Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sea Cruise With Depth- The Island (Ostrov 2006)

There is a Michael Bay film called The Island which was just barely watchable. This isn't it. This is a quiet film of beauty and religious depth. Which I recommend to anyone who wants to go deeper with God, or who wants to experience great cinema.

Father Anatoli, a Russian Orthodox monk, knows just how deep his sins can penetrate, how dark they really are. He, unlike most, has no choice but to know just how evil he could be. He acted the coward, and at the command of Nazis, he shot his comrade and commanding officer. Now, in 1976, he plays the saint, but he knows he is no saint. He is rather a prankster, a common man who spends time with common people, or alone with his pile of coal.

Off and on there a man named Yohan comes to my congregation. I am sure that he considers himself a part of our church even though he only comes a few times a year. He sends us his tithes and he mails to me articles the he thinks I might be able to use. However, his messages to me are so coded and so confusing that I can rarely use what he sends me.

As I say, he only visits occasionally, but when he does, it is often a trial. He comes late and insists upon staying late, sometimes long after we are ready to go. He often teases me, but these teasings have a bite. He speaks of my deep sins and of how my wife must bear with much to remain with me. He jokes about my unworthiness. Sometimes I tease him back, but at the same time, I know that he is only joking on the surface. There is a real point he is making. In my life, his task is to poke holes in my pride, of which I have much. He is my prankster, my personal prophet, to remind me of my sins. Even him showing up late is to remind me that I am too focused on time and its constraints and not enough on my people who do not tie themselves as much to the hand of the clock as I.

In the past, I have seen myself as a saint, but my weaknesses and failings have piled up too high for even me to not notice. Yes, I am often the prankster, the prophet to many churches and to many individuals who think of themselves more highly than they ought. But I desperately need my prankster as well. I need to know that I am just as weak and faithless as anyone else.

I don't say this out of some self-loathing, or out of some religious duty. It is simply a fact. And I would always have known this were I not comparing myself to those who have fallen farther, or if I would not lie to myself so much, comparing myself favorably to my betters.

Sometimes I am Father Anatoli, but more often than not I am Father Filaret. I am sometimes amused by Anatoli's antics and sometimes irritated. But when he pokes at me, when I am the object of his scorn, I could become angered or feared, or I could just sit next to him, recognize that I need the reminder that I am very human, and thank him for his presumption.

This is a beautiful film, full of depth and power. It reminds me of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring with the conjunction of the holy and the common. It is brilliantly shot, perfectly acted and a great film reminding us of the best of the insanity of the God-touched. 4.5/5

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Conflict of Kill Bill

My latest article examining the worldview of a film is about Kill Bill, both volumes.

Quentin Tarantino is the master of the overlapping ethical systems. Okay, that sounded really boring, so let me just say that, as far as morality goes, QT can’t seem to make up his friggin’ mind. In Pulp Fiction, although a movie about the mob is just as much about conversion. Inglourious Basterds is both a revenge film and is speaking of the immorality of revenge. Kill Bill, however, has two complex worldviews competing throughout the film, and it is fascinating to dissect each of them, figure out what makes them tick and how they act like two bulls in a sparring match. With Uzis.

Read the rest here at The Reelists.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Empty Face That Reflects Our Souls: The House Is Black

This review is on The House is Black, a 1963 documentary about a leper colony in Iran. I would recommend that you watch the film before you read the review. It's only twenty minutes and you can watch it here: The House Is Black

"The world is full of ugliness and it becomes more ugly if we close our eyes to it"

This twenty minute documentary is the only film made by female poet Forough Farrokhzad. And this twenty minutes of film changed Iranian cinema. There's not much to it. It's pretty spare. It is in black and white, at times completely black. It has almost no music, and no dialogue. You almost never hear a subject talking, for most of the speech is a voice over (usually the director) reading a text from Psalm 139, or the Qur'an, or the book of Job. Yet this isn't a particularly religious film. And it certainly isn't entertaining. Yet it is compelling, necessary cinema.

It is a movie that focuses on a leprosy colony in Iran, showing us the inhabitants as they live their daily lives. They are in school, feeding each other, even on a wedding march. Yet the opening warns us that we will be shocked and even appaled. Why? Because leprosy eats the flesh, and these people are worn away. The most shocking sight I saw was of one person whose whole face is worn smooth. The opening tells us that is is simple ugliness that will offend our sensibilities. And, to a degree the director is right. But I can't help but think, is my pity or sorrow toward their ugliness any better than disgust, horror or shame. But that is not the focus of the film.

