Thursday, September 04, 2014

"The Identical" — movie review

Movie: The Identical
Length: 107 min
Rated: PG
Starring: Amanda Crew, Ashley Judd, Seth Green, Ray Liotta, Joe Pantoliano, Blake Rayne
Director: Dustin Marcellino

I was offered screening tickets on this movie, which will be released tomorrow, September 5, 2014. The trailer looked iffy, to a jaded and oft-blackened eye. Was this going to be yet another by-the-numbers parody of fundamentalist Christians, written by people who neither personally know nor like any actual Christians? Would the son be all deep and conflicted and "I just gotta follow my dream, Daddy!", and would the father be all "Then roast in Hell, demon-child, with that Hellish rock and roll of yours!"? The trailer sure looked like it could be.

Boy, I'm glad we didn't see that movie.  Oh, sorry — should have said "spoiler alert."

At any rate, despite the trailer, "The Identical" had possibilities, and it had "Date Night" written all over it, so the missus and I escaped to the showing. We were both braced but, as usual, set ourselves to maintain open minds.

The opening scenes were a very strong frame-setter, taking us back to the Great Depression in black and white footage. We are introduced to a couple (the Hemsleys) trying to make a living in a jobless economy, and eventually dealing with the birth of twin boys. Enter pastor Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and his wife Louise (Ashey Judd), conducting a "revival" in the area. Father attends, and is struck by an idea by inspiration.

Now, here is a typical juncture that touches on my slightly conflicted feelings about the movie. The first words from this southern preacher are very clearly about God's love for people of all races. Whew, one obvious and well-traveled stereotype dodged. Then the preacher slides aside to share personally about his and his wife's disappointment in a recent miscarriage, frustrating their desire to have a child. They're both in tears, and he asks all there to pray for them.

You see? It's a sweet moment, in itself: human, personal. Pastor and wife are treated like multi-dimensional human beings, and likable ones at that. That's very much in the "plus"-column, and at variance from the usual "all-Fundamentalists-are-shallow-hypocritical-hateful-cartoonish-racists" script.

And yet, there's not the least preaching of the Gospel per se, despite the "revival" setting. Not a whiff.

More on that later.

Regardless, this plants an idea with the twins' dad, which eventually is accepted by their mom: give one of the twins to pastor and wife to raise. The Wades are reluctant at first, and they actually try to give money to the destitute Hemsleys to help them (— another welcome step aside from the stereotypical portrayal of all pastors as greedy takers). In the end, the Wades accept the boy, and the Hemsleys conduct a fake funeral to explain the twin's absence.

This becomes the frame for a sort of "What if Elvis Presley's stillborn identical twin had lived, and had been raised by different parents?" story. Drexel, the boy raised by his birth parents, becomes a famously successful rock singer, whose style and look and trajectory is very like Presley — down to concerts, TV spots and corny movies.

And what of the other twin, Ryan? There are pleasantly authentic scenes of Pastor Wade trying to get little Ryan to memorize his Bible (only singing the verses works for him), and attend church. Again, the parents are sympathetic and likable, but no specific Gospel is preached. One never really finds out what Ryan believes. (In fact, one never finds out a great deal of what the preacher-father believes.) Ryan tries Bible school, but he doesn't feel "the call." What Ryan does feel is love for rock and roll. He goes to a "speakeasy," sings, and eventually (post-military-stint) finds a career doing concerts, playing unknown twin brother Drexel's music. Ryan looks and sounds so much like Drexel that, in fact, that he is billed as... wait for it... "The Identical."

Both twins are played by newcomer Blake Rayne. He's adequate and plenty likable, and one isn't surprised to learn that he won an Elvis impersonator competition.

So, what'd we think of the movie?

We liked it, basically. And we recommend it. It really is a "family-friendly" movie. There isn't a bad word or salacious syllable or image in it. We chuckled a number of times.

While we never really learn what Ryan thinks about Jesus or the Gospel, he does love and appreciate his parents who raised him, and they love him. To the end, Liotta and wife are sympathetic characters, and virtually every stereotype is dodged. The only truly odd thing about them is that Liotta's character ages dramatically — but his wife stays pretty much the same.

Yet, as characters, they are easy to sympathize with. Usually it is obvious that the screenwriters viscerally hate what they think Christians are in general, and what they think clergy are in particular. In this case, none of that could be found here.

The Identical won't make the starry annals of all-time great moviemaking, but it is fun and pleasant. There are a number of genuine laughs. Loved the presence of Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano, both of whom are a lot of fun and clearly had a good time with their roles.

The survey I was given after the screening asked questions along the lines of whether I'd recommend taking church groups or in other ways making the movie a church activity. My answer was no. I was astonished to learn that pastors have developed some sort of teaching to parallel the movie. I don't see it as having any very particular Gospel or Biblical tie-in whatever.

