LEFT BEHIND, starring Nicolas Cage

left behind

To my non-Christian reader, please don’t see this stupid movie, which, as Wikipedia says, “is based on the novel of same name, which is based on a novel interpretation of Bible prophecy without support from any significant theological tradition . . . ” If you are interested in Christianity, please read the Bible, find a Christian friend, or go to a church that believes this movie to be absurd.

Jesus. That right there’s a word that is not uttered during the current ridiculous rapture-fiction movie Left Behind, that if you spend a penny on, I will disown you. Furthermore, there is not even an oblique reference to the Son of God in this movie. Not even a “he” or “him” that might direct us Christward. The closest we got was, “Jeez!” and that’s, you know, not close.

Cross. Another word not spoken or even intimated.

Savior. Ditto, and there’s no need to go on about how much this movie is not a Christian movie. It’s not close. Plus, dwarf tossing.

Leaving Christianity out of it, there’s the slight possibility this movie could be categorized as tangentially religious. That is, the kindest, most Christlike individual in the movie is a Middle Eastern man who displays a heart for God and for a confused elderly woman suddenly alone. Given that, the movie could possibly be an advertisement for Islam, because when all those left behind are losing their minds, Islam provided a man the wisdom to say, “Let’s pray,” and the compassion to say, “Let me help you.”

Leaving that discussion aside–and no, I have no interest in anyone’s views of pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation rapture, nor do I care what your millennial position is–let’s move to a discussion of how bad this movie is.

The script is terrible. The acting is bad. The Christians (we meet two) are whiny women pushing their faith, sans Gospel, to everyone who passes by, as in, “Hi, Honey, thanks for flying all the way from California to NYC for the weekend, why won’t you listen to my unrelenting proselytizing, so I can convert you to an unnamed religion that has no content?”

Here’s something: there are two blonde women. One is a flight attendant who is hot for Pilot Rayford Steele (Mr. Cage). The camera lingers on her legs as she gets out of her car at the airport. Question: in how many movies are we subjected to this “Introduction to Woman by seeing her well-shod foot and then her shapely leg come out of a car?” and–follow up question–was it ever better done than in 101 Dalmatians (Ms. Close) and in The Devil Wears Prada (Ms. Streep) or is that simply a distillation of the sort of movies I enjoy?

This flight attendant, whose name I forget–and you’ll want to forget it too, along with so many many other things if you see this movie–is a bad girl. She wants to go to a U2 concert with Pilot Steele with dessert to follow. To show her badness, the director has her wearing a very tight blouse, you know, where it pulls across the bust and is threatening to pop at every moment. Because beautiful young women who want to land a pilot are bad and immodest. I’ve never seen a flight attendant with a bust about to bust, but then again, I’ve never been a movie director trying really hard to point out each person’s personality because I believe my audience is too stupid to notice, or possibly I prefer perusing the Sky Mall than staring at stewardesses.

The other blonde woman is Captain Steele’s daughter Chloe. The director of this “Christian” movie decided to shove a camera down her top a couple of times, so we can be crystal-clear on the idea that non-Christian girls show their ta-tas whenever they can, because immodesty.

But wait, there is an actual story. SPOILER ALERT and here goes:

Once upon a time, there was a family with a Daddy and a Mommy and a daughter and a son. The family lives in New York City, but the daughter goes to the University of California at Riverside. The daughter flies home for the father’s birthday, but alas, the father is a horrible man who is in love with the flight attendant because he’s sick of his wife’s newfound faith that she is aggressively marketing to everyone 24/7. Instead of being home for his birthday, he’s taken an extra shift so he can bounce to London to take in some Bono with Blondie and her ’bout-to-burst blouse.

Chloe runs into a CNN-esque journalist named Buck at the airport who instantly falls in love with her, because nationally-known journalists always fall in love with co-eds they randomly bump into at airports. Turns out, Buck happens to be getting on the flight captained by Daddy. Right before he gets on the flight, a random airport security guard drives by in the little cart with the U2 tickets and says, “Give these to Captain Steele. Took me two weeks to get them.” Because it takes 2 weeks to get tickets and you always ask random security guards to get them for you instead of going online.

