“The Shack” author continues to push Universalism, but don’t object or you will be labeled a “book burner”

Anyone remember “The Shack,” both the book (2007) and the film adaptation (2017)? Of course you do! Many evangelicals were smitten with the story of (g)od’s love and “redemption.” I didn’t read the book or see the movie, but I had read quite a bit about them and wasn’t pleased. The biggest problem with “The Shack” wasn’t the portrayals of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, although they were certainly objectionable. No, the most outrageous problem with “The Shack” was that it pushed author William Paul Young’s Universalist heresy.

Below are some quotes from the book with comments from Albert Mohler from the article below:

Jesus tells Mack that he is “the best way any human can relate to Papa (God the Father) or Sarayu (the Holy Spirit).” Not the only way, but merely the best way.

In another chapter, “Papa” corrects Mack’s theology by asserting, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” Without doubt, God’s joy is in the atonement accomplished by the Son. Nevertheless, the Bible consistently reveals God to be the holy and righteous Judge, who will indeed punish sinners. The idea that sin is merely “its own punishment” fits the Eastern concept of karma, but not the Christian Gospel.

The most controversial aspects of The Shack‘s message have revolved around questions of universalism, universal redemption, and ultimate reconciliation. Jesus tells Mack: “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” Jesus adds, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”

Mack then asks the obvious question — do all roads lead to Christ? Jesus responds, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

Given the context, it is impossible not to draw essentially universalistic or inclusivistic conclusions about Young’s meaning. “Papa” chides Mack that he is now reconciled to the whole world. Mack retorts, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” “Papa” responds, “The whole world, Mack.”

The Shack — The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment
https://albertmohler.com/2017/03/06/shack-missing-art-evangelical-discernment/

Those who objected to The Shack and its message of Universal redemption were labeled by many undiscerning evangelical Christians as sectarian book burners.

Like spots on a leopard, William Paul Young continues to promote Universalism as per the recent article below, but you may not want to object because you will be labeled a “book burner” in today’s evangelicalism.


‘The Shack’ Author Disputes Christian View That Those Who Die Without Jesus Can’t Achieve Salvation
https://www.christianpost.com/news/the-shack-author-disputes-christian-view-that-those-who-die-without-jesus-cant-achieve-salvation-225191/

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Remember convents? Catholic girls were once attracted to the “discipline” of religious orders.

Novitiate
Written and directed by Maggie Betts and featuring Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, and Dianna Agron.
Sony Pictures Classics, 2017, 123 minutes

You have to be around sixty-years-old or older to remember pre-Vatican II, militant Catholicism. This film brought back memories.

Plot (spoiler alert!)

Young Cathleen experiences very little love in her broken home, but she is awarded a scholarship to a Catholic school for girls and is intrigued by the nuns who teach her. To the absolute chagrin of her “freespirited” mother (Nicholson), Cathleen (Qualley) decides to enter the convent of the Sisters of the Blessed Rose in 1964 at the age of seventeen. She is attracted by the nuns’ close-knit community, disciplined lifestyle, and intense “spirituality.” However, Cathleen’s fanciful conception of convent life meets cold reality like a hard slap across the face in the person of Reverend Mother (Leo), who rules the institution with an iron fist. Cathleen and the other novices must endure harsh and humiliating treatment and adhere to a thick catalog of rules and regulations for the opportunity of becoming a full-fledged nun. Many drop away or are deemed unsuitable and dismissed. The remaining young women have a sympathetic ally in one young nun, sister Mary Grace (Agron), who chafes under the boot of Reverend Mother, but the old war horse has her own problems.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) is ushering in many reforms of church practices and rules governing religious orders and Reverend Mother is none too pleased with this threat to her fiefdom. She resists the changes as long as possible while venting her frustration on her charges. Cathleen struggles to endure her training and even starves herself into the infirmary in an attempt to master her spiritual failings. Under orders from the archbishop, Reverend Mother can no longer forestall the Vatican II reforms and reluctantly notifies the sisters of the changes. Horrified by the unsettling news, many nuns leave the convent and return to the secular world. Only a small handful of novices remain, and on the day they take their “final vows” to become full-fledged nuns, Cathleen decides to leave the convent.

