Interview on Wielding the Sword of the Spirit

On Tuesday, I was interviewed by author Donald James Parker on his blog radio show Wielding the Sword of the Spirit in support of my book You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens.  We discussed Christian film and a variety of other topics.

Thanks to Donald James Parker for inviting me on his program.

Newsflash: Hollywood is Disconnected From Reality

The title of the article says it all:

Now and then a right-wing critic will come out of the woodwork to fantasize about some imaginary silent majority of viewers hungry for inspiring, all-ages popular entertainment. But if there was some vast, under-served market for bible stories, then, obviously, Hollywood would be producing them. 
Read the original article

Seriously?   I honestly can't tell if writer Daniel Wattenberg is being snarky or stupid.

It's not as if the big budget (respectful) Christian film thing doesn't work dang near every time it is tried.

The Greatest Story Ever Told is called that for a reason.  It was around long before Hollywood and it will be around long after Hollywood is gone.

On a separate note, I want to hereby announce that I am no longer taking complaints on my rather loose relationship with proper grammar.  Wattenberg, writing in The Washington Times gets away with this:

Pervaded as Hollywood is by near-Randians, it will, naturally, surprise some that it ultimately fell to an outsider — fellow by the name of John Aglialoro, a fitness equipment executive without a prior film credit to his name — to bring Ayn Rand’s own defining work “Atlas Shrugged” to the screen independently, after his efforts to secure backing for the project within Hollywood fell short after 20 years, a span which perhaps gives some idea of the sheer numbers of interested prospective collaborators a patient Mr. Aglialoro must have had to work his way through — Hollywood Randians, perhaps, who felt called by Rand’s powerful source material but couldn’t quite commit in the end to throwing themselves into the great work of producing the first screen adaptation of her enduringly popular literary monument to the spirit of free enterprise.
That is one sentence.  It may be grammatically correct for all I know (and I don't). If this is acceptable for a major publication then the hack and slack grammar I use is hereby fine.

Taken 2 (2012)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Taken 2 movie posterShould I see it?

Director: Olivier Megaton
Written by: Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace and DB Sweeney

Rated PG-13 for violence and sensuality

Watch or Rent This Movie Here

Kidnap my family once, shame on you.  Kidnap my family twice – well, that’s just the stuff of stupid Hollywood sequels.

In Taken, Post-Soviet Euro-trashy bad guys kidnap Qui-Gon Jinn’s daughter.  In this silly sequel, they kidnap Qui-Gon Jinn and his wife Jean Grey. I assume in the planned Taken 3 they will kidnap his dog.

The first film was stock, predictable stuff. It wasn’t genre-bending or clever, it was just a tedious action flick promoted by a threatening line reading from Liam Neeson “I have a particular set of skills…” This follow up is a hollow, senseless and undisguised money grab.

Do not spend time or money on this movie because it only exists to waste both.

The reason Hollywood makes thoughtless sequels like this is because we keep paying to see them. Stop the vicious circle and avoid cynical movies such as this like the plague.

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End of Watch (2012)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

End of Watch movie posterShould I see it?

Director/Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick and Frank Grillo

Rated R for violence, language, sexual references and drug use.

Watch or Rent This Movie HereEnd of Watch Streaming Movie Link

Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Peña) are a pair of LAPD patrolmen who, when not accidentally uncovering international crime, wisecrack at their superiors and hold snappy, charming conversations in their patrol car. Most of this is captured by the officers themselves through the small cameras they have attached to their uniforms.This is against protocol,and for no reason other than the director, David Ayer, thinking it would give a point-of-view look at the work of the LAPD (it doesn’t).

Brian is The White Cop and Mike is The Not White Cop. I know this is the case because over and over Mike and Brian talk about how Brian is white and Mike is not white. In 2013, in Los Angeles, apparently this is rare enough for it to warrant multiple mentions.

White Cop is a former Marine and is referred to as being exceptionally smart. He has a great girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick) who happens to have a great job and is loving and kind. Not White Cop has a wife and kids. Not White Cop has to ask the meaning of words and dismisses anything that involves him thinking too hard. He also has a Not White wife who doesn't have a great job but she does have a wonderful scene where she reveals her Not White husband’s sexual proclivities. Not White Cop later recounts a tale where he is stuck under his Not White in-law’s bed while the two have ‘freaky’ sex. Got it. White Cop = smart, clean, thoughtful.  Not White Cop = stupid freaky sex beast.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña

***Spoiler Alert***

White Cop and Not White Cop bumble their way to a Mexican cartel member and a boatload of cash and guns. Following this interaction, the two return to mocking their superiors and fellow officers. They take jabs at each other and comment to their cameras about how their work is difficult.

White Cop and Not White Cop then, of course, rescue children from a house fire and, of course, are rewarded with the Medal of Valor.

