Saturday, September 29, 2007

Movie Review: Super-Bad

I went along to see Super-Bad because everyone seems to be raving about how good it is. It consistently gets 4 star ratings from reviewers and is described as hilarious. So I thought I’d check it out. My reaction: it is super bad - in the literal sense of the words. The plot is quite straightforward. Two high school seniors, Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) are facing the prospect of graduating and attending different colleges. They’ve been good buddies and the idea of separation fills them with anxiety. They decide to organise a party with lots of booze to cope. Unfortunately, their plans go adrift and they find themselves in all sorts of trouble. The problem with Super-Bad is that it is obsessed with sex, alcohol, drugs, and male anatomy to the point that these overwhelm the plot which is thin anyway. Now, it may be true that some teenagers (read male) think about nothing else than sex, alcohol, drugs, and their anatomy. But do we want to sit and watch two hours of this stuff? Throughout the entire movie, there is graphic sexual dialogue. We are subjected to a whole series of full screne penis drawings produced by one of the characters when he was an infant because of an obsession he has had for his entire lifetime. There is a considerable amount of blood and gore (mostly comic) and a scene where a woman’s menstrual blood appears on a man’s trousers after dancing. The F-word occurs nearly 190 times along with other coarse language. There is LOTS of alcohol drinking plus marijuana and cocaine use with a police officer giving a cigarette to a teen. I could go on and on. All this material is pervasive throughout the entire movie and there is an underlying misogynism. Super-Bad contains an implicit message (read "hard to see") that relationships formed during inebriated sex are not likely to be successful. One of the characters (a girl who doesn’t drink) actually refuses sex because she doesn’t want to have it while the boy is drunk. But I’m not sure how many teens watching the movie would actually remember this given the other overwhelming material. Now, I’m not a prude. I have no problem with sex, drugs, alcohol, and male anatomy in the appropriate narrative context. It just seems to me that contemporary American comedy writers seem to have arrived at a place where they think that if they put more and more of these in a movie that it makes a great comedy. The disturbing thing is that there seemed to be people in my cinema who loved it! Now that’s a worry! Super-Bad is crude, ugly, unfunny, and a waste of two hours. Go see something else! My Rating: ** (out of 5) Positive Review ’For pure laughs, for the experience of just sitting in a chair and breaking up every minute or so, Superbad is 2007’s most successful comedy.’ - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle Negative Review ’Superbad simply isn’t. It isn’t super, as it intersperses crudely funny gags with an equal number of dry spots. It isn’t ever truly bad, because even the lame segments pass quickly.’ - Lawrence Toppman/Charlotte Observer Content Advice pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image - all involving teens AUS: MA USA: R

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Book Review: Our Little Secret

Our Little SecretIt is difficult to imagine a more evil crime than an adult sexually abusing a child. On a daily basis, children have their childhoods completely destroyed, often by people they love. Duncan Fairhurst was one of those children. His father began to sexually abuse him when Duncan was four years old and it continued for more than a decade. Duncan Fairhurst tells his story in the book Our Little Secret. It is a harrowing read. Duncan goes into explicit detail about the sexual molestation perpetrated by his father - how it started, what he did, it’s escalation over time, and the psychological manipulation that led to Duncan carrying this secret into adulthood. (Please note the Content Advice below.) After Duncan’s life hit rock bottom - alcoholism, drug use and abuse, imprisonment - he finally managed to turn his life around and took his father to court and successfully had him imprisoned. Duncan has written his story to raise our awareness of this devastating social evil and to give hope and courage to those who have experienced sexual abuse as children. It is a deeply disturbing story and takes some courage to read it. But we have to know what happens to these innocent children who have their lives destroyed. More than that, we need to act if we have any suspicions about children we know who may be being abused. Our children are vulnerable - it is up to us to do all we can to protect them from those who package their self-interested abuse as love and steal from them the deepest experience that any human can have - deep, nurturing, loving relationships with people they can trust. Content Advice highly explicit descriptions of pedophile sexual activity

Postmodernism, truth, and religious belief

I attended my reading group yesterday where we discussed two very interesting articles - well worth reading. Here are links to each of them:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Movie Review: The Jammed

