“Jesus” Is Not Bad At All

The movie Jesus Revolution continues a pattern of Christian-oriented films that have far exceeded box office expectations. We in the CINCH REVIEW household don’t often go out to the theater to see movies these days, as merely being pummeled by the previews has been a near-fatal experience in the past, but having been charmed by a few things we heard about this film we made an exception. (Deviously, we lurked in the hallway outside the theater proper, peeking in to see when the previews had ended. For the record, they went on for 25 whole minutes.)

The film was assuredly a pleasant surprise. This story of a Christian revival bursting out amongst hippies in southern California as the 1960s bled into the 1970s is told with a light touch, intelligence and sensitivity by the filmmakers. Jesus Revolution is very light indeed on theology or preaching, to the point where I think that viewers need not be believing Christians to appreciate it. On a certain level, it works as a more general story of people who are lost, damaged and on the edge of a precipice coming together and finding reason for hope and achieving some real redemption through their sharing of love and of mercy.

An interesting aspect of the film is how it seemed to me to successfully convey—without being at all didactic—the distinction between faith in God and faith in religious leaders. The leaders are portrayed as flawed men, making them as such pretty normal, but their failings don’t succeed in discrediting the goodness of God. Putting one’s faith in the perfection of any minister, pastor or priest is naturally only going to lead to disillusionment; this may be a danger that appears obvious, but that doesn’t prevent it from occurring continually.

Since, as said, the film is overall very light on theology, a seriously religious person might even question its value. Is it really a Christian movie, anyway? Where is Jesus, other than in the distorted shadow of the hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee? Well, maybe he can be found. As the movie progresses, there are turns in the plot which hinge on changes of heart, and on small instances of forgiveness. They are small, that is, in the context of the wide world, but I think that prayerful believers learn that there are no more transformative miracles than those which come about in a true change of heart or in an act of genuine forgiveness. If Jesus lives (and that is what Christians believe) than this is surely where he manifests himself.

Kelsey Grammer delivers what seems a very heartfelt performance as Pastor Chuck Smith, and Jonathan Roumie is excellent as the volatile Lonnie Frisbee. Joel Courtney stars as the young Greg Laurie, struggling to get beyond a shattered upbringing, and Anna Grace Barlow stars as his girlfriend. Portraying high school age kids, a lot of the younger actors seem a little, well, old, but, after all, one must leave one’s disbelief at the door.

In case anyone would get the wrong idea, yours truly is not proposing that Jesus Revolution is filmmaking on the level of The Searchers or Rear Window or anything like that. It is a nice movie, made with deftness, humor and a good heart.

These days, it seems to me, that’s saying a hell of a lot.

Blood on the Tracks: The Movie

The Cinch Review

There’s been a story promulgating itself out there for a few days now about how a production company has been granted license to make a film based in some way around Bob Dylan’s 1974 album Blood on the Tracks. The quote from an executive is: “Our goal is to work with a filmmaker who can create a classic drama with characters and an environment that capture the feelings that this album inspires in all its fans.” Well, that’s ambitious. A better goal might be just to make a good film, rather than trying to duplicate the feelings that the album inspires in fans, considering that each fan no doubt has somewhat different feelings when listening to the songs and performances on the record. My personal instinct would be to avoid seeing such a film anyway, since Blood on the Tracks has its own resonances for me—as I’m sure for most other listeners—and I just wouldn’t be interested in replacing those in any way with images and characterizations in someone else’s movie. But que sera, sera. As with so many things, it may never even come to pass. As Harold Lepidus observes, there’s actually a history of other screen ideas associated one way or another with Blood on the Tracks.

It’s pretty clear that Bob Dylan and his “camp” are very generous indeed when it comes to granting rights to people to pursue their own projects which utilize his songs. I don’t know how often they refuse requests; it almost seems like they never do. It appears to be done in the spirit of: “Let them throw everything they have against the wall and see what sticks.” A lot of it just doesn’t. Dylan famously granted director Todd Haynes license to use everything in his unusual biopic “I’m Not There,” featuring numerous actors of various ages and genders portraying some kind of “Bob Dylan.” Did it stick to the wall? Maybe somebody’s wall, but, I would suggest, Bob Dylan’s own wall is pretty clean of any vestiges of this movie. The film is so out there that it can only be seen as Todd Haynes’ personal riffing on various aspects of the Dylan story/legend and it actually doesn’t lay a glove on Dylan himself. The title, “I’m Not There,” is indeed incredibly apropros.

Yet, every time that someone devotes their creative energies to doing something associated with “Bob Dylan” it only increases the size of his legend in the public consciousness, and inevitably draws more people into checking out his music, which is, in the end, the real point. As it should be. Continue reading “Blood on the Tracks: The Movie”