Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Blog for Life

posted by burb

When the Washington diocese of the Episcopal Church USA erected “The Blog of Daniel,” a page on the diocesan website that welcomes discussion of the controversial NBC series “Book of Daniel,” I thought: pure genius. Rather than bridle the way the Catholic League does at every philandering priest in movies and TV, DC HQ decided to be laid back about NBC’s depiction of one of their clergy and his dysfunctional family. So what if most of the posts would be self-helpy lectures from left and right about mutual tolerance? Not only would Episcopals seem hip and engaged in the culture (what’s hipper and more engaged than a blog?), the blog would channel interest in the show into education about the real-world Episcopal community.

What I was too naïve to foresee is the way the show’s producers would use the blog to rally support for the show. Jack Kenny, the show’s creator, has posted an appeal on The Blog of Daniel, urging viewers to call their local affiliates to support the show against the withering fire laid down by the American Family Association and other conservative groups, which has caused some affiliates to pull the show and some advertisers to pull their ads. What seems to burn Kenny most is that the AFA is “is using this show as a fundraising tool,” as he states in one blog entry. I’m of course shocked to see Kenny’s brainchild being used for filthy lucre. But given that the stations refusing to air the show are mostly tiny markets in the upper Bible belt, the greater threat to Kenny’s show is “Book of Daniel”’s ratings, which are flagging after only two weeks, and which a nice censorship fury would likely buck up.

Wanted: More Hate in “Munich”

posted by

I finally saw Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” yesterday, and I emerged–after a way-too-long 2 hours and 44 minutes–about as ambivalent about it as I was beforehand. Certainly, as a suspense-thriller flick, it works. The acting is top-notch, the production values strong, the story compelling (though would be more compelling if Spielberg had shaved half an hour off it). Politically, it was, as many critics pointed out, fairly incoherent, making some vague point that violence begets violence, as if the absence of violence from one side would bring world peace.

I am not sure, however, how so many people could have seen the film and called it in any way “anti-Israel,” unless any depiction of ambiguity about, or negative consequences from, Israeli policies or actions is somehow inherently anti-Israel. “Munich” showed a young nation, scarred by 2,000 years of displacement that culminated in the Holocaust, struggling for survival against violent enemies who kill randomly and without remorse. And Israel is shown waging that battle with heated debate, qualms, moral compromises, and (for the most part, at least) restraint–even as it pursues its enemies with brutal, unrelenting focus. It’s not clear what the film is trying to say about all this, and there’s plenty to criticize in its depiction of Israel, but its sympathy for Israel and its need to defend itself was, to me, clear.

One reason I believe it has taken so much heat is the imbalance in its portrayal of the Israeli assassins and of the Palestinians they’re sent to kill, 11 men who allegedly planned the 1972 Olympics massacre. The Israelis are full-fledged, three-dimensional characters: They have relationships, they miss their kids, they cook and share meals together, they have serious discussions and share in fun moments. They also have differing viewpoints on the justice of what they’re doing, and are indelibly changed by their mission–pulling the trigger becomes easier and their grip on reality erodes, even as the mission becomes harder emotionally for them to continue.

On the other hand, we see brutal Palestinian terrorists committing the Olympics massacre, and then we see gentle Palestinians being killed for planning it, without any line drawn to connect them. This one’s a poet, that one’s got a loving wife and cute daughter–all intended, no doubt, to heighten the moral ambiguity of the Israelis’ mission. The assassins need to take it on faith from their commanders that these men are guilty, and so must we. But in his effort to leave it ambiguous, Spielberg has swung too far the other way. We never see the targeted Palestinians as anything but gentle souls, reading poetry, discussing their longing for home, even denouncing the Munich massacre. Where’s the ambiguity there? The Israelis are ruthlessly murdering sweet, innocent men who are working peacefully for a homeland just like the Jews have.

If we would have seen the dreamy poet planning the next terrorist attack or the loving family man rejoicing at the violent death of a Jewish child, then it would truly have been an equal fight, and maybe we would have actually felt ambivalent about the Israelis’ mission, truly had a reason to debate the justice and morality of this sort of violent response to violence. Instead, we’re left feeling disgust at what the Israelis did, even if we might be rooting for their ultimate victory against terrorism and for national survival.

There’s Laughter in This “Hood”

posted by kris rasmussen

I recently complained on this blog about the need to demand better family entertainment at the box office, but I saw a quirky, fun new family movie on a friend’s recommendation: “Hoodwinked,” which ended up being the surprise hit and top grossing flick at the box office this past weekend. “Hoodwinked” is a computer-animated fractured fairytale that retells the story of Little Red Riding Hood with a fresh twist, a la “Shrek,” by turning it into a comical detective story.

The movie begins where the original story leaves off. Chief Grizzly and Detective Bill Stork investigate a domestic disturbance at Granny’s cottage, involving a girl, a wolf, and an axe. The charges are many: breaking and entering, disturbing the peace, intent to eat, and wielding an axe without a license. Taking a page from famous Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s classic film “Rashomon,” the movie’s events are also told from the viewpoint of various characters (Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, and Jim Belushi all lend their voices to the project) in an effort to find out what really happened at Granny’s cottage that fateful day. While the movie is not quite as sassy as Shrek, and the animation is not quite up to the level of the Pixar films it is being compared to (unfairly, as this movie was made for much less), “Hoodwinked” is still smart, witty, and has enough in it to keep younger children as well as adults entertained.

An interesting side note is that the one of the directors of the project, Cory Edwards, is a Christian, and his story caught the eye of the L.A. Times, which profiled him and his partners recently. I find it extremely encouraging to know that in the ever-increasing dialogue between Hollywood and the religious community, Hollywood execs can find evidence of a filmmaker’s faith not only in overtly evangelistic movies about martyred missionaries or the end of the world, but also in movies about a little girl in a red cape with a wicked sense of humor.

“Paradise Now” Gets the Globe

posted by dilshad d. ali

Since when does Palestine get recognized by any facet of the entertainment industry? Since a film from that region won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film on Sunday. Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s taut thriller, “Paradise Now,” surprised all by picking up the coveted award. The win gave Abu-Assad an unexpected forum to express his love for Palestine. After sweetly flubbing his thanks to the Hollywood Foreign Press for recognizing his film, he quietly announced the win was for the Palestinian people, for their cause, for their freedom.

The movie, shot on location in the West Bank and Israel, explores the motivation and psyche of two Palestinian suicide bombers. Abu-Assad’s clever touch makes for a dual film: It’s an action-packed thriller as well as a sensitive study at how the dismal situation in Palestine creates a breeding ground for suicide bombers.

The independent film circuit has seen a number of wonderful, thought-provoking films come from Israel and the Palestinian region in the last decade. As a film reviewer when I lived in New York, I was privy to many intriguing documentaries, dramas, and docudramas covering all aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And though this film has flopped in Israel, it’s great to see it receive accolades in this country. I hope it paves the way for more filmmakers to bring attention to that region of the world.

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