Testimony: I Was A Total Scumbag, Now I'm Just a Jerk; Praise the Lord!

Below is a segment I did for CBN's 700 Club.  Essentially, it is a short version of my testimony.  I hope it helps someone out there.




Blackthorn (2011)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring


Blackthorn movie posterShould I see it?
Absolutely.


Director: Mateo Gil
Written by: Miguel Barros
Starring: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Magaly Solier, Padraic Delaney and Dominique McElligott


Rated R for violence and language


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I adored this film. Then again, I believe that Sam Shepard (with both his acting and in particular his writing) is a national treasure. Perhaps I am the wrong guy to ask.

Butch Cassidy (Shepard), going under the name James Blackthorn, has grown into a leather-faced old man in the hills of Bolivia. Living his post-criminal days breeding horses, Blackthorn decides to act on his desire to return to America. During his preparations to leave the country he is ambushed by Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega), who claims to have robbed a mining industrialist of $50,000. The two eventually partner after Apodaca promises to split the loot if Blackthorn helps him evade the posse on his trail. The pair go on the lam across Bolivia and into the Uyuni salt flats on their way to the coast where Blackthorn will hire a boat to take him to America.

Sam Shepard's reserved style can make him an unapproachable actor for mainstream audiences - which is why he does so well in roles portraying authority figures (Black Hawk Down, The Pelican Brief, Thunderheart) and not the hero. His distant persona works in this performance. His Cassidy is a man worn down by the past. Cursed to live in the backwaters of Bolivia, away from his son born by Etta Place (Dominique McElligott), he is a phantom of the spry young man who entered the foreign land to escape U.S. justice. Shepard balances the stark differences between the delicate emotions of an aged man troubled by what he has lost with the cold-hearted individualism of a lifelong criminal who has tried to live on his own terms. Admitting my bias towards Shepard's work, I do think he was overlooked for Best Actor. Of his film performances, I found this to be the best in his career.

Eduardo NoriegaThe film isn't a one-man show. Eduardo Noriega also gives a notable performance as the thieving mining engineer Eduardo. Noriega is not a well-known commodity in the United States but has made a name for himself in Spain. His performance in this film should secure him some notoriety on this side of the Atlantic. He plays well against Shepard and the pairing benefits both actors.

The story itself is a traditional chase story, but director Mateo Gil avoids many of the usual trappings of the genre. While the chase is at the heart of the story, this is really a detailed character piece by the end. Sure the real Cassidy probably died early on, but the character developed here is fully formed. The audience is given reason to care about him finding peace and resolution - which is saying something given they are rooting for a brutal criminal.


Worldview: Cassidy has been tempered by old age and decades of quiet. He retains the individualistic/survivor nature which helped him make his way out of America, but he has settled down just the same. When we find him, he seems to be living in a tropical Eden. He is secluded, his home is open and clean. He has a comfortable relationship with a beautiful Bolivian woman. All of this is not enough for him however, he longs for home. That's not to say he longs to be around other Americans, or other folks of his racial background. What Cassidy really longs for is the ideal he imagines his "home" America has to offer.

Cassidy is prompted to return to the States when he learns his past love Etta Place has died. He writes her son - who is also his son - as he plans to make his way north. It is the loss of Place that he hopes to resolve. In reality what the film is presenting is a sinful man quietly resenting the fruits of his former self. His criminality introduced him to the passion of his life, Place. It is the same criminality (sinfulness) which also ripped her away from him and put an irreparable split between him and his partner in crime The Sundance Kid.

This is an interesting contradiction many find in their lives. We are lured in by our sin and find something precious in the act. Conversely, we are tortured when our sin rips that precious thing from our grasp. Hmm. Sounds like hell on Earth.


Cautions: There is some violence, although it is relatively mild compared with the content regularly presented on television - there is also some language but I found it contextual and not offensive.


Sam Shepard Blackthorn



Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews





Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Movie Poster: Irma la Douce







Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Texas Killing Fields (2011)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring


Texas Killing FieldsShould I see it?
A weak no.


Director: Ami Canaan Mann
Written by: Don Ferrarone
Starring: Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain, Chloë Moretz and Stephen Graham


Rated R for violence and language.


