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ANALYSIS: Hope abounds in technology & medicine in new millennium, but not in Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD (BP)–Great strides may be ahead in the worlds of technology and medicine in the oncoming millennium, but if the 72nd Academy Awards nominations announced Feb. 15 are any indication, little will be changing in Hollywood-land.

Once again, R-rated movie fare leads the way in the Oscars’ Best Picture category. Three of this year’s five contenders are rated R.

What about “Toy Story 2,” “The Straight Story” or “October Sky?” Not only were these films artistically worthy of recognition, but their themes of friendship, perseverance and a little looking out for the other guy were, dare I say it, nourishing.

I’m not suggesting that every Oscar contender for best film need end with a verse of “Climb Every Mountain,” but when it comes to honoring movies as an art form, we should consider their content, not just their technical and dramatic merit. After all, what is the purpose of art if it doesn’t uplift the spirit of man?

So, what are the prospects for wholesome entertainment during the first few years of this next millennium? If the movies being honored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are any indication, prospects are dismal. The majority of pictures coming from Tinseltown this past year, even when they have artistic merit, assault the viewer with crude language, exploitive sex, desensitizing violence or material the Bible is clear about our avoiding.

Much like contentious rap music, the tendency toward “edgy” movie content seems to be a trend that won’t go away. Over the past six years, 21 films out of 30 vying for Best Picture were rated R.

1995 was the exception. Indeed, it was an exceptional year for uplifting cinema — “Apollo 13,” “Babe,” “Il Postino,” “Sense and Sensibility.” Even that year’s one R-rated film — “Braveheart,” which won the coveted statuette, contained profiles in courage as men fought for freedom.

Ever since that year, however, R-rated films have dominated the awards show. Most were well made. Some even contained a spark of hope by the conclusion of the movie. But very often the filmgoer was forced to sit through two hours of vituperation before getting to the five-minute cheery epilogue.

So what happens to our psyche during that process? And what does it say to friends and loved ones about our spiritual walk when we patronize those movies?

Before supporting the media’s product, we should take into account the teachings of the Word (Philippians 4:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, Psalms 101, Ephesians 5:11), not just to care for our own mental outlook, but also to show others what we stand for.

Now, for a brief overview of this year’s Best Picture nominees:

AMERICAN BEAUTY is a portrait of an angst-ridden, all-American family. Brilliantly acted, with stinging dialogue, but the film, besides containing so much objectionable material, also seems bent on ridiculing and debasing U.S. suburban life.

Although well-acted and the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture, it is the most depressing film I have seen in quite some time. Those attempting to develop a spiritual walk may find the film’s lack of spirituality and depictions of despicable behavior disturbing.

The leads are a caustic bunch who would give Tennessee Williams the heebie-jeebies. Hubby hates his job, wife and daughter belittle him, and he harbors a self-hate. The wife is a realtor attempting to find happiness through possessions and power. Their daughter is, well, like every other movie teenager: smart beyond her years, yet as cynical and dark as Wednesday Addams of “The Addams Family” movie.

R (profanity & obscenity throughout; explicit sexual situations & nudity, including teen characters and homosexuality; often crude sexual conversations; smoking, drinking and marijuana use by teens and adults; adultery; a repressed military officer — is there any other kind in a Hollywood movie? — beats his son; a fatal shooting and its bloody aftermath is pictured; the film mocks conservative viewpoints; the teen protagonist is a successful drug pusher; the husband lusts over his daughter’s underage best friend; a teen girl keeps recounting her sexual activities).

Video Alternative: YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. An all-star cast stars in this very funny Frank Capra film about an eccentric, but loving family. It won best picture in 1938 and shows a family that reveres God.

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine) is an emotionally repressed physician and abortionist who heads a New England orphanage. He becomes a father figure to Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), a young man who has grown up in the orphanage. Larch teaches him everything he knows about being a doctor in the hope that his pupil will one day take his place. But Homer yearns to leave the orphanage after falling for a woman who has come to the doctor for an abortion.

Well crafted, but it is Hollywood’s definition of right and wrong, not the Bible’s. Christians are portrayed as unfeeling holier-than-thous, while the lawbreaking doctor is, down deep, the sensitive and judicious caretaker.

