To the outsider it looks like a lot of loud, rhythmic stomping, with arms held stiffly at the sides, which feels like the opposite of the graceful, majestic, flowing movement of ballet. And does anybody even notice the near-blasphemous reference to the producer/director/star using the same title, and tune, as the song praising Jesus of Nazareth? (Presbyterian Hymnal #302) Talk about a Messiah complex! But the critics are afraid to pan it because it’s so family-friendly.
“Paul”: The opposite tenor of the let’s-take-ourselves-too-seriously genre, where a wisecracking alien meets two British slacker geeks, fresh from a comic book convention, somewhere in the wasteland of the American West, and they try to help the alien return to his spaceship. The “R” rating is well-deserved for the language and innuendo, but the real objection, for the person of faith, is watching the sequence where the alien has to “heal” the super-religious crazy lady of her “superstitions,” which effectively erases any religious impulse at all. As if that’s a silly, useless, vestigial folklore that’s as ignorant as believing the earth is flat. Does anyone else notice that after her reverse conversion, she’s over-the-top scatological? As if what displaces the substance of religious conviction is pure sleaze? If that’s the alternative, maybe the strident superstition is preferable to the evangelistic nihilism.
“Red Riding Hood”: Here religion is very much on display, but of course in the bad guy, the priest, named Solomon (Gary Oldman), the self-appointed slayer of werewolves, and the witches who communicate with them. Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) plays Little Red Riding Hood, who lives in a dark, frightened medieval village, terrified of The Rampaging Wolf. She’s trying to decide between two suitors, one courtship arranged by her parents, and the other a childhood friend, the woodsman’s son. And when the wolf seems to leave her alone, the wicked priest is ready to start the witch trial. But no one is prepared for who the wolf really turns out to be. An awkward rendering of a twisted fairy tale.
“Kill The Irishman”: Ray Stevenson plays Danny Greene, an Irish-American who rose through the ranks of the dock worker’s union in 1970’s Cleveland to become the Irish thug who would dare to cross the Mob. Eventually, he’s isolated and eliminated, but in the aftermath the FBI gathers enough evidence to convict several crime families, so Danny Greene has become sort of a folk hero. Though charming to his constituency, he’s still a conscienceless thug, which is how he rose to prominence in the first place. So why is he romanticized?
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules”: The 2nd film installment of Jeff Kinney’s primitively illustrated humorous novels about a middle school boy, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) who’s a middle child, and it shows. He seems to be endlessly caught in awkward situations, but we root for him, anyway, because adolescence isn’t easy for anybody. Though it’s not trying to be a “Christian” movie, the family does go to church, and they do stick together as a family and try to love each other through it all, with sense of humor intact, which is a great spiritual model, whether self-consciously religious or not.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is co-pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville, Texas