Comments

Boy, did this film bring back memories. I attended Catholic parochial school from 1961 to 1970 and personally witnessed the last stages of militant, pre-Vatican II Catholicism and then the dramatic window-dressing changes of Vatican II. I can remember all the nuns who taught me quite vividly. Some were kind and some were very troubled souls who released their anger on us children. Those poor women were attempting to merit their way to Heaven by living ascetic lives according to the strict rules of their order, the Sisters of Mercy. We talk about religious cults, but was there anything more cultish than a group of women living together as the brides of Christ replete with wedding rings and dressed in 11th century garb? As the movie shows, these women had to endure great hardship and humiliation. Many forms of self-mortification were encouraged. This movie alludes to lesbian relationships inside the convent, what real-life nuns termed as “particular friendships.” This is a sensitive topic, but lesbianism was a very real issue in convents, where women, young and old, were deprived of natural affections. As an eighth-grade student, I witnessed signs of a “particular friendship” between my homeroom teacher and another nun.

This was a good film, but a painful one to watch because of the memories. As a child, I witnessed first-hand the type of vicious cruelty doled out by the film’s Reverend Mother. Being the target of a nun’s hissy fit was painful. Melissa Leo is excellent in the role of convent despot.

Additional comments from an ex-Catholic believer

Catholicism changed its window dressing with Vatican II, but it still preaches the same core doctrines and the same false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. All of these poor nuns attempted to earn their salvation through severe asceticism, but Catholics still try to merit their salvation as they are instructed by their church. At the end of the film, it states that, following the changes of Vatican II, “90,000 nuns renounced their vocations and left their convents.” My hope is that some of them eventually trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone. There are relatively very few nuns in the U.S. today; the number dropped from 180,000 in 1965 to 50,000 in 2014 and the majority of those that remain are elderly.

For the testimonies of 20 former nuns who left Catholicism and accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, see here.

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In this scene, the novices meet with Reverend Mother and each confess their sins publicly as a weekly ritual . The other novices are asked to accuse each nun of any sins they have observed.

Warren Jeffs: Fundamentalist Mormon Monster

Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil
A&E Cable Channel, 2018, 120 minutes

The documentary, “Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil,” premiered February 19th on the A&E cable channel and I finally caught up with it via on-demand on Saturday night.

Readers of this blog may remember that I had a strong historical interest in the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (LDS, Mormons) because we live only 23 miles from Palmyra, New York, where the “church” had its beginnings. Mormon apologists say the church’s founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, received divine revelation at some point in the 1830s to revive the Old Testament practice of polygamous/plural marriage and that the “principle” continued within the church until Wilford Woodruff, the fourth prophet, claimed he received divine revelation in 1890, which ended it. My, the Mormon god appears to be quite indecisive. In practical terms, the Mormons ended polygamy due to mounting pressure from the federal government. Although officially banned, Mormons continued polygamy under wraps until it eventually fizzled out within the “official” LDS church. However, several “fundamentalist” Mormon groups split from the church in order to continue the practice.

Warren Jeffs is the president and prophet of one of those groups, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), which was concentrated in the Hidale (UT)-Colorado City (AZ)-Short Creek (AZ) area with around 15,000 members. This documentary traces the rise of Jeffs within the FLDS. He had a penchant for marrying underage girls as plural wives (78 wives total! Oy vey!), which eventually led to his arrest, conviction, and sentencing to life in prison in 2011.

This is a sad, sad story of a religious cult wreacking havoc in the lives of its members. Jeffs was a monster of nightmarish proportions who cloaked his pedophilia in “religious authority.” Ultimately, every false religion is spiritually deadly. I’m mindful that such “respectable” religious institutions as Roman Catholicism dealt in abuses and persecutions that surpassed those of the FLDS. Praise the Lord, Jesus Christ, for His genuine Gospel and His genuine Church! Praise the Lord for His easy yoke and light burden! I think it’s useful for Christians to watch “Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil” to remind us that we should be very wary of placing any leader on a pedestal. In the first Biblical church my wife and I attended after accepting Christ, there were elements of authoritarianism and leadership idolatry. We must follow the Lord rather than any man.

