The Dictator film review

I have a love/loathe relationship with Sacha Baron Cohen.  The man is undoubtedly hilarious and appears fearless as evidenced by his comedic resume.  He is also smart, which is evident in the searing wit that his brand of gross out humor typically obscures to casual film bystanders.  Yet, I loathe him because his reliance on gross out gags, over sexed sense of humor, and reliance on trying to push the envelope get tiring…But lets not thrown the Baron out with the bath water. 

“The Dictator” reunites Baron Cohen with “Borat” and “Bruno” director Larry Charles (who also directed Bill Maher’s fiercely unbiased “Religulous”).  “The Dictator” is an entirely scripted work about “Supreme Leader” Aladeen (Baron Cohen) of the fictional country of Wadiya.  In the film, Aladeen is intent to kill and “lovingly oppress” his countrymen, but first must deliver a speech about nuclear weapons to the UN in New York.

The Artist as Storyteller

It happens to everyone, at an early age.  At some point in our wonder-filled Kindergarten experience, we were all handed a piece of paper smothered in dots.  And we were all instructed to carefully draw lines from one dot to another, following the numerical sequence, with the promise that an image would appear.  Thick crayons scrunched in our tiny hands, we all learned how to “connect the dots” and find the hidden pirate or giraffe or pumpkin.  It was like magic.

The ancients knew how to connect the dots too.  The Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians, the Chinese—they all pondered the night sky and grouped the stars into constellations upon which they tried to derive greater purpose and ultimate significance.  There were figures in the stars that pointed to something greater than themselves—ancient mythos, creation stories, immutable fates and foreboding omens—and although this was more related to superstition than truth, they all understood the concept that they were a part of something larger than themselves.

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The bestselling books of all time are stories

I've always been fascinating with Top 10 lists, especially when they involve books. I suppose that comes from being around books all my life: selling them, writing them and now publishing them. Just this week I ran across a Top 10 book list that made me stop and reflect on what makes a book a bestseller. Thanks to a post from Justin Taylor, I found a graphic showing the Top 10 books over the last 50 years (If you can't quite read the graph, click here for a closer look). It's a fascinating and instructive list for one very simple reason: 8 of the Top 10 books are stories.

Number one, of course, is the Bible, the greatest Story of all (and the bestselling book, not just in the last 50 years, but for all time and by a wide margin), followed by Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Alchemist, The Da Vinci Code, The Twilight Saga, Gone With the Wind, and The Diary of Anne Frank. The only exceptions are Quotations from Chairman Mao (otherwise known as The Little Red Book), and Think and Grow Rich (one of the bestselling "self-improvement" books of all time). And if you throw out Quotations from Chairman Mao, mainly because it's probably required reading in Chairman Mao's home country, you're left with just one book in the Top 10 most popular books of the last 50 years that isn't a story.

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Hear the Voice

David Capes is the Thomas Nelson Research Professor at Houston Baptist University. He is the author of numerous publications and is one of the top scholars and writers for The Voice, a new Bible translation that reads like a story with all of the truth and wisdom of God's Word. To illustrate how The Voice transports the reader into the Bible's narrative, Dr. Capes shows how the Bible's first verse reads in this new dynamic rendering of Scripture compared to a more traditional Bible version.

Here is Genesis 1:1 in the King James Version:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

That is a brilliant, simple, accurate translation of the Hebrew.  As we thought about our intended audience, however, it dawned on us how different the word “heavens” and “earth” are for us today compared to the ancients. 

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33 Films That Take Faith Seriously

Christian moviegoers sometimes lament the dearth of good, positive, realistic portrayals of faith in film. If Christians are portrayed in film, it’s usually as right-wing zealots (Citizen Ruth), scary pentecostals (Jesus Camp), or psychotic killers (Night of the Hunter). Or faith is reduced to schmaltzy simplicity, as in most “Christian films” (Facing the Giants, The Grace Card). But many films throughout cinema history have actually provided rich, artful portraits of faith. The following is a list of 33 films that take faith seriously; films I believe every Christian should make a point to see.

