‘God Willing’: Filmart/Hong Kong Review

'God WillingWinner of the 2015 David di Donatello Award for best new director (aka the ‘Italian Oscar,’) God Willing, a comedy-drama directed and co-written by Edoardo Falcone, screenwriter for Massimiliano Bruno (Nessuno mi può giudicare, Confusi e felici), takes on spiritual awakening and the religion-versus-reason dilemma with a predictable plot and glimmers of fine humor. Fashioned like a commedia all’italiana, the film uses farce and stock characters to satirize the educated middle-class, seemingly open-minded people who are incapable of turning the scrutiny upon themselves. While the stereotypes and expected plot movements get old after a while, the pic’s preaching of the importance of introspection and familial love, and its overall feel-good vibe laced with mildly funny moments, should lend it some appeal as wholesome family entertainment.

Why Religious Movies Are Luring Mainstream Stars

But even with more marketable star names, faith-based films face a challenge — Heaven Is for Real, for instance, drew much of its audience from the Bible Belt, cities in the South, the Midwest and in rural California. They also risk alienating the core audience if their stories don’t toe the doctrinal line. Two years ago, Chris Stone of the Christian marketing group Faith Driven Consumer took aim at Paramount’s Noah for taking too many liberties with the biblical text, creating a headache for the studio. Even when the faithful do embrace a film, the returns can be lackluster. Focus’ The Young Messiah, based on Anne Rice’s evangelical-minded novel about Jesus’ boyhood, opened to $3.3 million over the March 11 weekend.

Given the potential liabilities, one agent for up-and-coming stars says he will wait for a few more hits. “I wouldn’t put my young clients in a faith-based film, even one with a great script,” says the agent. “It’s still seen as polarizing.”

Voices of Muslim Women from the US South

Voices of Muslim Women from the U.S. SouthWhen one thinks of the American Deep South, the image of veiled Muslim students strolling the University of Alabama campus is the last thing that comes to mind. VOICES OF MUSLIM WOMEN FROM THE US SOUTH is a documentary that explores the Muslim culture through the lens of five University of Alabama Muslim students. The film tackles how Muslim women carve a space for self-expression in the Deep South and how they negotiate their identities in a predominantly Christian society that often has unflattering views about Islam and Muslims. Through interviews with students and faculty at Alabama, this film examines representations and issues of agency by asking: How do Muslim female students carve a space in a culture that thinks of Muslims as terrorists and Muslim women as backward?

Unearthing the undead: What the zombie stands for

Of course, the zombie is a metaphor.

It starts with the church, because it has to, a symbol of Christian morality and order. The film is ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (there are two, and I refer to both) and a grim faced preacher proclaims the famous line, ‘When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.’ It’s 1978, and a film has established the zombie’s tie to religion, something that will both develop and change over the years. This is important because the origins of the zombie has everything to do with religion.
This is important because what the zombie actually stands for is dissent…

Zombies are inherently born of a culture where the church has dictated Theology and how it shall be dictated further, which is why the creatures have an inherent link to Christianity. India has never enjoyed a Christian majority, and thus the zombie is always out of place here; it is a creature our cultural consciousness will never accept, an explanation for why zombie films don’t work in India (Go Goa Gone, Rise of the Zombie and Miruthan come to mind).

Articles added to filmandreligion.com in March 2016

In the month of March 2016 I added this 49 articles to filmandreligion.com that discusses aspects of film/TV and religion. About half of them are from the last few months, but the rest is from the 1980’s

