Monday, October 27, 2008

Two Good Mormon News Sites

Mormon Times

LDS Today
Famous Mormons- I thought about making this subject a recuring feature on this blog and may yet still do so, however I thought some might find this rather lengthy and sometimes suprising list of interest.
Does Personal Experience Prove God's Existence? (3 min) Thoughts? A good sight for information on both sides of various arguments for the legitimacy of various Mormon beliefs. A warning though, most of this stuff is rather well researched, and those who don’t want to encounter potentially faith damaging information should probably avoid this site. I'm sorry if that sounds simplistic.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Three Recent Reviews

Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater (2006)

Documentary on landmark political figure Barry Goldwater, produced and narrated by his granddaughter C.C. Goldwater. In addition to covering the man’s storied political career, and his central role in the birth of the modern conservative movement, the film also explores Barrys many hobbies and interests, such as photography, flying, and the Hopi Indians. The sections covering Barry and his family relationships, including interviews with three of his four children, and his then 95 year old brother, were to me the most interesting parts of the film, as they revel a man very much devoted and caring for his family, but who had a difficult time expressing that love verbally and physically, and whose lone wolf streak resulted in a well maintained aura of distance from them.

Other things that caught me about Goldwater from this documentary was his very charming personality, and how despite his downright unfair demonization in the 1964 presidential campaign (1), was almost universally loved and respected on both sides of the isle in the Senate. Also quite interesting is what is sometimes referred to as Goldwater’s 'political evolution'. Pro-choice and gay friendly Barry would seem out of place among those politicians we call conservative today. But Goldwater would no doubt consider that a category error, and rightly so, his conservatism was about limited government interference in all aspects of peoples sovereign lives, not the imposition of religious or political orthodoxy upon them. In the arc of his strongly held convictions played out against a changing national political conversation, he is reminiscent to me of William Jennings Bryan, who started out as the great progressive championing bimetallism and women’s suffrage, but at the end of his life time seemed regressive do to his outspoken biblical literalism and involvement in Tennessee’s famous Scopes Monkey Trial. Goldwater, as he says of himself in archival footage, started out his career in the Senate opposing the exercise of undo influence on the government by unions, and ended it opposing the same from the Churches. Here is a figure just awaiting a proper contextual re-discovery, one who while in life dubbed Mr. Conservative, might today stand for the vast center of American political thought. 4 out of 5

1. Though Johnson had practically no chance of losing that race to Goldwater, the sitting President authorized a series of hateful and scorching political adds that would insight widespread furor if used today.

Religulous (2008)

I like Bill Maher, I even liked him when I hated him. He fills something of the role of a loyal opposition to the conventional wisdom, an important if not often well received avocation in this country, and the world at large. Maher’s new film, often labeled a documentary, though he prefers “unscripted comedy”, (a categorization that fits all the more well given that its directed by Larry Charles of Borat fame) is about religion, and how its... ridiculous. Or at least that’s what Maher, and as much as 16% of the country feel about the subject of religion now. In fact its that 16% to whom this film is mostly addressed, not just for that constituencies entertainment, but also to call for their mobilization. The film points out how atheists, agnostics, and the religiously uninterested represent the great untaped special interest group in American politics (only 1 of the 535 members of congress will admit to a lack of belief in God). Maher wants these people to rise up and assert their influence, noting how homosexuals and NRA members have done so quite effectively, and there only 3 and 1.2% of the population respectively. I have no doubt we will see more atheistic influence in this country as we become more like Europe in many of our collective sensibilities, and this will be quite helpful in quailing many of the political excesses of the religious right, though doubtless not without its own fallouts. Anyway I digress.

Religulous can be approach two ways, for its polemics, many of which have great merits, and for its entertainment value. For blogging comment safety purposes I’ll limit myself largely to the entertainment aspects. This movie is funny. It is also smart. Some of the great moments come simply from Maher’s facial expressions following any of a number of interview subjects making particularly incredulous statements. Maher stacks his film with religious persons whom it is easy not to take seriously, the Rabbi who is a militant anti-Zionist and once exchanged hugs with Iran’s president at a Holocaust deniers conference (one desperately wants to see that guy mocked), an ex R & B singer turned pastor fond of $2000 suits, a Muslim rap artist whose attempts at being insightful and nuanced only make him look foolish, and even tolerant of murder. True a handful of well educated religious people appear in the film, most notably two decidedly unorthodox seeming Catholic priests, but they seem mostly if not exclusively on Maher’s side (what’s the old joke about all Bishops in the Church of England being atheists). But as one reviewer said of the film, maybe its best just to ignore the parts about your own religion in the film (in my case Mormons get about 4 or 5 minutes of air time), and enjoy the skewering of everybody else’s. In a religiously charged world there can be some value to channeled venting, the 2 minutes or so spent watching audiences cheer the re-enacted beatings and lashings of Christ at a Bible themed amusement park, pretty much sums up most of my criticisms of Evangelical Christianity. This is provocative humor and social commentary of almost rare rawness, and thusly a joyous blessing to behold for those who have the stomach for it. I’m glade I was able to rush from my Tuesday night Doctrines of the Gospel class in time to see it. 4 out of 5.

Henry Poole is Here (2008)

A ‘Christian’ themed movie staring Luke Wilson, yes I was skeptical to when I first saw the televison adds. But Henry Poole is Here is better then the typical ‘Christian’ fair, in large part I’m sure do to the fact that its director Mark Pellington (The Mothman Prophecies, among others) has roots in film making beyond the particular ‘nich market’ one associates with the works of Kirk Cameron (and Wilsons a level or two above him as an actor to boot). Poole is the story of man diagnosed with an unspecified but rare terminal illness (this news broken by Richard Benjamin in a cameo role that makes you realize just how long its been since you saw Richard Benjamin in a movie) who buys a house on the street were he spent his troubled boyhood, with the intent to die there, quietly, alone, and most likely drunk. However the self imposed exile of this “sad and angry” atheist is not to be. You see his over enthusiastic real estate agent (Cheryl Hines) thought she got a good deal on a new stucco job for the house, but it left behind a water stain that very Catholic neighbor lady Adriana Barraza is just sure to be the face of Christ, and by extension a good candidate for official miracle statues. Poole fights this intrusion on his solace, and the well intentioned but unwanted concern of a number of acquittances, while simultaneously developing an affection for the beautiful single mother next door Radha Mitchell and her emotionally troubled young daughter Millie Morgan Lilly (Who from her first moment on screen, doe eyed and clutching the tap recorder she uses to capture the conversations of those around her, you just know is going to break your heart).

There’s a maturity here about human suffering that to me evoked Six Feet Under. At first I didn’t fully understand why, though this is a more sobber then typical ‘Christian film’, it certainty didn’t approach the darkness and vulgarity of the late HBO series. Upon reflection I think that what I was picking up on is how both works took what are often stereotypes we’ve seen before (Here the angry atheist, hot signal mom, latina catholic, Under, ageing ladies man, repressed housewife, arty teen) and presented them to us in a deeper, more honest way. I also liked the ambiguity of much of the film, and the fact that the atheist often has the strongest argument. I’d say I was 90% with this movie, it decided to give us something of a connect-the- dots happy ending, and I understand why, though that diluted the piece a little bit for me. Still a surprisingly strong film, that has genuine merit. This could easily end up on MySpace top 20 films I saw this year list. 4 out 5.