About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Friday, April 22, 2011

10 of My Fave Easter Flicks

Lucas will eventually get around to this version...

10. Night of The Lepus (1972)

Giant killer rabbits terrorize rural America. Yep. That's your basic premise of Night of the Lepus.

Originally, titled Rabbits, the studio got spooked that audiences would find the premise of a horror movie about giant killer rabbits silly.


The movie was retitled Night of the Lepus so as to keep the true nature of the monsters mysterious. The studio must have been banking on the assumption that horror movie audiences did not have even the most rudimentary grasp of Latin or scientific terminology.

Another key studio marketing strategy relied on hoping  that anyone who saw the film would never speak to anybody about the movie ever.

Night of the Lepus is Deforest Kelley's only non-Star Trek role between the cancellation of landmark cult SF series in 1969 and the actor's death in 1999.  And the poor guys doesn't even get top billing.  Whether that's sad or not depends on which camp you fall into regarding opinions on Night of the Lepus.

There are three basic attitudes towards the low-budget 1972 movie: "Night of the Lepus is an awful horrible movie.", "Oh, man, that's so bad it's hilarious!" and "What is Night of the Lepus?".  Whatever your viewpoint, one thing is for sure. When you are dealing with a movie that attempts to make giant bunnies terrifying, you cannot fault director AC Lyles for not taking risks.

Night of the Lepus is a favourite of the MST 3000 and Riff  Trax crowd. My personal feelings about are closer to theirs.

I never associated Night of the Lepus with Easter until a few years ago when the now defunct cable network Drive-In Classics, ran it on Easter Sunday.  Now it joins the ranks of biblical movies, chocolate rabbits and bonnets.

This is how they sold the movie:

And this is what the movie actually was...

9. Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1972)

Easter is about chocolate. Some might say it is about the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps those are people who have never tasted chocolate.  Some of my strongest memories of Easter involve not only chocolate but also of massive amounts of over indulgence in chocolate.

Aside from being a great musical with lots cool looking watered-down-for-mainstream-America type hippie images, Willy Wonka does speak to issue of excess consumption. It does, in fact, speak very strongly to many of the more negative personality traits, like overindulgence that children have an unfortunate tendency to develop early in life.

I'm really glad I did not see this movie till I was like 12. Younger than that, I would have been haunted by nightmares of those freaky Umpa Lumpas ironically punishing me every time I'd overindulge for years to come. That's what happens when you mix a Catholic upbringing with exposure to massive amounts of TV and movies.

The messages of the Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory aside, I'm still trying to devise a way to construct a a pool filled with chocolate that will one day occupy the middle of my living room.

8. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

It's part of a long lost world now but back in the day every TV station (all five of 'em) would program pretty much every Hollywood biblical epic ever made every Easter. By the age of 13,  I could have written a PHD thesis on the religious epic genre.

I have never really embraced religion in any form (even surrounded by it as I was in those days) yet I always loved watching those movies on TV. Part of it is, I'm sure, that they were associated with the end of all those bleak and long lasting Montreal winters. They were also associated with the onslaught of more chocolate than any child should eat in a lifetime.

I also remember almost always watching those movies on days off from school.  I don't think the nuns teaching religion in my Catholic elementary school could have come up with any better associations to make with the good book.

In the days of five channels, no VCR's and not much cable TV, your TV choices were limited anyway (especially in the years where the super nice spring weather hadn't quite hit yet by Easter).

I always liked The Greatest Story Ever Told. One reason why was on account of its all star cast approach to the New Testament. In the early 70's when this movie first aired on TV, it was a casting approach that was that was still in vogue in the days of blockbuster Hollywood disaster film. In my mind: crucifixion, skyscraper on fire, same deal.

The Greatest Story Ever Told boasted a cast that was very much on my TV watching filled childhood radar.  It included The Invisible Man as Herod, Kojak as Pontius Pilate, Cornelius as Matthew, Blofeld as Satan (hello typecasting!), Illya Kuryakin as Judas, Commander Koenig as Caiaphas and, best of all, the The Omega Man as John The Baptist.  There was an earlier biblical movie called The King of Kings that starred Captain Pike as Jesus. If they coulda just got him in there then The Greatest Story Ever Told would had have an absolute perfect all star cast.

