Religion

Everyone knows how much the movie-making world relies on trends. If one studio has a superhero movie that hits, suddenly everyone has to have their own superhero movie. If one movie featuring a bow and arrow toting protagonist scores big at the box office, suddenly a flood of Hollywood’s top names find themselves having to take archery lessons. Savvy producers are the ones who are always on the lookout for what the next big trend is going to be. So, now that we’ve gotten through a whole summer of William Tell wannabes, what’s the next big trend that’s going to hit theaters? If Darren Aronofsky or Will Smith are able to bring in the bucks with either of their brewing projects, it might be adaptations of bible stories. The first bit of biblical news floating around today comes from a Tweet sent out directly by Aronofsky himself (via Vulture). Yesterday the Black Swan director took to his Twitter account and sent the following message out to his followers, “I dreamt about this since I was 13. And now it’s a reality. Genesis 6:14 #noah.” Of course, seeing as he’s currently at work making a Russell Crowe-starring adaptation of the story of Noah, it doesn’t take much detective work to figure out that the image of a gigantic wooden structure in mid-construction accompanying his words must be the Ark that’s being built for the film. Yeah, that’s right, CG be damned – Aronofsky is going practical with his giant wooden boat.

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Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

Though everything we’ve heard about Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming project, The Master, paints it as being a Philip Seymour Hoffman-starring story about the head of a new religion, its new teaser trailer doesn’t give us any indication that this is the case. There’s no mention of religion, no scenes of cult-like indoctrination, and not even a glimpse of Philip Seymour Hoffman. What it does give us is a conversation between military personnel and Joaquin Phoenix, who’s playing a 50s-era serviceman who seems to be having some mental problems. Phoenix has a glint in his eye, a glow to his smile, and a hole in his memory – and it all adds up to a scene that manages to build a ton of tension and mounds of menace without ever actually showing us anything dangerous or getting spooky with the music. It’s a good example of how thoroughly a great filmmaker and a talented actor can manipulate your emotions, even while being completely subtle.

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What would the state of American education be if Ned Flanders controlled what went into school textbooks? Folks in the Lone Star State came dangerously close to finding out during the 2009-2010 Texas State Board of Education hearings to determine the curriculum for millions of students. Made up of locally elected officials (some with academic training, some without) the SBOE was chaired by affable yet arrogant dentist and “young Earth creationist” Don McLeroy, and had the power to decide what information would go into textbooks. The position is one of great significance because Texas’ size makes it the country’s biggest purchaser of textbooks. The standards set by the board influence textbook publishing across the country. While it would seem that one’s religion would be irrelevant in such a setting, it took center stage when McLeroy and other members of the board fought to undermine the theory of evolution in the state’s science textbooks with the right wing side pushing for them to accentuate the “weaknesses” of such a theory. This fight is at the heart of The Revisionaries.

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Calling in from a dirty van somewhere in the American south, Darren Bousman speaks with the kind of quiet calm that has seen the heights of horror success and the self-made sweat of passion projects being wrung out in the system. It’s half electricity, half exhaustion. His latest flick 11-11-11 hit DVD yesterday, and watching the film, it’s easy to climb inside the writer/director’s own struggles with faith and depression. He’s a remarkably open filmmaker, sharing his personal feelings (no matter how dark) with his fans, never sparing the emotional details. Fortunately, it’s that incredibly candid spirit that comes alive in this conversation. From the bloodiness of the Bible to why 11-11-11 wasn’t his finest hour to the thrills of taking his Devil’s Carnival on the road, Bousman is as blunt as they come. Download This Interview

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Michael Shannon in Take Shelter

You’ve seen Michael Shannon before. Many times before. Similar to screen veterans Chris Cooper or Dylan Baker, Shannon is one of those actors who has had an extended career in front of the camera long before anyone really took notice of him. Even though he has been in films since the early 90s, he gained a strong national presence in 2009 with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Revolutionary Road. Shannon is getting more attention now with the independent hit Take Shelter, playing a man named Curtis who starts having apocalyptic visions, leading him to build an underground shelter to protect his family. With Take Shelter in limited release and acting award buzz building, Shannon took part of his lunch break from his “super” schedule to chat with Film School Rejects about his career and what he hopes will happen with this stand-out independent film.

