Tag Archives: Religion

Mark Wahlberg is reaching out

14 Apr

The actor-producer is mourning his mom, modeling faith instead of underwear and repudiating his breakthrough in ‘Boogie Nights’

By Tom Meek Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Mark Wahlberg, in town to promote the opening of his “Father Stu.” (Photo: Tom Meek)

The evolution of local guy Mark Wahlberg has been an intriguing, ongoing process, starting as a troubled Dorchester gangbanger with brief turns as an underwear model and hip-hop incarnation Marky Mark (“Good Vibrations”). As a movie star he’s worked with some of the industry’s best (Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tim Burton and David O’Russell), done a myriad of cheeky comedies (“2 Guns,” Daddy’s Home”), rocked it in actioners (“Lone Survivor,” “Transformers”), made a few duds (“Infinite,” “Mile 22”) and shot local (“Patriots Day,” “The Fighter,” “Spenser Confidential,” “Ted” and “The Departed,” for which Wahlberg was Oscar-nominated). He’s starred in nearly 70 films and has produced many of those projects, including “The Fighter” (2010), which earned Wahlberg a Best Picture nomination, and his latest, “Father Stu,” a passion project about the titular real-life boxer Stuart Long, who bottoms out but goes on to become an inspirational priest while facing severe personal challenges.

Wahlberg was in town to promote the film for its Wednesday opening. The actor, who has a past of assault and drug use as a teen, was warm and open in conversation and called the film “a reflection of my faith and where I’m at today as a person.” (In 2017, after connecting with his Catholic faith, Wahlberg said that he regretted making 1997’s “Boogie Nights” because of the views the Catholic Church has on pornography, and that he wanted to serve as a role model for youth finding faith.) Wahlberg’s trip back to his hometown was notably bittersweet, as he lost his mother to dementia during the making of the film. “It’s tough, because it’s the first time I’ve been back in Boston,” Wahlberg said, “because the first thing I do is go see my mom. I don’t get to make the phone calls anymore, and every time I came, she was always just right there. So it’s a bit strange being here right now.”

About the film and its religious overtones, which are fairly balanced in the final product, Wahlberg is pragmatic: “It’s a redemption story. It’s many things, but, you know, hopefully, it’s going to encourage people to start looking at the good again.” Wahlberg put up much of the money to get the project made and in the future hopes to “utilize whatever influence I may wield in the industry to make the kind of things that I want to put out there” – ostensibly, more faith-based films. One of his main allies in making the film was Mel Gibson, a fellow Christian who directed the deeply faith-based film “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) and costars as Wahlberg’s father. The two connected on the set of “Daddy’s Home 2” (2017). “I was always inspired by his making of ‘The Passion of the Christ,’” Wahlberg said, “and I wanted pick his brain about it, and to see where he had difficulties and why he just chose to do it on his own.” Gibson’s partner, Rosalind Ross, wrote the script and makes her directorial debut with “Father Stu.” 

For all of Wahlberg’s professed desire to make more faith-based work, his upcoming projects include the comedy “Me Time,” about a dad needing some personal space, and “The Six Billion Dollar Man,” a 2022 fiscal and technological update of the ’70s TV show “The Six Million Dollar Man.” 

He also said he wanted to revisit the role of boxer Micky Ward, which he played in “The Fighter,” and explore Ward’s relationship with Arturo Gatti, whom he faced in three grueling title fights. (Gatti died in 2009 of mysterious causes, which many believe was a homicide set up to look like suicide.)

Father Stu

14 Apr

‘Father Stu’: The Passion of the Wahlberg

By Tom Meek Tuesday, April 12, 2022

If you’re going to go into “Father Stu” believing it a didactic, preachy film from a movie star who’s embraced his faith – or not go into it, for the same reason – take a deep breath. It’s a portrait of a man, his struggles and evolution toward faith and a deeply personal film, but it does not outwardly preach the virtues of Christianity nor does it seek to convert. In context it’s akin to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), clearly a faith-based passion project that’s compelling and visceral for those who believe and a fine film for others who believe otherwise. Mark Wahlberg, the movie star we’re talking about here, plays the titular Stu and gives one of the best performances of his career. Gibson is in tow as his wayward father; his Gibson’s significant other, Rosalind Ross, was recruited by Wahlberg to write and direct.