The story could have continued to unfold in a logical fashion, developing characters with a building sense of impending doom from the violence these men face on a daily basis. No such luck. Ayer, who also wrote the script, has White Cop and Not White Cop uncover an illegal alien trafficking safe house. ICE agents descend on the house and take over the crime scene. White and Not White Cops are told by an ICE agent that they have uncovered a safe house being run by a Mexican cartel and they should “lay low” for a while due to the risk of reprisals.

White Cop and Not White Cop later perform a seemingly innocuous welfare check on an elderly woman. They randomly pick this stop from a list of open cases. This RANDOM STOP turns up revealing that the woman is dead and her home has been turned into a torture chamber/drug storage house for the same Mexican cartel that White and Not White Cop had crossed earlier. These cops can't seem to not trip over the pesky cartel.

Based on three random stops the cartel green lights the assassination of the two beat cops. Which makes sense, because if an international criminal organization wants to worm their way into a city, murdering low level beat cops is the best way to get that done.

A group of Latino gang members from central casting are brought on to shoot the cops. They shoot the cops. White Cop being the white cop gets to survive his wounds. Not White Cop, being not white, dies sacrificing himself for White Cop.

This being a Hollywood movie the Latino gang members from central casting are then gunned down standing in a straight line in the middle of an alley by the LAPD. Just like it happens in real life.

***Spoilers End***

The bottom line is this, if you can ignore the lazy racism, illogical plotting and slim character development, you may find some moments of interesting action and some cute chunks of dialog. If that sounds like a fun night, have at it. Most people should have better things to do with their spare time.

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Star Wars Rock - Interjections

It is official, everyone on the Internet needs to get a hobby.

The Master (2012)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

The Master movie poster photo master_poster_zps3eb8ebe3.jpgShould I see it?
Only if you're a film geek.

Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Jesse Plemons

Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language

Watch or Rent This Movie Here

Paul Thomas Anderson is the best director of this generation. There is no one better at consistently pulling Oscar-winning performances from actors. I argue there is also no one better at visual themes and scene construction. He is the true heir to the great directors of previous generations.

This film carries all of the potency and power of Anderson’s previous work. The detailed beauty of the film is almost worth a recommendation. The same can be said of the great performances by his cast Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. He has put together an arresting film about a lost soul who is drawn into a fledgling cult. Unfortunately, Anderson has all of this brilliance but forgot to make it mean anything.

Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is a mentally disturbed World War II navy vet with a drinking problem. He becomes a department store photographer and in his spare time he concocts alcoholic brews from whatever he finds laying around, paint thinner, fuel, anything. Being a drunk, he ruins this gig and descends into picking cabbage with migrants. During this period, one of his concoctions poisons a fellow laborer and Quell is chased off. He becomes a stowaway on a yacht. Unbeknownst to Quell, the ship belongs to Writer, doctor, nuclear physicist , theoretical philosopher and “hopelessly inquisitive man”, Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman).

Dodd is a thinly veiled caricature of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Scientology cult. Dodd’s self-constructed theology is call The Cause. Its tenants are very similar to those of Scientology, including adherents being subjected to “processing”. Processing is a hypnotic interviewing technique where Dodd questions and badgers his subject while also playing control games with their minds. He makes Quell say his name repetitively until the words simply fizzle into meaningless words. He challenges Quell to discuss horrifying childhood trauma without blinking – every time he blinks they start over. The processing scenes between Dodd and Quell are captivating and unsettling.

Dodd quickly takes Quell under his protection and treats the desperate man as a fix-er-up hobby. Dodd constantly remarks that Quell acts like a beast and refers to him in the way a father would talk to an errant child. All the while Quell does as he is told and attempts to enjoy the ride. The pair becomes a duel between nature and nurture. Quell is the bitter truth of our nature rebelling against the elitist Dodd's attempt at nurturing him towards perfection.

Joaquin Phoenix The Master photo tm_2_zps2eb92fb6.jpgAnderson lays out some great questions for him to answer, but fails to investigate them fully. This leads to a narrative without much force behind it. He has masterfully constructed scenes and performances but they do not lead to anything. This is unsatisfying and frankly confusing. Most audiences will not make it past the first hour of the film due to this lack of focus.

Another issue with the film is Anderson’s wandering style. He has no problem moving abruptly through a character’s life with little explanation. This is one of the hallmarks of his style that usually strangely works. Here he is too presumptuous. For example, Quell’s pre-Dodd life is given in a jerky, almost disconnected fashion. While this thematically represents how Quell lived, it is also very hard to grasp, in particular for unsophisticated audiences. There is an assumption by Anderson we will care, which is fair. At the beginning you can throw many things at an audience and they will go along because they assume you’re leading them to a specific place. Anderson fails to deliver on this promise early on. This shows an arrogance or some other kind of disconnect coming from Anderson which most audiences are not going to find the patience for.

