Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2012)

Paradise Lost 3As the title suggests, Paradise Lost 3 is the third in a trilogy of films by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for HBO. They have been telling the story of the West Memphis 3, three young men who were arrested for the brutal murders of three boys in 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas. The original documentary raised some questions about the investigation and prosecution of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.

This third film, which aired in January 2012 on HBO, captures somewhat of a miracle in the American justice system. After seventeen years in prison, we see them released in 2011. Echols was on death row. The conviction was based, as the film shows us, on flawed circumstantial evidence and a confession from Jessie Misskelley, who had an IQ of seventy-two. Using DNA testing which was not available in 1993, the three young men were found to be innocent of the crimes.

The film retraces how the prosecution portrayed the three young men as followers of a satanic cult, mostly because one of the men, Echols, wore black. What follows in the community of West Memphis, Arkansas is a wave of fear. In addition, the filmmakers have mentioned that they were resented in West Memphis as “Jew boys from New York.” Together, these things become a reflection on the fear of “the other.” The fear of the other leads to seeing justice in different ways. For some, they wanted the three young men to “burn in hell.” For others, seeing them in prison or on death row was sufficient.

As such, we tend to wear blinders when it comes to justice in this country. There are innocent people behind bars and we think that justice has been served. The story of the West Memphis 3 challenges us to seek justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). In light of viewing this film, it has occurred to me that this verse from Micah has been used a lot, yet has not been lived. What does it mean to seek justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God? Paradise Lost offers a glimpse into what it does not look like.

A community out for blood without truly understanding the details is not seeking justice, loving kindness, or walking humbly with God. To seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God is to see the world—to see others—as God sees them. We must remember that God’s justice is not our human (or even American) justice. We should approach justice with humility and respect.

The film was named Best Documentary by the National Board of Review.

The Captains Close Up (2013)

source: www.geekadelphia.com

Close Up is a 5-episode mini series follow-up to William Shatner’s 2011 documentary The Captains. Directed and featuring William Shatner, the original captain, Captain James T. Kirk, the short films profile the Star Trek captains: Sir Patrick Stewart (Next Generation), Avery Brooks (Deep Space Nine), Kate Mulgrew (Voyager), Scott Bakula (Enterprise), and of course, William Shatner (Star Trek).

Shatner sits down with each of the captains Barbara Walters-style to talk about their days as a Star Trek captain, but also about life before and after Star Trek. There aren’t any tears, but there are deeply personal stories about how the shows they started in changed their lives. For the better and for the worse. The interviews reveal how each of the captains had some type of stage experience prior to their television role as Captain. They show lives have intersected, at times they weren’t even aware of.

A Captain to All

One of the recurring themes in the interviews was that of leadership. Each captain was a leader to the fictional starship crew, but seemed to be a leader to the acting crew as well. Interviews with cast members of the various shows revealed how much they all looked to the Captain who set the tone. Cast members of Deep Space Nine, talk about how scenes with Avery Brooks were usually cut up and took a number of takes. But those scenes with Brooks was a completely different case. Brooks set a tone when taping. He raised the bar for his crew.

It highlights the importance of leadership, whether that be in government, a civic group, or a church. Without solid leadership, the tone of the work is lost. It may take a couple of tries before it is right. Leadership, as Warren Bennis says, is not a task that one does. “Your task,” he says, “is to become yourself,  and to use yourself completely – all your gifts and skills and energies.” The Captains do this on-screen and, it seems, off-screen as well.

Do you regret it?

0One question that seems to come up a lot is, “Do you regret it?” Another way to ask this question is, “If you had it to do all over again, would you?” It’s a tough question. Some of the stars, like Stewart and Mulgrew had significant family struggles that they would not like to repeat. Mulgrew was probably the most honest, saying that when she was offered a television show in Hollywood she would decline it and stay in New York.

William Shatner tells Patrick Stewart that regret is “not forgiving yourself.” Webster defines regret as sorrow or remorse, especially over one’s acts or omissions. Kate Mulgrew tells Shatner that regret is a “deeply human emotion.” While they treasure their time and experience as Captain (all of whom were captains longer than Shatner), there may be some things they would do differently. It may not always be connected to a regret that involves not forgiving oneself.

And while they may not come right out and say it, Shatner is right to some degree. Forgiveness of oneself is a necessary step. I imagine that what Shatner was getting at was that if we do not forgive ourselves, we will find ourselves living in regret, always asking, “What if?”

And, finally . . .

Shatner in both these shorts and the original The Captains, presents himself as a thinker, a philosopher even. He enters into these conversations anxious to hear what the other Captain has to say. His ego is not too big (believe or not) to hear from another. He truly seems interested to know what the experiences of others has taught them about this journey of life.

And if we take nothing else from Close Ups, it’s this. To be authentically interested in others’ stories. That is being Church. Listening to others and gleaning from them how their experiences, like or unlike our own, has shaped them. By doing so, we begin to understand our own story.