For my previous posts on the fraudulent claims of Joseph Smith and Mormonism see here.

George Harrison: Lost and without a shepherd

George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Directed by Martin Scorsese
HBO, 2011, 208 minutes, available on Netflix

I was driving to work this past week, listening to (c)hristian radio, and Greg Laurie (not recommended) mentioned he had recently watched “Living in the Material World,” a documentary about ex-Beatle, George Harrison, on Netflix. So I set aside some time to watch this 3.5 hour documentary.

My five older sisters were big fans of the Beatles and I grew up with their music playing constantly from the family phonograph from 1964 until 1970 when they disbanded. Harrison (1943-2001) was the shy, quiet Beatle who eventually embraced Hinduism (particularly the Hare Krishna sect) with a passion. See my earlier post on Harrison and his influential Hare Krishna song, “My Sweet Lord,” here.

Scorsese’s documentary is an interesting and entertaining look at Harrison’s journey. He was brought up in a Roman Catholic family (as was fellow-Beatle, Paul McCartney), but finding no fulfillment in that impersonal, ritualistic religion, he got mixed up in Eastern “spirituality” through the music of Ravi Shankar. Of course, he didn’t find any real fulfillment in Krishna Consciousness either and regularly fell back into substance abuse and marital infidelity. After having been run ragged by the Beatles’ celebrity steamroller, Harrison sought “spiritual peace” and meaning in all the wrong places.

I enjoyed the many archived photos and videos of the “Fab Four,” along with the interview clips from Harrison, Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton, George Martin, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, and Ringo Starr, along with many others.* But in the the end, this is a sad story of an unbeliever desperately trying to find spiritual meaning outside of Jesus Christ.

“I was brought up in the kind of Catholic situation up until I was about eleven years old, which was that God is this thing that we’re never going to see, we’re never going to meet, but you still have to believe in what we say. It’s like this blind faith in something that they can’t show you.” – George Harrison

The impersonal and ritualistic religion that Harrison grew up in was/is not Christianity. But you CAN know God through salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:36-38

*I learned from this documentary that Harrison was a major financial backer of Monty Python, the British comedy ensemble. There are times when Christians can be overly dour and humorless, but I found the clips of Monty Python’s satire of Jesus’ crucifixion and a mocking reference to His sermon on the mount in this documentary to be repulsive. It’s understandable why ex-Catholic and passionate Hindu, Harrison, would have found this anti-Christian humor attractive. It’s also obvious why Monty Python never filmed a skit goofing on backer Harrison’s Hare Krishnas with their shaved-heads and saffron robes, chanting incessantly and begging for money at airports.

Decent DVD summary of differences between Biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism

Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome
Eric Barger, DVD, 2015, 53 minutes

Last week, I posted a message about a conversation that I had heard on Southwest Radio Ministries’ daily radio show regarding Mormonism. Out of curiosity, I checked SRM’s website to see if they offered any resources on Roman Catholicism. There weren’t very many (see here), but I did see “Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome” from Eric Barger and Take a Stand Ministries. For some inexplicable reason, I thought this offering was a book and ordered it. Well, it turned out to be a DVD. Argh! No problem. My dumb error.

This DVD presentation is a low-tech-but-decent overview of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity. Barger starts off by discussing the early Reformation and then briefly examines several anti-Biblical Catholic doctrines such as Mariolatry, praying to saints, image idolatry, transubstantiation, purgatory, and works justification.

The revealing centerpiece of the video is breakaway Anglican “bishop” and ecumenist, Tony Palmer’s presentation at a conference for Pentecostal/Charismatic ministers hosted by Kenneth Copeland on January 21, 2014. Copeland is one of the main propagators of the “name it and claim it,” word of faith, prosperity false gospel. In his presentation, Palmer declared that he had come in the spirit of Elijah and John the Baptist to reconcile the children (evangelical Protestants) with their father (pope Francis). He proclaimed that the “protest is over” and it was now time for Protestants to put aside doctrinal disagreements and “unite with” (i.e., submit to) the pope and Catholicism. Palmer then produced a cell phone video of pope Francis making the same appeal. If you have never seen this presentation before, you need to. The compromise and betrayal of the Gospel is stunning and will take your breath away. Of course, a good case could be made that Palmer, Copeland, and many of the “name it and claim it” ministers who were in attendance at this conference were not genuinely saved.