In the end I cannot recommend this film. If you’re a film geek or have a love for Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous work, you will find much to adore. The average viewer will find this annoyingly disjointed and terribly slow.

Worldview: Quell has his worldview constructed for him by Dodd. Dodd’s metaphysical narrative is simple. We are transitory souls moving through time by passing from one body form to another (lives). Our true spiritual selves h.ave been corrupted and hidden by an external alien force. Man needs to deal with his past traumas from previous lives, perhaps spanning trillions of years into history, in order to elevate himself to his former perfection. I am not a student of Scientology, but I believe this is not far from their worldview. There are certainly elements there of the usual New age mindset.

Even while he subordinates himself under this man-made theology, Quell continues to speak of God when he curses. When he yells “Goddammit!” I found it striking because it exposes that he never denied the real living God even while living lie of The Cause. Deep in his soul, Quell still knew the truth. This was perhaps incidental to what Anderson was intending, but is there just the same.

Joaquin Phoenix The Master photo tm_1_zpsb4906ff6.jpg

Cautions: There is plenty of full frontal nudity, sexual activity, language and substance abuse. Quell is a drunk who is given to juvenile sexual trysts and isn't above molesting a mound of sand. Yes, I said sand.

Anderson has this reoccurring image of Quell fawning over the form of a naked women built out of sand on the beach. She’s a kind of sand sex goddess, I’m not entirely sure, it is all quite vague. In contrast to this perfected image that washes into the sea are the numerous real naked women who populate Dodd’s world. Throughout the movie we are presented with nude women. To Anderson’s credit they are real women with real bodies. He highlights all of their flab, stretch marks, rolls and sagging breasts.

In other words, this is not a film you want to watch with small children running around.

Scott Nehring Good News Film ReviewsRelated Review:
Another Paul Thomas Anderson film
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Looper (2012)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Looper movie posterShould I see it?
A weak yes.

Director: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels

Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and drug content

Watch or Rent This Movie Here

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lives in a world of time travel. Most people in his time don’t know this is the case. Time travel is something that has yet to be invented, this does not stop folks from the future messing with the past however.  Joe fuels a fast lifestyle and drug habit by working as a ‘looper’ for the citizens of the future. Poor saps who upset a criminal organization in the future are sent back to Joe’s time and loopers, such as Joe, gun them down in an efficient execution. This assures the target from the future is removed, without the complications of a body or other evidence. This set up works out neatly for Joe until he is asked to gun down his future self (Bruce Willis). Younger Joe's future self (let's call him Older Joe) escapes his execution and the chase begins. Younger Joe tries to stop Older Joe as he slowly tracks down and kills the ‘modern day’ crime syndicate that will mark him for execution in the future.

Writer/Director Rian Johnson (Brick) has the chops to handle a layered time travel film in an accessible but challenging fashion. For the most part, Johnson delivers. The main portion of his script is often predictable, but still engaging. The Younger Joe/Older Joe juxtaposition is an interesting take – Older Joe is rightly annoyed by his less wise, less respectful younger self. Younger Joe can’t get his head around the relationship and treats Older Joe as more of a disposable father-figure than an older, wiser version of himself.

Johnson’s handling of the complex relationship between the two Joes is unique and full of potential. He begins to deliver on this potential by cleverly displaying how Younger Joe originally kills his older self, goes through his life becoming Older Joe (who knows what is coming) and using that memory of killing himself to keep himself (Older Joe) alive at that point and being able to escape. Sound complicated? It is, yet Johnson found a way to show it and make it completely logical.

Unfortunately, there is a problem and it isn’t a small one.

Looper Movie StillJohnson doesn’t have confidence in his complex time travel tale. He takes what is a carefully constructed future universe and plot and spoils it by inserting a completely unneeded and distracting subplot involving a child with supernatural powers. You read that correctly. Out of nowhere Johnson introduces a child with horrifying psychic powers who is being protected by a woman (Emily Blunt) living in a distant farm house.

The child subplot derails the original tale and turns a sharp genre film into a M. Night Shyamalanesque sham. What should be a complex look at the current/future self – free will vs. fate argument  devolves into a meaningless mess as Johnson is forced to abandon his initial narrative to deal with the loose ends caused by this unrelated addition.

***Spoiler Alert***

The inclusion of the psychic kid brings Younger/Older Joe into a strange place. Older Joe, knows what the future holds. This includes knowing that the psychic kid grows up to be a monstrous crime boss. Johnson attempts to utilize this strange point-of-view to put Older Joe in a horrible situation. Knowing what he knows, is Older Joe right to assassinate the child before he can commit his future crime? This is the classic argument of going back in time and killing Hitler. This is an interesting proposition but it is too large to be hung on a preexisting narrative. It should be its own story instead of being a side-issue. This is evidenced by the lack of dimension in the psychic kid. The child does not retain any discernible personality, he is not really ‘human’. He is a thing, a plot point which needs to be dealt with rather than a likable child the audience can come to understand and therefore want to survive.