  1. Applying Religion and Film to Islam by William L. Blizek & Bilal Yorulmaz (2015-12)
  2. Beyond the Confines of Tolerance in Rachid Buchareb’s London River: Theological Discussion and Educational Approach to an Open Ended film by Panayiotis A. Thoma (2015-10)
  3. Birdman or (‘the unexpected virtue of ignorance’): Transcendence in unexpected places
    by Nikolai Blaskow (2015-12)
  4. Casting Jesus: A century of cinematic Christ by Geoff Broughton (2015-12)
  5. Celluloid Assimilation: Jews in American Silent Movies by Lester D. Friedman (1987-07)
  6. Cinema and the Sacrifice of Narcissus by Jean Collet and Jospeh Cunneen (1987-09)
  7. Cinema Savior by Michael Singer (1988-10)
  8. Close Encounters of a Religious Kind by Laurel Arthur Burton (1983-11)
  9. Commercial Propaganda in the Silent Film: A Case Study of “A Mormon Maid” (1917) by Richard Alan Nelson (1987-10)
  10. “Controversy has probably destroyed forever the context”: “The Miracle” and Movie Censorship in America in the Fifties by Ellen Draper (1990-04)
  11. “Daniel”: A Study of Sidney Lumet’s Integratinon of Jewish Ethis and the Christian Passion by Norbert M Samuelson (1986-07)
  12. Darrryl F. Zanuck’s “Brigham Young”: A Film in Context by James V. D’Arc (1989-11)
  13. The Doctor’s Original Face: Watching Doctor Who Episodes as Buddhist Koans by Ann Matsuuchi, Alexander Lozupone (2015-12)
  14. Echoes of Myth: The Feature Films of John Boorman by Peter Wilson Johnson (1984-09)
  15. Explicit and Implicit Religion in Doctor Who and Star Trek by James F. McGrath (2015-12)
  16. Filmic Constructions of Religious Spaces: Churches as Settings for Trauma, Change, and Redemption by Sofia Sjö (2015-07)
  17. Films and Religion: An analysis of Aamir Khan’s PK by Monisa Qadri, Sabeha Mufti (2015-12)
  18. The Final Frontier? Religion and Posthumanism in Film and Television by Elaine Graham (2015-09)
  19. The Flying Nun and Post-Vatican II Catholicism by Rick Wolff (1991-06)
  20. A God Who Play by Andrew Greeley (1991-06)
  21. A Hidden Light: Judaism, Contemporary Israeli Film, and the Cinematic Experience by Dan Chyutin (2015-11)
  22. Hollywood markets the Amish by John A. Hostetler and Donald B. Kraybill (1988-12)
  23. Hollywood’s New Mythology by Neil P. Hurley (1983-01)
  24. The immolated victim: Traditionalist Roman Catholicism and Mel Gibson’s ‘the passion of the Christ’ by Bernard Doherty (2015-12)
  25. The Impossible Pit: Satan, Hell, and Teaching with Doctor Who by Holly A. Jordan (2015-12)
  26. Islam, Consciousness and Early Cinema: Said Nursî and the Cinema of God by Canan Balan (2016-02)
  27. Islamic Representation in Television Advertising and its Impact on Modern Malay Muslim Women by Rosninawati Hussin, Sofia Hayati Yusoff, Siti Nubailah Mohd Yusof (2015-11)
  28. Islamic Television Programs : Content and Format Revisited by Osama Kanaker & Zulkiple A. Ghani (2015-12)
  29. Looking For God Profane & Sacred in the Films of Woody Allen by Richard A. Blake (1991-06)
  30. Mormons as silent cinema villains: propaganda and entertainment by Richard Alan Nelsona (1984-02)
  31. Movies as myths: An interpretation of motion picture mythology by Elizabeth C. Hirschman (1988-04)
  32. Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again: Exploring Faith, Doubt, and the Disciple Journey of a Companion to the Doctor by Jasper Peters (2015-12)
  33. The pastoral tradition in film by Andrew J. Ford (1985-04)
  34. A poor reflection as in a mirror?: Film as both window and mirror for theology by Jonathan Holt (2015-12)
  35. Preaching to the converted: conversion language and the constitution of the TV evangelical community
    by Wright Wright (1989-11)
  36. “Receive with Simplicity Everything That Happens to You”: Schlemiel (Meta) Physics in the Coens’ A Serious Man by Krzysztof Majer (2015-11)
  37. The Return of the Sacred”: Implicit Religion and Initiation Symbolism in Zvyagintsev’s Vozvrashchenie (2003) by Andrada Fătu-Tutoveanu (2015-11)
  38. The Returned and the Departed. The living and the dead in the TV series The Leftovers and Les Revenants by Franzoni Andrea (2016-01)
  39. The sacrificial sheep in three French-North African film:
    displacements and reappropriations
    by Dora Carpenter-Latiri (2016-02)
  40. Searching for the Star Child by Harlan Kennedy (1984-09)
  41. Sensing Religion in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” by M. Gail Hamner (2015-12)
  42. Will we get McLuhan to the church on time? The “religious” dimensions of television by Jennifer Lemon (1989-07)
  43. Woody Allen’s Theological Imagination by Gary Commins (1987-07)
  44. Zombies in America and at Qumran: AMC’s The Walking Dead, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Apocalyptic Redux by Kipp Davis (2015-07)