Actually, the only guy I didn't know in the cast was the actor playing Jesus.  I had no idea at the time but that part was played by Max Von Sydow. My ignorance of the great Swedish actor no doubt stemmed from the fact that CFCF 12 in Montreal was not running Ingmar Bergman's greatest film all that much in the early to mid 70's.

The role was Von Sydow's first English language film. It also marked the earliest signs of a bizarre career arc for Von Sydow that would include Persona, Strange Brew, Hour of the Wolf, Flash Gordon, The Exorcist and Conan The Barbarian.

And just imagine Von Sydow in this one....

7. The 10 Commandments (1956)

Okay, technically, this is a Passover movie. For some reason, though, it would always air around the same time as all the Easter movies.

Not sure what that's about....

This Easter Saturday, in fact, ABC will once again air the 55 year-old four and half-hour Moses movie in prime time, just as they have been doing for at least 40 years now. It must still get killer ratings.

The story of Moses is probably the biggest common denominator of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Chuck Heston as Moses trades in "Damn Dirty Apes" for "Damn Dirty Egyptians".  Actually, when you think about it, there are some interesting story arc similarities between the character of Taylor in Planet of the Apes and that of Moses in The 10 Commandments. Both arrive in a strange land in a vessel while they are in a nascent state, both are unjustly imprisoned and enslaved, both are treated very differently when the revelation of their true identity comes to light and both escape from an unjust and oppressive society.  However, Moses leads all of the Israelites out of slavery and Taylor merely escapes the apes with the nearest chick he can find, leaving all of his fellow still-imprisoned humans behind. So I guess you could say that one is a little more selfish than the other.

I have very strong memories of every part of this movie yet I can not possibly imagine being able to sit through the whole thing at a young age. I must have seen it in sections on different Easters. With movies in general back then you had to wait through alot of talking without the benefit of a fast forward button before you got see any exciting stuff.  That principal is true to the extreme in Cecil B. DeMille's Biblical classic. I think it's like two hours before we get to see Moses turn his staff into a snake. Then it's like another two hours before we get to see the parting of the Red Sea. Then it's like still another yet another hour at least before we see my  personal fave moment of the film. It's the scene where God, masterfully played by animated fire and an actor with the deepest voice working in Hollywood at the time, burns the Decalogue into solid rock.

The scene that follows, though, is a bit of a downer. It's the scene where Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and presents The Ten Commandments to the his people. Of course, in Moses' absence, the Israelites have taken to dancing around, laughing and worshiping golden calves.

I saw this scene again recently and the only thing that stood out in my mind when watching it again after so many years was "Who does this guy think he is?!".  I mean, here you've got all these people blowing off a little steam after 40 years of wandering in the desert. Seriously, watch the scene. All they are doing is dancing and laughing. And, well, yes, somebody made the extremely gauche choice of putting a Golden Calf in the middle of the party. That still doesn't make up for Moses acting like such a buzz kill.

Heston's Moses comes off as an arrogant, judgmental, self-righteous bossy-boots. A bunch of people are just having a little fun and then the ol' wet blanket shows up. He immediately starts yelling at everybody. Man, I could not believe the kind of accusatory loaded hyperbole that start coming out the guy's mouth: "Thou shalt be punished, thou are heathens, thou shalt feel the wrath of the Lord Thy God" and stuff like that. I'm not a Ten Commandments geek so I can't quote the film verbatim of the top of my head. Anyway, you get the idea.

Whoa, whoa. Turn it down a notch, pal, they were just doing a bit of incredibly tame 1950's dancing.  As if that weren't enough, Moses then goes and enlists God himself to literally reign down fire and brimstone on the crowd. The whole thing is kinda the biblical equivalent of the grumpy old man downstairs calling the cops to break up your "loud" party at 9 PM.

My tempting a fate of burning in a blasphemer's Hell for all of eternity aside, I think the problem with that scene is that it just has not aged well. For one thing, Heston and his over-the-top hammy melodramatic performance actually achieves the unthinkable: makes Moses too angry, too distant and, yes, too unlikeable as a character. The other problem is that, for a modern audience, the Israelites are really not doing anything that bad. The sexual carrying on is only implied subtly (really frakkin' subtly implied) and, even so, we don't really look at that kinda thing in same light in 2011. In order for that scene to work for a modern audience you'd have to bring Moses down about 20 notches from Heston to like, say a Kevin Spacey or maybe a Jeff Goldblum. In today's era of cinema violence and torture porn, the party would have to be totally sick and disgusting. Like the sinners would have to be like raping puppies while mainlining crystal meth crack cocaine made from the severed arms of dead babies. Then you'd get a 2011 audience on board with Moses. 