The message of the film is this: leprosy is a horror and it can be stopped. The fact of the matter is, for the most part, is has been. Since 1963 leprosariums have been successful in arresting leprosy almost from the time it is detected. At times people lose parts of their body, but lepers are not in as critical a condition as they were in 1963. However, the medical ability was there in 1963 to stop leprosy. The only thing that lacked was the will and organization to do something about it.

Even so, I would say that the message of the film to us today has little to do with leprosy per se. It has to do with the fact that compassion and organization can change the world. We can arrest AIDS all over the world, if we have the will. We can offer clean water to everyone in the world, if we so desired. We could end the debilitating nature of homelessness. All we need is the compassion and organization. Something could be done.

The film is spare, yet deep. It looks at the world as starkly as the Hindi film Pyassa-- the poet expressing sorrow over injustice, poverty and our own insensitivity. And yet that very expression of the poet's compassion is beautiful and even magical. From the midst of ugliness comes the beauty of the heart.

A film like this shames us-- even forces us-- to look at the sorrows of the world and makes us see the humanity, the glory. The boy who answers the teacher's question, "What is ugly?" with "feet, hands, heads" is, himself, beautiful because we can see his joyful innocence behind his scarred, misshapen face.

And the texts read over the sights of diseased bodies add another layer. As it often does with religion, the stark suffering of humanity causes the text to seem ironic. "You have formed me as a fetus", "God the Beneficent": Can this hold true? Is God truly to be called benevolent in the face of human innocents dejected and brought low? Yes. For the beginning of the film reminds us: It is within human capacity to meet this need. The only thing that prevents the need being fulfilled is not divine, but human, apathy.

I can see this film could be a game-changer. It didn't really show me anything new, but the arrangement of the pieces was startling and magnificent.

Just Some More Gushing About To Kill A Mockingbird

Father knows best

I read Harper Lee’s book for high school. They gave us a semester to read it (wimps!) and I inhaled it over a weekend. A couple of years later I saw the film. At the time, it was the only film I had watched that not only captured the book, but it was great even alongside such a great novel. I am happy to report that my more recent viewing of the film with Mercy (aka Ideathy) was an equally joyful experience.

Technical—5/5—As perfect as a film could be in 1962. And they could make pretty perfect films then. Everything was top notch, from the script to the acting to the camera work, to the pacing—simply perfect.

Interest—5/5—This story reaches my inner mythos. There isn’t a scene the film couldn’t do without. Every line is just right.

Tension—5/5—Yes, I know exactly what is going to happen. I've seen it before, you know. But I was still tense and weepy before the verdict is given. I still can barely watch what is happening in the woods.

This is one of the more amazing things watching this film with Mercy (who is 10, in case you didn’t know). The scenes that were tense for her were completely different. When Scout was about to knock on the Radley house, Mercy turned her eyes and would have refused to watch any more. She was listening to the cues of the music and was completely empathizing with Scout. In the scene in the woods near the end of the film, Scout was in confusion, she couldn’t see a thing—and neither could we—and there wasn’t any music to tell us what to feel. As an adult, I knew what was happening and I was scared. That was the scene I couldn’t watch. But Mercy was fine, no tension at all. That is one of the ways I knew what a masterpiece this film was. It communicated to both me and my ten year old, but in different ways, at different times. Amazing. Simply amazing.

Emotional—5/5—Yeah. Oh yeah.

Characters—5/5—When I watched this film as a teen I already knew that I wanted to be Gregory Peck as a father. I wanted to be that respected person in the community, the wise person who helped out those in need. I wanted to be there for my kids, proving that I could both defend them and teach them that they need not harm others. Mind you, I am not Gregory Peck. Who could be? Even Gregory Peck wasn’t Atticus Finch, I’m sure. But I know for a fact that Atticus was my goal for fatherhood. If I could be ten percent Atticus, I’d feel successful.

Mind you, all the other characters are great. Robert Duvall in his first performance. Mary Badham as Scout was perfect. The Sheriff and Mizz Crawford were excellent. But I will never forget Atticus as long as I exist.

Theme—5/5—Both the principle of not harming the helpless and how to act when one’s own community insists upon doing so. It is a good year for me to watch this, really, as in my real life I am struggling against a city that is willing to make any excuse to allow the homeless to suffer with hypothermia.

Ethics—5/5—This is one of the most powerful sermons ever preached on film. It is like Jesus on film, better than any gospel presentation ever in cinema.

Personal—5/5—I’ve said enough, I think.