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Moving Beyond "Christian Films"

The filmmakers and many of the defenders of Blue Like Jazz have gone out of their way to distance Jazz from the “Christian film” stigma. Understandably. Director Steve Taylor even stirred up what really amounts to a non-controversy by declaring that the “Christian Movie Establishment… is out to get us,” going so far as to say that Sherwood Baptist (the church behind Courageous and Fireproof) issued a “fatwa” against Blue Like Jazz. 

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Trailer - For Greater Glory

Hey friends!  Check out a new trailer for the film "For Greater Glory," to be released later this year.  In addition, here's a description of the film: 

"What price would you pay for freedom?  In the exhilarating action epic FOR GREATER GLORY, an impassioned group of men and women each make the decision to risk it all for family, faith and the very future of their country, as the film’s adventure unfolds against the long-hidden, true story of the 1920s Cristero War ­the daring people’s revolt that rocked 20th Century North America.

Academy Award® nominee Andy Garcia headlines an acclaimed cast as General Gorostieta, the retired military man who at first thinks he has nothing personal at stake as he and his wife (Golden Globe winner Eva Longoria) watch Mexico fall into a violent civil war.  Yet the man who hesitates in joining the cause will soon become the resistance’s most inspiring and self-sacrificing leader, as he begins to see the cost of religious persecution on his countrymen…and transforms a rag-tag band of rebels into a heroic force to be reckoned with.  The General faces impossible odds against a powerful and ruthless government.  Yet it is those he meets on the journey - youthful idealists, feisty renegades and, most of all, one remarkable teenager named Jose ­ who reveal to him how courage and belief are forged even when justice seems lost."

Trailer: http://www.forgreaterglory.com/

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Higher Ground Film Review

A year or two ago, I had the chance to talk with David Di Sabatino about his film “Frisbee: Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher.”  Di Sabatino is a guy who has a lot of controversy surrounding him thanks to his less than generous accounts of people like Larry Norman and Lonnie Frisbee (just check out our comments sections for a little taste of the point/counterpoints being brought up in our onterview with him and coverage of his films, like this: http://www.conversantlife.com/film/bible-stories-of-broken-people-an-interview-with-david-di-sabatino).  Di Sabatino’s Bible stories are about leaders from the “Jesus People” movement, a counter-cultural revival wave that had a profound impact in the Southern California region. It is credited with sprouting both Calvary Chapel and The Vineyard evangelical church movements.
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Take Shelter Film Review

Schizophrenia is a frequently misunderstood mental health diagnosis.  It gets confused with Multiple Personality Disorder, where one assumes multiple identities.  But symptomatically, schizophrenia is more accurately characterized by visual and aural hallucinations, delusions, or the belief that there are people and objects in places where they actually aren’t.  “Take Shelter” is framed around this diagnosis, delivering what was one of the best films I have ever seen.  Rife with tension, brilliantly acted, and technically masterful, it deserves a place in your home theater line-up.

“Take Shelter” is a film about a family.  The Father, Curtis (Michael Shannon) and his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) live in a rural part of Ohio with their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart).  One day, Curtis walks outside into the rain, only to notice it is a dark yellow color.  From here, Curtis begins to have visions, hear sounds of thunder, and have nightmares which leave him frightened to his core.  Some of the visions are in dreams, others are while awake, but all of them feel real to Curtis.  To make matters more scary, be seems to be alone in his experiences.
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Voyeurism and Violence: A Reflection on The Hunger Games

It’s not often that I find a film to be better than the book, but The Hunger Games is such a one.  It’s an effective and engaging film in its own right, well worth seeing - and it confronts the viewer with important issues about our complex relationship with violence, voyeurism, and entertainment.

The Hunger Games, based on the book by Suzanne Collins, is set in a dystopian future in which North America is divided into twelve Districts under the control of the Capitol. Each year, every District must send two Tributes, a randomly chosen boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18, to fight to the death in the Hunger Games as a reminder of the Capitol’s power and a warning against rebellion. The story follows a girl named Katniss, who volunteers to be one of District 12’s Tributes in place of her younger sister.

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