Or you could go a totally different way...

6. Excalibur (1981)

Many of you may be wondering what the Easter connection is to the film Excalibur, John Boorman's wonderfully lyrical and majestic 1981 take on Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur or (for those of you non-medieval literature geeks out there) The Legend of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table.  The connection is pretty simple: the film was released in April of 1981 and I saw it for the first time right around Easter.

Too personal a connection to count, you say?

Okay. Well, part of the story of Excalibur follows the Quest for the Holy Grail. Jesus drank from the Holy Grail at the last supper. That was was when again? Oh, yeah, two days before he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Too contrived to count, you say?

Man, there's just no pleasing you, is there?

Whatever the connection, Excalibur is one of my favourite movies ever, Easter or not. It is also one of the most wonderfully mythological films in ever.

There are many great elements that contribute to Excalibur's success, not the least of which is the film's incredible cinematography by the late great Geoffrey Unsworth. Unsworth gives Excalibur its lush forest greens, dramatic red fires and bleak winter greys. Many of the those colours can also be caught in the amazingly shiny and reflective armour that the knights wear and as well in the equally shiny and reflective mystical sword of the title (shooting all that silver must have presented Mr.Unsworth with a few challenges too). Unsworth's cinematography defines the visual mythology of Arthrur's mystical world with aplomb.

Excalibur is also aided by Boorman's meticulous direction. On the DVD commentary track, Boorman describes how the film was shot over a period of months from winter to summer. The film had to be meticulously scheduled so as to keep up with changes in Irish seasons (Excalibur was shot entirely on location in Ireland).  All that scheduling work paid off. The seasons almost become another character in the film. There is one scene in the film, for instance, that captures spring incredibly. It is a scene that happens right after Arthur wields Excalibur as king for the first time. He and his knights ride through the country side amidst budding trees and flowers while Carl Orff's incredible Carmina Burana plays. There is an amazing tracking shot of Arthur as he rides under some budding trees while the wonderful white pink buds fall all around him.  To borrow from Shakespeare, a thousand words could not capture the essence of spring as well.

Excalibur also benefits from a great cast that includes a young Helen Mirren, early film appearances by Gabriel Byrne and Patrick Stewart, and, making his film debut, a very young Liam Nesson.

Excalibur is one of those films that I've decided to cave in on and, yes, replace my DVD with a new Blu-ray disc. It is so incredibly visual a movie that it was practically made for that awesome format.

I plan on watching the Excalibur Blu-ray every spring.

5.Watership Down (1978)

The UK release poster

I know that it's no Hop but Watership Down is still up there amongst the greatest of bunny. It represents a type of film that is almost as rare as a Belgian Hare in southwestern Luxembourg: the dramatic animated feature film that is not Japanese and does not involve superheroes.

The film is based on Richard Adam's 1972 bestseller of the same name. The story follows a small young rabbit named Fiver. Fiver has been getting disturbing visions that the rabbitts' warren will be destroyed (I can't possibly imagine how that could come about in the late 20th century). Fiver and his brother Hazel attempt to convince the other rabbits that they must leave the warren immediately. However, the reigning political body of the warren can not be convinced to do such a thing just on the basis of "visions".

It doesn't seem like that hard a case to make to me. You'd think that someone at some point would say, "Wait a second here. We live a world of sentient intelligent talking rabbits and you're skeptical about 'visions'?  I mean, c'mon, think about it. Our entire culture and society is clearly the basis of an allegorical cautionary tale. How could you miss that?".

Alas, nobody says that.

So Fiver and Hazels leave the warren on their own. Watership Down is not a feel good "little cute animals endearingly survive a great adventure" Disney type movie. Nor are the bunnies wise cracking carrot chomping lovable scoundrels that can easily outwit hapless hunters.

This is real life, silly.

