Great Movie Round-Up

In the last few weeks I’ve watched several very good movies. Here’s a quick rundown of each:

  • Zodiac – This movie is an intense crime drama which depicts a hunt for a vicious serial killer in the 1960s and ’70s. Very tight plot and excellent performances by every actor involved. I liked how the movie made it plausible that the police involved in these sorts of investigations aren’t the infallible experts you might find on television, where everything gets wrapped up in a nice tidy bow.

 

  • Schindler’s List – A very artsy portrayal of the story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who goes from opportunistic profiteer to selfless humanitarian. A very hard film to watch, very much like the more recent 12 Years A Slave. It’s easily the best thing I’ve ever seen Liam Neeson in. The only other one that comes close is Batman Begins.

 

  • The Big Short – Promoted as a comedy, this expletive-riddled picture successfully dramatizes an explanation of the 2008 financial crises in a compelling manner. It’s humorous at some moments, and the plot is tight and smart, but it hardly qualifies as a genuine comedy, or even as a dark one. Christian Bale shows off his acting range nicely.

 

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – This movie was very long, very quiet, and very slow. Gary Oldman, another Dark Knight Trilogy alumni, does a good job with his role, as does every other actor in this movie. The film is something like a roller coaster: It slowly rises to the top of the ridge, before rushing downward and whizzing about through all the loops and sharp turns, and then grinding to a halt.
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Goodreads Review: Twelve Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I saw the movie adaptation of this gripping slave narrative on DVD three years after it came out in theaters.

The movie brutally related a terrible, horrifying, heartrending tale of pure injustice. My history teacher said that the movie reminded him of the film “Schindler’s List”, in that he thought it was a good movie, but would never want to watch it again.

Putting aside the movie, the book “Twelve Years a Slave” adds layers of personality to our narrator, Solomon Northup, renamed “Platt” after being kidnapped from his life of freedom in the north and being sold into slavery in 1850s Louisiana.

Northup relates his tale of woe in grinding detail. He relates the general customs and traditions of enslaved blacks, the way of life of a local Indian tribe, and the range of personalities exhibited by his several masters, from the kind-hearted Baptist minister William Ford, to the lecherous and sadistic Edwin Epps.

Frequently given are the full names of persons involved in the events Northup recounts. He wanted to demonstrate that it is a wholly true story. A modern writer would have gotten lost in these details, but Northup’s aptitude for succinct descriptions and biting sarcasm result in a slim read which could be finished in a weekend.

Padding out my edition, which I acquired at a bargain price from Barnes & Noble, are a series of essays. The include an essay by Steve McQueen, director of the 2012 film, along with essays on the subject of slave narratives by a handful of academics.

Unfortunately, I was not able to finish the final, concluding essay in my edition, as I unfortunately misplaced it soon after I had reached that portion. A pity, but I am glad to have read the book at all.

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To Catch a Thief: Better Days with Better Movies

In 1984 by George Orwell, the people of Oceania are tranquilized through an endless stream of mass-produced, low-quality entertainment, from pop music to pornography.

Winston attends a movie featuring the gruesome deaths of a ship full of refugees. Julia works as an operator of novel writing machines, all part of the sinister Party’s propaganda apparatus.

In our own world, things are little different.

The state may not directly control the American entertainment industry. But that does not change the fact there are few recent films which are both popular and good.

This was not always so. Case in point: To Catch a Thief, a thriller in which there is not a single gunfight, sex scene, or four-letter-word.

To Catch a Thief demonstrates that it is entirely possible to make a thrilling, high-caliber film without resorting to vulgarity and shock-value.

The film tells the story of a retired cat burglar living in France who must now clear his name after a new “cat” begins pinching the valuables of American tourists.

Released in 1955, the film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and stars Cary Grant in the lead role. By today’s standards, it is rather tame for a thriller.

At the same time, it would probably bore young children who have spent too much time on the internet or watching television.