Yes, this is a perfect film and one of my personal favorites. It’s goin’ up there. Way up. Just as a personal note, this is only the second film I've given all 5s in every category. The other one, interestingly enough, is Rachel Getting Married. However, RGM didn't get rated as high on my top 100 list. Even so, although Nausicaa and In America didn't get as high of individual ratings, they were placed higher in my top 100. Go figure.

I'm Ready To Hate Citizen Kane

Orson Welles. Greatest film of all time. William Randolph Hearst under cover. Blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I’m sick of all the acclaim. Yeah, I saw it before. It was okay. But I think I really liked it because it was so acclaimed so I was ready to like it. This time, I told myself, I’m going to watch it objectively. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about this film. It’s just me and Welles, head to head. And I don’t think I’m going to like it near as much as I did before.

Technical—5/5—Okay, well everyone knows that this is one of the most technically perfect films ever made. Welles had too much time on his hands, that’s why its so great. Look at the camera angles and the lighting, cool. Yeah, but does it really work as entertainment. It must be praised because of its technical precision. Yeah, that’s it.


I forgot what a fantastic actor Welles was. I was amazed by Kirk Douglas’ performance as an irritating man who was fascinating to watch. Welles took it another step. Not only is Welles fascinating, but he is charismatic, likeable, loveable, even. No matter what a jerk he is, no matter how self-absorbed, so matter how irritatingly fly by night he is, you want to like him. You DO like him. If another actor had been the focus of this script, say someone along the caliber of Philip Seymore Hoffman or Meryl Streep, you’d appreciate the work and the acting would be magnificent and you call this a great film, but not an entertaining one. Under Welles at both the acting and directorial helm, though, you are laughing, crying, understanding, empathizing, through every scene with this spoiled brat of a man. I am amazed at this performance, at this character created.

Tension—3/5- This is a biopic and the “rosebud” tactic doesn’t really work to build up tension, nor even much of a mystery.

Emotional—4/5—Yes, yes, okay. I got a little dusty eyed. Perhaps I recognized my own narcissistic tendencies, my own drive to be loved that drives others away. Maybe I recognize my own frustrations at being unable to connect to others that I long for so desperately. But this silly multimillionaire made me gushy inside. Fine. I don’t care. I’m man enough to admit it.

Theme—5/5—This isn’t a film about greed or apathy. That would have been the easy road. Rather it is about loneliness. About the need to make a deep, intimate connection with another. And this is such a universal need, and so often lives are left empty of this, that, amidst all the other reasons is what makes this a great film.

Ethics—5/5—I like the way Kane tries to fill his relational void with many different attempts, but it isn’t obvious that is what he is doing. It looks like a man who has many interests and the money to make it all happen. But in the end it is about the search for love and how we can hurt everyone we know just looking and never taking the time to connect.
Personal—4/5—I am Kane, and at one time or another we all are.

Welles wins again. Dang, this truly is one of the greatest films of all time. It probably won’t make my top ten because I need a lot of room for Pixar and Miyazaki :) but it will be up there, somewhere.

Stop mocking me, Welles. I already said you won!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Gleaners And I: A Personal Confession

I am a gleaner.

No, I am not found in fields after harvest, picking through the leftover fruit for what I can eat or share with others. I am a gleaner in the sense that Agnes Varda, the filmmaker of the film, The Gleaners and I, defines it in the course of her film.

Here's a pic of Agnes Varda:

She gives a dictionary definition of "gleaners" at the beginning of her film, but she broadens that definition, first subtlety, and then obviously throughout the film. In the end, her definition of "gleaner" might be rendered: "Someone who takes what was discarded and gives it use."

First, she shows us the famous painting of The Gleaners by Jean Millet. See, here it is:

And she talks about modern day gleaners. People who harvest potatoes after the farmers have collected all they could. People who harvest grapes after vineyards were shut down (but not working vineyards in Burgundy, because that's illegal now). People who collect food from trash bins or from markets after they are closed. But also people who collect trash and make it art. People who find televisions and dolls and pieces of metal that have been discarded and find new use for them, if only for scrap.

Different gleaners do their gleaning for different reasons. Some do it for survival. Some do it for charity. Some glean for environmental reasons. Some glean for fun. Yes, fun. Because it's fun to glean. Taking what others think is useless and making it useful is creative and enjoyable. And when you glean, the sky is the limit for what you might find. Today, in my gleaning, I found 30 lbs of frozen kale, some fried chicken, an office chair with a drip of Pepsi syrup on it, some floor cleaner, a lot of burritos, radishes, folded paper towels amidst much more. Then I had the task of figuring out what I would do with all of this. The best part is to take a whole variety of food from different places and create a meal out of who-knows-what-you-will-get. If you make a delicious, nutritious meal from whatever you find, then your day was successful.