The true-life, Job-like journey of Stu begins with a brief preamble of growing up in a dysfunctional household in small-town Montana. We catch up with Stu as a young man in the midst of a semi-successful boxing career, with a montage of a ripped Wahlberg squaring off against various opponents. After one hotly contested bout, he gets news from a physician that he’s one or two headshots away from the grave. Reluctantly, Stu hangs up the gloves and, for his next act and without much of a second thought, scoots off to Hollywood to become an actor. You have to admire Stu’s blind optimism (or is it naiveté?) as he works a meat counter in a supermarket (à la Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”) trolling the clientele to ask if they’re in the biz. One day he waits on a young woman named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) and boom, as fast as that move west it’s love at first sight. But Carmen’s Catholic, and there’s no nookie until the knot is tied. Still smitten, Stu converts but experiences a horrendous (wince-worthy) motorcycle accident that leaves him near dead and seeing visions in his semiconscious state. It’s not fully on screen, but during his recovery Stu sees the light and decides to join the priesthood (so much for Carmen), where he’s reluctantly received as a coarse, undeserving outsider. Adding to the uphill battle is the matter of reconnecting with his alcoholic father (Gibson), who’s working a construction gig in L.A. Then comes the onset of a rare, debilitating disease (think ALS).

The film as directed by Ross (it’s her debut) has a gritty internal warmth, though not all the plot points seem to flow together organically – namely any logically felt reasons for Stu’s impulsive transitions other than tragic hardship. Wahlberg, who’s made many a slack film (“Infinite” and “Mile 22,” to name two recent duds) also has turned in some strong work when working with quality filmmakers (“I Heart Huckabees,” “The Departed” and “Boogie Nights”). Here he’s all in, pulling a De Niro by going from ripped pugilist to adding 30 pounds to transform himself for that latter-day ailing Stu. He brings his cocky street persona to the part in meted doses that add value when Stu, from the pulpit, channels that feral something else from his previous life; while different, it resonates with parishioners and grabs the attentions of his theological higher-ups. There are also some emotional, challenging scenes of personal defeat, tragedy and trials of faith that Wahlberg pulls off with aplomb. It helps that the cast around him is strong, which goes not only for Gibson but for the indelible Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “Animal Kingdom”) as his caring mother and Malcolm McDowell as Stu’s compassionate, overseeing monseigneur. “Father Stu” may be about faith, but you don’t need to be of faith to appreciate the trials and tragedies endured by a man who has persevered against all odds. Bradley Jackson

The Other Lamb

4 Apr

‘The Other Lamb’: Lesson from cult life in woods is largely that guys are manipulative jerks, Part I

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With the Covid-19 state of emergency and shutdown of movie theaters, we’re highlighting new streaming options for people stuck in their homes by social distancing.

“The Other Lamb” is a twisted tale about a cult in the deep woods, dwelling in yurtlike structures adorned with pagan markings and living off the land, all female but led by a man known simply as the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). The Shepherd lives well: His “Handmaiden” flock wash him and feed him, and the young women he selects get the can’t-say-no opportunity to “receive his grace.” The Shepherd, bearded and benevolent in countenance, evokes Jesus, but when things don’t go his way he acts like Machiavelli, relying on his divine righteousness and religiously obedient groupthink to ensure he gets what he wants. And then there’s that flock of sheep always nearby, peppered with a few anxious bull rams huffing and snorting with pent-up sexual energy, as if they want in on the fertility rites too.

In texture, the postured “Other Lamb” feels a lot like Robert Eggers’ 2015 Calvinist tale of the occult, “The Witch,” but at one point early on we get an incursion from the outside world and learn that we’re not toiling in a primitive, pre-electricity era. The main focus of the film is a young woman by the name of Selah (Raffey Cassidy, so good as Natalie Portman’s daughter in “Vox Lux” and a simmering realization here as well) whose mother had been a member of the cult and perished recently amid curious circumstance. Budding on the cusp of sexual availability, she’s eyed continually by the Shepherd, but Selah’s interested in learning what happened and stepping outside the confines of the cult. It’s such coming-of-age anxiety that gives the film a simmering tension beyond the raw sexual energy that’s heaped out there from frame one with “Wicker Man”-esque dankness.

Things meander as the group is forced to find a new Eden. The odyssey builds the character of Selah, and reveals other things at play beyond the Shepherd’s mercurial nature and the ever-present, heavy-breathing rams. Take the cult’s social order, which has the older women (Selah’s mom was one) referred to as “broken things” or “cursed wives,” both mentors and outcasts. And even though there’s the pronounced tang of Puritanism, the scene of the Shepherd baptizing young women in scanty albs would likely set the testosterone tinder of spring break bros afire once the anointed in their little-left-to-the-imagination garb are raised from the watery depths for air. It’s a weird, haunting modulation between austere religious regimentation, the Shepherd’s enigmatic id and the women’s individual freedoms offset and undercut by the power of group coercion. 

The film’s big win, besides Cassidy, is the gorgeous cinematography by Michal Englert (“The Congress”) rendering the vast Irish highlands as both foreboding and liberating. Overall, Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska delivers a confident and poised composition, crafting a spectacle of a man justifying entitlement by claims of divine right, even if feels done before.