This DVD is a decent introductory overview of the errors of Rome and of the demonic spirit of Scripture-defying ecumenism that’s currently infiltrating the church. Order from Southwest Radio Ministries here.

Large portions of “Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome” are available via the two You Tube videos below. Judas Tony Palmer’s appeal begins at the 6:00 mark on the second video.

 

 

Netflix’s “The Polka King,” an unlikely-but-fact-based dark comedy

The Polka King
Directed by Maya Forbes and featuring Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, and Jackie Weaver
Netflix, 2018, 1h 35m

This dark comedy is based on the tumultuous life of Polka band leader, Jan Lewan(dowski) (photo right).

Plot

Polish immigrant, Jan Lewan (Jack Black), struggles to achieve the American dream. His Pennsylvania-based polka band and Polish gift shop teeter on insolvency, but Lewan has BIG plans and devises a pyramid investment scheme in order to finance them. Many of his polka fans are lured by promises of a 12% return on investment. Lewan’s “empire” appears to be on the rise, but cracks soon appear in the foundation. Try as he might, Lewan can’t seem to satisfy his wife’s (Jenny Slate) insatiable expectations that come with their nouveau riche lifestyle. As some investors begin to cash out, Lewan finds it harder and harder to make ends meet. Federal agents finally topple the house of cards and Lewan is imprisoned for five years. During that period, his throat is slit by his disturbed cellmate and his wife divorces him. Lewan was released from prison in 2005 and is still liable for the $5 million dollars taken from investors.

Commentary

This film is both comical and sad. Director/writer Maya Forbes and writer Wallace Wolodarsky have done a great job of translating this unlikely-but-true slice of Polish-Americana to the small screen. Jack Black’s performance may seem a bit “over the top” to the uninitiated, but those familiar with the Lewan story will agree that he catches the essence of the naively exuberant polka band leader. “The Polka King” premiered on Netflix on January 12th.

Additional thoughts from a believer

Covetousness is a sin we don’t hear too much about, but it drove Lewis into prison and it drives us as well. There may not be a European American ethnic group that’s more Catholic than Poles. This movie is saturated with symbols of Lewan’s and Polish Americans’ ritual Catholicism. As part of his growing financial “empire,” Lewan began conducting tours to European cities and Rome/the Vatican. An example of the band leader’s naiveté is when he arranges his first excursion to the Vatican and pays off a church official with a suitcase full of cash to secure an audience with pope John Paul II for his customers. Maybe he wasn’t so naive after all.

Frosty Friday Potpourri

I usually have only one message each day, but today I have several, so I’m combining them all as Frosty Friday Potpourri. Take heart, I’m going to try to keep them very brief.

P.S. I hope all of you in the Northeast are managing to stay warm! It’s zero degrees here in Rochester, N.Y. today!


* The Catholic talk radio show that I usually listen to for information purposes is revamping its format to deal with all the “confusion” in the church, i.e., pope Francis, so I’ve had more time to listen to Christian programming this week. A few days ago, Ligonier Ministries featured podcasts of the eulogies for R.C. Sproul at his memorial service (see below). My heart was touched, especially by part 1, which includes comments from John MacArthur. Thank you, Lord, for R.C.! Please, we need more like him!


* Speaking of John MacArthur, I noticed J. Mac has three new books slated for 2018. Prolific writer, that J. Mac! I expect all three books will contain very solid teaching. Some believers say we should only get our teaching from God’s Word and our pastors, but your pastor is referencing solid Biblical resources all the time. Praise the Lord for John MacArthur who is one of the very few “nationally known” pastors who still takes a public stand against Roman error.

  • “Good News: The Gospel of Jesus Christ” (due 1/16/18). See details at Amazon here.
  • “The Gospel According to God: Rediscovering the Most Remarkable Chapter in the Old Testament” (due 3/31/18). See details at Amazon here.
  • “Christ’s Call to Reform the Church: Timeless Demands From the Lord to His People ” (due 10/2/18). See details at Amazon here.