But the ultimate gleaner in The Gleaners and I is "I", Agnes Verdes herself. Let's look at her again:

She's beautiful, isn't she? The wheat she's carrying she didn't glean. She's just feeling her way through the painting above. She does do some gleaning in the film. Here's some heart potatoes she found and took home:

Her touch is all over the film. She speaks the narrative, and, like any older person, sometimes is distracted by the thing around her and she just rambles for a bit. Here she is trying to catch a truck:

But she doesn't glean wheat, or trucks (although she tries). Rather, she gleans people. People, some of whom are discarded by society, and she collects them and places them within her art. However, this isn't a sad film. Rather, it is full of joy. Instead of seeing lives of depression or injustice, she finds the joy in redemption. Much like the wonderful Finnish film, The Man Without A Past, the film could have been full of sorrow or guilt, but instead it has wry humor and personality and joy.

In this way, I, too am a gleaner. I am a modern gleaner, to be sure. I pay dues at a gleaning community service, which collects food and products that cannot be sold at supermarkets anymore and I go through their warehouse for a nominal fee and collect hundreds of pounds of food and miscelanious items to give it to the poor and homeless. I go to people who run food trucks and collect the food that could not be sold. I jump in dumpsters and find items that grocery stores couldn't sell. But more importantly, I take the discarded people of our society and tell them they are important, give them work to do and care for them. Sometimes they find homes and work. Sometimes they don't. But they are now gathered into a single community, helping and supporting each other to live better lives than they could have lived apart. Some of these folks live in my home now.

Anawim is a gleaner. I feel really connected to Agnes Verda now. That's pretty cool.

I'm giving the movie a 4.5/5

If you want to know more about Anawim, my organization, check out:
Nowhere To Lay His Head

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just Another Review of The Big Lebowski

When I first watched Lebowski, I had high hopes for it. It was a Coen comedy and I love Coen comedies. It had Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, which is a great combination. And it was a cult favorite. All of which, added together, should mean that I would absolutely adore this film. But when I watched it, it was completely forgettable to me. Of no real consequence to my film world. But due to the high acclaim, I figured that there must be something I’m missing, so I’d watch it again to see if I could acclaim it as much as others. Let’s run it through my gauntlet of ratings…

Technical—5/5—A very well made film, as all the Coen’s films tend to be. The camera work was interesting, the acting top notch and even the lighting was noticeably excellent.

Interest—3/5—Frankly, there is no real grab for me in this film, nothing to capture my attention. It’s funny enough and some of the characters are well done, but in the end I’m asking, “Why should I care?” That’s not a good sign for me.

Tension—4/5—Lots of tension around Walter. Almost every time Walter is on the screen, I’m waiting for something to go wrong. And it does. And it is wonderful, I must say.

Emotional—2/5—I didn’t hit any emotional highs or lows here. It was just a movie.

Characters-5/5—There are plenty of characters that didn’t do anything for me. Jesus is memorable, but more offensive than anything else. It’s a shame that Steve Buscerni didn’t get more of a role, because he’s a great actor, but his character left me out in the cold. Julianne Moore is good, but, again kind of offensive. However, Jeff Bridges and John Goodman both give probably their best performances ever in this film. Unbelievable. The characters are so overwritten that it is almost imposible for them to be believable. But they are. The Dude and Walter are two of the greatest characters ever, and the pairing of this odd couple is one of the greatest cinema genius ideas. The combination of the The Dude’s hippie, pot-hazed laid-backness and Walter’s paranoid, conspiracy-theory, gun-toting anger is simply perfect. The movie should be watched if only for this alone.

Theme—4/5—It is often difficult to nail a theme to a Coen Bros movie, because there is the obvious theme and often another theme underneath it. In the end, I think it is a celebration of being laid-back, of the Taoist humility, of being the water that flows over everything by conforming to each shape that comes it’s way, allowing it to flow. The Dude truly abides, simply by letting everything else be. All the other characters are trying to force, to manipulate, to control. The Dude just is. And thus, in the end, he saves himself a lot of heartache and pain.

Ethics—4/5—Again, I think the film celebrates a Taoist ideal, recommending it as a way to live. And, in the best film tradition, it shows this life in the midst of turmoil instead of describing it conceptually.