Speaking of technological fails–no stubhub.com–no one on the plane has a cell phone, except Buck, “Cuz I’m a photojournalist,” and Captain Steele, “Cuz I’m the pilot,” words someone actually wrote into the script.

Most of the action happens in First Class, because that’s where the photojournalist is, he who doesn’t bother heading back to coach when The Rapture happens to take pictures of what’s going on there. He’s content to sit with the ten or so others who turned left before they were left behind.

In First Class, we have two extremely fat individuals, and I get that. Overeating is the Evangelical drug-of-choice, so we know those guys were totally saved. There’s a cute little girl, an old couple, a blonde druggie (who thinks the whole experience is a bad trip until she does cocaine in the forward lavatory and then remembers Bible camp), and a little man of very short stature who stands on the armrest to access the overhead bin and makes threats against the nice Muslim man who asks if he can help.

The Rapture Occurs.

At which time, a number of people go missing from the plane, including an infant out of his mother’s arms. People scream and cry, but then shut up and sit down when they are told by the Captain, “Wherever these people went, we will find them,” certainly a helpful thought. Mothers calm down and when we see them later, their eyes are not red, nor are their cheeks wet, because when women lose their children in First Class and someone tells them to calm down, they obediently sit and wait quietly without collapsing into soul-wracking sobs, because that’s just like real human nature.

Down on the ground, Chloe has abandoned her mother and taken her little brother to the mall where he disappears because he’s about four seconds from the Age of Accountability, too bad for his classmates who are three days older. Chloe is actually hugging him when The Rapture Occurs, and his clothes are left in her arms, but then she goes all over the place trying to find him, because when someone disintegrates in your arms and leaves their clothes behind, probably they have run away and want you to find them.

Chloe goes out to the car which is run into by a plane. Her car is now destroyed, so she runs home. Several minutes later–she’s almost home–a school bus runs off the road, because driverless school buses can go for maybe ten minutes before they drive off a bridge.

Skipping a lot of nonsense, let’s get to the real hardcore stupid:

Oh no! Captain Steele collides with another plane in the sky! His wing is hurt (the other guy goes down in flames) and he’s losing fuel, so he has to turn back to JFK, because he’s less than half way to London. Shoot, he’s going to miss that U2 concert, but so is everyone else, because Bono believes in Jesus and actually says so, unlike anyone in this movie.

Air Traffic Control tells the Captain that there are no available runways, because they are crammed with planes. No room at LaGuardia either. There might be room at Syracuse, but he doesn’t have fuel to get that far. He can’t land in the ocean, because he lost his elevators and his last name isn’t Sullenberger. Nothing can be done. It’s all over. They are going to crash.

But wait!!! Chloe, after climbing to the top of a bridge to throw herself off in her despair over losing her brother and mother, realizes that everything depends on her. Only she can save her father and his planeload of unraptured people. She steals a left-behind motorcycle (bonus teaching: bikers can be saved!), then a truck, and all by her lonesome clears a mile of empty not-quite-constructed-freeway on which a 400-ton airplane can safely land. The plane stops just an inch or two from a tanker truck that is marked “Flammable,” causing my audience to burst into laughter.

Now comes the dwarf tossing. Blondie opens the emergency escape slide and urges everyone to get going. The little man hesitates at the top just long enough for someone behind him (whom we don’t see) to give him a nudge that makes him fly off onto the slide. Uncomfortable laughter, because come on, you morons, what were you thinking?

Everyone gets off the plane, and someone says, “Wow, glad that’s over,” while the now in-the-know Chloe (who has run up to hug first the journalist she met for five minutes a few hours ago and then her father who raised her and nearly perished in the ocean) says, “No, it’s just beginning. Stay tuned for the Tribulation.” Or something like that.