Johnson is a very strong director, but has shown with this and his previous film, The Brothers Bloom, that he has loose restraint on his storytelling. He needs a script editor who will reign in his needlessly grand inclinations. If he had remained true to his original narrative, this would have been an exceptional film. Thanks to his lack of focus, he has produced an unfortunately splintered and forgettable movie.

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Scott Nehring Presenting at GATE 3 Conference

On Saturday, February 2nd I will be speaking to Hollywood professionals at the GATE3 Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on changing the tone of Hollywood films

GATE (Global Alliance of Transformational Entertainment) is a non-profit organization founded by actor Jim Carrey and spiritualist Eckhart Tolle to bring together creative minds from across the entertainment industry to work on bringing positive and uplifting content to films, television and other media. I was invited by GATE to discuss story structure during the Transformational Story Conference portion of the event. I will speak to a crowd of professional screenwriters, producers and directors. Here is the kicker, to my knowledge, I will be the only representative of Christianity at the event.

Gate 3 Conference
Why would I present at an event that seemingly promotes New Age beliefs?

I’m a firm believer that one of the biggest problems in our society is that we have cut off those we disagree with. I am certainly guilty of this - particularly in the comment section when people aren't polite. Instead of shunning each other, we need to keep talking and find common ground. I believe we can work with those in the New Age movement on things like producing films with less violence, or having fewer demeaning productions. We may be rivals on some significant issues, but we don’t need to be enemies.

I find it interesting that some Christians think that going to an event like this is the same as supporting all of their beliefs.  Moreover, that I shouldn't go at all.  I don't get that, since when are Christians NOT supposed to engage and inspire?

I appreciate any prayers of support.

- Scott Nehring

A Snowy Night on "Catskill Park"

By Wayne Johnson

Over one year ago I started a VFX company with the usual suspects.  We did a test composite for a science fiction 3D film on the moon. In three days we did three complex shots and impressed our new clients. The last year has been so busy I have not had the time to spin any yarns about our exploits on that film.

Over one year later I find myself on location in New Hampshire supervising the VFX shots on the new film Catskill Park. I feel very privileged to be working with a very experienced crew, most who have rubbed shoulders with the heavies in the industry and worked with some of the current top talent.

We are currently being buried under about a half-foot of snow or more as the production preps for tomorrow. I find it very strange and somewhat lonely, this being the very first production I have worked on where I am not the director or the producer.

At this time I can’t asses what I have learned only that I’m sure as I reflect in the following weeks I’ll have gained a tidbit of information. I’m trying to build connections and make new friends, but as some of you know, I have been so busy for the last 5 or 6 years I barley have time for the friends that I do have. Making new ones is not a skill I have cultivated.

Tonight, as the crew decides the best course of action for the remainder of the production, I work on compositing a sign that the art department could not prep. They hired a local kid to paint the sign and after taking $25 for brushes and paint he ditched out and left the sign unfinished and unfixable.

So, they turned to me and we shot it with tracking markers. However, the Long GOP (group of pictures) format the Sony F3 shoots on is terrible for tracking and compositing. Long GOP is a joke, and not a real solution for a VFX film.

The cool part is I have been able to do test color grades for the director and DP and also work virtually with Adam Natrop. It is an interesting time for filmmaking, we have the power to change the way the whole industry thinks about making a movie.

One last little note, I find it strange that no one on the crew has any real experience or understanding how to make a VFX movie. I figured everyone on the East Cost would get it, but they are very new to the concept, good for me and my team I guess.

Wayne's commentaries can also be found on his site New Discourses On Art.

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You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

Artists Who Are Conservative Over Conservative Artists

The Daily Caller's Matthew K. Lewis discusses cultural conservatives and offers some good insight on the future of the movement. As with my arguments for Christians to be artists who are Christian instead of branding themselves "Christian Artists", Lewis points out that the key to cultural change is not done by forcing agendas.

The good news for cultural conservatives is that a new generation, aided by new technology, might finally conspire to change things. Young conservatives like R.J. Moeller — the man who brought comedian Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager together — are dedicating their lives to ideas and culture, not overt partisanship.
As technology lowers the barriers of entry, removing power from the gatekeepers, it is entirely possible that artists who happen to be conservative (as opposed to “conservative artists”) will have an easier time breaking into the culture. It might be hard, for example, to sell a record label on signing you, but what if record labels become irrelevant? — what if talent and the ability to produce and sell electronic music render them moot?

Come back when you're done.

It is up to you to change the cultureScott Nehring Good News Film Reviews
You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens
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