As Australians, when we hear about the sex slavery trade, we don’t usually think of it happening in Australia. But Dee McLachlan’s movie, The Jammed, forces us to acknowledge that it goes on here too. The Jammed is set in Melbourne and is based on court transcripts and actual events, making it even more compelling than it would perhaps be otherwise. Ashley (Veronica Sywak) works for an insurance agent in Melbourne. Her recent relationship with Tom (Todd MacDonald) has broken down and her sister, Gabi (Kate Atkinson) has taken on the role of matchmaker. A friend of Gabi’s, Steve (Cameron Nugent) is flying in to Sydney and she asks Ashley to pick him up from the airport hoping she will develop a romantic interest. When she arrives, Steve asks her to give a Chinese woman he has met on the flight, Sunee (Amanda Ma), a ride to her accommodation. After dropping Steve off, Sunee reveals to Ashley that she is looking for her daughter and pleads with Ashley to help her find her. Against her initial instincts, Ashley agrees and is pulled into a web of crime surrounding the sex slavery trade in Melbourne as she tries to track down Rubi (Sun Park). There are certainly some flaws in the film, in particular, the somewhat unconvincing performance of Emma Lung as Crystal - one of the friends of Rubi - who is also a victim of human trafficking. And the director seems divided in focusing on the stories of Rubi and Crystal. But despite its flaws, this is a must-see movie for a number of reasons. There have been a number of dramas on television recently dealing with the sex slave trade overseas. The Jammed is, however, the first to take a serious look at this issue in our own backyard. Dee MacLachlan, who wrote and directed The Jammed after being told by a friend about the human trafficking that goes on in Australia, has chosen the thriller genre to convey the reality of this social evil. This will hopefully increase the potential audience. And The Jammed works well as a thriller. Veronica Sywak shines as Ashley and portrays the inner turmoil of being caught up in the life of a stranger and experiences both wanting to help and wanting to run in the opposite direction. And the three women played by Emma Lung, Saski Burmeister, and Sun Park are all compellingly portrayed. But more than all this it confronts us with a reality that we need to face and deal with as a society. Sex slavery is a real problem involving real people who can sometimes die. The Jammed also briefly portrays issues related to detention and government bureaucracy, both of which have the potential to completely ruin people’s lives by not taking personal circumstances into account. The Jammed is not always easy to watch - particularly the shocking sex scenes that show the way that the women are sexually assaulted and abused by their "owners" and the customers of the illegal brothels they work in. The Jammed is confronting and disturbing but an important movie on an important theme. My Rating: ***** (out of 5) Content Advice disturbing violence and sex scenes AUS: MA Related Links

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Set free to be free

The apostle Paul, in Galatians 5:1, declares that it is ’For freedom Christ has set us free.’ In the context of this letter, Paul was trying to persuade the Galatians not to return to the yoke of slavery to the Old Covenant laws symbolised by circumcision. For Christians in the 21st century, there are other potential sources of enslavement which we must resist if Christ has set us free in order to be free. Someone recently expressed concern about me saying that, from his point of view, I was on a path that would lead me to be unable to be certain of anything. This person was in a position of religious authority who decided to ban me from an activity within the organisation. This individual had come to this conclusion without any direct dialogue with me. Clearly, he had made a judgment about my spiritual path leading him to the decision he made. What is interesting, though, is this person’s notion that a spiritual path should lead to certainty. For many people, religion is about security and certainty rather than the pursuit of truth which might, in fact, lead to discomfort and uncertainty. Making one’s spiritual path about becoming more certain leads inevitably to fundamentalist attitudes and oppressive judgmentalism. Unless a person conform to one’s own set of beliefs they are judged to be on a false path and frequently result in manipulative actions that are designed to make a person conform to one’s own set of beliefs. Christ did not set us free in order to be enslaved by someone else’s belief system or criteria for what constitutes an authentic spiritual path. And a commitment to certainty and security will inevitably lead to a stagnant paralysis where it is impossible to learn and to grow in understanding. The freedom to doubt and to question is an absolute essential for growth in understanding and the development of a mature faith. Without doubt and questioning, we merely reiterate our current understanding and confirm what we already believe. This is not freedom nor is it authentic faith. A commitment to certainty and security rather than truth is the very antithesis of faith! Ignazio Silone, in The God That Failed, has made it clear what true religious liberty (freedom) is about:
Liberty is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying No to any authority -- literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social and even political.
If any person or organisation tries to tell you that authentic faith means:
  • It is wrong to doubt
  • It is wrong to make mistakes
  • It is wrong to search and experiment
  • It is wrong to say No to any authority
Then run for your life! Christ set you free to be free, not to be enslaved by the yoke of someone else’s prison.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Movie Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne UltimatumIf you have seen the first two Jason Bourne films (The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy) then you know what to expect from The Bourne Ultimatum. The story begins with a scene where Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) sits in a room with blood on his hands trying to work out what has happened to him. He decides to find out, once and for all, who he really is by tracking back to the place where it all started. The CIA chief in New York City decides that the only response is to get rid of Jason Bourne and the Agency spirals down into very grey moral territory giving the narrative substance. And so begins an incredible game of cat-and-mouse as Bourne tries to avoid death whilst trying to discover his true identity. The Bourne Ultimatum is an absolutely brilliant suspense thriller. It is frenetically paced but is actually quite easy to follow. The action is superbly choreographed - so well, in fact, it seems very real. The cinematography uses a handheld camera style which intensifies the sense of realism experienced by the viewer. Matt Damon is superb, once again, as Jason Bourne and Julia Stiles plays a more important role in this episode as Nicky Parsons. The narrative never lets up and we find ourselves carried along unrelentingly to the final resolution. The tension is beautifully conveyed even when the action on screen is simple. The scenes filmed in Waterloo Station are absolutely brilliant and there is some stunning stunt work. The Bourne Ultimatum is the best yet - if you are a fan, you won’t be disappointed. My Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review ’A great action movie, exhilarating and neatly crafted, the kind of picture that will still look good 20 or 30 years from now.’ - Stephanie Zacharek/ Negative Review ’The movie is so surreal it’s just not very involving. As an action extravaganza, it’s busy but dull.’ - William Arnold/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Content Advice violence and intense sequences of action AUS: M USA: PG-13