Personal—3/5—As much as I admire the Taoist tradition, it isn’t my personality type. However, I can appreciate it.

I liked The Big Lebowski much more this second watching than the first. However, a couple caveats: the constant use of CINECAST really put me off. I don’t mind it, usually, but the use of such language puts a tiny stress on me. The word CINECAST was used 2.22 times per minute in the film. It’s not a record, (which might fairly go to “Nil By Mouth” which uses the word 3.34 times per minute and isn’t directly about the topic of language), but it is enough for me to be put off by the language. And secondly, as much as I appreciated the two main characters and the themes, almost every other character put me off of the film. Thus, in the end, although it has much to make it great, it will not be making my top 100.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just Another Review of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Yep, this was my first time watching this Bogie classic.  It's about searching for gold in 1925 Mexico.

Here are some things I loved:

-Having the lead actor play the undermining, mentally unstable person.  Usually this kind of role is secondary, just to move the plot along, but HB is rightly given this role and he does a great job making Dobbs both slimy and charismatic.

-Walter Huston.  Dang, so believable and likable.  I love him in this film.

-The Banditos.  They make many welcome interruptions to a fairly straightforward tale of greed and everything that goes with it.

What I didn't like:

The foreshadowing- "Please, old and wise prospector, tell us what is going to happen in the rest of the movie or else we wouldn't know what to do!"

The music-- please, tell me how I am supposed to feel again, because otherwise I wouldn't know

Most of the acting-- "I don't have to show you any stinkin' badgers!"

The fight scene- Not a single punch landed, but there he is on the ground

In sum, I have to give it a 3.5.  Some excellent memorable moments, but overall not great.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Never Let Me Go: Half The Truth

Never Let Me Go is the story of a love triangle that must, by necessity, end in tragedy.

Don’t worry, I didn’t give away the ending. We see this in the very first scene. There is a mystery to uncover, and the script is masterful in its slowly unveiling the mystery of this alternative history of the world. Everyone in this world is healthy and whole. No one has any serious health problems, everyone has good work, and seems at peace.

Everyone, that is, except those who suffer so that society might be perfected.

Society has always been built on the backs of human beings. There has always been a division in the economic system, at least two classes—a servant class and a class which reaps the reward of the servant class.

The greater the civilization, the greater the level of human sacrifice. Some societies actually killed them, other societies enslaved them, in our society we make human beings work two jobs and punish them if they become homeless because of layoffs. This is not because society must function on a two-tier level. It’s just that it always has.

In order for this to work, we must dehumanize the lower classes, and if not completely dehumanize them, we must make them immoral, to blame them for their own poverty and social standing. Only in this way may we feel free to justify our economic slavery, our denial of good health and the benefits we enjoy. We may toss them a bone, and we expect them to be grateful because although we aren’t allowing them to have shelter or health care or a decent education or any real economic share of what we are enjoying, we know that they would be worse off if we weren't offering them as little as we are. It's the excuse the masters always gave to ease their guilt of having slaves.

How I wish this film was made to point out that the alternative reality was not an alternative at all, but it is how we live, today. The third world, the immigrants—legal or illegal—the homeless, the working poor: these are the Ruths, Kathys and Tommys of this world. But rather than highlight the similarities, it seems to highlight the differences. Somehow, it would be worse if the human sacrifices for economic freedom is well dressed, white, gorgeous, Anglo Saxon and speaks with an educated British accent. It helps us feel for the oppressed and downtrodden, and helps us forget that the Latino we buy fast food from or the migrant worker who picks our vegetables in South America are the real, living tragedies.

This movie is to help us feel comfortable in our oppression. Look, it says, at least we aren’t doing human sacrifice. We haven’t gone that far, and we could have. At least we recognize our social lesser as being human, even if we don’t treat them as our legal equals. But it does not move us to act for those who suffer for our lifestyles. It allows us to remain complacent.

I am not saying that Never Let Me Go is a bad film. It is will made, beautifully shot, and well acted. It has all the pieces of a good film. However, it could have been a great film, a film that changes the way we see the world. Too bad it's not.

Friday, March 4, 2011

JAMB Featured in The Reelists!

Corey Atad of The Reelists approached me to do a regular column on their website. The first article was just posted and you can read it here.

Here's a taste...