* On the icy drive home from work yesterday, I was listening to Catholic talk radio, and the priest-host was discussing the Catholic church’s teaching that it’s not only possible to successfully obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!), but that it’s absolutely required in order to merit salvation. The priest cited pope John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of the Truth,” see here), which reaffirmed the church’s unchanging position that successful obedience of the Ten Commandments is a requirement for attaining salvation. Huh? God and the Catholic church disagree on this point. God says through His Word that the Law was given to show we are helpless sinners in desperate need of the Savior:

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin…Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Romans 3:20 and 27-28.

Are you going to listen to the pope and priests and continue trying to merit your way into Heaven or are you going to agree with God that you are a helpless sinner in need of the Savior?


* When I walked away from the Lord for an extended prodigal “season,” I had to fill the void in my heart with something, so I turned to researching my Polish and German ethnic heritages. Part of that experience included becoming knowledgeable about and, yes, even enjoying, Polish American polka music!* The polka scene had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s with performers like Li’l Wally Jagiello, Marion Lush, and Eddie Blazonczyk. Although “melting pot” assimilation has taken it’s toll on the genre over the last fifty years, there are still many good polka bands out there, you just have to know where to look.

Anyway, I was browsing through the newspaper last night and I noticed on January 12th Netflix will be premiering “The Polka King,” a movie based on Jan Lewan(dowski), one of the top polka band leaders of the 80s and 90s, who was sent to prison for five years for bilking investors in a Ponzi scheme. See website here. One generalization about Polish-Americans, they are as blindly Roman Catholic as the day is long. There may not be a European ethnic group in America that’s more firmly entrenched in its institutional Catholic religiosity.


*Want to try some polka music but don’t know where to start? The absolute best polka album is “Live Wire, Vol. 1 & 2,” featuring Dave “Scrubby” Seweryniak and the Dynatones, recorded live at the Broadway Grill in Buffalo, New York in 1982. See here.  


Stay warm my friends! The average temperature here in Rochester the past two weeks was 17 degrees, a heat wave compared to today.

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List: The Nineteen Films of Elia Kazan with Reviews

Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of rewatching and reviewing all nineteen films of one of America’s most influential directors, Elia Kazan (1909-2003). Whew! That was a fun as well as challenging project. Thanks to all of you who accompanied me on this “journey.” Below is a handy listing of all of Kazan’s movies and links to my reviews.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
A hopeful young girl grows up in a poor family racked by alcoholism.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/elia-kazans-first-film-a-tree-grows-in-brooklyn/

The Sea of Grass (1947)
A tyrannical rancher withstands the onslaught of homesteaders.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2016/12/14/kazans-sophomore-stumble-the-sea-of-grass/

Boomerang (1947)
An honest DA must fight the temptation of an easy conviction.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2016/12/25/director-elia-kazans-third-film-boomerang/

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
A journalist discovers anti-Semitism permeates American society.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/gentlemans-agreement-moves-elia-kazan-to-the-top-of-the-directors-list/

Pinky (1949)
A bi-racial nurse confronts bigotry in her small corner of world.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/kazan-examines-racial-bigotry/

Panic in the Streets (1950)
A medical examiner has only hours to stem a city-wide epidemic.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/02/05/nobody-in-the-streets-ever-really-panicked-but-it-made-for-a-catchy-title/

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
A harrowing game of cat and mouse as a Southern belle descends into madness.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/i-thought-you-were-straight/

Viva Zapata! (1952)
The politically oppressed must resist the temptation of becoming the oppressors.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/%e2%99%abyou-say-you-want-a-revolution-%e2%99%ab/

Man on a Tightrope (1953)
This Red Scare propaganda piece was Kazan’s penance for having been a member of the American Communist Party.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/i-might-have-been-a-commie-when-i-was-young-and-stupid-but-see-now-im-all-about-the-red-white-and-blue/