Then–and I kid you not, people–the music starts and it’s Larry Norman’s “I wish we’d all been ready,” that classic from our childhood that we used to sing in Sunday School (in Cali! in Cali! I know my readers from the East Coast certainly did not ever hear this song in Sunday School, and they’re all better off for it.): “Life was filled with guns and war, and everyone got trampled on the floor. I wish we’d all been ready . . . ” (We also got to sing “Pass it on” and “Love Him in the Morning,” the latter with hand motions.)

Rotten Tomatoes gives Left Behind a 2% fresh rating, which means “the worst movie ever.” The lone reviewer who gave this a fresh tomato is Diana Saenger, whose favorite movies are “Shawshank Redemption” and “Pretty Woman.” I’d direct you to Shawshank Redemption for a film about redemption, perseverance, friendship, faith, hope, and love, and to Pretty Woman for a parable on a bridegroom coming for his bride.

The only reason to see this Christless, Crossless, Gospel-less piece of “let’s milk a few more dollars out of those foolish books” movie-making is to laugh at it, and there are so many many other ways of having a good time.

To anyone who would say, “Yeah, but this movie is just to provide talking points so we can start talking about Jesus,” are you serious? Is there no other way you could possibly do that, because there are so many things wrong with this movie–didn’t you love the cockpit door that keeps getting opened and shut as if this movie was made before 9/11?–and your conversation will be stuck fast in the idiocy of the movie and be hard pressed to move along to the Bible that probably does not include a Rapture in any case. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about The Rapture (see below), and no, I’m not allowing comments here. I know what you’re going to say.

The term “Rapture” is used in at least two senses. In the pre-tribulation view, a group of people will be left behind on earth after another group literally leaves “to meet the Lord in the air.” This is now the most common use of the term, especially among fundamentalist Christians and in the United States.The other, older use of the term “Rapture” is simply as a synonym for the final resurrection generally, without a belief that a group of people is left behind on earth for an extended Tribulation period after the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:17.This distinction is important as some types of Christianity never refer to “the Rapture” in religious education, but might use the older and more general sense of the word “rapture” in referring to what happens during the final resurrection.

THE EQUALIZER, starring Denzel Washington

denzel

Giant Denzel fan here. Always have been. Since Glory. Since Soldier’s Story. In those movies, and in many since then, Denzel Washington is the man. I saw Inside Man six times at the theater in 2006, and I still pull it up every few months and skip around to the parts I particularly like.

But the deal is that Denzel is not a young guy anymore. He’s hot, don’t get me wrong, but he’s 59 and hasn’t made a career or a life out of being one of those uber-physical Dwayne Johnson sort of people. All that to say, Denzel can’t convincingly play a guy who can take out the Russian Mafia single-handedly. He just can’t.

Not that he doesn’t do a great job trying, but I just couldn’t be convinced that a man this old and unarmed could murder rooms full of angry Russians with weapons who had nothing to lose.

On top of that, he never wears gloves and he never wipes down the crime scenes. He leaves prints all over the place and simply moves along.

He does all this for a young prostitute he has platonically befriended who is being used by the Russian bad guys. They really are bad–no question there–and sex trafficking is a very bad thing and needs to be ended and now. But you don’t get to end it vigilante-style by killing everyone.

Now onto the really bad part. The Home Depot part. We’ve seen a large store get all shot up before in Mr. and Mrs. Smith and done better there, but here there is a big big problem.

Let me back up. At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Washington’s character Robert McCall is working at a Home Depot type store. Same layout, same inventory. There’s a young man there who wants to be considered for a security guard position, but he’s out of shape. McCall coaches him in security-guardness and encourages him to substitute tomatoes for Pringles. Hard sell, I’ll grant you. You can tell, from how the movie keeps going back to Home Depot that something bad is going to happen there. You’re waiting for it the whole time.

And then it does. Hostages are taken, including the newly-fit (but he looks the same) Security Guard and a whole line of Home Depot (it’s called something else) workers. Then the hostages manage to leave the building, after which there is a major battle inside the store, in which all sorts of hidden traps and killing gizmos are implemented. Very long, very bloody battle. Guess who wins.

The problem is that when people have been hostages and they get out of a building, they make noise. Lots of it. They run screaming and crying and calling 911 and CNN. They interact. They get help.