A true love of film is a recent development for me but a love of literature was ignited when I was a schoolboy. I fell in love with poetry, novels and especially drama. Perhaps my love of drama and dialogue segues easily to cinema, as does my favorite dramatist, George Bernard Shaw. From the 30s to the 50s and on the BBC in the 70s a number of Shaw plays made their way to the screen, most famously in the musical My Fair Lady, based upon Shaw’s play Pygmalion. This is easy to understand, as Shaw is witty and smart and his themes are deep. On the other hand, his plays, while dramatic, do not emphasize the visual, but the conceptual. The visual presentation of Shaw’s vision is really dependent on the director and his supporters.

It is fascinating then to watch Major Barbara, the only Shaw work on film I’ve seen apart from My Fair Lady. It is fun to see Rex Harrison, a star best known for the My Fair Lady, as a young man, less confident but strong as the man romantically interested in the title character, a Major in the Salvation Army in London. Wendy Hiller is marvelous as the Major in the early scenes of the film where she is strong and in charge, but as her character’s morale falters, so does her performance. The real star of the show is Barbara’s father, Andrew Undershaft, played by Robert Morley. He is despicable in the most charming manner possible, so much so that it is impossible to hate him, especially as he plays his trump card at the end of the film.

Read the rest on The Reelist's website.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Apostle Brings The Spirit To DVD

I have very rarely had the sense in watching a movie that I was watching not just performances, but real people, doing what they do. Sure, I know people like this. Heck, in a small way, I AM like Sonny. The joy he had when his little church had their first meeting and it was chaotic and kind of silly and everyone was ready for something to happen-- I've been there. It's real.

I've never been one for that style of preaching that is exhibited in The Apostle, honestly. I always feel like I'm being yelled at. My preaching is much more intellectual, what churches call "teaching" rather than preaching. But you can't deny the power of it when you're in the midst of it. You may not believe a word that's being said, but you will shout out "amen" at the appropriate time. The Apostle not only caught the rhythm, the emotion, they caught the frenzy of those kind of pentecostal/holiness meeting. Amazing. How does something like this get transfered to a DVD?

In a sense, watching The Apostle was a lot like going to a church for the first time, considering whether you might join this congregation or not. You see some things you like, and some things that might irritate you, but at the end of the visit you're going to decide whether this church is for you or not.

And there's a lot to like here. Perhaps the preaching isn't to my particular appreciation-- I prefer a lot more Bible references and less yelling-- but I can appreciate the energy and the art of the preaching. The music is fantastic. Old fashioned gospel with a lot of energy. You've got the kind of choir that you wish you were singing with, making that joy come alive with you, yeah... that's good.

But in the end, whether you attend this church or not, you are looking at the preacher, his charisma, his life, his spiritual wisdom. And I have to say, Apostle E.F., or Sonny, "everybody calls me Sonny" is really charismatic. He's got it. Man, he's powerful. And he's sincere. He may be talking to the Lord or yelling at the Lord or talking to someone about the Lord, but you know that he's not faking. He's the real deal. He's not someone who's in it for the money. He's got passion and drive for Jesus. That's powerful.

But that same man has no real control over himself. Perhaps that's a characteristic of a passionate man-- a lack of self-control. When his wife left him for another man, he lost control and gave into violence. When a man was disrespecting him before his congregation, he took him out of the church, in the middle of the service, and beat him down, just to give him something to think about. Mind you, when that same man came back with a bulldozer to flatten the church, Sonny did the right thing and beat him not with fists but with the word of God. That was right. That's the true Spirit. But in the end, Sonny is a man just like any other man. Maybe he's more than other men, actually. When he's sanctified, he's powerfully sanctified. But when he sins, even David can't win in the sinner contest.

A leader of a church is a position of trust. A church leader has peoples' souls in his or her hands. And Sonny had to change his name, had to throw away his old life because of his sin. In the end, he couldn't really be trusted. He could be trusted to begin a church. But he couldn't be trusted to really lead people to Jesus, to really be filled with the Spirit.

The Spirit, you see, isn't about the frenzy. It isn't about the miracles. It isn't about shaking and fainting. Instead, the Spirit is about love. Sonny loved as any man loved, but he didn't love with the Spirit's love. He didn't love with the love of peace or the love of gentleness or the love of patience or kindness or goodness. And God knows, not with humility.

But Sonny was real. The congregation was real. That final service was magnificent and powerfully moving. And the film just took its time, through every section of the service so we could experience it all and it's deeper meaning with cops standing at the door. Amazing.

This film passes Howard Hawk's test: Three great scenes and no bad ones. 1. The scene at the baseball diamond. 2. The scene with the bulldozer and 3. The final service. A number of great performances, and, at the lead, Robert Duvall playing the greatest role of his career.