On the Waterfront (1954)
Longshoremen rebel against their corrupt union and Kazan defends his HUAC testimony.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/you-dont-understand-i-coulda-had-class-i-coulda-been-a-contenduh-i-coulda-been-somebody-instead-of-a-bum-which-is-what-i-am-lets-face-it/

East of Eden (1955)
Two very dissimilar sons compete for their father’s affections.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/east-of-eden-the-gospel-according-to-two-atheists/

Baby Doll (1956)
Everyone’s seeking justice in this Southern black comedy.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/baby-doll-sometimes-big-shot-you-dont-seem-to-give-me-credit-for-very-much-intelligence-at-all-ive-been-to-school-in-my-life-and-im-a-magazine-reader/

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
A “ne’er do well” transforms into a populist Pied Piper.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/demagogue-in-denim/

Wild River (1960)
An elderly matron stands up to the federal bureaucratic steamroller.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/pushing-aside-the-little-guy-for-the-greater-good/

Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Young love disintegrates under family pressures.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/elia-kazans-splendor-in-the-grass-hit-me-hard-when-i-was-a-young-teen/

America America (1963)
Kazan retraces his uncle’s journey to America.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/i-believe-i-believe-that-in-america-i-believe-i-will-be-washed-clean/

The Arrangement (1969)
A successful but frustrated advertising executive tries to find happiness.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/talk-about-a-mid-life-crisis/

The Visitors (1972)
The horrors of the Vietnam War come home to America.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/kazans-look-at-vietnam-on-a-shoestring-budget/

The Last Tycoon (1976)
A cutthroat movie studio executive meets his match.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/kazans-fade-to-black/

Kazan’s fade to black

The Last Tycoon
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Robert De Niro, Ingrid Boulting, Robert Mitchum, Theresa Russell, and Jack Nicholson
Paramount, 1976, 123 minutes

Film producer, Sam Spiegel, tapped successful playwright, Harold Pinter, and director, Mike Nichols, to bring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel, “The Last Tycoon,” to the screen. When Nichols bailed on the project, Spiegel desperately turned to his “On the Waterfront” director, Elia Kazan. “The Last Tycoon” would be Kazan’s last film.

Plot

Monroe Stahr (De Niro) is the ruthless, arrogant, production executive at a major film studio in 1930s-era Hollywood. He’s so successful he routinely flouts the studio president, Pat Brady (Mitchum). When an earthquake causes a flood on the lot, Stahr spots Kathleen Moore (Boulting) clinging to a massive floating movie prop; the head of the Hindu god, Shiva, and instantly falls in love with this young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his dead wife. Brady’s daughter, Cecilia (Russell), has a schoolgirl crush on Stahr, but he only has eyes for Kathleen.  A relationship ensues, but Kathleen attempts to break it off by leaving a note stating she’s engaged. Stahr won’t take no for an answer and pursues the enigmatic Kathleen at the expense of his studio responsibilities. When Kathleen telegrams him that she married her fiancé, Stahr is crushed. He attempts to vent his anger and frustration in a meeting with a union organizer (Nicholson), but succumbs to a forceful right hook. While Cecilia consoles the physically and emotionally battered Stahr, Brady and the studio board smell blood. Stahr is dismissed and takes one final, lonely walk through the lot.

Commentary

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished, last novel was inspired by MGM’s legendary, golden-boy producer, Irving Thalberg. Sixty-seven-year-old Kazan had not directed a film in four years, but he accepted Spiegel’s offer to direct “The Last Tycoon” mainly as an opportunity to move from New York to California so that his terminally-ill mother could escape the bitterness of another New York winter. Unlike his previous film projects, Kazan had no input into the script. There is very little about this movie that distinguishes it as a Kazan film.

There’s none better than De Niro in portraying a mafia goon, but he’s out of his league playing the sharp-as-a-tack Stahr, who must deftly orchestrate ten or twenty film projects in his head nineteen hours a day. De Niro lost forty-pounds in preparation for the role of the sickly executive. Boulting is so detached in her performance she simply can’t muster any interest from the audience. One of the few bright spots in this movie is Theresa Russell in her film debut. A number of screen notables make appearances including Tony Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, John Carradine, Anjelica Huston, and the legendary French film actress, Jeanne Moreau.