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Spong Visits Adelaide

Bishop John Shelby Spong visited Adelaide recently to deliver a series of three public lectures promoting his new book, Jesus for the Non-Religious. Spong is a controversial figure evoking enormous amounts of criticism from the evangelical end of the theological spectrum, in particular. I went along to hear all three of his public lectures to try to find out what his essential message is for myself. Spong has a very negative message about traditional Christianity and a positive* message about what he sees as the true meaning of the Christian message. A "negative" message about traditional Christianity Spong makes the obvious point that we are now living in a different time to those when the biblical books were penned. Whereas the first century believers accepted a three tiered universe that stopped just above the roof of the sky, we now know so much more about the universe and how it works. Science has increased our understanding of the natural world to such an extent that, according to Spong, the language used to express the first century believers’ experience of God is outdated, irrelevant, and unbelievable. For Spong, we can no longer talk, for example, of a virgin birth, a literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, or miraculous healings. According to Spong, none of these beliefs make sense to a modern person living with the knowledge we have of the world and the universe. He also rejects the substitutionary model of the atonement (that Christ died for humanity’s sins instead of humanity dying). Spong also believes that fundamentalist Christianity, in particular, represents a narrow-minded belief system that is unwilling to move forward in its understanding of the original meaning of Christianity. He believes that Christian fundamentalism is exclusivist and promotes racism, sexism, and homophobia. Much of Spong’s life has been spent focusing on social justice issues around these themes. He is a vocal defender of the equality of humanity, the right of women and gay and lesbian people to serve as equals in the Christian Church, and the acceptance of homosexual people within the church community as living a legitimate lifestyle, consistent with their unchosen orientation, in the context of loving relationships similar to monogamous heterosexual relationships. He is highly respected by many for his work in this area. It is easy to see why Bishop Spong has evoked such emotional outrage from fundamentalist Christians and significant criticism from others. His teachings strike at the heart of much that is held, by many Christians, to be essential in defining Christianity. This is the "negative" side of Spong’s message. Spong also has a "positive" message about what Christianity has to offer. A "positive" message about the Christian message A constantly recurring theme in all of Spong’s lectures is that Christianity, rightly understood, has an incredibly positive message for society. Spong reassures his audiences that he is a committed Christian, believes in God, and prays daily. Clearly, this language has a specific meaning for Spong. For Spong, God is a presence which suffuses the world. The God presence found its highest expression in the life of Jesus Christ. For Spong, the life of Jesus provides the clearest expression of God’s intentions for humanity:
  • to live life fully
  • to love wastefully
  • to be all that one can be
This is a "mantra" for Spong that expresses the essence of the gospel. Every one of his lectures finishes with the reiteration of these three themes. And excellent themes they are! Very few Christians, I imagine, would disagree with these emphases. Unfortunately, for many Christians, they are overshadowed by Spong’s "negative" message to such an extent that they are not heard. And for those on the other end of the theological spectrum, the "negative" message is so powerful for them that the they wonder why bother with Christianity at all. They would argue that you don’t need Christianity to assert the value of living life fully, loving wastefully, and being all one can be. (Following one of Spong’s lectures, I had a conversation with an ex-Christian who made precisely that point.) For traditional Christians, the literal, historically embedded beliefs about Jesus Christ (eg, the virgin birth, miracles, the resurrection) are indispensable in defining Christianity as distinct from other religions. Thoughtful and honest Christians can surely agree that new forms of expressing the gospel of Jesus Christ need to be found for the 21st century. And they can surely agree that Jesus’ life shows humanity what it means to live in the presence of God and be empowered, by the Holy Spirit, to live fully, love wastefully, and become fully human. But many Christians will also want to argue that this can only be done by a God who is able to work supernaturally - any lesser God is not enough and, without such a God, Spong’s vision of living fully, loving wastefully, and being all one can be will be an unfulfilled yearning - a God-shaped hole in the human heart that only God can fill. There is a challenge here for traditional Christianity: the Church, which is often the worst advertisement for Christianity, needs to live out its good news in everyday living so that God is, indeed, understood to be a loving God of infinite mercy who accepts all and empowers them to live fully, love wastefully, and be all that God intended them to be. --------------------- * I am using the terms "negative" and "positive" to indicate that Spong is critical of Christianity and yet wishes to affirm that Christianity has a significant message for the modern world. Related Links