But for those with an appreciation for vintage cinema, it is a wonderful, beautiful film.

From the opening scene which abruptly cuts from a pleasant opening credits montage to a screaming woman, to the car chase along a narrow country road, to the final revelation of the thief’s identity, there is not a dull moment in it.

The plot is smart and airtight. Everything makes sense and every detail matters.

Even a dilettante such as myself can see that it is a technical masterpiece. From what little I know of cinematography, To Catch a Thief excels. It did after all win an Oscar for it.

Nor is there a shred of real indecency. No blood is shed, no skin is shown, not a single obscenity is uttered.

The action is focused on the events taking place, in keeping with the chief strength of film.

Where gravity is required, subtler means are in place to communicate the feeling, such as when an angry cook crushes a handful of carrots in his fist.

There is romance, and plenty of smooching, but not in the egregious, titillating way found in modern films. Where such displays today are meant to sell tickets, in To Catch a Thief they are meant to sell characterization.

Nor is there a trace of profanity. I have heard plenty of reports about how films such as Manchester by the Sea are fawned over by critics, despite their rejection by mainstream audiences.

The chief complaint of such films is that they are both inanely bleak and utterly polluted with swearing.

(I have not seen Manchester by the Sea, chiefly because I do not care to spend $13.00 to sit through that sort of thing.)

Andrew Klavan has noted that in the days of the Hayes Office, in which Hollywood self-regulated the content of its films, even the mediocre films were good by today’s standards.

Now, says he, filmmakers can show anything on screen, and now most films “kinda suck.”

I firmly believe that with the Hayes Office in place, filmmakers were forced to be creative with the limits they had to work with.

They knew that if they wanted to appeal to a mass audience, they had to make their films as decent as possible. To Catch a Thief was a product of this age, as are many classic films.

The system worked because the majority of moviegoers were average Joes living in middle America who just wanted to watch a good movie without having to endure an exercise in pointless vulgarity.

Things have changed.

In the words of Cal Thomas: “Many old films are watchable today. Some are considered classics. I doubt most of today’s films will be worth watching in 50 years. They aren’t now.”

Image from rubinmuseum.org

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Monday Round-Up

Before I finish my series on Talk Radio, I thought I’d give a quick update about what I’ve been reading lately, some movies I’ve watched, and an idea I had for a startup.

Books

I recently finished reading two books related to Christianity and the church.

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer is a short, slim read that concisely and brilliantly makes the case for involvement by Christians in creating works of art, whether they be the fine arts or more popular mediums like cinema or the novel.

The only flaw was the truly asinine introduction by Michael Card. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson details how the modern American Evangelical church has embraced secularism in a misguided effort to attract large congregations.

Wilson is sympathetic to the motives behind this shift, but seems indecisive of whether the “church-growth” or “attractional church” models of churching are totally flawed or mildly good. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

Movies

I watched The Sound of Music all the way through for the first time a few weeks ago. It’s a truly charming film, containing many elements which are completely foreign to the modern era, such as positive depictions of the church and large families. I’d even go so far as to say that Maria von Trapp ought to be hailed as a Feminist icon.

My full review on Letterboxd here.

I also finished watching the German film Downfall last night. It was a very difficult film to watch, similar to Twelve Years a Slave. Depicting the final days of Adolf Hitler during the Battle of Berlin, we see that one of history’s greatest monsters was in fact quite gentle and kind in his private life, even if he believed and acted on truly reprehensible ideas and ambitions.

I intend to review the film in more detail on Letterboxd shortly.

Ideas

I’ve recently been going through some of the books listed in The Personal MBA reading list.

As a Bible and theology enthusiast, I began to realize that something like that really needs to be provided for pastors, preachers, and ministers.

I began doing research on whether you really need to have a Seminary education to be a pastor. I found this article by Albert Mohler who stated that in the end, the answer is “no.”