“The Last Tycoon” is a paper-thin story that generates little audience interest. While there are a few decent performances, it’s not enough to save this clunker. Kazan wrote later that he immediately knew he had a dog on his hands the day of the first private screening. Unfortunately, the great director finished his film career on this sour note.

There are no extras with the DVD.

Additional thoughts from a believer

Like the character, Monroe Stahr, and his inspiration, Irving Thalberg, Elia Kazan had also been one of the entertainment industry’s wunderkind “golden boys.” In the 1940s and 1950s, no other American director could rival Kazan’s combined standing in Hollywood and Broadway. But as Kazan became increasingly involved in autobiographical projects in the 1960s, audiences lost interest and his star began to descend. Kazan would finish his life writing novels for an ever-dwindling readership. He died in 2003.

Kazan’s rise and fall is another reminder to us that life without Christ is unfulfilling and ultimately, deadly. Kazan achieved great career success and was the toast of both coasts, but was also haunted by his friendly testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Atheist Kazan had remarkable insights into human beings; their strengths and especially their weaknesses. But he had no answers, only questions.

LTyc

Star Wars’ quasi-spirituality: Everybody worships something.

My wife and I were blessed to have our youngest son, son B, stay with us the last ten days. He’s an Air Force sergeant stationed down in Texas, so we only get to see him once a year. Both of our two sons are atheists, but son B is an especially hardcore scoffer.

Our oldest son, son A, who lives about 5 miles from us, planned a few family activities while his brother was in town, including all of us going to the movie theater this past Saturday night to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Argh!!! Some of you may think I’m a big movie buff because of my reviews of films directed by Elia Kazan, but going to the movies is actually one of the last things I want to do, ESPECIALLY to a “Star Wars” movie. Ach! I’d much rather watch paint dry on a wall than go see a “Star Wars” movie. Several times I privately shared with son B my strong reluctance to see the movie.

So Saturday morning, my wife and I, our two sons, and oldest granddaughter had breakfast at Donuts Delite, Rochester’s legendary donut shop (see here for my review). I had the usual; a cup of joe, two giant slices of breakfast sausage pizza, and a vanilla crème-filled donut. The best! Son A then announced he and son B would go Christmas shopping and then call my wife and I to meet them at the movie theater later that evening. Argh! I definitely didn’t want to go and deliberated in my head how I was going to get out of it. The only hiccup was that my wife and I had previously asked son B to attend church with us Sunday morning, not exactly something at the top of his hit parade. Would son B strategically use my refusal to see “Star Wars” as an excuse for him not to go to church the next day? Yes, he certainly would. Time passed and it was getting late and I thought I might be spared “Star Wars” torture, but son A called at 6:40PM to say he had bought tickets for the 7PM show. Ach! Double ach! But I bit the bullet and drove to the theater without voicing an audible complaint.

Once at the theater, we sat through several previews and I noticed some of the upcoming movies had a pronounced “spiritual” theme including “A Wrinkle in Time” starring New Age high priestess, Oprah Winfrey. Then came “Star Wars.” Ach, “Star Wars!” It’s a cultural phenomenon! People soak it up like religion. And it is religion for them. There’s lots of references to good versus evil and the hazy “force.” People will willingly subject themselves to every new chapter of fictional “Star Wars”-spirituality but cannot sit still for one second under Gospel preaching. But I don’t get freaked out by “Star Wars” and its quasi-spirituality. The lost flail around trying to make sense of the Universe. The never-ending conflict between bad-guy First Order villains and the good-guy Rebels aided by the nebulous “force” appeals to them much more than the Biblical way of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The lost definitely worship at the altar of entertainment. It’s spiritual blindness. After 150 very long minutes, the final credits thankfully rolled.

Yes, son B did attend church with us the following morning without nary a protest and he got to hear an excellent message on salvation in Christ. Thank you, Lord! Was there a crack in his hard heart? We pray the Lord continues to work in the hearts of our two boys.

Postscript: If you’re a Christian and a casual “Star Wars” fan, my apologies. I can enjoy and even cull spiritual lessons from the films of atheist director, Elia Kazan. Perhaps you can do the same with “Star Wars”?