Sunday, February 27, 2005

Movie Review: 'Ray'

The late Ray Charles was a much-loved musician and Taylor Hackford's biopic of him profiles his life from childhood when he became blind from glaucoma. The movie spends a good deal of time portraying his problems with drugs and women. The best part of the movie, however, is the music and Jamie Foxx's brilliant, warts-and-all portrayal of Charles. Because Foxx can actually play the piano (he once even had a jam session with Ray Charles) the musical scenes come across as authentic. The music and Foxx aside, the movie is pretty average fare. Ray has been nominated for best picture at this year's Oscars. It shouldn't get the award in my opinion. But Jamie Foxx might achieve best actor with his brilliant 'cloning' of Ray Charles. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Best Review 'A fit tribute to an entertainer who, no matter what hate or hardship threw in his way or how many mistakes he made, we can't stop loving.' - Michael Wilmington/Chicago Tribune Worst Review 'For too many minutes of its two and a half hours, Ray flips through its cinematic pages with a breathless and-then-this-happened urgency, offering up little in the way of personality (or truth) beyond Jamie Foxx's strong performance.' - Kim Morgan/LA Weekly Related Link Ray Charles Buy Ray on DVD from

Friday, February 18, 2005

Movie Review: 'The Aviator'

Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, a biopic of the eccentric (an understatement) Howard Hughes who was obsessed with making movies and aviation, is a brilliantly entertaining movie that is most definitely worthy of its 11 Oscar nominations including best picture, best director (Martin Scorsese), best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and best actress (Kate Blanchett). It's an incredibly entertaining movie that focuses on the '20s and '30s when Howard Hughes sunk millions of dollars into making the movie Hell's Angels and took amazing risks developing new planes that led to him holding every important aviation record of that time and advanced aviation to unimaginable heights for that day. Dramatic tension is provided as Hughes is dismissed by the studio moguls of his day, his dramatic romancing of Katherine Hepburd (Blanchett) when he lands a plane on a beach, his dizzying test flights when he runs out of petrol and crashes in a field and slices of the tops of houses and nearly dies, his retreat into paranoia when he locks himself in his private cinema where he lives naked and grows a beard while filling the rooms with tissues as he tries to avoid all the 'germs' that threaten him, to his hearings before the corrupt senator Ralph Owens Brewster (Alan Alda) who tries to prove Hughes has been illegitimately collecting money from the government in an effort to remove him from competition with Pan Am. Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant in what may be the best acting of his entire career as he portrays the highly eccentric and, at times, mentally ill Hughes. Martin Scorcese has used just about every technical advance in cinema to lovingly recreate the period. There are so many entertaining highlights in the film that it is hard to describe the exhiliration of watching the drama unfold. Scorcese, though, neglects to tell the rest of the story of Hughes' life. As Albert Greenstein points out:

The peaks and valleys of his life were startling. As an aviator, he once held every speed record of consequence and was hailed as the world’s greatest flyer, "a second Lindbergh." At various points in his life he owned an international airline, two regional airlines, an aircraft company, a major motion picture studio, mining properties, a tool company, gambling casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, a medical research institute, and a vast amount of real estate; he had built and flown the world’s largest airplane; he had produced and directed "Hell's Angels," a Hollywood film classic.

Yet by the time he died in 1976, under circumstances that can only be described as bizarre, he had become a mentally ill recluse, wasted in body, incoherent in thought, alone in the world except for his doctors and bodyguards. He had squandered millions and brought famous companies to the financial brink. For much of his life, he seemed larger than life, but his end could not have been sadder. (Greenstein 1999)

Despite that, The Aviator is a 3-hour joy flight of a movie that never seems three hours long. A brilliant piece of cinema. My Score: ****1/2 (out of 5) Content Warnings Thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence. Recommended Viewing Age 15+ Best Review 'An enormously entertaining slice of biographical drama, The Aviator flies like one of Howard Hughes' record-setting speed airplanes.' - Todd McCarthy/Variety Worst Review 'The Aviator could've been a "Raging Bull" brother film, given that masterpiece's crystalline purity of purpose and humiliated courage. But it brakes far short.' - Michael Atkinson/Village Voice Related Links Wikipedia: Howard Hughes Famous Texans: Howard Hughes Howard Hughes Internet Movie Database: Howard Hughes

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Book Review: 'Black'