Mohler opines that while having a formal education in the Bible’s original languages, church history, systematic theology, exegesis and homiletics would be a splendid thing for all preachers to have, the fact is that the cost of such an education is incredibly high.

The result is that seminary graduates tend to leave with tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no way of affording the meager salary a small church can offer them.

This gave me an idea: What if there was a resource website, similar to that of The Personal MBA, which provided a list of the 99 best books on Pastoring and related topics?

What if someone created a website or wrote a book detailing such knowledge, intended for use by lay ministers or preachers who can’t afford a formal seminary education?

I could call it, “DIY Seminary.”

Must investigate further.

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Goodreads Review: Save the Cat!

Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever NeedSave the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first book on screenwriting I’ve ever read. Despite its subtitle, it made me want to read more books on screenwriting.

“Save the Cat!” is probably the most well-known book on screenwriting there is. For this reason, I see now that its advice has been disseminated among and copied by a multitude of other writers of books on writing, such as “You Can Write a Novel” by James V. Smith.

What all of the books I’ve read on the subject have in common is they all copy at least some of the advice in “Save the Cat!” in one way or another. Most of them also copy Blake Snyder’s smarmy style of writing.

But Snyder has a leg up on all of these posers. Unlike the majority of writers of books on writing, Snyder has actually written and sold screenplays to studios, and therefore has credibility.

At this point, the peanut gallery will probably say, “Well, just because he sold some screenplays doesn’t mean those screenplays were good.”

Meanwhile, this same peanut gallery (including other writers of screenwriting books) haven’t sold any screenplays. Presumably, if they knew how to write a good screenplay, they would have sold some by now.

The aforementioned James V. Smith, however, also uses this tactic, though he has to his name a handful of obscure military fiction novels, not quite the same as screenplays one sells to Hollywood big-wigs.

Smith therefore has all of Snyder’s ego but none of his achievements. If Smith had gotten a well-known book published by some big publisher that I’d heard of, that would be a different matter.

The advice Snyder himself gives is nothing short of eye-opening. He cuts right to the chase, spending little time hyping himself or trying to prove to his readers that they should believe him. Such an approach is all to common in modern guru books.

Snyder’s advice on genre, story structure, various tricks of the trade, and most importantly, “The Board,” are so fun to read about.

It’s more than just writing advice. Snyder is explicitly nonacademic in his approach, making it feel like you’re having a conversation with some guy you met at a Starbucks.

Indeed, Snyder is indeed a product of a unique era. He hailed from the spec-script hey-day of the 1990s, a prosperous time in Hollywood, yet just before the internet had fully blossomed into the informational juggernaut we know it as today. I wonder what he would have thought about the superhero craze that’s going on presently.

Snyder passed away in 2009. If he still lived, I imagine he would still be going strong in the era of Facebook, Twitter, and Web 2.0. Rest in Peace, Mr. Snyder, and good job on having “How to Train Your Dragon” dedicated to you. You would have appreciated it, I’m sure.

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Every Christian Movie I’ve Ever Seen Is Awful. But Why Do They Sell Tickets?

The last Christian movie I saw was a Pirates of the Caribbean-knock off called Beyond the Mask.

If the pretentious title wasn’t enough, the 2015 movie’s script followed all the standard beats of a Christian movie:

  • All Christians are perfect nice-guys (as in Fireproof and The Identical).
  • All non-Christians are jerks (as in Courageous and Flywheel).
  • Your youth pastor think it’s great (as in every Christian movie ever made).

The fact that the film was a technical and aesthetic monstrosity aside, I left the theater wondering why my fellow Christians continue to eat this garbage up.

Quite obviously, it’s not because the films are good.

Courageous was a clumsy grab-bag of sitcom humor, melodrama, and gunfights.

The Identical had an original concept, but everything but its logline caused me unintended laughter and cringing.

Fireproof is probably the Citizen Kane of Christian movies. (Some might opine that Facing the Giants, which I haven’t seen, deserves that title.)

