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This Week: Come See Stars in My Crown With PZ in Stamford, CT!

You Are Invited: This Wednesday Aug 24th at 7:30pm to the final installment of our summer film series, “Religious Hope From the Movies”, at the Avon Theater in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. To whet your appetite our host, Paul Zahl, produced the following blurb:

stars-in-my-crown-movie-poster-1950-1020537482I’ve never met someone who didn’t fall for this movie. We’re talking about a Hollywood Western entitled Stars in My Crown, which was released in 1950 and starred Joel McCrea. Stars in my Crown was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who made many movies you’ve heard of, such as Cat People (1942) and Out of the Past (1947).

Interestingly, Stars in my Crown was Joel McCrea’s favorite movie in which he acted, and Jacques Tourneur’s favorite movie that he directed.

You’ve got to come see this movie with us next Wednesday at the Avon Theater in Stamford.

Why?

Well, it presents a Christian minister who is the essence of grace in practice. Somewhat episodic, Stars in my Crown tells the story of a sincere, delightful, and persistent minister who is faced with problem after problem after problem in the small town where he has planted a church — from the strong resistance of the local doctor, who is a rationalist, to a power play from the town’s “big man” (and also the Klan) against an African-American senior, to an inward assault upon the minister’s own faith and confidence when a typhoid epidemic brings his ministry to a standstill.

Stars in my Crown is one of the few mainstream movies — together with the French movie Leon Morin, Priest (1961), and a small handful of others — that depicts a minister or priest with accuracy, empathy, and sympathy — in short, with Christian understanding.

At 7:30pm PZ will introduce the movie — which we featured, by the way in Mockingbird at the Movies (2015) — and right after the movie’s over, we have a special guest. Our special guest is Peter McCrea, son of Joel McCrea, who will talk about his father’s spirituality, and why it is that Stars in My Crown was his dad’s favorite.

Hope you can come.

Bad Moms, Odd Moms, and Everything In Between

Bad Moms, Odd Moms, and Everything In Between

I’m a mom, so I run primarily on adrenaline and guilt. Throw in some coffee in the AM, some wine in the PM, and you’ve covered the structure of most of my days–but I’ll be damned if anyone but me reduces my life to a cliche. I’ve seen some pretty bad representations of the pulled-in-all-directions nature of motherhood, so when the trailer for Bad Moms popped up on the internet a few months ago, I approached it warily. A major Hollywood studio accurately portraying my constant ambivalence? A script penned by two men (the writers behind The Hangover, no less)?…

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The Blessing of The Cursed Child

The Blessing of The Cursed Child

A quick disclaimer before reading: I will be giving a positive review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I will, in the words that follow, go so far as to recommend Harry Potter fans read it. So there. If you’ve already decided that the seven books will be the only books, that you will never touch the apocryphal supplements that come via screen or stage, I will not call you a pureblooder…that decision, to close eyes, ears and hands to some idea of magical purity–that’s entirely your decision. A rather pretentious one, I’ll grant, but your decision nonetheless. Everyone…

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“I Must Have Done Something Good”

“I Must Have Done Something Good”

When I was a little girl, our family’s acquisition of a VCR coincided with my older sister’s debut in several small town musical productions. This meant that I could watch Annie, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and The Fiddler on the Roof to my heart’s content, when not elbowing my brother out of the way when he wanted to watch Star Wars. I watched the Fiddler on the Roof on VHS so many times that the tapes warped. We also had vinyl records of musical soundtracks, and hearing a needle hit the vinyl still makes my throat catch before I…

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The Seven Sacraments of Harry Potter

The Seven Sacraments of Harry Potter

In honor of the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, here is another essay from our new anthology of movie essays, Mockingbird at the Movies, available in print here and on Kindle here. 

Before anyone calls bluff on a Harry Potter essay found in a book about movies, let us first consider a fact about the Harry Potter movie franchise. As of July 2015, total movie sales for the eight Harry Potter films had almost surpassed total Harry Potter book sales, a ridiculous feat when you consider how much money that is (over $7 billion). And when you consider…

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Red Beard: Love Is Medicine

Red Beard: Love Is Medicine

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped put on last night’s screening of The Pawnbroker as part of our summer film series at the Avon Theater in Stamford, CT. What a wonderful night! We’ll be showing the third and final selection, Stars in My Crown, on Weds 8/24. On a related note, our recent book Mockingbird at the Movies, is now available on Kindle! To celebrate, we thought we’d post the first half of John Zahl’s closing essay on Red Beard, which many readers (ourselves included) have mentioned as a highlight.

