1917, is determined to make his mark on the world before he dies by originating the process of shipping fresh ice-packed lettuce to the East via the railroad. His loving and dutiful son, Aron (Richard Davalos), supports and encourages him in the endeavor but his other son, Cal (Dean), continuously rebels against his stern and “puritanical” father’s authority. Cal has a change of heart and decides to help Adam with the lettuce venture but he also learns his mother (Van Fleet) is not dead as Adam had told the boys, but has become the no-nonsense matron of a successful brothel in nearby Monterey, information Cal initially keeps to himself. Cal becomes friendly with Aron’s girlfriend, Abra (Harris), who is beginning to chafe at the thought of marrying the prudish brother.

When Adam’s lettuce venture fails, Cal secretly borrows money from his mother and contracts a crop of beans, speculating that America’s entry into World War I will drive commodity prices sky high, enabling him to recoup his father’s lost fortune. As Cal and Abra’s relationship grows warmer, tensions in Salinas reach a boiling point as America enters the war and the town folk seek to take out their frustration on a German immigrant. The pacifist Aron tries to intervene but yelling and pushing turn to fisticuffs when Cal enters the melee. Brother then turns on brother.

Cal attempts to present his father with the money he earned as a birthday present after Aron preempts him by announcing he and Abra are engaged, much to her displeasure. Adam refuses the money, which he sees as war profiteering. Humiliated by the rejection and another demonstration of his father’s lack of love, Cal declares he hates Adam and brings Aron to Monterey to reveal to him the truth about their mother, knowing it will destroy him. Disillusioned and in a drunken stupor, Aron joins the army. Adam runs to the train station just as Aron’s train is leaving and suffers a stroke. Lying in bed, Adam is close to death. Abra pleads with him to express some love to Cal before it’s too late. Adam responds by asking Cal to take care of him rather than his condescending nurse. Feeling loved and accepted by his father for the first time, Cal sits down next to Adam’s bed.

Commentary

After the release of “East of Eden” Dean swiftly became an icon among young movie-goers as a symbol of teenage angst and rebellion. He would die in an automobile accident just six months after the film’s release. Julie Harris gives a wonderful performance. Kazan later gave her a great amount of credit for steadying the moody and mercurial Dean throughout the filming. The rest of the cast does a good job. Van Fleet won an Oscar for her portrayal while Dean, Kazan, and screenwriter Paul Osborn were nominated. Kazan specifically chose to dramatize the last third of Steinbeck’s novel because the conflict between father and son reminded him of his difficult relationship with his own overbearing father. I’ve had the Blu-ray version of “East of Eden” for quite a while but I watched it for the first time only recently. It was a real pleasure watching this familiar movie in Hi-Def. This was Kazan’s first color film and it was also shot in wide-angle Cinemascope. Kazan and cinematographer Ted McCord took some successful risks and deliver an excellent film.

Additional thoughts from a believer

There are obviously many religious undertones in this film drawn very loosely from the Genesis narrative of Cain and Abel. Adam the father is a stern and pious Christian who wishes to impose his faith on his sons. Bible reading at the dinner table is a mandatory and joyless exercise. The message from atheists Steinbeck and Kazan is that what appears to be “good” (Adam and Aron) is not always good, and what appears to be “bad” (Cal) is not always bad. It’s no wonder the writer and director got it wrong. Too often we Christians present our faith as a joyless attempt to impose our morality on others. Better we should focus on spreading the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and humbly letting others know we are sinners saved by grace rather than taking the attitude of pious churchgoers looking down our noses at everyone else.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife”: A Short Review

 

A couple of Fridays ago, I posted some information on a new film that was out, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (see here), and this past Saturday my wife and I went to the theater to see it. Here’s a short review:

The Zookeepers Wife
Directed by Nick Caro and featuring Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, and Daniel Bruhl
Focus Features, 2017, 126 minutes

Plot (Spoiler alert!)

Dr. Jan Zabinski (Heldenbergh) and his wife, Antonina (Chastain), are the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo in Poland in 1939. Germany invades Western Poland on September 1st and the Nazi authorities take direct control of the zoo. The more-valuable animals are shipped to Berlin while those left behind are shot. Jan convinces the German overseer, Dr. Heck (Bruhl), to preserve the zoo as a breeding facility for pigs. The Nazis quarantine all Jews in the area to the Warsaw ghetto, which Jan visits regularly to obtain scraps for the pigs while also managing to smuggle Jews back to the zoo where they are hidden. Heck has a bit of a crush on Antonina and she accepts his personal advances in an effort to win his confidence and allay his suspicions.

The Nazis deport all of the Jews living in the ghetto to extermination camps in 1942-43 and Jan is wounded in the uprising of the Polish underground army in 1944. Antonina visits Heck and pleads for information about her husband but instead the Nazi official finally becomes convinced that the Zabinskis are harboring Jews. Antonina rushes back to the zoo, helping the Jews to escape. Heck arrives with his men, surveying the Jews’ former hiding places, but decides to show clemency to Antonina and her son. As Soviet forces advance into Warsaw, Antonina flees with other refugees but eventually returns back to the zoo where she is reunited with some of the surviving Jews and Jan.

Commentary

This is an excellent movie and I highly recommend it. My wife wanted to leave during the early scenes when the Nazis were killing the zoo’s animals but I talked her out of it and she was glad I did. Jessica Chastain is excellent. The Zabinskis as well as thousands of other rescuers showed great courage and compassion in harboring Jews during the Holocaust. In reality some Poles were antagonistic towards the Jews but this myth-defying truth was avoided in the film.

Additional thoughts from a believer

Many will watch a movie like this and wonder how the Nazis could have been so inhumane? “I could never be a part of something like that,” they will claim. But God’s Word rightly says we are all sinners and we are all capable of the vilest of thoughts and behaviors.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders” – Mark 7:21

We all need to come to Jesus Christ and accept Him as our Savior by faith alone. All of us are guilty and deserve eternal punishment. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me from the eternity of hell that I deserve.