That said, it would make for a pleasant family watch, with a very 50s feel. After that, you could discuss what was missing (HEL-LO! THE GOSPEL), and the fact that for all his obvious love for his son, Dad seemed a lot more concerned that Ryan feel "the call," and a lot less concerned that he have saving faith in Christ.

Final word: worst possible reading. This has been a charitable review. However, the advertising really stresses the follow your dreams theme, and injects the notion that if God is in your dreams, nothing can stand against them. This, thankfully, is not as heavy-handedly preached in the movie. I don't even recall Ryan making that connection once... and that's a good thing.

While non-Christians apparently love that message, I think the promoters are unwise to stress it insofar as they want to reach out to Christians. Because that idea is in fact peddled today as a substitute for the Gospel, and it bears no resemblance. The Gospel is about my ruin in sin, my alienation from God, and the truly amazing work of God in Jesus Christ to reconcile sinners to Himself. None of that is in the movie. That the Christians are likable, real people is a refreshing change in a movie, and that's worth something.

But it isn't the Gospel.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Here's how it works in the aftermath of a sad but not-entirely-surprising fall

I'm here to help you.
  1. If a man becomes a celebrity-pastor too hastily; and if he publicly and doggedly displays and defends traits that, if unaddressed, will (A) ruin him and (B) harm those he should be serving and (C) set a horrible example for those emulating him, it's wrong to say anything about any of that equally publicly.
  2. If men who should know better promote this celebrity pastor and his ministry, thus effectively giving cover to his besetting sins, it's wrong to warn of possible dire consequences, let alone express concern for the ministries of the worthy men who enable him.
  3. If the man does indeed crash and burn, it is wrong to say anything about it other than what a tragedy it is and how you hope he feels better soon. Specifically, it is wrong to mention that it was completely predictable, wrong to note that it could have been prevented, wrong to lament that those who had the man's ear evidently did not effectively issue corrective warnings — and really, really wrong even to hint that you yourself had tried to say something in a timely manner, and that it might have helped if those now dabbing their eyes with tissues had joined in when it might have counted for something, and express the hope that they might reassess how they approach such things.
Because if those people admitted their error and really did reform, things like this might not happen so often, ministries might be saved and saints protected, and fundamental needed systemic change might occur... which, come to think of it, would be a really great thing...

But anyway:


You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why didn't the amillennialist cross the road?

I recently had the pleasure of a chat with good brothers Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, and esteemed sister Aimee Byrd.

The latter favored me with a list of reasons why the dispensationalist would not cross the road. I thought it would be unkind not to offer her the same filial gesture, and so... ten reasons why the amillennialist would not cross the road:
  1. The road is Jesus. Why would I want to cross Jesus?
  2. This road is not mentioned in the Three Forms of Unity.
  3. So many have already crossed it before me. Who am I to cross it for myself?
  4. "Road" sounds so literal...which means it's carnal, which means no.
  5. 2000 years ago roadcrossing was inaugurated, so I'm already living in the Age of The Other Side of the Road.
  6. Nobody said anything about this road before 1800.
  7. Hal Lindsey crossed a road once. You'll never catch me doing it.
  8. Crossing the road might be taken to mean two ways of salvation.
  9. Pretty sure Calvin, Knox, Owen, Berkhof and Van Til never crossed this road, and they're my heroes.
  10. Most people who cross roads are not Calvinists.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Music - Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins

Nothing about this isn't fun — particularly how clearly tickled a guitarist as great as Clapton is to be playing with his elder counterparts.


(Thanks to Jeremiah Halstead for the recommendation)

Friday, June 20, 2014

On the other hand: when literal is misleading

In today's post at Pyro I make the point that sometimes less-literal translations can mislead and/or obscure the original author's point. Here I observe that the reverse can also be true.

In Tremper Longman's commentary on Proverbs, he translates Prov. 9:4b this way: "she says to those who lack heart." The bolded phrase is a rendering of  חֲסַר־לֵב (chasar-lēb). It is very literal, and literally accurate — could be "lacking heart" or "short on heart."

You'll see that all versions get a little dynamic here, ranging from "him who lacks sense" (so essentially ESV, CSB, NIV, RSV, NRSV, etc.), to "him who lacks understanding" (so essentially NAS, NET, ASV, KJV, NKJV), to "those who lack good judgment" (NLT).

So what does "heart" mean? Here's what I said in God's Wisdom in Proverbs:
Contrary to years of Christian traditional definition, the heart is not primarily the seat of the emotions, but rather of intellect, volition, and evaluation. It is used specifically of memory in various places, including Deuteronomy 4:39 and Proverbs 4:21.
Wouldn’t “brain” be the better modern term for this idea? Why is the heart used for the mind, rather than “brain”? As a matter of fact, the word “brain,” as a part of the body, is never mentioned in the OT. The word simply was not in use in the Hebrew working vocabulary as it is in modern English. The question is not, “Why didn’t the Hebrews use our word,” but rather, “What Hebrew word (if any) has a meaning equivalent to ‘brain’?”—and usage shows that the answer is, “Heart.”

