Film Capsules December 2013

AS ALWAYS, I invite you to freely share these Film Capsules. I provide these mini-reviews, each month, and I know many newsletter editors and webmasters who enjoy adding a sprinkling of movie coverage into their mix of inspiring reading materials. I’m pleased to let you share these items and ask only that you credit “Edward McNulty” as the author and provide a link back to ENJOY!

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Rated R. Psalm 10.12; Luke 4:16-18.

Based on Solomon North’s best selling memoir, this is a harrowing true story that reveals how false such films as Gone With the Wind depict slavery. From his prosperous life as a free man in upstate New York where he is respected by many white friends, Solomon is reduced to the manacled life of a slave when he is lured to Washington DC and kidnapped. His life on plantations in Louisiana is a round of beatings and hard labor. This and his eventual emancipation make for a powerful story that both white and black viewers should see and reflect upon. I place this film ahead of the new Hunger Games film because it is of so much more importance to our country, and has not received nearly the support of the public as it deserves. By all means gather a group and go see this film on the big screen, rather than wait for the DVD release!

 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Rated PG-13. Psalm 9.18; Proverbs 23.18; 1 Corinthians 13.13.

Jennifer Lawrence is even better in this second of the films based on Susan Collins best selling series of novels. Although now a victorious celebrity entitled to move from her shack to a lavish house in Victors’ Village, Katniss is guilt-ridden over her killings and afflicted with PTSD. Plus she has to pretend to love Peeta while her true love lives still in poverty. However, these become the least of her troubles when the dictator, fearful that her presence might instill hope and rebellion among the enslaved populace, cooks up a scheme that forces her and Peeta to return to the Hunger Games where they can more easily be eliminated. This sci-fi thriller rises far above others of its kind because of its complex and believable characters and its central theme of hope.

Black Nativity (2013)

Rated PG. Proverbs 17.9; Luke 2:10-11; Matthew 5:23-24.

Based on the great poet Langston Hughes’ 1961 Off Broadway play (and which has been often performed in black churches since), this film is a very unsubtle sermon on forgiveness and reconciliation. The about to be evicted Naimi sends her sullen teenaged son Langston from Baltimore to New York to stay with her parents from whom she has been estranged all of the boy’s life. The pastor of a Harlem Church about to stage the Langston Hughes’ musical, Reverend Cornell Cobbs and his wife Aretha Try to reach out to the boy, but…Lots of songs and music, with the characters songs expressing their thoughts and feelings not always well set up, this is still an enjoyable way to welcome in the Christmas season, with Jennifer Hudson’s great voice being a major attraction. I wish writer/director Kasi Lemmons had used more of the original show’s spirituals and less of the so-so modern music, especially at the climax when the original last song was “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

 Ender’s Game (2013)

Rated PG-13. Mark 8.36

Set in a future when war is akin to video gaming, this is the story of a gifted boy trained to become the leader in what everyone is convinced will be a war to save humanity. Some 50 years earlier a species called The Formics tried to take over Earth but were defeated at the last moment by a hero who discovered a weakness in the alien’s huge war ships. Now a boy named Enders is being groomed at a Hogswart-like military school in the hope that he is “The One” destined to save humanity. Some of the values and ethics in the film are debatable, but there is no doubt as to the “awesomeness” of the special effects.

 Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Rated R. Proverbs 31:8

Ron is as sleazy a character as you aee likely to encounter at the movies—he’s having sex with two groupies instead of doing his job protecting a bull rider at the Dallas rodeo. When as a result of his promiscuity he is diagnosed as HIV+, he refuses to believe it. It is the mid 1980s, and this homophobe thinks only gay people can get the disease. Rejected by his buddies when the diagnosis proves right, he begins a long journey from selfish, hedonistic pursuits to concern for others as he sets up a buyers club to get around the law against drug dealing—his source being drugs and nutrients that a doctor in Mexico sells him. He lives well beyond the 30 days a doctor had told him he would live, thus gaining time to help others as well as himself.