Black: The Birth of Evil is Book One of Ted Dekker's fantasy/thriller/action The Circle trilogy. I have previously read Dekker's Thr3e and was extremely impressed with the mature fiction that this Christian author writes. Black is no exception. It is a genuinely intriguing read with universal themes set in the context of a battle between good and evil. Thomas Hunter is attached by unknown assailants as he walks down a deserted alleyway when a bullet clips his head and he descends into blackness. Out of the blackness comes another world -- a world where evil is contained. But is this a dream or reality? When he goes to sleep in one world he wakes up in the other world. Both worlds face disaster and Thomas Hunter seems to be called to deal with the crisis of both worlds. What he does in one world seems to affect the other and his choices seem to have ramifications for both worlds. Black is a great read. Dekker manages the paradox of Thomas Hunter's living in two worlds with great skill and the pace never stops with continual surprises for the reader. There is action, romance, suspense and deep theological themes. I can't wait to read the next book of the trilogy. Highly recommended! Dekker is one of the best (if not the best) Christian fiction writers today. From the Cover Fleeing assailants through alleyways in Denver late one night, Thomas Hunter narrowly escapes to the roof of an industrial building. Then a silent bullet from the night clips his head and his world goes black. Now Thomas wakes from a deep sleep, remembering the vivid dream he just had of being chased. Incredibly real. His head is even bleeding – but he’s fallen on a rock. He’s in a green forest, waiting to meet Rachelle, the woman he’s falling madly in love with. That night, Thomas tumbles into bed and falls into a fitful sleep. He dreams. But here comes the real mind bender. Every time Thomas falls asleep in one reality, he awakes in the other. He truly no longer knows which reality is real. Each reality has dramatic impact on the other, each proves to be real, each presents huge stakes, and the fate of each will depend on one man: Thomas Hunter. [A] groundbreaking trilogy ... Each new Dekker book has surpassed the prior one...but never before has he created such an unforgettable multi-layered epic as Black, Red, and White. Related Links Ted Dekker's web site Buy Black from

Friday, February 11, 2005

Movie Review: Million Dollar Baby

If you are looking for the perfect film to watch then Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood, is it. Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a veteran boxer trainer who has never really produced a success. He has been writing to his daughter for years but she never replies; he attends church every week and, after the service, plies his priest with questions and doubts that the priest is uninterested in answering; and a boxer who he has trained for years has signed up with another manager because Frankie won't go the final step and sign him up for a championship fight. Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Morgan Freeman), a half-blind ex-boxer mops the floors of the gym and maintains order. Things are pretty low. Then a young woman, from lower than humble origins, suddenly turns up at the gym whose heart is set on becoming a boxer. Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) wants Frankie to train her. Frankie instantly dismisses her -- she is, after all, a girl. But she persists until, eventually, a deep bond develops between the two and Maggie meets with success as a boxer. Then things start to change as Maggie is seduced by big-time boxing managers who want to capitalise on her success. It looks like things have come full circle for Frankie. But then there's a twist and what happens in the rest of the movie will leave you with profound issues to think about when you leave the cinema and which will linger for many days. Clint Eastwood's directing is flawless and the acting is brilliant. The story is simple but profound. Eastwood has done some great films in recent years. This one is possibly his best yet in terms of directing and acting. Whatever you do this year, don't miss this film! My Rating: ***** (out of 5) Best Review 'Under Eastwood's painstakingly stripped-down direction -- his filmmaking has become the cinematic equivalent of Hemingway's spare though precise prose -- the story emerges as that rarest of birds, an uplifting tragedy.' - Kirk Honeycutt/The Hollywood Reporter Worst Review 'A compendium of every cliché from every bad boxing melodrama ever made, Million Dollar Baby tries to transcend its cornball overfamiliarity with the qualities that have long characterized Eastwood's direction -- it's solemn, inflated and dull.' - Charles Taylor/

Thursday, February 10, 2005

'He Shall Rule Over You'

I have added a link to the Thinking Christian web site to an article I had published in the Quodlibet theology journal some time ago. It examines the meaning of the phrase 'He shall rule over you' in Genesis 3 -- what does it really mean? You can read it here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

'Perhaps I just don't have a soul' (The Observer)

"What happens when a no-nonsense, rational, atheist traveller puts herself in the hands of a touchy-feely shaman, an eager therapist and a hammy astrologer at a Mind, Body and Spirit spa break on a glamorous Caribbean island? Carole Cadwalladr reveals all " in this wonderfully humourous expose Perhaps I just don't have a soul.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Book Review: 'Touched with Our Feelings'

The relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ has been a sore point of controversy throughout the history of Christianity. There are two equal and opposite errors regarding the nature of Christ: one is to over-emphasise his divine nature leading to heresies such as docetism -- the idea that God did not really come in the flesh but only appeared to do so; and the other is to over-emphasise his humanity leading to heresies such as that of Arius who believed that Christ was not divine but was the highest created being. One denomination which has struggled with these issues over the course of its own history is Seventh-day Adventism (SDA). To read the history of this doctrine within this movement provides an excellent insight into the issues of Christ's nature, in particular, his human nature. Early SDAs believed that Christ came in sinful human flesh with the only difference from the rest of us that he didn't actually sin. Around the 1950s, however, a 'new theology' of Christ's human nature began to emerge within the denomination -- at least, new for Seventh-day Adventism. A number of their theologians began to teach that Christ came in the human nature of Adam before the Fall. This has been the understanding of most of Christendom but not by the SDA Church up until that time. Of course, the conservative/traditional theologians of the denomination reacted against this movement and, since then, the debate has raged without any end in sight. J R Zurcher's highly readable book Touched with Our Feelings: A Historical Survey of Adventist Thought on the Human Nature of Christ describes the history of this doctrine within the SDA church from the early 1800s to the present day. His overall purpose is to show that the original understanding of Seventh-day Adventists was in the fallen human nature of Christ (which, in his view, is the correct view) and that, since the 1950s, the push by some SDA theologians toward a more orthodox Christian view is a departure from the truth. Despite Zurcher's obvious agreement with the belief that Christ came with a fallen human nature, he presents what seems to be an objective and fair survey of the debate with Seventh-day Adventism. He leaves his positive support of his view to the last chapter of the book although hints of it obviously come through in other chapters. In his last chapter he offers what he considers to be the biblical evidence in support of Christ's human nature being that of fallen humanity. This is an important place to finish because a good deal of time within Seventh-day Adventism is spent arguing from the writings of their prophetess, Ellen G White. Zurcher tries to avoid that in his last chapter. He is not entirely successful at this because on a number of occasions Ellen White's views intrude into his argument. There are a number of good reasons for reading this book. Firstly, it provides an interesting case study of a denomination which has tried to grapple with the mysterious doctrine of the nature of Christ -- not only through intellectual debate but also through some interesting deviations such as the Holy Flesh Movement which, during the late 1800s, asserted that a person's flesh became like that of Adam's before the Fall. All of this makes for fascinating reading. Secondly, it is an interesting case study of theological debate in its own right. Along the way there are some interesting issues to do with what documents are authoritative for believers in their struggle to find truth. The prophetess of Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen G White, features prominently in the story on both sides of the debate. There are also practical implications that are derived from an individual's understanding of the human nature of Christ and the nature of the gospel. In my view, Zurcher achieves his aim of showing that early Seventh-day Adventists believed in the fallen human nature of Christ. However, I do not believe it is appropriate to read this book with the intention of deciding what is truth in this matter. There may be some within Seventh-day Adventism who will accept the original doctrine because it was the belief of the founders of the denomination and because they believe that Ellen White confirms that position. But, of course, neither of those is adequate as the basis of belief. For the Christian, the final and ultimate authority is the Bible and the truth must be evaluated on that basis alone. The Seventh-day Adventists' own Statement of Fundamental Beliefs state that quite clearly. For the general Christian reader, then, the book can be read for the valuable insights and lessons that can be derived from any story of the followers of Christ as they struggle to be faithful disciples. It may also motivate us to pursue a greater understanding of the miracle of the incarnation -- God, in Christ, reconciling the whole world to himself. Related Links Non-Seventh-day Adventist The Divine and Human Nature of Christ -- Herman Bavinck Did Christ Have a Fallen Human Nature? -- Donald McLeod Human Nature of Christ, The -- Torrey's Topical Textbook Seventh-day Adventist Christ's Human Nature -- Angel Manuel Rodriguez The Nature of Christ -- Buy Touched with Our Feelings from

Are atheists morons?