Insofar as I can tell, its script, while minimally passable in terms of dramatic quality, was copied from a Christian marriage counseling book.

Titled The Love Dare, this totally real book was actually named and featured in the movie. I’ve heard of product placement, but this takes the cake.

Speaking of product placement, this leads me to the real reason that Christian movies continue to sell tickets at multiplexes.

Ready? Okay, say it with me:

Marketing!

Now it’s time for me to take off my film critic hat and put on the Marketing Guy hat.

Months in advance before the 2014 film God’s Not Dead was released in theaters, trailers and what-not found their way onto the computer screens of young, tech-savvy believers, their parents, and most importantly, pastors!

Okay, thought my teenage-self. This looks pretty cool.

Meanwhile, the filmmakers cut new trailers featuring big-name Christian media personalities such as that guy from Duck Dynasty and his wife and Christian rock band the Newsboys.

If my teenage-self kind of wanted to see that sucker then, I definitely wanted to now! It had the Newsboys in it, and I just loved their music!

That, my friends, is what we call a celebrity endorsement from an influencer to whom your target audience will pay attention.

As if all that wasn’t enough, as the time drew close for the film to be released, I heard rumblings from fellow churchgoers about the film, and how some were going to see it.

I’m fairly certain that at least some of my pastors mentioned it. I know for certain that one of them proclaimed his enthusiasm for the 2016 sequel, God’s Not Dead 2, from the pulpit.

But this wasn’t just positive word-of-mouth, though it was that too in retrospect.

It now wasn’t only an excuse to see a movie the Newsboys in it, it was a religious duty.

By paying twelve bucks to sit in a chair for two hours and watch that one kid from Good Luck Charlie literally debate philosophy with the guy who played Hercules, you were helping to propagate the Gospel.

In the end, I wound up not going to see any of the God’s Not Dead films. But I almost wish I did, just to see why everyone kept saying, “Oh, it was great.”

Nevertheless, God’s Not Dead had a box office of some $60 million, more than recouping its shoestring budget. Indeed, I recall 2014 being hailed as “The Year of the Faith-Based Film.”

Having not seen God’s Not Dead or its sequel, I cannot in good conscience comment here on its quality.

However, I can tell you that one of my more secular friends scandalously watched part of it on YouTube.

He is the sort of person whom I and my fellow Christians are told that we must help to evangelize to by supporting the film.

He thought it was boring and stupid.

Funny how that works out.

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Miracle on 34th Street: When Big-Wigs Had Big Hearts

This previous month, I watched Miracle on 34th Street as part of our tradition of watching Christmas movies during Christmastime.

When I watch old movies such as these, it always strikes me just how good they are.

There isn’t just a higher standard of cinematic craft in place, but the entire value system on which these old movies are built is drastically different from those of today.

In the film, a man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), claiming to be the real Santa Claus, becomes the Macy’s department store Santa Claus. He promptly sets out on a one man mission to spread genuine Christmas cheer.

What makes Miracle different is that it doesn’t cast the businessmen running Macy’s as dastardly villains, as a modern film might do.

Rather, it goes with the typical Old Hollywood policy of making sure that everyone gets their just deserts, no matter who they are.

Miracle on 34th Street not only demonstrates that businessmen weren’t typically castigated as scumbags in 1947, but that being decent is good for business.

A major theme in the film is the primacy of kindness and charity over the crass and ruthless desire to “Make a buck, make a buck,” as Alfred (Alvin Greenman) puts it.

Kris’s strategy for fighting this mentality is to refer the parents of children he sees as the department store Santa to other stores where they can find items that aren’t available at Macy’s.

Though his bosses are at first alarmed, the head of the store, R. H. Macy (Harry Antrim), makes Kris’s unorthodox tactic official store policy following an avalanche of public support.

As a result, Macy’s not only skyrockets financially, but sets an example for their competitor, Gimbel’s, to adopt the same policy. This feeling of charity and helpfulness leads the two stores to mend fences.

