A Strange Preview: The Overnighters

The OvernightersSo you’ve all heard of this “oil rush” happening in North Dakota, right? If not, there’s this oil rush happening in North Dakota. People from every which place are flooding into the state to take advantage of the one million barrels a day of oil that are being produced—and the jobs that kind of production floats.

Only the promise of quick riches is proving to be empty for many who have forsaken everything to head north.

Documentarian Jesse Moss got wind of one community, Williston, affected by the influx of “immigrants” to the state in search of six-figure gigs pumping black gold, and the LCMS church that attempted to meet the needs of those would-be oilmen and women. Moss and crew decided to capture on film this “Steinbeckian” story of hopes of new beginnings dashed and the search for community in the midst of personal chaos.

Pastor Jay Reinke of Concordia Lutheran Church is at the heart of Moss’s film. His attempt to open his congregation’s doors to the desperate workers who found themselves homeless and helpless proved quite dramatic itself, it seems. The community of Williston, N.D., found these intransigents—some of whom have a long string of felony convictions—less-than-ideal neighbors, and so demonstrated the limits of Christian charity when human nature is pushed beyond its comfort levels.

The shocker of this story is not just the phony promise of fat salaries for the formerly unemployable, or the controversial practice of fracking that is making these wells gush, but of a scandal that finally pushed Pastor Reinke out of his church. Lloyd Grove has a piece up at the Daily Beast that whets the whistle:

At this particular moment in the film, Reinke is the pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church, and—despite the concerns and even objections of his congregation, and the ire of certain citizens of the town—he has offered Army cots, floor space and parking spots to scores of unemployed men like Todd who’ve arrived from places as far away as Iraq, looking for work and shelter.

He throws his arms around Todd, who’s in the midst of confessing his evil ways and adding that he was born only because his mother was raped.

“Can I tell you something? You and I are a whole lot more alike than we are different,” the good reverend announces. “I’m broken. We’re broken. We’re just broken. We’re in this together.”

Little more than a year after documentary filmmaker Jesse Moss captured that fraught encounter, Reinke’s life, along with that of his wife and three kids, has been shattered apart and cobbled together in surprising, painful and possibly hopeful ways.

Reinke lost his pulpit and was drummed out of the conservative Missouri Synod of the Lutheran denomination. He has been hounded by muckraking newspaper reporters—one of whom is shown chasing him down the street and asking accusatory questions like a modern-day Javert.

He has struggled to keep his marriage together after confronting some inconvenient truths about himself. He has just begun to recover from an ordeal he calls “The Scandal,” only recently lifting his eyes from the pavement to greet neighbors as he strolls through downtown Williston. (The revelation of the nature of that “scandal”—no spoilers here—proves the film’s pivotal moment.)

I have avoided googling unnecessarily, as I would like to be surprised by the ending myself, should I ever get the chance to see the film. (It’s being rolled out slowly, theater by theater, city by city, by IFC Films.) But given the line about “keeping his marriage together,” I guess one can guess.

Here’s the trailer of a film that has already garnered excellent reviews and film-festival honors:

UPDATE: From the comments, someone who was a member of Concordia in Williston (with, I guess, a spoiler alert of sorts!):

Having seen this up close and personal, I can assure you that this “documentary” has a narrative that is anything but truly insightful. Jay is a guy with so many problems that will never be on display because that would justify the actions of the church, both local and national. He will be portrayed as a gay Robin Hood who always did the right thing but the locals crucified him. Gag. Now at least you know the truth.

… one more thing I have to point out (that the film conveniently neglects) is that most of the people who left Concordia, including us, did so before the overnighter thing or the revelations of Jay’s homosexual infidelities. I told Barb many years ago that I thought he was struggling with same sex issues. This documentary is a virtual lie and Jay is always nearly intoxicated with public attention, good or BAD, so this whole “fame” development plays to his issues. I told him repeatedly that he had “issues”. He couldn’t hear it. Notice how he is in the middle of it all, even though it casts a bad light on Concordia. I believe he has a true narcissistic personality disorder.

As I noted in the comments: I have not seen the film myself, as it is playing in only a handful of venues. But if this commenter’s assessment is true, then more former parishioners should speak up as to the film’s agenda and deficiencies as it garners wider attention (assuming it does).