The Confirmation Theatrical Review

The ConfirmationThe Confirmation opens with a child and his mother waiting outside a church. As the first lines of dialogue were spoken, I felt a sudden pang of shock, thinking I had unwittingly sat down for one of the numerous heavy-handed faith-based features crowding multiplexes. Thankfully, as it continued, the film revealed itself to instead be a rather smart comedy in which faith is a subject sometimes pondered by its characters. Seen through the eyes of its young protagonist, there is so much power in those big unanswerable questions of faith. The boy’s middle-class parents do not see eye-to-eye on the matter of religion, rarely agreeing on any subject since their divorce.

Seth Rogen’s animated film Sausage Party is provocative food for thought

 Sausage Party Rogen presented his unfinished new film – a crude comedy that questions the existence of God – with This is the End co-writer Evan Goldberg at SXSW

Sausage Party also offers food for thought amidst all the crude humor. In addition to being a film about our food, it is also a film that questions the existence of god – and the harm religion can breed.

Rogen said that the theological aspect of Sausage Party came into focus as he and Goldberg developed the project over eight years. “It’s so weird to say that about a movie where you just saw a turnip blow a radish,” said Rogen.

Vernon said the animation will be completed in a month, with lighting effects finished in May. Legendary composer Alan Menken (Aladdin) is set to handle the score. “He’s deeply ashamed of this,” Rogen joked.

When the Devil was hot: how Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey seduced Hollywood

For a brief period in the late Sixties LaVey was rubbing shoulders with movie stars and Satanism took on a glamorous edge. But the brutal Manson murders changed everything
The actress Jayne Mansfield, too, was an associate of LaVey. In 1966 Mansfield’s star was on the wane, because what had been boundary-pushing sexuality in the 1950s looked impossibly old-hat to young people who would soon be part of the Summer of Love. At the San Francisco Film Festival, Mansfield heard about LaVey and, always interested in the supernatural, went along to meet him. He was impressed by her charms and invited her to become his High Priestess, later visiting her in Hollywood where they posed for pictures and hung her certificate of membership in her bedroom.

Long road for Reza Aslan’s ‘Of Kings and Prophets’ from Bible to TV

Of Kings and ProphetsTen years ago, Reza Aslan and his business partner Mahyad Tousi established BoomGen Studios, which consults with Hollywood on content about the Middle East. BoomGen is now a production company with two hit television shows, Ovation’s “Rough Draft with Reza Aslan,” a talk show, and the new “Of Kings and Prophets,” which airs Tuesday nights on ABC and is based on the Old Testament story of King David, as told in the biblical books 1 and 2 Samuel. Aslan was also a consulting producer on the HBO series “The Leftovers.”

Aslan talked with RNS about why Hollywood resists nuanced religious content and how BoomGen is trying to change that. Aslan was born in Iran, raised in the U.S. and converted to Christianity as a teenager before returning to Islam. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

‘Midnight Special’ is a better film about faith than ‘faith-based’ films

Midnight SpecialMeanwhile the indie filmmaker Jeff Nichols has been quietly cranking out actual movies about faith, and for snooty, mostly secular art house audiences, no less. Thing is, they’re not about faith in terms of religion. They are, however, about people whose belief in the supernatural — in a world that’s more than what lies in front of our eyes — turns out to be totally justified. “Take Shelter” depicted a family man (Michael Shannon) who swears he’s been having apocalyptic visions, only to (spoiler!) be proven not insane in the final scene.

Nichols’ new “Midnight Special” does something similar but with a retro popcorn entertainment — one part ’80s Spielberg, part John Carpenter’s Spielbergian “Starman.” It follows Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, the not remotely annoying kid Bill Murray bro’d down with in “St. Vincent”), a boy with mysterious superpowers — powers so strong and diverse (he can hear radio signals! he can shoot hypnotic blue rays from his eyes! he can blow up orbiting satellites with his mind!) that he’s sought by pesky government agents and rifle-toting religious fanatics alike.