To read the longer review click onto the film title.
Rated PG-13. Malachi 3:5.
This film biography of the great Hispanic Grape Boycott leader will remind us that the battle for decent wages, working conditions was as hard fought by Hispanics and as stoutly resisted as the Civil Rights struggle was for African Americans. Preachers and teachers will find many good illustrations in this powerful film. There is even a touch of feminism in the way that the normally docile Helen Chavez defies her husband’s edict not to join a picket line and undergo arrest. Although the great leader died in the 1990s, the film is as relevant as ever during this time of debate over the future of illegal Hispanic immigrants. Best film now showing, people of faith should get out and support this before it is gone.
Rated PG-13. Genesis 6:5-8.
The strident attacks by members of a panel on Fox News on Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of the Genesis story stripped away my indifference to what I had thought would be yet another special effects Biblical tale. This is definitely not a kiddy’s tale that produced a cute pull toy. More of a Conan and King Lear meets The Transformers tale because this patriarch defends his Ark in a bloody battle against the evil hordes led by the invented villain Tubal-Cain. His sons are unmarried in this tale, which pits them against their father who believes that God wants to end the human race via the Flood. You won’t be using this unbiblical film for Sunday school, but you might enjoy stars Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly do some excellent acting.
Rated R. Psalm 55:5-8
Wes Anderson’s screwball comedy reminded me a little of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator in that it is set in a fictional country in Europe in the Thirties when a fascist nation is taking over its neighbors. The story within a story centers on Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), concierge of the Alpine hotel of the title where the wealthy are catered to in lavish splendor. He befriends the new lobby boy, appropriately named Zero because he is an orphaned refugee newly escaped from Turkey. A deceased female guest wills Gustave a valuable painting, setting into motion a madcap series of chases, imprisonment, and escapes. Look away from the screen for a moment, and you might miss one of the stars in a galaxy of delightful cameo roles.
Rated R. Romans 12:2 (J.B. Phillips Version)
Another sci-fi dystrophic film, this one imagines a future society that barely had survived a nuclear war that is based on the desire for law and order (shades of the Sixties!). Thus everyone during their teens must choose one of five orders or Factions in which to spend their lives, no one allowed to change once the choice is made. But what if during the Test it turns out that you have the traits for several Factions? Then you are a Divergent and must be cast out of society. This is the dilemma facing our Tris (Beatrice), the heroine of the trilogy penned by Veronica Roth. Thus our daughters have yet another strong female role model to add to Katnis of The Hunger Games.
Rated PG. Matthew 5:23-24.
Based on a series of short sketches that were part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show back in the Sixties, this is an absolutely delightful feature film about a genius dog granted by a court to adopt and raise an abandoned baby. The running joke is that the dog (a PH.D. at Harvard, where he graduated as “valedogtorian”) is smarter than the humans, so much so that Mr. Peabody (dog) has invented a time machine by which the two zip back and forth to Revolutionary France; ancient Egypt; daVinci’s Renaissance Italy; and briefly to the future. Lovers of puns and history (very skewered of course) will enjoy this concoction that nevertheless teaches the importance of reconciliation and the transformation from hostility to friendship.
Rated PG-13. Matthew 10:32-33
Like Blue Like Jazz this film deals with faith on a university campus, but there the similarity ends. This script is so contrived that I almost wanted to root for the atheist. In a fictional Southern university a philosophy professor points out to his freshman class a long list of philosophers and scientists who were and are atheists. Saying that he wants to bypass a useless discussion about the existence of a god who does not in fact exist, he tells the students to sign a statement that “God is dead.” Everyone but Josh Wheaton does so. Radisson is upset over this, but after arguing for a time, he says that he will give Josh 3 20-minute sessions of his class to put the case for God. In real life Josh would probably have the ACLU attacking the professor’s arbitrariness—indeed, I don’t know of any university that would have tolerated this. However, the film does offer a good opportunity for a youth group to talk about faith, doubt, and the fact that atheistic scientists also rely on a measure of faith for their “facts”.
Rated PG-13. Romans 8:25.
Tim Jenison is an inventor and software developer based in San Antonio, Texas who became obsessed with discovering the secret of 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s photographic style of painting. He is so obsessed that he spends several years and thousands of dollars testing the theory that the artist used a camera obscura to obtain the details for which his paintings are noted. This documentary is a fascinating study of obsession as well as of the merging of art and technology, Tim eventually recreating his version of Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” down to the tiniest detail of stitching in a rug.
On Netflix or DVD
Rated R. Ecclesiastes 3:11-15.
I would have preferred that the Danish film The Hunt to be the winner of the “Best Foreign Film” Oscar, but it is easy to see why Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s was chosen. The city of Rome has seldom been displayed so beautifully by the camera, its eternal beauty contrasting with the sordidness of the hedonistic life into which journalist Jep Gambardella has fallen. Following his 65th birthday party the one-book novelist reflects on his wasted talent since the days of his youth when critics had acclaimed him as the voice of his generation. His meeting a missionary nun similar to Mother Teresa brings on an epiphany when she asks him why he had not written another novel. The many wild party and strange art performance scenes have led many to compare this (favorably) with Fellini’s ironically named classic La Dolce Vita. Yes, be warned—it deserves its R rating.
Rated PG-13. Ecclesiastes 3:10-13
Famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s film is based on the life of the inventor of the WW 2 fighter the A6M, or Japanese Zero. We follow the life of Jirô Horikoshi from his boyhood period in the 1920s when he devoured aviations magazines and had imagined conversations with the great Italian aviation designer Gianni Caproni through his adult years of courtship and rise as a designer at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Although he is not a fascist himself, his creative designs enhanced the power of his government bent on the conquest of Asia. The beautifully drawn (by hand) scenes will please the eye, and the story will challenge the mind, especially in the scene near the end when Jiro stands amidst the burnt out wreckage of planes that suggest the ultimate result of war.
Not Rated R. (German, English subtitles)
Jeremiah 7:3-7. Ecclesiastes 1:2
Originally a popular TV miniseries in German, the two-part film is an intriguing study of the lives and beliefs of five Berliners—three men (one of them Jewish) and two women in their twenties from 1941 when three of them leave for the Eastern Front deep within the Soviet Union to the aftermath of the Fall of Berlin. The horrific scenes of close combat and the murder of civilians underlines the remark of the younger brother, reluctant to enter into battle, when he says, “The war will bring out the worst in us.” This is a fascinating study of the effects of war, told from our former enemy’s side.
Rated PG-13. Psalm 86:1-8; Isaiah 53:2-3
William Macey stars as the mute janitor of an apartment building in this cable TV film loosely based on Jackie Gleason’s 1962 film. Grittier than the humor-laden original, this Gigot is also more disgruntled with life because of tragedy. He changes when he is saddled with the care of a hostile young African American girl. Has a wonderful Christmas scene.
Not rated. Isaiah 53:2-3.Mark 10:15. 1 Corinthians 1:25.
This Jackie Gleason film, directed by his friend Gene Kelly, is a good film to watch during Holy week because he deals with a traditional Holy Fool. Gleason is Gigot, a mute janitor in Paris who is the butte of practical jokes because everyone thinks he is a dummy. This is far from the case as we see when he shelters a sick prostitute and her little daughter and develops a relationship with the little girl. There is a trace of Good Friday in an UNFORGETTABLE church scene, as well as in his daily treatment by neighbors. A good companion to this film is the cable TV film described above, The Wool Cap, loosely based on this.