As I’ve written before, Old Hollywood was made up of people whose sense of morality bled into their art.

This principle is evident in Miracle on 34th Street‘s depiction of commercialism as a problem. Unless I’m very much mistaken, it’s the first in a long line of films to decry this particular ism.

The difference between Miracle‘s take on commercialism and others is that it presents a realistic motivation for someone like R. H. Macy to not be a Grinch.

Macy sums it up nicely when he says that by being “known as the helpful store,” they’ll make more profits than ever before. Mr. Macy is hardly a villain.

In fact, there are practically no villains at all in this charming picture, aside from the sleazy pseudo-psychiatrist Sawyer (Porter Hall).

Speaking of Sawyer, this leads us to one of the hallmarks of Old Hollywood: Justice is always served. Miracle is no exception.

In the course of the film’s events, the vindictive Sawyer is fired after orchestrating Kris Kringle’s unjust insanity hearing.

Fred Gailey (John Payne), the lawyer who defended Kris at the hearing, gets together with the Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), the leading lady who rediscovers faith in the good things in life.

Even Alfred gets a direct commendation from Mr. Macy himself, a fine reward for a kindhearted boy who enjoys dressing up as a street corner Santa Claus and giving kids presents.

Things have certainly changed since then. Businessmen are almost invariably portrayed as bad guys in the movies.

“Corporation” might as well be a portmanteau of “corrupt organization.”

The question isn’t whether change has occurred. (It has.)

The question isn’t even whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. (It’s a bad thing, no doubt.)

The real question, the one I want to know the answer to, is why this change happened at all.

Image courtesy of hark.com.

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Popularity is Amoral

Many authorities seem to believe that if something is popular, it is therefore low quality. This is particularly true when it comes to works of fiction.

This is nonsense. There are plenty of popular works of fiction which are also good.

Inception. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. (Both the books and the films.)

Likewise, there is plenty of tripe out there which is enormously popular.

Twilight. (Both the books and the films.) Fifty Shades of Grey. (Ditto.) Most Adam Sandler movies.

The exact opposite of these two parallels are also true.

There are works of artistic genius mostly ignored by audiences (Twelve Years a SlaveLincolnHugo) and equally obscure works of utter hackwork (Dylan Dog: Dead of NightRepo Men).

In the end, popularity (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. It’s amoral, like money. (See 1 Timothy 6:10).

The only thing that matters is why something is popular.

The Dark Knight was popular not just because it was good (that’s what made it memorable) but because it had a kick-butt marketing campaign (see here).

Similarly, the Twilight movies were popular not because they were good (they weren’t), but because they had a kick-butt marketing campaign (see here).

The principle of popularity being amoral can be seen everywhere. The films put out by Marvel Studios are generally mediocre aesthetically, but people do go to see them.

The late Roger Ebert said as much in his review of the 2011 Thor movie:

“Thor” is failure as a movie, but a success as marketing, an illustration of the ancient carnival tactic of telling the rubes anything to get them into the tent.

On the other side of the coin, Marvel’s Netflix properties, such as Daredevil and Luke Cage, are both television masterpieces and smash hits with audiences.

As I discussed a few months ago, more genuinely good artistic endeavors would be financially successful if one or both of the following were true:

  • If people had more disposable income.
  • If more artists had an entrepreneurial mindset.

The political economy of the arts and entertainment industry, it is definitely more feasible at this moment for artists to hustle up and market the heck out of their art rather than to wait around for a more forgiving economy.

Until then, rest assured that popularity neither certifies a film as good nor condemns it as bad.

It just is.

Note: I realize that in a past postArt Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)“, I stated that popularity “generally” denotes quality, in that there must be a good reason for many people to pay for something. I now realize, in keeping with the subject of this post,  that this reasoning is crude, if not without merit. I intend to expand on this point in a future post.