All bets are off. Anything can happen to the rabbits of Watership Down. Killing animals dramatically is most certainly not off the table in this story. While not as powerful as Adams's original novel,  Waterhsip Down is still an amazing animated feature.  It is an all too unique compelling and very serious animated film about talking animals.

The US DVD release takes kind of a different approach.

In the U.K., Watership Down is a little more culturally entrenched. There are follow-up books, a TV series and even merchandising. On this side of the pond, Watership Down is now largely forgotten in the mainstream. While it has produced some great movies, I just wish that the Pixar-Disney CGI juggernaut of fast-paced kids' movies filled with clever one-liners and/or musical numbers didn't so completely dominate the family film genre.

Just imagine if all the incredible animation resources available today could be put behind making another film like Waterhsip Down.

4. Ben Hur (1959)

Knock. Knock.
Who’s there?
Ben Hur
Ben Hur who?
Ben Hur for four hours watching this movie.

Sorry. This blog was temporarily taken over by a six year old boy.  A six year old boy from 1959.

For people my age, particularly guys my age, the first association with Charlton Heston is not with guns, right wing politics or that ambush interview in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. No, for us, Charlton Heston’s most famous line is not “From my cool dead hands!”, but rather“Take your stinkin’ paws off me you damn dirty apes!” (or, for those of us who like to be a bit more arcane, “Soylent Green is people!”). Heston’s right wing gun politics would not really be known publicly for at least another 10-15 years. In those days, unless your name was Jane Fonda, nobody talked about or even cared about actor’s political viewpoints.

The Charlton Heston of the late 60’s and early 70’s was the star of such neato cool sci-fi movies as Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man and Soylent Green. If you were an 8-12 year old boy in that era, Heston was definitely on your radar. Throw in an Airport ’75 and an Earthquake! and it made for Chuck being a pretty friggin’ cool dude (just an aside but it's unthinkable today that you'd see an action sf blockbuster with a love-handled male star in his 50's playing the lead).

Like any good Heston fanboy of the era, I made it my business to get know as much as I could about Chuck’s other movies. Ben Hur was a no-brainer. All it took was two free hours on consecutive afternoons in April. Anyway you slice it, four hours of Roman era biblical history and not a gorilla soldier, mutant vampire or futuristic riot in sight is a lot to ask of a nine year-old kid (or, I think, anybody watching the movie past the year 1965). 

Seeing Chuck as an action adventure hero, as I did then, the film's now famous chariot race did not disappoint. Even today, the chariot race in Ben Hur is one of the greatest sequences of pure cinema that anyone has ever shot. Another standout was the attack on the slave ship, parts of which still come off as pretty hard-edged, even by today’s standards.

Back in the day, I think I would have liked the scene better if Ben Hur were racing chariots against Dr.Zauis and General Urko but, hey, you can't have everything.

3. Jesus de Montreal (1989)

Quebec cinema is an amazing thing. There is a rich and colourful history of cinema here in this fascinating little cultural niche that is totally unique in North America.

Quebecois cinema has  its own distinct industry, its own blockbuster hits each year and its own star system. All of this for a population of just seven million or so people. That would be like an entire film industry that caters exclusively to the population of New York City.

It’s a feat that English Canadian cinema had only managed to replicate in the tiniest of ways. And as long as English Canada remains 10% of Hollywood’s domestic market, I doubt it will ever get there. Were the official language of The United States French then the situation would most likely be reversed. Also if that were true, we’d living in a mind-bogglingly different world that would have to be subject of a series of no less than seven alternate history novels.

But I digress.

Quebecois cinema also boasts its own collection of great auteurs. Among those is Denys Arcand  (Mr.Arcand’s unsuccessful attempts at wading into the waters of English language cinema notwithstanding). Arcand also has the distinction of being the very first director mentioned in this blog that I used to run into while working out at the Westmount YMCA.

Arcand's highly acclaimed 1989 film, Jesus de Montreal, is one of this best. It is a film that, among other things, beautifully captures not just the look but also the feel of my beloved hometown.

Jesus de Montreal follows the story of a struggling up and coming Montreal actor who takes on the role of Jesus. However, he is not playing Jesus in a major movie or even on stage; instead he is playing Jesus in an outdoor staging of the Stations of the Cross, an annual event held near the giant cross on top of Mount Royal in Montreal. This actor, however, makes the production his own by enlisting the help of his avant-guard theatre pals. One of these guys is played by the legendary Quebec/Canadian actor/writer/director Robert Lepage.