These hostages are different. They do nothing. Call no one. Because this movie wanted to have a mano-a-mafia killing field in the Home Depot. To do that, you have to lure the audience in emotionally: “Look! Sex trafficking. You HAVE to want these guys to die.” They used sex trafficking as the bait to get you riled up enough to toss out everything you know about justice and let a killing machine loose and get you to cheer it. I found it disgusting and insulting.

Unlike the Bourne movies, for example, where Jason Bourne is just trying to get away and be left alone, The Equalizer showcases what would happen if a well-trained black ops guy is let loose on the bad guys with permission to super-hero it up without consequences.

And that’s the very worst part. There are no consequences. In the end he’s buying groceries, walking home. You’ll like it if you like shoot-em-ups and you don’t have a conscience. I liked it because Denzel, but if he keeps doing stuff like this, I’m going to change my adoring tune.

GONE GIRL, starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike

gone girl

Gone Girl is a smart, suspenseful ride with frightening plot twists. I liked it all the way through to the last five minutes. And then I didn’t.

(This is better than the movie I watched recently that I liked all the way until I got into the car to go home and then didn’t like.)

Here’s the story: beautiful Amy (Ms. Pike) meets charming Nick (Mr. Affleck) in New York City. They fall in love, get married, and then move to Missouri to care for Nick’s mother as she battles cancer. After the mother’s death, the couple inherits her house where things go from love and trust to distrust and hate, culminating in Amy’s disappearance.

Amy’s parents are crazy authors who wrote a series of books about the daughter they wished they had (also named Amy) who gets all the toys and experiences real Amy never got. Try that on for emotional bullying.

Amy’s husband looks like a million bucks, but may not be the world’s most faithful guy, something that won’t go well for him once the police and FBI start to get picky about little things like evidence and “Do you love your wife?”

Throw in a couple of Amy’s old boyfriends, each of whom has plenty of motive to want her off the planet, Nick’s old father who appears to hate Amy, and his sister who certainly does, and there are plenty of suspicious folks around.

The acting is great. Ben Affleck–as a man who may have murdered his wife in cold blood–is thoughtful and convincing, bringing back bad memories of Scott Peterson. Rosamund Pike is beautiful and versatile as a wife whose marriage has not turned out as spectacularly triumphant as she imagined it would. Tyler Perry is great as Nick’s defense attorney.

As I mentioned above, I was on board with this movie until the very end. I love an unpredictable movie like this one that is full of plot twists and sudden gasps from the audience, but the thing is this: I want movies to end. Unless it is known there is going to be a sequel, the end should tie off the major dramatic questions and provide a sense of closure. If a movie is going to leave things hanging, there had better be a good reason.

For example, Inception ended with that awful spinning-spinning-maybe-falling-maybe-not top. It was important that we go away wondering whether Dom was still dreaming, and of course I choose to believe he was home at last with his children. You can believe what you want. Don’t start with me on this.

In Gone Girl, it’s different. There’s no happily-ever-after possibility. There’s only the possibility of looming dreaded disaster or family-crushing catastrophe, and the only question is how bad it’s going to get from here. There’s zero hope of normalcy, no hope for a yellow brick road or even a silver lining.

There are so many ways they could have ended this movie other than the way they did. So many ways that could have provided a glimmer of something resembling at least a chance of hope. They chose not to. I’m okay with it, and I think you should see this movie if you like a good suspenseful ride, I just wish they had sewn it up nicer.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, starring Andy Serkis

planet

First let me say that it’s cool beans to see the words “Andy Serkis” at the top of the credits. ‘Bout time. Now, on to the bad parts.

There’s nothing wrong with this movie but the script, and what follows is all spoiler, so please stop reading immediately if you’re going to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I’m about to ruin it for you, and I apologize for that. Stop reading. Go to the movie, then come back and read this.

I looked forward to this movie for three years, same as you did. I wanted it to be amazing. Sadly, the scriptwriters went all nutty on us, but you can’t really blame them. They were tasked with making a tense, edge-of-your-seat story out of an isolated community of law-abiding, family-oriented Apes who just want to live by themselves in the woods and bow down to their benevolent Caesar. In order to do that, they had to bring in some very stupid Humans.