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We Cannot Trust Modern Depictions of the Past. Watch Old Movies Instead.

When it was announced in May that ABC’s Agent Carter would be cancelled, I wondered if it would have succeeded if it had been kinder in its depiction of the Greatest Generation.

The male denizens of 1940s America in Captain America: The First Avenger were heroic stalwarts willing to fight and die for a noble cause.

By contrast, nearly every male character in Agent Carter is a portly desk-jockey with no regard for women. It would almost be caricature, except that the show takes itself completely seriously.

But even a brief examination of a few movies actually made in that era demonstrate a far different world. Women are respected by men as equals, being strong characters in their own right, and are often in positions of authority themselves.

Francis Schaeffer wrote that all art reflects the worldview of the artist. Logically, classic films depicting noble treatment of women in contemporary times are in line with a worldview that endorses such behavior in reality.

In a time when modern period pieces pull out all the stops to remind us just how stupid and backward our ancestors were, a more accurate picture of the past can be found in classic films.

In the 45 minute televised installment that was the pilot episode of Agent Carter, the eponymous heroine, played by Haylie Atwell, struts about post-World War II New York City as a secret agent.

The show takes every opportunity to remind us that all men are fat, lazy, sexist pigs, except for the subservient Jarvis (James D’Arcy).

One handicapped colleague who does stick up for Carter is immediately chastised by our heroine for thinking that she couldn’t fight her own battles. One wonders how exactly Carter wants men to behave.

Another fellow chews out a waitress, stating that the Nazis who put him in a POW camp gave him better food. I found myself contemplating how that rotund gentleman would ever have been accepted for military service.

Agent Carter isn’t the only modern TV show to follow this trend. A Christmas special for the popular BBC drama Sherlock re-imagines the show in Victorian London.

Once again, nearly all male characters are unrivaled sexists. In this take on the 1890s, Women are treated as mere chattel. The episode’s antagonists are a bizarre cult of suffragettes whose murders Holmes justifies in his concluding summation of the mystery.

Contrast this rubbish to the 1957 film Desk Set, starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

With a tight script and a fun plot by today’s standards, this romantic comedy depicts women working in the offices of a large media corporation on a level equal to that of men and critical to the organization’s function.

In fact, the main conflict within that film isn’t the typical feminist cliche of women being hampered and discriminated against due to their sex. Rather, the conflict arises from the introduction of new technology into the workplace.

Take another film, Deadline – U.S.A. This 1952 film starring Humphrey Bogart shows multiple women not only in positions of power and influence, but almost universally in a positive light.

It features the owner of the newspaper which Bogart’s character runs, an elderly matron. She herself summarizes the problem with many female characters in fiction today, complaining that girls in her day are “all gall and no guts.” There’s also a career woman, a tough reporter and a respected member of the newspaper staff.

Regarding the Sherlock Christmas special, I recall a 1954 American Sherlock Holmes TV serial. In one episode, an English lord’s wife takes the blame for a murder apparently committed by her husband.

This particular husband, however, is not an oafish pig. Rather, he’s a man in a position of power suddenly put in an impossible situation.

Holmes deduces that the murder was actually committed by the lord’s secretary, the wife having taken the blame in order to keep her husband free of scandal in the midst of sensitive diplomatic wrangling.

Both Holmes and the husband commend the woman for her moral courage. In fact, all of the men do so, except for the weaselly secretary, who is arrested for his crime.

This is a very different take on Sherlock Holmes than we have recently seen.

My brief survey of a few obscure films and television programs is hardly comprehensive in nature, but perhaps you’ve heard of this one: Miracle on 34th Street.

This hugely popular film featuring a female lead in a position of authority (Maureen O’Hara) was critically acclaimed when it was first released in 1947. Surely the homogeneously misogynistic world of Agent Carter wouldn’t stand for such a thing!

Unless, of course, our television programs have been lying to us.

