“You’re going to a movie: Who do you call and invite to go with you?”

“Why are you such a movie snob?”

“What’s your favorite album of 2014 so far?”

“Why do you rarely smile in pictures?”

Questions are coming in, so… time for another Q & O = Question and Overstreet!

Some of these questions came to me via email, Facebook, Twitter, or some other internet source. Some came as ultimatums or exclamations… which I’ve refashioned into questions because questions are so much more interesting. And some are questions I’m asking myself.

So, if you’re interested in Netflix picks, taking friends to the movies, or checking out some great music… here we go!


This is a question I asked myself:  

What animated movie are you most eagerly anticipating?


This one.

I’m also eagerly anticipating this one from Pixar.


A question asked by one of my MFA in Creative Writing classmates:

Who do you like to take to the movies with you?


I’m supposed to say that my wife Anne is my favorite moviegoing companion. The good news is that I can say that with 100% honesty. But Anne only has the urge to go to the movies once every couple of months. So, with that in mind, while I love to take my friends to movies, my usual preference it is to go alone. My attention to a movie changes depending on my company, and I always know more clearly what I think of a film when I see it alone.

But sometimes, with certain films, it’s clear to me who I should invite. For example, I took my friend Brendan to see The LEGO Movie because I wanted to listen to him and his two young sons talk about it. I ended up quoting one of them in my review. Pixar’s upcoming movie is all about what goes on in the brain, and I’m planning to invite my friend who is a world-class brain scientist, because I can’t wait to hear what he’ll say about it when the credits roll.

Actually, I’d like to turn this question back toward readers: Who do you like to take to the movies with you? Praise your favorite moviegoer in the Comments.


A question inspired by how many times someone has shared this link with me on Twitter: 

Isn’t that 2008 interview with Marilynne Robinson published in The Paris Review just freaking awesome?


It is, indeed.


A comment from my Facebook friend Josh Withrow:

I recently returned from a conference on George MacDonald and the Inklings at Oxford University. In one or two of the plenary sessions, your name was mentioned as one of the great mythopoeic writers of our day — alongside the likes of Madeline L’Engle, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett. Pretty good company if you ask me.

My question back to Josh:

Thanks for sharing. That’s wonderful to hear. Pretty good company, indeed! I have enormous respect for those writers — L’Engle, especially.

But if such high praise were true, I suspect that I would get enough work as a writer to pay the bills. Fact is, I divide my time between a professional career as a project manager and marketer, and my “spare time” as a writer. I haven’t written fiction in a year because of new pressures in my life — I just don’t have the time or energy. I sincerely hope I can find ways to change my current circumstances so that I can get back to my best work. Writing fiction is my greatest passion in life — with teaching a close second. Those are the things I feel I was designed to do. I hope I get to do more of them someday.


A question asked by several friends over the past few months:

You love Calvin and Hobbes, right? Have you seen Dear Mr. Watterson?


I love Calvin and Hobbes. I enjoyed the movie. But… I hate to say this, because it’s such a good-hearted project… “A movie is not about what it’s about — it’s about how it is about it.”  I did not love the movie, because it wasn’t much more than a bunch of people gushing about how much they love Calvin and Hobbes. I didn’t learn much. It’s like the movie equivalent of a refrigerator magnet that says “YAY CALVIN AND HOBBES.” I made some notes about it on Letterboxd.


A question excerpted from actual comments from a reader:

I saw your Top 10 of 2013, and nobody’s even heard of your top two picks for the year. This proves you’re a movie snob and not worth taking seriously.


My two top picks of 2013 — This Is Martin Bonner and Museum Hours — are both award-winning, widely celebrated films that are available on Netflix Instant, as well as Amazon and elsewhere.

What was your question again? Oh, right. I’m sorry. You weren’t asking a question.

So… by your logic, anybody who gets excited about a movie that “nobody’s even heard of” is a snob?

Since I’ve discussed both of those films with many moviegoers who loved them both, I’ve gotta ask… how do you define “nobody”? Do you mean “nobody I know”? Perhaps you should spend some time with film enthusiasts. You might discover some great films you’ve missed.

Or perhaps the “nobody” you mention is actually referring to the majority : moviegoers who don’t bother to see anything but movies that star celebrities, movies advertised during prime-time television hours, movies that expand on popular franchises.

As Mark Twain once wrote, “Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” But who listens to Mark Twain? What a hipster.


A real question from a friend on Twitter:

St. Vincent’s album: Unbeatable for album of the year, right?