PG-13 (Pro-abortion sentiments; fetuses are thrown into a furnace — the fact that we do not actually see the embryos is more than likely a tactic used to hide the barbarous act; sexuality; nudity & several sexual situations; substance abuse, including drug use by the doctor; some violence; profanity & obscenity; smoking by role models; anti-Christian sentiments; the doctor breaks many laws that do not suit his perspective, including faking medical documentation, proclaiming his charge to be a licensed physician; incest is implied).

Vid. Alt. ENTERTAINING ANGELS. Moving tale of cynical journalist who has a spiritual awakening and devotes her life to the needy.

THE GREEN MILE. Set on Death Row in a Southern prison in 1935, “The Green Mile” is the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s 1996 serialized novel. It is the story of a sensitive prison guard who realizes one of the inmates possesses a miraculous gift of healing. Tom Hanks stars as Paul Edgecomb, the death row head guard who relates in flashback his watch over a quartet of convicted killers awaiting execution in the electric chair. Michael Clarke Duncan plays condemned John Coffey, whose gentle nature and unusual powers raise questions in Edgecomb’s mind about his guilt.

This may be the year’s best film with its reverence for things not seen and the main character’s regard for human life. The audience at the screening I attended remained silent in their chairs for a moment at the conclusion. They had witnessed a profound movie that respectfully raises questions concerning God’s power and man’s ability to do great good or great evil. It is a Stephen King story, however, so don’t be expecting a lesson in traditional theology; nevertheless, the film portrays a man with a spiritual gifting of Christ’s healing power.

But what truly moved me was the element of self-sacrifice. Honorable men are portrayed. While it takes place in a harsh environment, the compassion displayed on screen made this a rare film-going experience. Although Academy Award-worthy, and often spiritually rewarding with its regard for life and God, it does receive an R-rating due to the preponderance of profanity and a gruesome execution.

R (Profanity & obscenity throughout; three crude sexual conversations; brief backside nudity as a man dresses; suggestion of sexual situations, but it is between a man and his wife, and it is only suggested, not seen; the N-word is used by a degenerate inmate; a woman is dying from a brain tumor; a vindictive and sadistic guard oversees an execution, allowing the inmate to be tortured; a very intense scene as a body burns up when an electrocution is sabotaged; the killing of two children is implied; one shooting).

Vid. Alt. BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. Sensitive portrait of prison lifer (played by Burt Lancaster) who became a world-renowned bird authority.

THE INSIDER. A producer of 60 Minutes wants to do a segment about a scientist named Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) who is willing to blow the whistle on the tobacco industry. According to Wigand, tobacco companies chemically enhance the nicotine content of their product, causing cigarettes to become addictive. At first he’s afraid to speak out against the powerful tobacco lobby, but Wigand is pressured by the forceful producer (Al Pacino) to speak out, even if it endangers his family. When a huge lawsuit threatens CBS, however, the story is killed at the last minute, leaving Wigand in a precarious position.

Much like “All the President’s Men,” it’s a conspiracy-frenzied thriller based on a true incident. The film is about journalistic integrity — a phrase that has lost a great deal of meaning over the past decade.

R (Many arguments and a crumbling marriage; profanity & obscenity throughout; threats of violence; some drinking and smoking; we see a corpse in the street with a bullet hole oozing blood).

Vid. Alt. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. James Stewart stands up against corruption. And he does it without profaning God’s name!

THE SIXTH SENSE. An 8-year-old boy is haunted by dead people. With the aid of a child psychologist, the lad discovers these tormented souls want him to do favors for them, so they can rest in peace. With many elements of Hitchcockian-suspense, director M. Night Shyamalan gives audiences the best spook-fest of the tepid crop of horror films out this summer.

Should we attend horror movies? I would suggest you read Philippians 4:8 and Psalms 101 before choosing any film.

PG-13 (1 obscenity spoken by Willis and corrected by the child; 1 profanity; some unsettling imagery, but the strength of this chiller is in what is suggested rather than shown; one startling shooting; a suicide occurs off camera).

The Oscars will air live from the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium Sunday, March 26, on ABC, beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific. Billy Crystal returns as host of the ceremonies.

Boatwright, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and a Baptist layman, is The Movie Reporter for The Dove Foundation whose reviews can be seen at the Christian Internet site www.ibelieve.com.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright