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The Films of 1939, Part 13

gone-with-the-wind-updated-2Having grown up in the South, I remember network TV stations airing “Gone with the Wind during the holidays. Watching it with my family was as much of a Christmas tradition as decorating the tree. As with most traditions introduced in childhood, I never questioned its existence, never wondered what subtle messages it might whisper. Rather, I wholeheartedly embraced the film, going so far as to embark on a pilgrimage to the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta.

The movie that so captivated me begins in the Antebellum South and centers on Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), the daughter of a plantation owner (Thomas Mitchell). Scarlett initally is unconvinced of her father's belief that his plantation, Tara, is worth more than anything else in life. She pays more attention to her string of suitors, particularly the man to whom her heart belongs, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard)—even after Ashley has married his cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), and even as Scarlett herself is steadily pursued by the roguish Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).
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A Q&A with Jim Tonkowich

9781618906410_1Jim Tonkowich, former editor of BreakPoint Radio, has written a new book called “The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today.” I interviewed Jim about this very timely subject.

1. Religious freedom battles in America have been going on for some time. What particular case or event inspired you to write “The Liberty Threat” now?

As I say in the book, there has never been a golden age of American religious liberty. From before the founding of the United States, we have instead struggled to understand the extent and limits of religious liberty.
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'Exodus' Goes Heavy on the Action, Light on the Supernatural

exodusEven before this weekend’s release of “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” the film was receiving criticism for its whitewashed casting of the leads and director Ridley Scott’s arguably tone-deaf defense of his filmmaking process. While these are all significant discussions, what interested me most going into the film was seeing its treatment of the biblical text. It’s my understanding that Scott does not identify himself as a believer, but nonetheless, I’ve found his treatment of faith in past films (particularly “Kingdom of Heaven”) worthy of note.

As it turns out, this is a film that seeks to tell one of the most faith-saturated stories in Scripture—the story of God’s deliverance of His chosen people from four centuries of slavery—by nearly stripping the story of faith, and relegating what is left to a minor supporting role. Rather, it approaches the story of Moses as simply another iteration of the heroic journey.
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If So, Are We Loving Them As Ourselves?

Master_of_the_Good_Samaritan_001The apocryphal story is told of a man who, hearing Christ's reply to the Pharisees regarding the Greatest Commandment, and having purer motives than they, subsequently went to Jesus for further clarification.

“Master,” he said, “I really do want to please God. I want to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and might. How, practically speaking, do I do that?”
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The Films of 1939, Part 12

quasimodo-the-hunchback-of-dame-william-diete-L-4In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch tells his young son, Jem, that he wishes he could keep the ugliness of the world away from him. Many of us have felt that way about our children or other loved ones. But in the 1939 adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” ugliness is a major motif. Esmeralda, the tambourine-playing gypsy (Maureen O'Hara), is, exclaims one bystander, “the prettiest ugliness I’ve ever seen.” The same could be said of the eponymous Quasimodo (Charles Laughton), the deformed but pure-hearted bell-ringer of Notre Dame, kept hidden from the world.

The truth is, it’s that outside world that is really depraved and deformed. And its ugliness cannot help but seep into the cloistered marble and polished gargoyles and turrets and towers of the ethereal space Quasimado inhabits.

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A Review of Grant Wacker's 'America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation'

9780674052185Evangelicalism has no headquarters, no formal hierarchy, and no official publication (with apologies to Christianity Today). Yet, if one person can be said to have embodied evangelicalism in the 20th century—a sort of Protestant Pope—that person was Billy Graham.