 

First Reformed

26 May

‘First Reformed’: The reverend is in torment in a ‘Taxi Driver’ for a newly tormented era

 

In two of Martin Scorsese’s career-defining films – “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) – the protagonists (cab driver Travis Bickle and Jesus) are souls in torment and on the cusp of greater things that, to varying degrees, shift the civilized world as we know it. Both were written by Paul Schrader, a Calvinist-raised midwesterner who’s regularly shown himself a master as writer (“Raging Bull”) but something of a tormented soul himself as a director. With early hits such as “Blue Collar” (1978), “American Gigolo” (1980) and “Cat People” (1982) and intermittent wonders thereafter – “Affliction” (1997) and “Auto Focus” (2002) – Schrader has more recently scored a series of miscues – “The Canyons” (2013) and “Dog Eat Dog” (2016) – that have tanked critically and gone to the secondary market without the dignity of a theatrical release.

The good news is that Schrader’s latest, “First Reformed,” is something of a resurrection for the 71-year-old filmmaker, and an apt one; it revolves around a soul arguably more anguished than Christ or Bickle. The object of the title is a small, upstate New York church on the eve of its 250th anniversary. Tending to its diminishing flock is a reverend by the name of Ernst Toller (played with perfect restraint by Ethan Hawke, delivering his best work since “Training Day”) who’s clearly more lost spiritually than any of his flock. We learn early on that in the near recent past he’s lost his son to the war, and his wife abandoned him in the aftermath. Toller remains composed at the dais, but behind rectory doors he’s washed out, rueful and barely able to find solace at the bottom of a glass of bourbon. Smartly, he keeps the bottle hidden, but higher-ups at the parent parish (played with power and concern by Cedric the Entertainer) ultimately suss him out. How Toller finds redemption comes initially through purpose, when pregnant young parishioner Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks him to counsel her troubled husband, who spouts eco-terrorism mantras and conspiracy theories – nothing like a drowning man trying to save another going under – and later, in the discovery of a suicide vest. Continue reading

Of Condoms and Tenets

29 Mar

In strike against safe sex group, Boston College creates its own Catholic mystery

By Tom Meek
March 28, 2013

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against BC Students for Sexual Health. (Photo: BCSSH)

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against BC Students for Sexual Health. (Photo: BCSSH)

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against a student group that promotes safe sex and provides condoms to students because that organization’s agenda is deemed diametrically opposed to the university’s Catholic affiliation and mission.

Okay, I get the rub, but why now? It’s not like condoms on campus are anything new, and I can guarantee you they have been a staple of BC dorm life since before the Miracle in Miami or even the heroics of Jack Concannon – so again, why now? One can only guess that a devout parent or alum with deep pockets got wind of the existence of the BC Students for Sexual Health’s Safe Sites and raised a stink. Or maybe the recent election of a pope got the Jesuit juices flowing in Chestnut Hill and they wanted greater religious sanctity on campus, which would be ironic; the tenor from Vatican City, where the swirl of sex abuse cover-up still hangs in the air, was a more humane and contemplative one, one that seemed even willing to reevaluate the administration of old-world tenets in a rapidly changing world.

No matter what BC’s impetus, in the bigger scheme of college life in which a “Spring Breakers” mentality commingles with pious sanctity, it just seems unwise to forcibly close down Safe Sites given that the downside is an increase in unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

And let’s keep in mind that BC, as an institution of higher learning with a religious affiliation, invites people of other faiths, or no faith, to come to its campus to hone their minds. It likely has a code of conduct students should adhere to, but given its diverse makeup, a new trend compelling its non-Catholic populace to be subject to the ethics of the Catholic Church might have long-term ramifications. The balance of religious obligation and administration of higher education is a tough one. Other institutions, such as Brigham Young University and Notre Dame, must struggle with it mightily, especially when it comes to recruiting student athletes to a top sports program with an arduous army of alumni backers and big TV contacts.

The problem here is that BC has created its own media firestorm. Had its officials reached out to Safe Sites or simply ignored them, life would carry on just the same as if they truncated the safe sex group, because sex and condoms will still happen no matter what.

Sex has always been tricky for Catholic Church. Critics have widely asked: Why not accept the provision of condoms and safe sex in poor and AIDs-riddled parts of the world such as Africa? Or how can one be so righteous in the face of sex scandal after sex scandal? The Church and BC, at their core, seek to do good. Their missions are to help others and they do do much to improve the world through charity, education and outreach. But sometimes the tendency to cling to tradition in a changing world can become a shackle.

One does not need to surrender one’s principals or traditions, but one does need to be pragmatic.