[Phillips, D. (2011). God’s Wisdom in Proverbs: Hearing God’s Voice in Scripture (p. 115). Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources.]
So why not translate it literally, as Longman does? Because "lacking heart" is a familiar English expression with an established meaning. When we say someone "lacks heart," we aren't saying that he is deficient when it comes to God-fearing wisdom, as Solomon means. We mean that he lacks courage, he lacks fortitude, he lacks spirit — none of which is Solomon's sense.

So there we have to opt either for something a bit dynamic, as above, or do what I do: "short on brains," with a footnote like "Literally 'lacking of heart.'"

Because in this case, the literally literal is literally misleading.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"The glory of Yahweh"

In my reading today I came across a particularly great statement from Gerhard von Rad on the glory of man and of Yahweh. I salted it through a dozen or so verse-notes in my BibleWorks, and share it with you:
If in relation to man כָּבוֹד [glory] denotes that which makes him impressive and demands recognition, whether in terms of material possessions or striking gravitas, in relation to God it implies that which makes God impressive to man, the force of His self-manifestation. As everywhere attested in the OT, God is intrinsically invisible. Nevertheless, when He reveals Himself, or declares Himself, e.g., in meteorological phenomena, one may rightly speak of the כְּבוֹד יְהוָֹה [glory of Yahweh], of a manifestation which makes on man a highly significant impression. The more seriously religious reflexion took the idea of Yahweh’s invisibility and transcendence, the more this expression for the impressive element in God became an important technical term in OT theology. [Gerhard von Rad, art. δόξα (glory), in Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.]

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is it... can it be...? (Hebrew accent)

So here's a word from Proverbs 6:10.

It could be transliterated as ma`at, and it means "a little," or "a bit." Let me show you a couple of things about it. First, the large characters are the consonants:

Next, the little figures under the consonants are the vowel-points:

That leaves the little odd squiggle above the word, which is the accent:


The accents all mean something, and every word has an accent. My question is:

Does that accent mean that this is the word that will defeat Voldemort?


Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Music — Misirlou / Miserlou

I know. Strangest Title Ever. But I like to start the week with something light and fun if possible, and This is That.

Strange title, yes. But you know it, probably by the spelling "Miserlou."

"I don't know it at all," you say? Give THIS a listen. It's a recording titled "Mousourlou," by Greek bandleader Michaelis Patrinos, from around 1930.

Didn't do it for you? How about this sultry version from around 1947, sung in Greek by a crooner named Danai? Here are the lyrics, according to Wikipedia
Greek
Μισιρλού μου, η γλυκιά σου η ματιά
Φλόγα μου 'χει ανάψει μες στην καρδιά.
Αχ, για χαμπίμπι, αχ, για λε-λέλι, αχ,
Τα δυο σου χείλη στάζουνε μέλι, αχ.

Αχ, Μισιρλού, μαγική, ξωτική ομορφιά.
Τρέλα θα μου 'ρθει, δεν υποφέρω πια.
Αχ, θα σε κλέψω μέσα από την Αραπιά.

Μαυρομάτα Μισιρλού μου τρελή,
Η ζωή μου αλλάζει μ' ένα φιλί.
Αχ, για χαμπίμπι ενα φιλάκι,άχ
Απ' το γλυκό σου το στοματάκι, αχ.

Translation
My Misirlou (Egyptian girl), your sweet glance
Has lit a flame in my heart.
Ah, ya habibi, Ah, ya leh-leli, ah (Arabic:
Oh, my love, Oh, my night‎)
Your two lips are dripping honey, ah.

Ah, Misirlou, magical, exotic beauty.
Madness will overcome me, I can't endure [this] any more.
Ah, I'll steal you away from the Arab land.

My black-eyed, my wild Misirlou,
My life changes with one kiss
Ah, ya habibi, one little kiss, ah
From your sweet little mouth, ah.
I bet you're getting it now.

Here's the version you're likelier to know.


Pretty funny, in some ways. My, rock videos have changed. Dale himself looks like he's having fun, but the band... yikes. Double-yikes on the drummer. He seems troubled. I thought drumming was fun. And - no idea what the saxophonist is doing.

Back to the song. What you may not have known — as I did not know — is that the song is very old, not Amreican, and probably was written in the 1800s. It is (as you see) about an enchanting little Egyptian girl.

But then in the 1960s, a ten-year-old kid challenged Dick Dale (King of the Surf Guitar) to play a song on just one string. Dale told him to come back the next day. Dale was actually Lebanese-American, born Richard Mansour; he thought of music he'd heard at weddings, picked Misirlou/Miserlou, and decided to ramp up the speed. Hence, Miserlou.