Turns out that Stations of the Cross on the mountain becomes one of the city’s hottest shows. I think you really have to have lived in Montreal a long time and know the culture pretty well to really appreciate some of Jesus de Montreal's satirical humour.  The scene that features well known and somewhat flamboyant Montreal entertainment critic Francine Grimaldi (playing herself in the film, natch) going on the radio and saying, “The show to see this year is the Stations of The Cross on the mountain” is particularly sublime.

The film becomes an art imitates life examination of spirituality in a secular society. The Catholic Church has a particularly notorious history of social and political repression here in Quebec. There are few places in the world that have seen as quick and complete a rejection of religion in the space of one generation as has been seen in La Belle Province. I have friends who were very well educated in the Quebec private school system, people with University degrees who seriously have said stuff  like, "The stations of the cross. What channel is that?" or "The Ten Commandments? Is that a thing from the bible?".The number of practicing Catholics in Quebec has been decimated over the last 50 years or so.

If the Christian Right in the US had any idea that such politically endorsed socialist secularization was happening on the same continent as them, they’d have invaded Quebec years ago.

Jesus de Montreal is a particularly prescient examination of the spiritual void left in such a society. Arcand does out rightly advocate religion any more than he out rightly advocates secularization. Like many great artists, Arcand skillfully lays the ideas out and leaves them open to interpretation. Perhaps his most succinct visual achievement on this front is when we see a woman who was previously seen singing hymns in a brightly lit ornate church. Later in the film she can be  seen doing the exact same thing as a busker deep in the fluorescent lit bowels of a Montreal Metro station. As the Jesuit priest who taught me film criticism would say, "It's all there.".

For the curious, the latter scene was shot in Place St. Henri Metro station. It's a station I walk through regularly to teach my improv classes at The Montreal School of Performing Arts. I think of that scene in Jesus de Montreal each and every time I do so.

2. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1980)

"He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy."

 For me, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is at the very top of the Python cannon (and one of the best comedy films ever made to boot). Running a close second in great Python achievements is Life of Brian. Holy Grail is, on the whole, a funnier film. However, not that that really matters, but as a story Holy Grail is a bit disjointed. Life of Brian holds together much more strongly as a story and is, I suspect, more appealing to non-Python fans (though my experience with Monty Python is that you either love it or it leaves you cold –rarely is there a middle ground).

Life of Brian was controversial in its day, though not as much as you might think. The satirical British film was more often than not dismissed by religious officials rather than condemned.  That’s the double edged sword of using comedy as social, political and religious satire. Through humour, you can land a critical point about, in this case, organized religion in way that you just can't an intensely serious argument. The downside is that it is very easy for those who are the subject of your humorous criticism to merely dismiss your point as silly jokes made just for laughs.  Look at current example of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart is one of the few media figures that can, in one succinct hilarious line, completely negate a week’s worth of repetitive Republican talking points. However, people like Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is quick to categorize Daily Show as being “just for yucks”  and made for an audience of “stoned slackers”.

The exact same thing played with Life of Brian during its initial release. Many religious officials, particularly those in Britain (where oddly, the movie was more controversial than in the bible belt of the US –evidence that Americans are just not into British pop culture, no matter what) dismissed Life of Brian as “sophomoric” and “silly”.

And well religious officials should do so. Life of Brian (as many of the Pythons have pointed out over the years) is not a satire of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, but it is, instead, a satire of Christianity and organized religion in general. And in the case of organized religion, you better dismiss it, pal, ‘cause this is a movie that satirically nails your ass to the wall.

Any time Jesus is depicted on screen or referred to in Life of Brian (which is not much, really), it is done in a totally non-satirical and reverential manner. The scene that depicts the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, opens with a shot of Christ that could easily be right of Cecil B. DeMille. The satire starts when the camera pans over to a bunch of classic Pythonesque dimwits way far away from the mount, mishearing and misinterpreting the sermon in the dumbest and most asinine ways possible. It’s quite a funny scene and it in no way makes Jesus Christ as the object of satire.