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The titular killing fields are a thick bayou where no reasonable man will set foot. Anyone out in the killing fields runs a good chance of becoming a part of the local food chain. This haunting swamp is the backdrop as two local cops, Mike (Sam Worthington) and Brian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) investigate a series of murders occurring in their dank, backwoods of Texas. Along for the ride is Mike's ex-wife Pam (Jessica Chastain), who is also a detective.

The trio run down leads and interrogate witnesses. Every once in a while someone throws a punch and they get involved in the obligatory car chase. Before too long, the truth is revealed and things come to their conclusion. Then the credits roll.

Honestly, that is really all that happens.

Despite my slighting the plot, there are a number of elements to recommend this film. The problem is that none of these elements mesh together to create a cohesive, thoughtful production. It is hard to place blame on director Ami Canaan Mann or screenwriter Don Ferrarone, but somewhere a lack of vision happened. Ultimately, the responsibility falls on the director, so that is where I have to land my blame.

Mann has talent. She pulled solid performances from her actors and did a fantastic job developing a memorable environment for them to inhabit. Two of the actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chloë Moretz are particularly sharp in their roles. If the script and direction had been more focused, I think it would have been very likely one or both of them would have secured Best-Supporting nods this year. Both actors seem to have had clear connections with their characters and give natural, compelling performances.

If you watch this film you will be drawn into the feel of the film and its possibility for something great. Mann doesn't deliver on the obvious potential available to her. She fails to tie her scenes together, with one moment not matching the next. This leads to a disjointed experience where items are brought up and then dropped, characters are partially developed and numerous promising moments evaporate into nothing.

What did I mean by responding "a weak no" to the question "Should I see it?" I can't recommend this film because it ultimately doesn't deliver on its promises. There are just too many problems with the end product. I can say that I found myself enjoy much of the movie, however. You will not find many movies with the environmental tension available in this production. Mann crafted some very tense, tight scenes. Again the issue is that they end up being stand alone moments in a series of ill-matching plot points.

If you are looking for a suspenseful film and can forgive some broken logic and script issues, feel free to disregard my complaints.


Worldview: One of the points of the script that is left unresolved is the faith questions brought up by Brian. Brian is a cop from New York with experience with serial killers, or at least multiple-murderers. He is a Roman Catholic with a deep sense of responsibility to his faith and to catching those committing evil. These last points are expounded upon but rather gathered from his dialog and actions.

Brian will pause after his initial review of a crime scene to quietly pray over/for the corpse. When he fails to do this he is remorseful and feels as if he wasn't doing his actual work. This aspect of Brian's life which seems to be a reaction to his previous cases is an engaging quality. When he takes interest in helping a troubled teenager, Ann (Chloë Moretz) there is a real sacrificial surrogate father relationship in the making. Without spoiling too much, the script manages to mishandle this critically important relationship, but it is there in subtext.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan
What I found interesting in Brian's belief system is the notion that he can pray for the dead and somehow make a difference. Our salvation is never found in the direct actions of anyone other than Christ Himself and in my reading of Scripture, this is done in life. The world can pray for me, but if I fail to acknowledge and submit to Grace I am lost. Salvation becomes a choice of the individual to see the Truth and accept it into their life. I believe this can happen in one's final moments and despite the sins weighed against the guilty soul. The notion of praying over a corpse is an act of the living using the dead as a surrogate to express their own desire for salvation. The dead are gone and their judgment awaits them in the great beyond.

Another point residing in his theological action is his inability to do anything about evil acting on the Earth. Like every other thoughtful moment, this is touched on for a fleeting moment a then let go. His partner Mike sarcastically asks Brian to stop praying for him since everyone Brian prays for seems to end up dead. Brian prays and keeps his faith yet evil persists and all he can seem to do is try to keep up long enough to clean up the mess. Evil is our burden, but it really isn't our problem. If it were our problem we could do something about it - we can't. We can attempt to restrain its impact within ourselves (a task destined for failure, but worth the work) but the only resolution comes through Christ. It is He who will bring evil to cease.

Cautions: There is plenty of killing and some of the scenes involve women being attacked. While the violence is sometimes tense, it is all contextual and done with respect for the audience.


Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews



Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews
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