Here's a more recent version, by Dale. Music begins at 1:25.


Sources:
Wikipedia
Dinosaur Gardens (which says the Wikipedia article contains many errors)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Music - Fal$e Teacher$, by Shai Linne

Given the recent discussions of false teaching in connection to the Strange Fire conference, this seems like a timely performance to feature. (Could not find a live performance).


Here's Shai Linne himself giving some back-story.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Homeschoolers: Alpha Omega Publications sale tomorrow

Homeschooling material sale tomorrow 
Friday, January 31, 2014

I'm just going to present you with their ad material, for convenience's sake. I know a lot of my readers homeschool, and every penny saved is a good thing!

ALPHA OMEGA PUBLICATIONS ANNOUNCES “HOMESCHOOL SNOW DAY” SALE WITH SAVINGS OF 20 PERCENT
Leading Christian Homeschool Curriculum Provider Launches
One-Day Sale on Educational Materials

Rock Rapids, Iowa (January 28, 2014– Alpha Omega Publications (AOP), the leading provider of academically rigorous, Christian educational resources for homeschool families, is holding its firstHomeschool Snow Day sale extravaganza on Friday, January 31. Families visiting aophomeschooling.comfrom 12 a.m. (MT) to 11:59 p.m. (MT) on January 31 will receive 20 percent off of all curriculum and other educational resource purchases.
  
The Homeschool Snow Day sale will feature savings on five innovative and time-tested homeschool curriculum programs for grades PreK-12, including: Monarch, Switched-On Schoolhouse, LIFEPAC, Horizons and The Weaver Curriculum.

“The Homeschool Snow Day sale is one of our largest sales of the year and with the homeschool market continuing to grow, we expect to see an increase in families who take advantage of these savings,” said Beth TeGrotenhius, COO at Alpha Omega Publications. “With 35 years of experience in homeschool curriculum development, we are fortunate to have established a proven track record of success and a solid reputation as a trusted provider. We look forward to offering families the opportunity to save money on the education resources they need to support their homeschooling efforts.” 

In addition to receiving 20 percent off during AOP’s one day sale, those who visit the company’s Facebook page between now and January 31 who “like” and comment on the Homeschool Snow Day sale post – pinned to the top of the company’s page – will be entered into a random drawing to receive an extra 10 percent off their final purchase.
   
The one-day sale includes free standard ground shipping in the continental United States for all orders of $50 or more.  Connect with Alpha Omega Publications on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest to learn more about the Homeschool Snow Day sale and for tips on other fun snow day activities.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday music - re-do!

Last week I posted a collection of clips, the third and climactic of which featured the amazing Terry Kath's guitar track for "What's This World Comin' To?" But there were technical issues, the track disappeared for days, only reappearing later in the week.

It's so good that today, I'm just adding a bit and telling you to go listen to it.

This is one of those songs that is vintage Chicago at its best, yet it's a song that was never a hit. It is a tight, complex, multi-phase number, featuring everyone in the band. Each of the three main lead vocalists (Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera, and Terry Kath) takes a turn. The horns are tight and emphatic. Danny Seraphine's all over on the drums. Pete Cetera lays down a crazy-hot bass line.

But behind and through it all is the inimitable Terry Kath. You probably can't appreciate the cat fully unless you've tried to play guitar, as I have. He was head and shoulders over most players. His bandmates say he could play rhythm guitar, lead guitar, and sing all at the same time. While that may not be strictly possible, there's no doubt that the man could shift gears from rhythm to a complex little riff for seasoning faster than a gunslinger could slap leather. Just absolutely a marvel.

This third track gives something of a feel for that. Another guitarist would have just hammered basic chords. Kath laid down a whole complex landscape, and still threw off some dizzying riffs.

I can't say enough about it. In fact, I'm done. Just go listen.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday music — highlighting mastery of Terry Kath in "What's This World Comin' To?"

On of my favorite never-was-a-hit Chicago tunes comes from the sixth album and is titled "What's This World Comin' To?" I just found a real treat of a version of that song.

Warming up to the treat, first you can listen to the very tight, rockin' studio version. Lead vocals from the three main singers (Kath, Lamm, Cetera), all sorts of funk.

Then watch this, from their (I think) 1973 TV special "Chicago in the Rockies":


Ah, the best band at their best. But wait, there's more! Listen to this track that isolates Terry Kath's frenetic guitar work on the song, just the horns and him:


Awesome, underappreciated talent.

UPDATE 1: ack. It was up yesterday, it's down today. I'll keep this post up, and see if I can either find out what happened or find another source. Sorry!

UPDATE 2: All day, no explanation. If it becomes available again, I'll probably create a new post. It's that fun.

UPDATE 3: Yay, it's live again (as of 1/24/2014, anyway)!