There is another scene in Brian that is both a searing ironically satirical indictment of organized religion and just plain frikkin’ hilarious in its own right. It goes something like this:

Brilliant, hilarious, and organized religion’s Kryptonite. It also makes a point that few secular criticisms of religion ever make. Brian's followers are so dying to follow something or someone to point of absurdly funny obsessiveness.  The point being that people, for whatever reason, want and need religion. It's an idea that is rarely pointed out. Bill Maher, for instance, spends almost all of his film Religuous dismissing and talking down to religion but never once gets into why it exists in the first place. Monty Python in Life of Brian, on the the other hand, nails the idea a few really funny lines.

Of course, there are also many moments of just plain straight ahead funny comedy for comedy's sake too. Like this scene:

Life of Brian also has a much more satisfying ending than the Holy Grail. Holy Grail ends on a conceptually hilarious yet emotionally disappointing note.

The first time I saw Life of Brian, I found the concept of closing the movie with people being crucified singing a Disneyesque happy song to most incredibly brilliant thing I’d ever seen in my whole entire life. Not to mention that it appealed to my angry discontented anti-social 16 year old sensibilities no end.

When you think about it, isn’t people singing “Always look on the bright side of life” (or “death” as the lyrics change to later), while being crucified kinda really in essence what the concept of the resurrection is all about in the first place?

It’s just not the way The Church has been telling us to interpret The Crucifixion for the last 2011 years. That point, of course, brings up back to the real object of satire in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

1. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Like the story of Christ himself, The Last Temptation is a movie that, in its time, was dismissed, condemned and unjustly persecuted. In reality, The Last Temptation of Christ is a deeply spiritual and reverential film. In fact, the film never even purports to be scripture. It is also one of Martin Scorsese’s most over-looked and underrated films.

I remember when this film came out. There were protests everywhere it played. The screening I went to had private security. Every one's bags were searched. Some fanatic in Toronto (and elsewhere I’m sure) threw a bottle of black ink on the screen of a cinema running the film so as to keep them from showing it for a whole 24 hours.
The film had a great opening weekend, though, that I'm sure the cinema in question covered the cost of a new screen in no time. All the publicity the protesters were getting was undoubtedly driving the high grosses at the box office.

Before we get into the subject matter of The Last Temptation of Christ, the controversy and the real meaning of the film, let's get into some background, shall we?

I was raised Catholic.  I don't practice anymore. I am not religious. I have a hard time buying into the concept of the God described in the Bible. Don't get me wrong. The Bible has a lot of great moral lessons and messages in it but it's not exactly consistent on that front.

God in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, is described by and large as well, kind of a jerk, really. He likes to test his followers faith by inflicting horrific suffering on them or by asking them to kill their firstborn son, just to see if they'll actually do it. God always seems ready to reign down stuff like droughts, floods and plagues on anyone that does not follow his rules. His rules include stuff like not worshiping other gods, honouring the day of the week He's set aside for himself, always capitalizing pronouns that refer to Him, and absolutely no using His name in vein. Man, that's one insecure all powerful being. He sounds more like an abusive parent than an all knowing deity to me.

Um, have you ever thought about seeking out a good therapist, Christianity?

At the same time, though, I can not completely rule out the existence of a powerful force in the universe that we don’t understand. I just do not at all agree with the way that traditional religion, particularly the Christian one, has defined it. Some would call that atheism, some agnosticism, some spirituality, some blasphemy, and some new age mumbo jumbo.

I call it what I believe.

Nonetheless, when you are brought up with Christian (and Catholic in particular) the story of Jesus and the Bible in general has a way of sticking with you. If nothing else, Jesus still represents a powerful mythology. Christian mythology is a major major corner stone of our society and culture, including pop culture. Many of my liberal open-minded friends like to say stuff like, “Yes. Christianity is important. Just as all the religions of the world are important.”


How many epic fantasy movies have you seen that have powerful underlying Hindu allegories?

Have you ever seen a horror movie where they call in an Imam to deal with a case of demonic possession?

How many movies about the Buddhist Festival of Vesak are released around the holiday season each year?

Our culture, pop and otherwise, is a Judeo-Christian society, baby, with one big emphasis on the Christ, even for the secular.

It's because Christianity matters that The Last Temptation of Christ matters.

The film is my personal favorite Jesus movie. It’s about a billion times more real and emotionally powerful than any of the old school Hollywood fare like The Greatest Story Ever Told or King of Kings. Jesus in those films comes of as this perfect yet ultimately dull non-character carefully designed not to offend anyone.

