The Keys of the Kingdom


In Keys of the Kingdom, Gregory Peck plays Father Chisolm, a young, humble, authentic priest who is sent to China after a lack of success in his home of Scotland. His mentor, a bishop feels Fr. Chisolm will thrive in China.

The story’s told in flashback. It begins with an old Fr. Chisolm getting reprimanded and told his unorthodox teachings are forcing him to be removed from his hometown parish. The bishop who makes this threat is staying at Chisolm’s rectory. Before he goes to sleep, he picks up Fr. Chisolm’s memoirs and reads of his extraordinary life.

Chisolm’s father and mother were killed in a riot against Catholics. He’s brought up by and aunt and almost marries as a young adult but circumstances lead him to stick with his choice of the priesthood. As a young priest, his parishioners don’t appreciate his questioning and some of his theology. His mentor has a hunch that Fr. Chisolm would be right for a deserted mission in China.

When Fr. Chisolm arrives in rural China, every believer has left as they really only came for the free rice. The church is in ruins. Slowly, Fr. Chisolm rebuilds and stays true to his principles and beliefs even if it means losing the church or being treated like an inferior by a haughty former classmate.

At one point the political climate in China shifts and warlords threaten the mission.

I found the movie compelling and was better than average for avoiding the stereotypes so common in the 1940s. His performance is carries the film and I would never have guessed it was Peck’s second film. It seemed like a biography, but apparently it’s based on a novel, not a real life.

My only complaint is I wish they hadn’t skipped through the years of turmoil and war in China. They show early 20th century violence, but explain and show little of the revolution that erupted. The film jumps from one attack when Fr. Chisolm was probably in his late 30s to Chisolm as an old man. By weaving in Fr. Chisolm’s ecumenical beliefs and his strong friendship with an atheist, the film feels modern.

The Flowers of St. Francis


I thought this would be a biopic, but it isn’t, or not traditionally so. Get <em>Brother Sun, Sister Moon</em> if you want to see how Francis became a Saint. Watch this to get a feel for his life, for his approach to prayer and spirituality. Directed by Robrito Rossellini, written by Federico Fellini, this gentle film about a great saint, The Flowers of St. Francis shows 12 vignettes of Francis and his followers. It’s gentle, serene, humbling and at times funny. Francis’ humility, and connection to God come through clearly. He’s so patient with his men, some of whom would make me tear my hair out like Br. Ginepro, who creates trouble by stealing a pig’s foot from a live pig. Ginepro was my second favorite character as he’s funny, but also so sincere. Ginepro just lacked wisdom at first, but his capture by barbaric rebels was probably the pinnacle of the film.

<em>The Flowers of St. Francis</em> is well worth anyone’s time.

Adam’s Apples


A very black comedy from Denmark, Adam’s Apples follows a neo-Nazi ex con out to a small church in the countryside led by Ivan, a pastor who’s so optimistic and positive it’s both annoying and just very weird. Adam can’t figure out Ivan the weird priest or the other misfits at the church. He has no faith whatsoever and immediately replaces the cross in his room with a portrait of Hitler.

Ivan tells Adam he needs a goal, something to strive to complete his community service. As a sort of smart aleck response, Adam says his goal it to bake a pie. While most normal priests (or people) would say, “Make a real goal.” Ivan accepts this goal and shows Adam the apple tree out front. This simple goal soon becomes a big challenge.

Plague upon plague befalls Ivan, yet he never lets his faith slip or reason prevail. It drives Adam absolutely crazy, though everyone around him, misfits all, seems to accept Ivan.

The film gets darker and darker, yet ends boldly and on just the right note.

This film is different, fresh and engaging. You can stream it on Netflix.

Sound Cloud: Dr. Peter Kreeft

Here’s a recording of Dr Peter Kreeft talking to Act One screenwriters on Why What They Do Matters and Why it Matters to God.

Joyful Noise

I didn’t expect a 4 star film when I decided to see Joyful Noise, just an entertaining film with good music. Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton and Keke Palmer make sure the music delivers. Yet the story was weaker than expected. Boy did this need a rewrite. It seemed like a movie cobbled together to pander to a Christian, rather dull witted audience, rather than one meant to tell a good story about fascinating characters. All the characters here seemed to be made of cardboard and their petty disagreements didn’t amount to a hill of beans and immediately dissolved when it was convenient.

The premise is that a small town’s church choir needs to win a competition. Their choirmaster dies in the first minutes of the film and his wife played by Parton expects to take over. Instead the pastor appoints Queen Latifah. Ho hum. The usual second rate sitcom-ish conflict ensues.

Why must this choir win? Well, only because Parton says so at one point. Except for some good music and the occasional witty repartee between Latifah and Parton, there isn’t much here. The characters seem wooden and the many subplots are contrived. As I watched I actually thought, “It’s a decent enough film and it’s good that I’m watching in a theater because I would find something else to do if this were on TV or Netflix.”

Sand Mandala

If you’re quasi-interested in Wheel of Time watch this. It gets to the heart of the film and saves you an hour and 14 minutes.

Wheel of time

Filmmaker Werner Herzog’s documentary Wheel of Time focuses on a Buddhist festival in India that thousands flock to every couple years. Some walk, some come by bus, some slowly make their way prostration by prostration (see YouTube video below).

One of the main rituals is making an intricate sand mandala (painting) symbolizing the universe. While 12 monks work on this in shifts from dawn to midnight, outside hundreds of pilgrims pray, conduct theological debates and such.

I’m sorry, call me a philistine, but the watching this film was like watching paint dry. I watched 15 minutes and took a break. The next day I tried again. I gave up after 40 minutes. I did find the setting and clothing colorful and exotic. I found watching the monks make the mandala mesmerizing, but I kept looking for a theme or narrative that would compel me to stick with the movie, and that never came. I don’t know if it’s the more unified narration or what, but I realized most Discovery Channel National Geographic documentaries were better. So I stopped watching. I needed more than the exotic.

Herzog interviews the Dalai Lama, and that didn’t grab me. The D.L., whom I’ve thought is interesting and wise, just talked about the obvious, i.e. how each of us sees ourselves as the center of the universe. True, but a college freshman who’s taken Developmental Psychology or learned a bit about Freud can tell us that.

I kept wondering why the director of Fitzcarraldo made this little film. I’m still not sure.