109: Mitch is Right; Hollywood’s Wrong — But We Can Make a Difference

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    In many years of working along side Mitch Albom at the Detroit Free Press — and even occasionally talking with him about religion on his radio talk-show — this is the first time I’ve published a column praising his work.
    But he’s just so — so — so gosh darned right today — and he’s talking about themes that matter deeply to our ReadTheSpirit project. I’m half embarrassed that I didn’t write a column just like it weeks ago!

    His headline today is: “And the Oscar for most depressing …” His opening line is: “I’m not going to watch the Oscars tonight.” Why is he launching a one-man boycott of the network coverage tonight? Mitch pointed out that, by and large, the Hollywood professionals behind the Oscars seem to be limiting their highest honors to films with terribly violent, tragic conclusions.
    Instead of giving a nod of best-picture status to terrific films like, “The Great Debaters” or “The Bucket List,” which give us spiritually positive themes to chew on with our popcorn, the academy is saluting a stunningly negative array of films this year.
    In part, Mitch writes today: I enjoy films. I collect them. And I understand that not every story ends with music swirling and heroes walking off into a sunset. But lately there’s this sense that unless a movie is dark, violent and hopeless, it can’t be “real.” It can’t be “art.” It can’t truly “matter.”

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    While reading Mitch this morning and nodding my head — and watching my wife nod her head even more vigorously — I began thinking about a movie review that a pastor in Auburn, Washington, sent me a while ago and urged me to reprint in our pages. At that point, I hadn’t seen “There Will Be Blood,” based on a pot-boiler by Upton Sinclair. The Rev. Doug Bursch, who emailed his thoughts on the movie, talked about it in such negative terms that I had trouble accepting it — let alone publishing it — without having seen the film myself. (That’s a major commitment we make here at ReadTheSpirit — actually reading the books and viewing the films we talk about here.)
    But, it turns out, Doug was right!
    Here’s how Doug started his review: Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is a masterfully written, directed, and acted movie.  This Oscar nominated film is flawlessly executed in all matters but one.  Paul Dano’s portrayal of pastor Eli Sunday is nothing more than stereotypical, soulless fiction. 
    If you care to read more of Doug’s reflections, visit his personal Web site, Fairly Spiritual. Basically, he argues in his review that the movie fails to portray Pastor Eli Sunday as anything resembling a real human being in ministry. His character is merely a “vaudevillian caricature,” Doug said.

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    I do agree — although now that Mitch’s column has crystalized my own thinking — I would go even further. If you’ve seen “There Will Be Blood” and “No Country for Old Men” — you can understand the frustration Mitch feels, that I feel — and that presumably Pastor Doug probably feels, too — at the slate of best-picture nominees tonight. These aren’t just dark films — these are films in which evil, murderous sociopaths survive and even seem to thrive.
    Tonight, I will watch the Oscars. I love movies — and all the power that medium represents in our lives — so I’ll tune in to see how things unfold tonight.

    BUT, do you really want to make a difference?
    You can.

    This week — seek out a theater showing “The Great Debaters,” a terrific and suspenseful film about a real-life African-American college debate team in the early part of the 20th Century, or “The Bucket List,” which represents a completely different take on approaching the end of life. Go see those film, buy popcorn — and know that in plunking down your money in your local theaters to see these shows — you’re casting powerful votes as well!

COME BACK to this page on Monday for our second “Sure-Fire Plan for Books And Movies that Are Great With Groups”!
    THEN — Tuesday and Wednesday this week — you’ll meet the spiritual godfather of all those best-selling “Gospel According To …” books. AND — Thursday — we’ve got a completely new vision of Asia to share with you, following up on our popular series on spirituality that we reported from Asia.

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