The Last Temptation of Christ is also a much better Jesus movie than the preferred cinematic treatment of the Son of God of the more religious. Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of The Christ. That's the current film that seems to be the most popular with Christians these days. I still do not understand why The Passion of The Christ remains popular and praised while The Last Temptation of Christ remains condemned and obscure.

I had many more issues with The Passion than just the alleged antisemitism that got all the media attention. To be sure, the case of the presence of antisemitism in the film can certainly be made (particularly the shots of the scowling Pharisees that kinda look like something right out of a Nazi propaganda movie).

Antisemitism is just one issue in The Passion though. Satan, for instance, is played by a lithe woman with flowing unmistakably feminine movements but at the same time as an unmistakably masculine voice.  Kinda homophobic, no? Homophobia, BTW, being Mel's other big agenda. 

Then there’s the violence. The scenes of Christ being beaten by a particularly sadistic Roman guard puts The Passion up there with Hostel and Saw as one of the best torture porn movies ever made. If any of those horror films had the same level of brutal violence that The Passion has, the same people that love Gibson’s Jesus movie would be screaming.

By far the very worst thing in the Passion of the Christ, though, is that Jim Caviezel speaks Aramaic with an absolutely atrocious American accent.

Many of the criticisms of The Last Temptation of Christ is that it was fiction and from the Bible. That depicting Jesus a man who struggled with temptation just like anyone else was was an unacceptable interpretation of scripture. At the same time, The Passion of  The Christ is not based exclusively on scripture. Much of the more violent elements of the film are derived from meditations by German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich written in the 17th and 18th century. That's not exactly scripture either.

So I just wanna get this straight. Alternate interpretations of scripture are bad when they depict Jesus as having human temptations but are okay when they are antisemitic, homophobic and gruesomely violent?

The biggest bone of contentions with Last Temptation seemed to be with a sequence that saw Jesus coming down off the cross to get married and have children with Mary Magdalene. Jesus does not seem to have inherited his dad’s ability to perform immaculate conceptions so that, of course,means that Jesus would have had to have sex in order to father a child. But, and this is part most of the condemnation skips, this all happens in a vision from Satan...the most evil being in the universe.  Like, really, how much more evil can you get than attempting to manipulate the Son of God out of his destined role of Messiah by tricking him with visions of sins of the flesh? Would you also object to showing Darth Vader in Star Wars destroying a planet full of innocent people in order to demonstrate how evil he is?

That may well have been the argument Nikos Kazantzakis, author of the brilliant and superior novel on which the film is based, made as well.  He may well have brought it up when the Greek Orthodox Church ex-communicated him. I'm pretty sure that Kazantzakis would have left out the Darth Vader reference, though.

My biggest issue with the those who protest, condemned, dismissed and ultimately called for the censorship of The Last Temptation of Christ is that they didn't even seem to have seen the film. I remember seeing the stories on TV and reading the interviews with the protesters in the papers at the time. It was patently obvious that very few of them had actually seen the movie. They had been told to hate it by the religious establishment and the media.

Imagine if a bunch of atheists showed up outside churches to protest Christianity. Imagine if they threw black ink on the Bible and it turned out that they had never even read the good book in the first place. How exactly would that go over?

I understand that The Last Temptation of Christ may offend some people's beliefs. At the same time, some of the Christian beliefs, particularly those towards homosexuality and sex in general, while we're at it, offend me. So let's call it even.

That's what tolerance is all about, Charlie Brown.

What I love about The Last Temptation of Christ is that if present spirituality is a struggle. Jesus was the Son of God but was also human (kinda a tough premise to get your head around, really). He had human weaknesses. He was subject to temptation. What human out there, with nails hammered through their hands and feet, hanging from a cross, vision blurred on account of all the blood in the eyes from the crown of thorns on their head, dying a slow painful, horrific death, would not at least momentarily reconsider this whole messiah plan?

Scorcese’s direction is dead on when it comes to conveying the emotional and spiritual challenges Christ must face in a remarkable reboot of a classic story.

That kinda stuff don’t come easy.

I can identify with that.

Happy Easter!

Good luck with those eggs everybody....

The reboot everyone is waiting for...

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