It’s been ten years since “simian flu” struck down 499 out of 500 of those who caught it, leaving (obviously) 1/500 of the world’s population, assuming every person on earth was exposed to the virus. Given the isolation of some communities, I’m not sure this is a reasonable assumption, but even if it is, something that is certain is that the one-in-five-hundred who survived in San Francisco were not high scorers on the SAT, and by SAT, I mean the Stanford Achievement Test. Dummies! They stay within spitting distance of Muir Woods when there’s perfectly good Sacramento a hundred miles away, perfectly good Vallejo less than half that distance (plus it has a Six Flags, and with everyone dead, no more long lines). More on the moving-away idea later.

Let’s talk about the Apes’ insistence on using American Sign Language, when they can speak. What’s up with that? We have to read yellow subtitles for endless minutes to understand the Apes’ conversation, when–darn it–ten years have passed and Maurice (the orangutan) is teaching school. He’s literally teaching reading to the youngsters, so maybe, just maybe, he would have taught some classes on speaking, though in Usual World, it’s parents who teach their children to speak.

Back to the craziness of the Humans. The population of San Francisco currently is around 837,000. Divide by 500 and you get 1,674. There don’t seem to be that many, but that may be because the smart ones took a fleet of Hertz Rental Trucks, backed them up to Wal-Mart, loaded up with supplies, and headed over to the Central Valley to get started making a life away from the loonies who stayed in town and let it overgrow with weeds. What is wrong with these people? Almost two-thousand people and they can’t set up a working township? The Pilgrims would hang their heads in shame at this level of helplessness, and they weren’t the smartest kids in class, but don’t get me started.

Talk about helplessness, these people have waited ten years to try to contact other survivor communities. Give me a break. In ten years, no one made a call to LA or drove down, looting Starbucks for trentas along the way? No one phoned home? Called the one remaining Member of Congress? Got ahold of Anderson Cooper? (Anderson would totally survive.) Failing phones, no one in ten years has established so much as a telegraph? Frisco is chock-a-block with high rises, luxury homes, townhouses, stores, and no one has worked out that there may be generators around? No one raided Walgreens for double As? These people have dissolved into helpless “Please, Leader, tell me what to do” instead of using their combined brain power to establish a working city.

It’s as though the scriptwriters want us to believe that when 499 out of 500 people die, there are no cars left either. Dystopia descends, when, really, everyone would be living in luxury. Everyone has his own building! Closets full of clothes! Fleets of cars! It’s as though the Rapture happened without the Tribulation following. Think what you could do with the stuff of 499 other people.

Would you really stay squashed downtown bowing down to a guy who doesn’t have the brains to leave? You would not. You would go to Malibu. You might leave the nice Apes a note: “If you don’t mind, we’ll take everything south of Fresno.” The Apes would think, “Agreed. Who wants Fresno?”

Back to math. That same little “divide by 500” effort reveals that the United States alone (I used 300 million) would have a population of 600,000. No small potatoes, and speaking of potatoes, how ’bout taking that Ryder Truck out to Idaho and getting busy? Why stay in the crowded downtown next door to your natural enemies? The world population is around 7 billion, right? Divide by 500 and you get 14 million. This is a lot of people to work with, and even if most of the people who survived in San Francisco aren’t working with a full deck–blame the super-easily-available marijuana in a post-virus Frisco–other populations might have survived with some people who are running on full tanks. Some of them would have the sense to fly airplanes around and see if anyone’s home.

Now, on to the story: the Humans of San Francisco need electrical power. For whatever reason, they let the power plants die, there are no more electricians, and the Army Corps of Engineers is disbanded. The only way they can make electricity is to go exactly into Muir Woods and try to get some water power plant thing place (whatever) going. There’s no way to, say, go to San Jose or Oakland. The only possible way to get power is to go to Caesar’s hideout. (Thomas Edison himself would throw a tantrum here. He made electricity out of almost nothing, and these people let a decade go by without dealing. Obviously, the smart people shook their heads and left, the only question being, “north or south on the Five?” with the “duh” answer being, “Hippies, head north to Eugene, all other Californians go south, all transplants hit Highway 80 and get yourself out to New York or Washington.” You need to remember that the only smarty-pants Apes on the Planet are the few who live in Muir Woods. It is going to take them a very long time to get more than a little forest community going. You’re completely safe once you cross the Sierras.)

The Apes, by the way, are minding their own business. They are bothering no one. They aren’t interested in taking over San Francisco, and everything would have been fine, had the IQ-challenged Humans managed to figure out to stay away from them. My youngest son said, “But, Mom, they had to have a story.” With which I agree, but couldn’t it have been something better?

Isn’t it even sort of un-American to be all, “Oh no. I don’t have electricity. I’m going to have to lay down and die!” I thought we were pioneers. I thought we were survivors. The Founders defeated England without enough electricity to zap Ben Franklin’s kite, after all. I thought we would have the sense to get the heck out of Dodge and go someplace that does have working power. Is there not a cruise ship in the harbor? Is there a person who can pilot it to Honolulu? Get me a deck chair; I’m going. You don’t need electricity to live North Shore.

The good news is, after Caesar & Co. deal with all these sixteen hundred brainless Californians, the other [14,000,000 – 1,674] Humans who are left in the rest of the world can go on living their uninterrupted lives, rebuilding, repopulating, and (with any luck) co-existing with the Apes up in NorCal, who, frankly, don’t look all that interested in living in houses or moving to NYC to get a look at the Statue of Liberty. They don’t even wear clothes. Plus, they’re nice, on the whole. They only get mad at the Humans, when the Humans shoot them, which seems normal, right?

So blame it on the San Franciscans. They don’t have the brains to tap into the windmill generators. They don’t have the brains to move out of the big city. They don’t have the brains to drive down to Los Angeles. Or better, Chicago. No Ape wants to live in Chicago.

Me, I’d be down at Huntington Beach with my family–or whoever I scraped together after everyone else died–catching some waves and enjoying the uncrowded beaches. Maybe live at Disneyland and bike over to the beach occasionally. There would be enough food in the SoCal stores, warehouses, and shipping containers to last the Five Hundredths all their days, enough generators, enough stored gasoline. There’s enough cropland in the Central Valley to feed the world, and, trust me, in such a situation, the survivors would be farming it.

We knew Koba would turn out to be bad. Anyone who has Stalin’s nickname is going to be trouble. But I felt sorry for him. As Caesar says (or signs, I forget), the Humans made Koba hateful. Totally understandable then that Koba would go nuts when Humans come in shooting.

How could the plot have been better? Maybe make the Apes more aggressive? Pit Koba against Caesar from the beginning and make it a turf war in which the Apes are forced to go into the City to get weapons, whereupon they encounter unsuspecting, terrified, and heavily armed Humans? Have a nuclear explosion (from abandoned, core-melting nuclear plants) or other disaster that makes a bunch of Apes sick, so they have to go into the City to find medicine? Or maybe they burst into the hospital and demand the surgeons get to it? I don’t know. But there had to have been a better idea than the one they settled on, which was: We can’t live without electricity, so let’s go shoot the Apes.

Seems like, also, the Apes would have gone back to Gen-Sys for the rest of the ALZ-113 so they could keep it on hand to intellectually liberate the Apes of the world. Then all they would have needed to do was head over to SFO, commandeer a 747, hold guns to the heads of various pilots (or learned to fly themselves), and made a sort of missionary venture out of bringing freedom to Apes the world over. Along the way, maybe they crash land and have to work with Humans to survive together.

The end of this movie is identical to the end of the James Franco movie, which was far better. All the Apes are bowing down to Caesar, acknowledging his overlordship. We’re back where we started, except there are fewer humans, and San Francisco is more beat up. I hope they make a third movie, and I hope it has a much better plot.