Graham is now 96 and has been retired for almost a decade, which makes this an appropriate time to think about his work in historical perspective. In “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation” (Harvard, 2014), historian Grant Wacker of Duke Divinity School makes the case that Graham’s success was tied to his “uncanny ability to adopt trends in the wider culture and then use them for his evangelistic and moral reform purposes.” Graham was more than just a leader of evangelicals, as important as that was: He was “America’s pastor.”
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'Foxcatcher' Tells a Gritty Tale without Going Too Far

foxcatcherFoxcatcher,” a new release that's getting plenty of Oscar buzz, is a very dark, slow-moving, psychological film. I was never bored—quite the opposite—but I was aware that it was long. Viewers who do not like long, slow films will hate it. Viewers will be particularly disappointed if they go in expecting the “Rocky” of Freestyle Wrestling, because this film is something else entirely.

But if you’re more in the mood for a thought-provoking story than an action film, “Foxcatcher” might be just what you’re looking for.
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A Q&A with Anne Morse about 'Bedford Falls'

Bedford_FallsLongtime BreakPoint writer Anne Morse has just released her first novel, “Bedford Falls: The Story Continues.” I interviewed Anne about her decision to revisit the Bailey family and their friends many years after the events of “It's a Wonderful Life.”

Gina: How did you come up with the idea for a sequel to “It's a Wonderful Life”? Why did you decide to take it in this particular direction, with George Bailey's grandson being the opposite of George?

Anne: I grew up watching the film during the years it was shown endlessly on every channel at Christmas. No matter how many times I watched it, I never grew tired of it. I first started thinking about the idea of writing a sequel probably 10 or more years ago. I began imagining how George's life might have turned out after Christmas of 1945, when the angel Clarence taught him to value his life decisions and his family. George had been sort of depressed for so many years, you just long for him to be happy! You wonder if that burst of happiness and appreciation for what he has on Christmas Eve is going to last, or if it will fade away in a few days as George returns to the routine of his life.

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‘Mockingjay: Part 1’ Shows that True Bravery Comes from Love and Humility

661541dfe5beea0eaeaecbf6d125c2c2Mockingjay, Part 1,” the new installment in the Hunger Games series of films, begins where “Catching Fire left off. After her rescue from the Quarter Quell arena, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) takes refuge in District 13 and attempts to recreate a normal life. From the beginning, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) knows that Katniss’ influence as the icon of the rebellion is necessary if they are to win the war against President Snow (Donald Sutherland). However, Katniss wants nothing to do with being the face of the rebellion, a.k.a. the Mockingjay. Additionally, normal daily existence is difficult for Katniss, because she has PTSD, which causes her to have uncontrollable nightmares, panic attacks, and petrifying fear always lurking beneath the surface.

Yet after seeing the destruction President Snow caused in her former home of District 12, and his current brainwashing and manipulation of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss agrees to become the Mockingjay. Her condition is that President Coin (Julianne Moore) promise rescue and give a full pardon of any war crimes to Peeta and the other rebels that were captured by the Capitol. Katniss’s propaganda commercials struck the heart of the people and the individual districts begin to unite in rebellion against the Capitol. As the title alludes, this is only the beginning, but unity of the districts is absolutely necessary if they are to overthrow a tyrannical leader and unjust government.
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Why We Shouldn't Take 'The Marriage Pledge' Too Soon

ID-1003630The next several years are going to be messy for Christians. We already know that some who claim to be within our fold will continue to challenge the historic, orthodox teaching about sexuality, marriage, and the essence of what it means to be made in the image of God. But even those of us who agree that marriage is what the church has always thought it was, will disagree on how best to move forward in a culture hell-bent on denying it.

Case in point: Over at First Things, a premier publication of Christian thought, Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz have offered what they refer to as “The Marriage Pledge,” calling clergy of all stripes to no longer sign government documents of civil marriage. To be a “clear witness,” they have decided they “will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage” because to do so would be to “implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.”
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'Laggies' Entertains, but Fails to Make a Grand Statement

LaggiesLaggies” is a romantic comedy masquerading as a larger statement about millennials who don’t want to grow up. The idea is that a “laggie” is someone lagging behind in life, a common enough accusation made against this generation. Studies do indicate that a majority of us “lag” behind on marriage, having children, moving out of our parents’ houses, and/or getting a career.