 I Used to Be Darker (2013)

Rated R. Psalm 38:21-22

This tale of Taryn, who has run away from her mother in Ireland to work in the US at a seaside amusement park, is a sorry tale of family dysfunction. When her boyfriend rejects her after impregnating her, she quits and goes to visit her aunt and uncle in Baltimore, even though it has been several years since she has seen them. Bad timing, because these two musicians are breaking up. She stays with her uncle anyway, but when their daughter drops out of college and returns home, the two cousins, once close, suffer a falling out. There are some moving moments, especially when hr aunt and uncle, unable to put their feelings into words, pour them out in song.

 Haute Cuisine (2013)

Rated PG-13. 1 Cor. 10:24; Philippians 2:4.

Food movies run the gamut from the theological Babette’s Feast to the lighter bio films such as Julie and Julia. This one, based on a true story chronically the few years that Hortense served as the private chef for the President of France, is at the latter end of the spectrum. The food is shot in close-ups that will make you spurn your popcorn, perhaps sending you forth right after the film ends to your local French restaurant. The food is supposedly French home cooking preferred by the President, but it is far above the American macaroni and cheese or hamburger variety. Also of interest is the issue of male chauvinism that she encounters amidst the all-male staff of the Presidential Palace.

 All Is Lost (2013)

Rated PG-13. Psalm 69.2

Another excellent addition to the survival genre, this one boasts a welcome return to the front of the camera of Robert Redford, simply called “Our Man” in the credits. Rudely awakened from sleep, he discovers that his 39-foot yacht has been rammed by the corner of a cargo container that somehow has tumbled into the Indian Ocean. H manages to rig a flimsy patch over the gaping hole, but then is unable to send an SOS on his broken radio, and within a day or two discovers that his large jug of water has been befouled by the seawater. The only words we hear him say is the brief SOS message and the “F” word in protest of his water spoilage. Even worse, is a storm literally turning over the yacht a couple of times, and then as it takes on water, his having to launch his small life raft. The film’s title expresses his outlook

 Thor (2013)

Rated R. Genesis 1:1-2

If you like computer-enhanced thrillers with Greek gods fighting with swords—and a hammer, we mustn’t forget that hammer that apparently is crossed with a boomerang—and laser guns, endless fist fights and duels, all set to loud, pounding music, this thing might be for you. Or more likely, for your kids or grandkids who don’t care about the believability of the action.

 Kill Your Darlings (2013)

Rated R. Galatians 6.7.

Set in 1943-44, this chronicles the friendship between three rebels at Columbia University who later became famous poets and writers of the Beat Generation– Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. A murder in 1944 both brings them together and drives them apart. Well deserving of its R rating, this will be of interest mainly to those interested in the morose Beat generation, or who want to see if Daniel Radford can move beyond his Harry Potter roles. He can, although this is not a film I would want to see again, so filled with the grotesque values of the trio who relished breaking all rules of morality and literature.

 Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Rated PG-13. Job 17:11.

One of the better Coen Brothers’ films, this tale about a struggling folk singer in 1961’s Greenwich Village won’t open until December 20, but I want to give you a heads up because it is one of the best of the Coens’ films, right up there with A Serious Man and the far more funny O Brother, Where Art Thou. It is slightly similar to the latter film in that there are many references to Homer’s The Odyssey, although of a far subtler nature.

 On DVD or Netflix

 Wadjda (2013)

Rated PG. Luke 10:42.

What an unexpected delight—a witty Arab feminist film! No not just Arab, but Saudi Arabian film. It is historic in the sense that writer/director Haifaa Al-Mansour is both the first Saudi director to shoot a feature film in the kingdom, as well as the first Saudi woman ever to make a film. (And there are no public cinemas in that conservative Muslim country.) Furthermore, there is talk that this will become the first Saudi film to be submitted for a “Best Foreign Film” Oscar. The film is also timely in that news of Saudi women taking to the streets driving their own cars despite prohibitions against this has been circulating. The story of the 11 or 12 year-old girl who gives her name to the film is a junior version of the news report. She has her heart set on a green bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah. Her teacher and mother are against this unorthodox goal, the latter fearful that such an unwomanly act will harm her body so that she cannot bear children, thus ruining her chance for marriage. The latter is the only future such mothers can envision for their daughters, though Mother herself is contending with being shelved by the husband who still lives with his parents because of her failure to bear a son. The film is filled with many touches of humor, insights into Muslim culture, plus a wonderful moment of grace at the conclusion that packs an emotional wallop.

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