A Strange Review: Left Behind

Left_Behind_-_Teaser_Poster-210x300On Intercollegiate Review Online. An excerpt:

So I’m watching Mars Needs Women on one of those goofily named cable channels in the upper four hundreds and a few minutes into this thing I realize the flaw in the premise.

You’re all familiar with this film, correct? Seen it a thousand times no doubt. It begins banally enough: there’s a couple playing tennis, a couple out to dinner, then suddenly poof! people start disappearing. And not just any people: women people. What’s going on? Where did they go? Who is responsible? (It’s 1967, mind, so there’s a lot of big hair. Is that a clue?)

As Dop, a medical missionary from the Red Planet, explains it, “A critical recession in the Y chromosomes in our genetics has resulted in a preponderance of male births over female.” Hence, Mars needs women. And not just any women: five volunteers, unmarried, in good health, “possessing the common indicators* of fertility and reproduction,” and, presumably, open to new experiences (this is the sixties after all).

So the whole thing is neatly explained in the first ten minutes of the film.

Except it’s not. …




“The Giver” and the Gift That Keeps on Taking

The_Giver_posterSo I have a review over at the Intercollegiate Review Online.

An excerpt:

“When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong. Every single time.” So says the Chief Elder, a firm believer in the Reformed doctrine of total depravity, apparently.

In The Giver, the film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1993 award-winning, giga-billion-selling novel, we are introduced to a Community born out of the Ruins, the result of a cataclysm so devastating that remnant elites constructed an artificial environment in which there is no war, no suffering, no envy, no jealousy, no differences to fight over. Sameness is Gospel in this world composed only of shades of gray. Intimacy is monitored by pervasive video cameras, and the word love is a desiccated monosyllable. Equality is enforced by The Rules, by eugenics, and a rigid control over language and emotion. All citizens of the Community are injected daily with a medication that dulls pain, mutes feeling, and reduces everyone to a quotidian docility. The folks here are perfunctorily polite. Even the climate is finally under control. (Snow? What’s snow?)

And in the interest of creating true community, all citizens are white or light-skinned. Even superficial differences can result in competition, after all, and value judgments. (Although someone constructing the ideal “race” must have decided that whitish is rightish.) All memory of the variegated and multihued past has been wiped from everyone’s consciousness.

Well, almost everyone.


The Rapper and the Nun

So Sister Cristina Scuccia is a 25-year-old Sicilian nun who appeared on the Italian edition of The Voice. J-Ax, apparently, is a rapper of devilish reputation.

When asked by the host what the Vatican thought about her appearing on The Voice, Sister Cristina replied, “Listen, I really don’t know. I am waiting for Pope Francesco to call me on the phone . . . He always says we should go out and evangelize, telling [people that] God doesn’t take anything away from us, but will give us more.”


A Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman

Crafted by one Caleb Slain, this is a wonderful mosaic of Hoffman’s work. My favorite performances had to have been those given in Charlie Wilson’s War, The Master, Mission Impossible III (in which he definitely plays against type, and to great effect), Doubt, and Synechdoche, New York. (His Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote goes without saying.)

See if you agree with me that there are a couple of overwrought turns, particularly in Patch Adams and Almost Famous.

Warning: there are many many uses of the eff word. Many many.

Is This the Worst Sitcom in the History of Sitting?

Imagine some comic “genius” finds himself standing in an elevator next to a TV-network executive and decides he has 30 seconds to make a pitch for what he believes will be a groundbreaking situation comedy.

COMIC GENIUS: Think “Adolf and Eva — their home life.” Like The Honeymooners, only starring a genocidal madman and his lady love. Imagine the gags: Hitler has a bad day at at the Eastern Front and decides he’s not taking the garbage out no matter what Eva says. Eva think Hitler’s having an affair and so decides to bug his office. Hitler and Eva are tired of their wacky next-door neighbors, the Mengeles, coming over every Saturday night and showing them more photographs of “twins.”

EXECUTIVE (laughing hysterically): Stop it, stop it, oh my sides!!

Now imagine that the genius pitching the idea is decidedly not Mel Brooks.

Well, I give you Heil Honey, I’m Home!

For some more background, check out the indispensable Mental Floss’s take.