 

Discussing Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard (1965) in any detail is…

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Come See The Pawnbroker in Stamford with PZ (Weds 7/27)

mBdFO2DLxyDyz14zjeiZOu6NG7RThe Pawnbroker came out in 1965 and stars Rod Steiger as a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz who is suffering from acute P.T.S.D. The Pawnbroker was notorious at the time for a scene of nudity that was a “first” for Hollywood. It also contained a way of editing flashbacks that was exciting and fresh. Moreover, The Pawnbroker was the first mainstream movie to deal directly with the Holocaust.

But seeing it now — and all the above are true — it is even better. The film observes a man under overwhelming stress from suppressed memories. They simply will break through. The Pawnbroker also makes some powerful observations about men and women. A scene towards the end between Rod Steiger and Geraldine Fitzgerald is almost worth the entire movie.

For religious people, and specifically for Christians, there are images in The Pawnbroker from the Passion that are both moving and somewhat controversial, especially if you believe, as many do, that the Holocaust is the possession solely of its actual victims. I myself think the iconography of The Pawnbroker works. When I saw it 51 years ago, I was affected to my teenaged core and didn’t know why.

Join me, Paul Zahl, this Wednesday in Stamford, CT at The Avon (right off I-95 and parking is easy); the theater is also short walking distance from the Stamford RR station — for the second in our Mockingbird-sponsored series entitled “Religious Hope from the Movies”. That’s Wednesday, July 27 at 7:30 pm. I shall introduce the movie briefly, and moderate a short discussion afterwards.

Lively Perspective from a Malodorous Corpse: Christian Liberty in Swiss Army Man

Lively Perspective from a Malodorous Corpse: Christian Liberty in Swiss Army Man

This one comes to us from contributor Josh Encinias:

Repellent as its non-stop farts, bone crackling, and other embarrassing bodily functions are, Swiss Army Man joins a new tradition of movies, beginning with Jean-Luc Godard’s film Goodbye to Language and Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog, that force the viewer to dig deep for empathy, accepting foibles of human will as humanity’s default mode. Otherwise, in these movies as in life, you will come away with a deeply cynical, solipsistic view of humanity. This movie may not be for everyone because of its purportedly divisive qualities, however, they are mostly joke fodder and background noise, masking the old story of death and…

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Hollywood Teaches Us How to Be Good Friends: A Much-Belated Review of The Intern

Hollywood Teaches Us How to Be Good Friends: A Much-Belated Review of The Intern

I inwardly sighed last week when my wife suggested that we watch the 2015 Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway comedy The Intern on HBO Now. One has to admit there are problems with the film’s setup.

Robert De Niro plays Ben Whitaker, who is a retired, widowed, 70-year-old who spent 40 years climbing the corporate ladder at a telephone book publisher. He applies for a “senior internship”* offered by a hip start-up, About the Fit, which has set up its open-office, iMac- and MacBook-heavy workplace in the building where Ben’s factory used to make the now-obsolete phonebook. Ben gets assigned to the company’s…

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The Irresistible Father: Grace in The Water Diviner

The Irresistible Father: Grace in The Water Diviner

I know it may not have received very good reviews, but Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner may be one of the greatest movies I have ever seen.

In my opinion, it’s better than The Mission. It’s better than Of Gods and Men. It may even be better than Red Beard.

Why? It’s because you don’t see it coming. You have no idea of the irresistible grace that is headed your way as you watch the movie unfold.  And it hits you, again, and again (and again).

Russell Crowe portrays an Australian farmer, Joshua Connor, who allows his three sons to enlist with the ANZAC troops in World War I….

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Leaky Pipes and Potty Training: How to Save a Life

Leaky Pipes and Potty Training: How to Save a Life

First-world/grown-up problems alert: the plumbing in our suburban home continues to flare up and send me into an anxiety spiral every few weeks. Our master bath shower, situated above the formal dining room we never use (#kids), will occasionally–usually once I’ve forgotten it’s a possibility–develop a leak that sends water dripping onto the floor below, causing our older son to rush in, point to the puddle, and proclaim, “Uh oh. Wet,” just before transferring his point upward to the ceiling and the makeshift opening that’s been there for months, a product of the first of four plumbers we’ve had evaluate…

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The Short-Term Memory of God: The Gospel According to Finding Dory

The Short-Term Memory of God: The Gospel According to Finding Dory

Finding Dory–Pixar’s latest box office smash–picks up where Finding Nemo left off, a year after that rebellious little clownfish was found and rescued from the dentist’s tank in Sydney, Australia. Nemo’s friend, Dory, a ‘natural blue’ who suffers from short-term memory loss, isn’t adjusting well to daily life in the Great Barrier Reef–she repeatedly stings herself swimming into the sea anemone and regularly disrupts Nemo’s class, and although she has found a place to call home, her memory loss continues to affect her and everyone around her, every moment. In some ways, it consumes her identity so completely that it becomes her.

The…

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