Obviously, there’s going to be a giant Simian vs. Homo Sapiens war, but I don’t see why that has to be. The Apes are peaceful and just want to be left alone. There needs to be a better plot than just another series of pitched battles where the Apes have the advantage because they operate in three dimensions, and the humans have the advantage of having more rocket launchers. Please, please give us something a little more cerebral.

Rotten Tomatoes is ga-ga over Dawn, way up in the nineties, and I don’t blame them. It’s a good movie. I liked it all the way through. Then the lights came on and my brain restarted.

(There’s also a teeny little glitch where Malcolm [Jason Clarke] yells, “No, Caesar, no!” having not been told Caesar’s name before that. Caesar turns to him, and I wanted him to say, “How did you know my name?” which would have been followed by some explanation of his friendship with Will [James Franco], Caesar’s “owner” in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That could have been something. As it is, it’s just a glitch.)

Caesar’s son is intriguing. I have hopes for him in the third installment. I hope they don’t kill off Caesar in order for Junior to take over. I want Caesar to live out his days in peace, maybe retire in Boca.

All the action and actors and filmmaking in general is great. It’s just the script that’s all wrong. But you should see it anyway, because Caesar and family are so great. And Koba is great–I wanted better for him. And the nice Humans are great. Malcom’s son is adorable; I hope he’s important in the next movie. The possibilities are endless. I hope they pick the rights ones.

BELOW SEA LEVEL

Below Sea Level is a documentary about the lives of some of the residents of Slab City, an abandoned military installation in the Southern California desert. You can watch it here.

As you drive up to Slab City, you are struck with the emptiness of this place. A few RVs, a couple of broken down cars, some tents, strewn around in the vastness of the unending California desert. It seems peaceful and calm. A haven for overworked souls who want to get away from the noise of the city.

But then you meet a few of these people and you are gripped with the soul-deep sorrow that leads a person to find himself out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, deep in a desert far from family, home, society. What leads to this? What comes of it?

The movie is raw and graphic. We follow the lives of several people disjointed from society by heartbreak. One woman spent all she had fighting a losing custody battle. Others became “residentially challenged” for other reasons. One, “Insane Wayne,” may not be in possession of all his native faculties. He is scary to look at. Cindy is a trans woman who keeps a hair and nail salon in her trailer. Mike is a struggling song writer with no ability to sing, but a decent back-up band, “The Slabettes.” Kenny, the most articulate of the slabbers, expresses a desire to keep pushing forward into normalcy, though at the end, he seems to despair of getting out, coming to believe his projects and plans are make-work, self-imposed to make him think he’s progressing.

These are the Slabbers. Homeless, living out on the vast desert, minding their own business. Some hope to get out and back into society. One woman has an interview for a live-in situation. She’s hopeful. Others hope for long-lost family members to pick up the slack and bring them home. Some call family members to make connections, but it’s clear the people on the other end are patronizing them. Trying to get off the phone and back to their lives. I didn’t blame them. I don’t know how I’d feel if my son ended up there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPjvDCpb-IQ

Rather, one wonders how a son could end up there. At what point did he get beyond the ordinary family care that says, “Come home, we’ll help you out”? At what point did that bond snap or get cut?

Frankly, the film is heartbreaking, and brings up more questions than it answers. Do the Slabbers want to live in-society lives or is it better for them to be separate and unnoticed? If they wanted to be integrated into society, would it be worth the bureaucratic nightmares of lines and forms and interviews and crowded public housing? Is it preferable to live essentially alone and unbothered out at the Slabs?

It’s not easy to watch this film, but I would recommend it for anyone who wants to know a little bit more about homelessness.

I was left with great uneasiness. If people drive a hundred miles out into the desert and camp there, do they want be left alone or do they want to be rescued? What would that rescue look like? Would it “stick” or would the homeless person be out at the Slabs again next year? How much does mental illness play into this, and is anyone looking to find out.

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NOAH, starring Russell Crowe

noah

As you know, there is quite an uproar about the new movie Noah. Christians are upset and befuddled that non-Christians would make a movie that shows so much violence and hatred and cruelty surrounding the story of God’s destruction of all living things.