So far, the 2014 album that I’m most certain I’ll still be enjoying in ten years is Joe Henry’s Invisible Hour.

Joe’s lyrics are so beautiful, most poets I know would cry just to hear them. It’s not fair that Joe’s so multi-talented, or that he has such piercing insights about marriage, human nature, and the kingdom come.

I’m also a big fan of St. Vincent’s new album, yes, as well as…

– Elbow’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything;

– This Lone Justice from Lone Justice;

– nikki nack, from tUnE-yArds;

– Warpaint’s self-titled album;

– Sharon Van Etten’s awesome new release, Are We There; and

– A Letter Home, which is the brand-new release from Neil Young, via the recording technology of Jack White.

And thanks to a recommendation from my friend Josh Hurst, I’m enjoying a brilliant new release from Amy Levere called Runaway’s Diary. I’m also growing to love new releases by Phox, Wovenhand, Agents of Future, The Secret Sisters, The War on Drugs, Hundred Waters, Lana Del Ray, and Sinead O’Connor. I really liked the Bruce Springsteen EP from Record Store Day called American Beauty.

But the year’s only two-thirds finished. The best may be yet to come.


A question that came in on Twitter:

I’m young and didn’t grow up on films so I am new to many classics and favourites of yours. What’s the best way to approach them? Should I just watch treasures? Or choose a more balanced diet, supplementing the amazing films with good but not great films?


I would encourage you to work your way through The Arts and Faith Top 100, and read all that you can find about them after you’ve seen them. Another great resource is the Sight and Sound Top 50. Challenge yourself, and don’t rush to understand or appreciate. Great films often take time, reflection, discussion, and subsequent viewings before they start opening up and revealing their true rewards. Don’t get too worried if a movie is difficult or confusing or even unpleasant.

But you should also pay attention to the films that inspire you and bring you joy. For me, that might be a timeless classic of cinematic art, or it might be The Three Amigos or some Looney Toons episodesAsk yourself what you love about those films that you can’t stop watching. Is it the dialogue? Then try seeking out other films by the screenwriter. Is it the cinematography? Find other films by the genius behind the camera.

Some of my readers complain that I’m overly fond of food metaphors. I don’t care — they work. It’s not a bad thing to think of moviegoing as a diet. Spend time on the classics regularly. Be adventuresome, and develop new tastes. Enjoy your dessert. But be discerning — some things taste good for all of the wrong reasons, and they can mess you up.


A question from a reader:

Will Netflix replace the cinema and has CGI ruined filmmaking?


No, because Netflix is not an art form. It’s a delivery service. Cinema is an art form. There are countless hours of cinema, even great cinema, on Netflix currently. You just have to know where to look.

And no. CGI is animation. Animation didn’t ruin filmmaking in its previous forms, and CGI hasn’t changed that. There has always been great animation and poor animation. There still is. For great CGI, see Zodiac and Jurassic Park and Gollum and the new Planet of the Apes films.

Here’s an interesting question: As the boundaries between television and movies blurs more and more, what will the result eventually be called? As movies open on our TV screens, and TV shows are projected on big screens, are we moving toward a new term? If I review TV, movies, YouTube videos, and other streaming visual media… what am I? A film critic? A media critic? Is it all cinema?


Another question from a reader:

What do you think are the “game-changer” works of literature from this past decade? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


I’m not qualified to say. I haven’t read that much from the last decade. I don’t read much contemporary fiction. I mostly read poetry. And non-fiction, especially theology and criticism. Lately I’ve been reading a bunch of memoirs.

But some of the writers whose works from the last decade have become very important to me are Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, Christian Wiman, Scott Cairns, Sara Zarr, Kazuo Ishiguro, and… if I think of others, I’ll come back and add them.


A question from one of my Twitter followers:

What would you change if you rewrote your moviegoer’s memoir?


Through a Screen Darkly is seven years old! Hard to believe. What would I change?

I would make some corrections. There’s a bit of an autobiographical mix-up in the first chapter, regarding the calendar date of my viewing of Dances With Wolves. The epigraph from Star Wars, a quote from Obi-wan Kenobi, at the beginning of a chapter is actually an epigraph from the radio play of Star Wars. And in the back of the book, I somehow credited A Prairie Home Companion to Paul Thomas Anderson instead of Robert Altman… although the fact is that Anderson did “ghost-direct” a lot of that film because Altman wasn’t in the best of health.



A question from an Auralia’s Colors fan:

You’re a big fan of fantasy films. What’s the most underrated fantasy film you’ve seen?