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (2012)

Carol Channing is possibly one of the most beloved performers of our time. With three Tony Awards and one Oscar nominations, Channing has left a mark on the stage and on the screen. The documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life captures Channing’s career and talent. Dori Berinstein’s biography is not an in-depth character study. Instead it captures the essence of Carol Channing; the stuff that makes her Carol. Berinstein makes use of old archival footage, television clips, and interviews with friends, co-stars, and admirers of Carol’s to tell her story.

Known mostly for her role as Dolly in the 1964 Broadway hit Hello, Dolly and the film Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), the raspy voiced Carol is often viewed as an unlikely star. The personality she was when she hit the stage in Hello, Dolly is the same personality she embodies now at the age of ninety-one. She carried that personality, which some say is who she is, not just a character, everywhere she went—stage, film, television, and on the street.

Channing’s first exposure to the stage was delivering the Christian Monitor, the magazine of the Christian Scientist, in theaters in San Francisco for her parents. She describes walking into the theater at the age of seven for the first time; she says she felt like she was standing on holy ground. At an early age, she found her place in this world. She left that day determined to fulfill the calling she felt that day. And that she did.

For Carol, standing on holy ground was connected to who she saw herself as; her vocation; her calling. We don’t hear people talk about their careers in such a way very often. Unlike Moses standing barefoot before a burning bush, Carol was not hesitant about her calling. She knew that being on the stage was the most comfortable thing for her to be, and she did everything from that point on to gain experiences to fulfill her calling. Carol talks fondly of her father and her teachers supporting her in various school activities.

A surprising amount of the film was spent on her relationship with Harry Kullijan, where the film becomes a love story. Harry and Carol were junior high sweethearts who met seven decades later, after Carol’s failed marriages and the death of Harry’s wife. You can see why they were meant for each other. They coo over each other as they recall stories and memories like love-struck teenagers. In a way the film becomes homage to their romance and friendship.  Kullijan would pass away before the film was released.

As the stories unfold about Carol’s life, it is clear that she is a compassionate and gracious soul. “The heart Carol shows on stage is the heart she shows in real life,” Barbara Walters observes in the film. And that is who Carol is. A gracious soul who stays positive on and off the stage, with a positive outlook and barely a negative word to say about a person.  A model for all of us to live by.

The DVD includes 15 bonus scenes from the cutting room floor that didn’t make it into the film. If you are a Channing film, you are going to want to see these. In one of these, Carol talks briefly about praying before Hello, Dolly started on opening night.

Overall, the film is enjoyable mainly because it does what it needs to, it lets Carol Channing be Carol Channing.

For more movie and DVD reviews, visit my blog on hollywoodjesus.com.

Motel Families (2011)

Tonight in Youth Group we viewed the film Motel Families.  This film was produced by Ashland Supportive Housing.  The film captures the stories of families living in motels in Ashland.  Some of lost their jobs.  Some can’t get a job that pays more than minimum wage.  Shelters in Richmond would split the family apart, so to keep the family together, they choose to live in motels.

In addition to the challenging stories, the film brings to light some information statics.  Mainly that the weekly cost for “rent” at a motel is about $400.  For the average family with a minimum wage job, that does not leave much income left over, which means there isn’t enough for a deposit plus first month’s rent for an apartment.

The film also introduces the viewer to agencies and organizations whose goal is to put a dent in this homelessness issue.  One of the organizations interviewed is Ashland Christian Emergency Services (ACES), whom Lebanon donates to weekly food and clothing.  As they say in the film ACES buys nothing and sells nothing.  All the food and clothing and other items that come in are donations from individuals and churches.  And they, unlike other organizations, do not charge for these items.  They give everything away.

Finally, the film introduces the viewer to a couple who successfully moved out of a motel into a rented home.  Their story is a direct challenge to us all, especially whose of us who claim the Christian faith.  What are we doing to aid our neighbors in need?  Even the invisible the neighbors who are homeless.

For more information about the film and Ashland Supportive Housing, visit their website.

Religulous (2008)

I rented Bill Maher’s film Religulous (2008) this weekend.  Maher, who grew up with a Roman Catholic father and a Jewish mother, interviews a wide source of people from various faith traditions.  In this documentary, Maher tries to find answers about God, faith, and religion.

Despite what most main-line Christians are saying about Maher’s film, I think it is a film that every religious educator should see.  The most disturbing part was the inability of some of the individuals who were interviewed in expressing not just what they believe, but why they believe.

This is a film that, instead of refusing to see because of Maher’s position or the rude comments concerning religion, we should watch to learn what those not in our faith communities may be asking, pondering, or thinking.  There is a Bill Maher in every youth group, college group, or even pew.  A Bill Maher who is doubting, raising questions, trying to wrap his or her brain around this complex thing called faith.  How will we respond to them?

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