Before one goes all berserk over the cruel heartless Noah (played perfectly by Russell Crowe), let’s lay waste to the nonsensical way in which we Christians generally teach the Noah story to our children. We buy them plastic toys to play with and think we are providing a valuable Christian experience. Playing with a toy Ark–I know this is a hideous thought–is akin to giving children a plastic cross and a few plastic Roman soldiers and having them play the Crucifixion. The Ark was the redemption of 8 out of a billion people. We should shudder at the cost, the impact, the horror, not reduce it to a Tupperware toddler toy.

tupperware noah

Of course children can be taught Bible stories, but please, let’s teach the stories as they are. One problem with this is that we have a bizarre corporate need to teach the entire Bible to every child before she is three or four years old.  The problem with this approach (and we all do it) is that we have to scrub the stories squeaky clean in order to make them appropriate for little ears. In doing so, we wipe the stories of the impact they would have had had we left them until the children were old enough to hear the story in its raw, natural form.

Consider Jonah. Consider Samson. Consider Jael–I remember hearing the story of Jael as a very young girl and thinking, “Wow! So cool!” But it isn’t cool, is it? It’s a story of terror and horror and murder and a shell-shocked woman with blood and brain all over her hands, i.e., not for children.

jael

Now that we’ve established that we mess up all the stories ourselves just so our little ones won’t be traumatized and start asking questions about the violence of the Old Testament, let’s move along to Noah.

The movie has very little to do with the account found in Genesis 6-9. God does not speak to Noah; Noah has a weird dream about being in water. I have recurring watery dreams, almost all of them terrifying, but none has caused me to build anything. In the movie, however, Noah awakes from this dream determined to find his grandfather Methuselah to get Ark building advice. Methuselah lives in a cave on a green mountain that stands in the middle of a desert. He enjoys drinking tea. He understands that Noah needs to build a very large boat and that one obstacle to this plan is that there are no trees. To remedy this situation, Methuselah gives Noah a seed. Hours later, Noah plants this seed, and it immediately sprouts into a forest which Noah then cuts down for lumber to build the Ark.

Noah does not build alone. Enormous rock demons help him. Good thing they’re around, because Ham’s not really interested and Japheth is a little boy. Shem does his share, because of course Shem is the good boy. That’s why he gets the girl. Ham doesn’t get a girl. He gets to look ahead at a life of celibacy and loneliness, as does Japheth, for whom a future wife is also not provided.

Good thing Shem has a wife, too bad she’s barren–mutilated by an enemy years ago and left for dead: good thing Noah found her and brought her up with his sons.

Mrs. Noah (Jennifer Connelly) sees the idiocy of taking her 3 sons on board a ship with only one young infertile woman. That doesn’t seem smart, so she goes to see Grandpa Methuselah to ask for help. Grandpa sees the problem with the no-woman scenario and so seeks out Shem’s girlfriend (Emma Watson) and gives her a magic berry which instantly heals her. Sensing she is healed, she rushes off, throws herself on Shem and conceives.

As it turns out, she is pregnant with twin girls–win win for Japheth and Ham. Now they get to wait for their nieces to grow up enough to marry them, and I’m not sure how Shem is going to like this, being their dad and all.

The Flood comes (I’m skipping hours of this very long film). Noah and the Rock Demons use clubs to keep everyone off the Ark, because the Ark is not meant for the saving of humans, but for the saving of the animals only. Mankind is all supposed to die, including the Family Noah, which is why Noah gets all angry when he learns Mrs. Shem is preggers. He vows to kill the babies if they are girls. They are. He tries to kill them. He can’t. The Ark lands. Everyone gets off. The scene about covering Noah by walking in backward with the blanket happens. Ham leaves, because why should he stay. The end.

There are multiple moments along the way where Mrs. Noah should have stepped up to the plate and refused to go along with mean, heartless, cruel Noah. So many women need to learn this lesson–there are times and places and situations in which a woman shouting a loud and reverberating “No!” is the right answer.  That’s one good lesson from this movie. Also that ancient peoples maybe didn’t always wear flowing robes, when figuring out how to make pants isn’t all that hard.

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