Someone recently sent me this amusing little story:
Wise Little Lucy A young woman teacher with obvious liberal tendencies explains to her class of small children that she is an atheist. She asks her class if they are atheists too. Not really knowing what atheism is but wanting to be like their teacher, their hands explode into the air like fleshy fireworks. There is, however, one exception. A girl named Lucy has not gone along with the crowd. The teacher asks her why she has decided to be different. "Because I'm not an atheist." "Then," asks the teacher, "what are you?" "I'm a Christian." The teacher is a little perturbed now, her face slightly red. She asks Lucy why she is a Christian. "Well, I was brought up knowing and loving Jesus. My Mom is a Christian, and my dad is a Christian, so I am a Christian." The teacher is now angry. "That's no reason," she says loudly. "What if your Mom was a moron, and your dad was a moron. What would you be then?" A pause, and a smile. "Then," says Lucy, "I'd be an atheist."
It's cute isn't it? But the assumption underlying this story is that atheists are morons and that Christians are not. The term moron comes from a Greek word meaning unintelligent or thoughtless. And that is precisely the sense in which it is used in this story. Many Christians believe that atheists must be unintelligent or thoughtless if they can't see the truth of Christianity. But are atheists unintelligent or thoughtless? Most definitely not! Any Christian who has genuinely listened to, or read, the point of view of an atheist would know that they are no more likely to be unintelligent or thoughtless than a Christian. There are unintelligent and thoughtless people within any group and Christians, along with atheists and other stereotyped groups, have just as many. You might be interested in reading some of the results on the relationship between religion and intelligence here. In essence, a number of scientific studies have been done on students over the years to see if there is a correlation between IQ and religious belief. Starting in 1927, Thomas Howells studied 461 students and 'showed religiously conservative students "are, in general, relatively inferior in intellectual ability."' In 1951, Brown and Love tested 613 male and female students at the University of Denver. 'The mean test scores of non-believers was 119 points, and for believers it was 100. The non-believers ranked in the 80th percentile, and believers in the 50th. Their findings "strongly corroborate those of Howells."' As recently as 1978, Robert Wuthnow studied 532 students and showed that '[o]f 532 students, 37 percent of Christians, 58 percent of apostates, and 53 percent of non-religious scored above average on SATs.' There are many, many more studies on the web site so take a look. Studies of other groups have given similar results. Overall, 'The consensus [of the studies] is clear: more intelligent people tend not to believe in religion. And this observation is given added force when you consider that the ... studies span a broad range of time, subjects and methodologies, and yet arrive at the same conclusion.' So, if these studies are to be believed, Lucy in the story actually got it around the wrong way. My purpose here is not to discuss the issue of which belief system, atheism or Christianity, is the correct one. But, as Christians, one thing we just cannot do is assume that, if a person is an atheist, they are therefore stupid, unintelligent, or unthoughtful. Not only is this untrue but, to assert such a thing actually backfires on the Christian who does so. To accuse atheists of being unintelligent or unthoughtful is, in fact, the result of unintelligent, unthoughtful thinking!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Movie Review: Finding Neverland

Marc Forster's Finding Neverland is the moving biography of James Matthew Barrie, the author of the children's classic Peter Pan. Johnny Depp plays the role of Barrie who, while struggling to have his plays produced, meets widowed mother (Kate Winslett) of four children in a park near his home and befriends them. They become the inspiration for his play Peter Pan which becomes the only success of Barrie's career. The actors put in some good performances but none more so that Freddie Highmore who plays Peter. There are some powerfully touching moments in the film, delightful humour, and a celebration of childhood imagination. Take some tissues along to this one -- a good movie for the whole family (12 years and up). My Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 Best Review 'Pure magic.' - Lou Lumenick/New York Post Worst Review 'Finding Neverland, like little boys, has its charms, but it never grows into a fully fledged film.' - Richard Corliss/Time >>>Buy Finding Neverland on DVD from <<<

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

'Atheism and Children' by Natalie Angier

Ever wondered how an atheist brings up their children? You can find the answer in this highly impassioned lecture by Natalie Angier, Atheism and children. During the lecture, she makes the statement that atheism, to her, means essentially 'an ongoing devotion to exploration, a giving of pride of place to evidence.' A question: isn't this compatible with the very best of Christianity? There are some interesting points in Angier's lecture. But like so much writing from atheists, it seems to be responding to an anti-intellectual, caricatured brand of Christianity -- something we might all object to as Christians. But a good thinker is going to evaluate something on the basis of the best examples one can find. How would you characterise the best form of Christianity?