I have long since resolved not to watch much television in general, or even movies. Modern period pieces are almost always suspect in either medium.

But I will be happy to watch any film made prior to the 1970s. I daresay that people living in those times had a much better perspective on what the world was like in their era than we do today.

Image: Scene from Deadline – U.S.A. – Source: HamptonRoads.com

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Casablanca: Old Hollywood’s Take on Being the Good Guy

I recently watched the 1943 film Casablanca, as part of my current preoccupation with old movies.

Set during World War II, it depicts the struggle of an American expatriate (Humphrey Bogart) who runs a Moroccan nightclub when his long-lost lady love (Ingrid Bergman) suddenly shows up with her husband, attempting to evade agents of Nazi Germany.

What interested me about Casablanca was how it presented a world far more tangled, wretched, and realistic than any modern depiction I can recall. Inception and The Dark Knight are creampuffs in comparison, even losing in terms of how tight their respective plots are.

At the same time, however, this mature, flesh-and-blood cinema manages to do all this without sinking into the thrall of violence and profanity. It tackles mature content with class.

Most importantly, it elevates the values of an older class of hero. This isn’t done to mockingly kick him from his pedestal, but to present him for serious study and reflection.

Casablanca provides a window into the world of the Greatest Generation, a world far more complicated that today, contrary to those who have inherited Hollywood might say.

To begin with, this film was created in the thick of an event which defined the twentieth century and continues to reverberate into the twenty-first. The Second World War influenced our art, our economy, our foreign policy, our manner of education, and even our eating habits.

For too many people my age it is little more than a mythical backdrop to the careers of Captain America, the Flash (Jay Garrick, that is) and Indiana Jones.

But when you realize that every piece of art reflects the worldview of the artist, as I believe Francis Schaeffer noted, you must conclude that the opinion of artists about that time concerning the war will color every form of art, including film, created during that time.

Suffice it to say, Casablanca firmly plants its feet not in the camp of the Allies or the Axis, but in the camp of Good as opposed to the camp of Evil. It is decidedly apolitical in a context and narrative backdrop where contemporary politics is pervasive.

To say this may sound strange, considering that in this case, Good is clearly personified by the Allies and Evil by the Axis, particularly the Nazis.

But when I say that Casablanca is apolitical, I only mean that it would make no difference whether the Allies or the Nazis won the War, either within the realm of fiction or in reality. What matters is that one side was Good and the other side was Evil, and the identity of both is obvious.

Rick, the protagonist played by Humphrey Bogart, emphatically cracks down on “politics” in his bar. But he unreservedly sacrifices his own personal happiness to make sure his former lover and her husband, an anti-Nazi journalist, can escape to safety.

Later, his reward is to join the fight against the Nazis on the side of the Free French, along with the lovably corrupt Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), who turns over a new leaf in the final minutes of the film.

Columnist Mark Tooley wrote in a 2010 piece in The American Spectator about the differences between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood. According to Tooley, “Old Hollywood privately misbehaved but publicly was glamorous and classy. New Hollywood is proudly trashy.”

Casablanca is very much a product of Old Hollywood. I’m no scholar of film history, having only the most rudimentary knowledge of the subject. But as I understand it, Old Hollywood knew that it’s easy to be decent when you inevitably get the girl at the end.

But when being good means not getting the girl, not coming home covered in glory, and not getting the commendation of your peers and mentors, it’s a little harder.

Casablanca plainly tells us that if you keep deciding to be one of the good guys until the end, despite all that, you’ll at least be one of the good guys. And that’s it.

As a Christian, if one translates “being one of the good guys” to “trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal salvation,” then one’s eternal reward will be far greater than anything that I just described.

Aesthetically, the film is stunning. Morally, the film is saintly, perhaps in the manner of David, in keeping with the Jewish heritage of Michael Curtiz, the director.

Most importantly, it’s a film that every man, woman, and child should see, and that is final.

Image courtesy of irishnews.com

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