The title that springs to mind is MirrorMask, the Jim Henson Company’s weird, wild collaboration with artist Dave McKean. It’s too long, and it meanders, but its mix of dream-state surreality and phantasmagoric imagery is endlessly fascinating to me.

So I’m excited to see that there’s another McKean project on the horizon — Luna — which looks like it could almost be a sequel.


A question I often ask myself:

What’s your favorite Robert DeNiro performance?


His performance in Midnight Run. DeNiro is funny, affecting, complicated, and a joy to watch all the way through. He creates a great character in Jack Walsh. It’s my favorite buddy comedy. I’ve probably seen it all the way through 25 times. It’s the most quotable comedy I’ve ever seen. Parks and Rec‘s Adam Scott praised it in an interview published last year. In fact, it’s streaming online now.


From a Facebook message regarding Darren Aronofsky’s Noah:

I understand a film critic’s responsibilities to consider a film’s artistry and excellence… but to excuse a film that excels in these qualities but fails to show God’s truth is straining at gnats and swallowing camels.


First of all, I think you’re contradicting yourself. A film that excels in artistry and excellence cannot be devoid of “God’s truth.” If a film is made with intelligence and beauty and imagination, then it is already reflecting truth in some way. And truth cannot contradict God — it belongs to him. Sure, any film will have flaws… and some contain dangerous lies. But beauty is beautiful because it reflects something of God’s glory. Excellence is excellence because it achieves, in some sense, the standards that God himself has revealed.

So… there’s that.

Now, to get specific and talk about Noah:

In the last few months, I have read and participated in more substantial conversations about Noah than any other film of the last several years. What stands out about these conversations was that they happened between people who have seen the movie.

I encourage you to see the movie, before you judge it… and before you judge the quality of my opinion of it.

And then I encourage you to re-read (assuming you have read them) my three-part coverage of Noah: Part OnePart Two, and a round-up of commentary and notable reviews. In these pieces, I detail many ways in which the film “shows God’s truth.” And if you disagree, please detail exactly how the film contradicts me.

I realize that this will require time, a thorough consideration of the evidence, and writing that is based on what the evidence suggests. Many of us are willing to invest that time, to give the evidence thorough consideration, and engage in detailed evidence-based arguments, and we invite you to do the same.

I also link to the coverage from many others who go into great detail about the same thing. And you can also listen to this podcast discussion where Dr. Jeff Keuss, Dr. Chris Chaney, author Jennie Spohr, and I discuss all of the different ways we found God’s truth shown in Noah.


From another Facebook message regarding Noah:

As believers, we should not worry so much in the production of the film but the message and if it agrees with God.


If I understand that sentence correctly (and I’m not sure that I do)… it sounds kind of like saying “We should not worry so much about what is in the food, the quality of the ingredients, or the preparation of the food — we should only make sure that the food is good for us.”

To which I say this: The hard work of paying attention to what is in the food, the quality of the ingredients, and the care with which the food was prepared… that is the way we find out if food is good for us.

So when we “worry about the production of the film,” we are caring about its goodness. Any and every aspect of a work of art can reflect God’s glory.

God filled the world with beauty and excellence, because beauty and excellence are ways in which he reveals himself. A Christian who is an artist will not just care about “a message.” In fact, a Christian who is an artist will be humble enough to know that even he isn’t completely sure of what “messages” his work will convey… because art is incarnational and mysterious, like God’s own art. A Christian will learn that a message without beauty and excellence and mystery is as trite as a bumper sticker, and it does not give evidence that we are paying attention to how God works, or to what it means to be made in the image of God.


A real question from a reader named Jon Matthews. Wait, no… there are no questions here. Just judgments.

Don’t parade yourself as a Christian if you are not one. Liberal religiousity has nothing to do with Christ. You have created your own god in your image. If you are ashamed of the Word, any of the Word, you have no part of Him.


Wow. The Bible warns against claims of clairvoyance, but you talk about me as if you have read my mind and searched my heart. And I don’t believe we’ve ever actually even met. How do you come by such fascinating ideas about me?


A question sometimes asked by friends and coworkers:

Why don’t you smile much in pictures?


I’m aware of the lack of available imagery in which I am found smiling. I prefer images that are closer to how you’ll normally find me. I’m not normally scowling, but I am normally skeptical, often bemused, and frequently lost in thought. Sometimes I laugh, but rarely do I offer what most people would consider a “photogenic smile.”

Perhaps it’s because I’ve never had one of these.

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