Our heroine, Megan (Keira Knightley), actually lags even further behind the rest of the millennials, as her peers are all starting to get married, have children, or move up in their careers. Megan, a young woman “in my 20s,” still hangs out with the same friends and has the same boyfriend she had in high school, dropped out of graduate school because she couldn’t “relate” to the people she worked with, and now twirls a sign on the street for the business owned by her overindulgent dad. Somehow she still finds the late-night activities of teenagers fun, so through a series of only-in-a-movie events, she ends up hanging out with a group of high schoolers after meeting them in a store parking lot (where they persuaded her to buy them alcohol).
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'The Theory of Everything' Asks How to Experience a Miracle While Rejecting God

x900Recently opening in limited release, “The Theory of Everything” brings the story of Stephen Hawking to life In a stunning display of great acting, cinematography, and emotional pacing. Unfortunately, the film ends up undercutting its own message of human hope.

Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS or “motor-neuron disease” in the film, and given 2 years to live in 1963, Hawking earned his Ph.D. in cosmology, became a bestselling author, and is still alive today. This feat is due, in no small measure, to the love and dedication of his wife Jane, whose struggles and successes the film portrays with grace and deep emotion.
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In 'Big Hero 6,' Compassion Guides the Hero's Journey

fe836dc0-1cfc-11e4-af0a-676dfa5a2eed_2014-BigHero6Disney’s new film “Big Hero 6” combines the prestige that comes with the history and brand of the Disney Animated Classics series, with the appeal of one of contemporary film’s biggest and most successful box office juggernauts: Marvel Comics. “Big Hero 6” takes its inspiration from the Marvel superhero team of the same name, first introduced in a 1998 comic release.

The concept is perfect fodder for Marvel’s first foray into animated film, as at the team’s center is a teenage robotics genius. Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a teenage prodigy with an affinity for robot tech, living with his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), and their aunt and guardian, Cass (Maya Rudolph), in San Fransokyo. For a teenager smarter than most of his peers and teachers, illegal betting on bot matches is a temptation too great to deny. Having breezed through school and graduated at 13, Hiro sees no need to limit himself by pursuing further education and thus being confined by its attendant rules. Hiro has all the success he could possibly want within his grasp, the danger merely adding to the allure of the fights.
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'Interstellar,' Science, and Human Limitation

Hamilton-Khaki-Interstellar-watches-2Interstellar” is a film by Christopher Nolan—written and directed by him and his brother Jonathan, rather than just produced by him—so it was never going to be anything but awesome. My recommendation: Go see it. Now. Maybe I’ll come watch it with you.

Just in case you want to know a little something about the story before you go:

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) was a pilot, and is now a farmer in a dystopian near-future of our Earth. The population has decreased dramatically because of war, disease, and finally starvation. All the animals, as far as one can tell, are extinct, and crops are dying from blight. By the time the story has begun, the world is plagued by sandstorms, and the only crop still extant is corn. The blight that is killing the crops depletes the oxygen in the world so that “the last people to starve will be the first people to suffocate.”
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The Films of 1939, Part 11

1236191925-largeA few years ago, my Great-Aunt Marilyn and I had a very exciting sleepover: We watched three film adaptations of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" back to back. (No, really, it was exciting!) That was the first time I ever saw the 1939 version of John's Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," produced by Hal Roach and directed by Lewis Milestone.

George Milton (Burgess Meredith) and Lennie Small (Lon Chaney, Jr.) are migrant workers who have just found a job on a ranch outside of Soledad, California. Lennie is a huge and almost superhumanly strong man with the mind of a child. He follows George like a dog, and George protects and cares for him. They have a dream, one that Lennie makes George recite repeatedly: to buy a little farm where they can live on their own terms and (most importantly to Lennie) raise rabbits. Their dream is very similar to the dream of every person they meet, but they have one thing no other character in the story has: each other. They are the only people in the story who are not alone.
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