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A young child sits in a modest seat in front of a computer and a room full of expectant people. He presses a button, and the computer tells him where to begin reciting from and where to stop. What happens next is an incredible string of intonations and harmonious poetry that sail out with eyes closed. It’s a stunning feat of memorization, and a testament to the beauty of an ancient language and text. This is the world’s oldest Koran memorization contest, and in Koran By Heart, director Greg Barker tells a sweetly compelling story about three of the youngest competitors.

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“Rife with honest moments, spurred by Farmiga-the-filmmaker’s keen eye for shading various relationships in loving, authentic ways, the film transcends the specificity of its setting to evoke the joys and pains of everyday life, and the proverbial search for the meaning behind it.” That’s how our very own Robert Levin describes Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut Higher Ground. Clearly he was one of the many who fell in love with it at Sundance earlier this year. Now you have a chance to fall in love with it by checking out the trailer:

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Each Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, there’s an extraordinary prayer read in synagogue. Called the “Unetanneh Tokef,” it evokes the awesome power of judgment day, extolling God’s capacity for punishment, his propensity for mercy and man’s insignificance in the face of it all. I thought of the third part of that prayer while watching The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s ambitious, meditative stab at codifying the cosmos. It gets close to the essence of the reclusive auteur’s much-anticipated new picture: “A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust. At risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream.” In paralleling the origins of the universe with flashes from the everyday 1950s childhood of a young boy from Waco, Texas, Malick’s film captures the ethereal nature of life. Beginning with the Big Bang and the dinosaurs and cycling through Jack O’Brien’s (Sean Penn) memories of his youth — of ballgames on the lawn during muggy summer nights, his younger brother’s warm gaze, contentious family dinners and the first stirrings of sexual feelings — Malick offers one man’s story writ large and small.

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Probably the most controversial film screening at the festival, thanks to the usually virulent reaction that anything that is even remotely anti-religion tends to get these days, Habemus Papam is director Nanni Moretti‘s latest irony-laced film, which takes a firm stab at the institution of the Vatican (and unsurprisingly has already inspired notable calls to boycott it). This isn’t new territory for Moretti, who follows up 1984’s religious satire The Mass is Ended, with this look at the Vatican’s attempt to elect a new Pope, which remarkably is also the Italian director’s sixth film in Competition at Cannes over the years. In Habemus Papam, otherwise known as We have a Pope, we are introduced to the conclave of Vatican Cardinals as they meet to elect the new pontiff  from their ranks (a process which hilariously is presented like a group of school children unwillingly sitting for an exam). Panic ensues when the eventually-chosen candidate played by Michel Piccoli (who I swear is Carl Reiner’s long-lost twin), has a major anxiety attack at the responsibility and refuses to present himself to the crowd assembled in St Peter’s Square. In desperation the Vatican turn to a psychoanalyst (Nanni Moretti himself) to try and help the Pope deal with his issues, only for him to go on the run in Rome, posing as a normal civilian to hide from his Godly duty. Hang on, a major world leader with a psychological crisis? A therapist brought in to help him? So really, it’s sort of like a comic The King’s Speech, only with more full frontal […]

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Why Watch? Because subtle acting and difficult subject matter make for an explosive combination. This short from director Joe Shaw features a young man and the priest whom he’s sought out for a very personal confession. It unravels slowly and surely, and even though it heads in a clear direction, there are still a few emotional surprises along the way. It’s about the nature of sin, the power of our minds to explain our evil, and the two simple words we can’t bring ourselves to say. What Will It Cost? Just 15 minutes of your time. Check out The Echo for yourself:

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What if Joshua bar Joseph (you know, Jesus) was just a man spreading ideas about loving your neighbor and your enemy alike? What if the claims of transcendence only mask a truth about a young child born from a raped mother who grew up to do radical exorcisms and challenge the political structure? Somewhere along the way, director Paul Verhoeven became fascinated with Christ as an historical figure, and he wrote a book about it called “Jesus of Nazareth” that was published last year. Now, according to Deadline Judea, he’s been trying to find financing for a film version. Regarding the project, Verhoeven has said, “If you look at the man, it’s clear you have a person who was completely innovative in the field of ethics. My own passion for Jesus came when I started to realize that. It’s not about miracles, it’s about a new set of ethics, an openness towards the world, which was anathema in a Roman-dominated world. I believe he was crucified because they felt that politically, he was a dangerous person whose following was getting bigger and bigger. Jesus’ ideals are about the utopia of human behavior, about how we should treat each other, how we should step into the shoes of our enemy.”

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It’s not often that an argument about the fundamentals of the existence of a higher power takes place in an RV toilet, but it’s somehow the perfect setting for a character moment that stands as the centerpiece of Paul. Ruth (played by Kristen Wiig) is convinced of her belief in God without reservation, but when the foul-mouthed, chain smoking alien steps out of the water closet, it shakes her to the core. That’s not the sole example of religion or faith in the film. In fact, faith is the main theme of the entire movie. It just happens to be wrapped in a science fiction narrative and sprinkled with comedy and curse words.

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Boiling Point

Is that a provocative headline? I’m not sure. No more provocative than my first assignment from Neil Miller for FSR, “Why Blacks Don’t Deserve the Vote.” Just kidding, that wasn’t my first article, my first article was a review of The Pound Puppies on VHS. But really, that joke may be tasteless. Some people may be upset by it. You may run off and tell your friends not to read this article, or this site. By all means, go ahead and do that. Make sure to link them to the article too. So they can see it first hand. So that one article no one in your social group was going to read is now read by all of them. Do it. The more you send it around, the the more hits it gets and the more hits it gets the more Milk Duds I receive in compensation. There seems to be a bit of controversy over controversy these past weeks. Last week we had Ricky Gervais say some funny and mean things (the best kind of things) and people got upset. This week Judd Apatow stole that idea and said a lot of mean things that were barely funny (being just remakes of Ricky Gervais jokes) about the chubby Brit. We’ve also got some thick headed religious types protesting Red State because of its subject matter (I say only protest it if it sucks, or because Kevin Smith is a douche nozzle) and similar socially conservative people up in […]

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Everyone is imprisoned in Stone, but Edward Norton’s character is the only one physically locked up in the big house. The movie leaves a lot unanswered, delivers one of Robert De Niro’s best performances in years, and presents something audiences have clamored for since American History X: Edward Norton in cornrows. I was fortunate enough to sit down with the actor during the film’s run at Fantastic Fest, and we dug deep into the nature of imprisonment, the nature of storytelling, and the De Niro film that makes Norton stop breathing. Special Thanks to Luke Mullen for his keen editing skills.

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“Paradise Lost,” the most well-claimed-to-have-been-read-but-wasn’t-actually-read epic poem of all time (amongst high schoolers), has had more than a few shots at a feature film adaptation. For some reason – perhaps because it’s a gigantic naked tome of human moral psychology with a whisper-thin plot that it dangles by – it hasn’t made it to your local cinerama-plex-a-dome. Now, it might. Dark City and The Crow director Alex Proyas has been hired to helm an adaptation that focuses on the war between Team Lucifer and Team God and promises some graphic Angel on Angel violence. The phrase “action film” have been tossed around, but the brand of action that Proyas delivers is usually fulfilling both on a visceral and mental level. Oddly enough, he may be the perfect person to take a challenging project like this. Now, who to cast as Satan? Is Dave Grohl available? CGI Young Al Pacino? [The New Cinematical]

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Every Sunday in September, Film School Rejects will present a musical that was made before you were born and tell you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Musicals presents the story of a young Jewish man struggling between his career and his family who revolutionizes Hollywood by speaking to the audience for the first time. It’s Al Jolson as The Jazz Singer.

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In Holy Rollers Bartha plays a Hasidic Jew that loses his faith just in time to find the alluring nature of the drug game.

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The rising star and already-risen indie presence took some time to talk about playing a Hasidic Jew who smuggles drugs.

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Gay rights. The Mormon Church. Prop 8. No matter what side of the debate you fall on, the trailer is damned good.

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A post-apocalyptic future where the rantings of a divorced cab driver have become the basis for a major religion. Who wouldn’t want to see that on the big screen?

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