The first two films below will interest Kevin Kostner fans, as well as those involved in social justice issues. Like the other films, longer reviews will be posted at visualparables.org by next week.
Black or White
Rated PG-13. 2 Corinthians 5:16-19;Proverbs 28:11
Kevin Costner is the wealthy lawyer Elliott Anderson who, with his wife, has been raising their granddaughter after their daughter died in childbirth and the young black father had run away into a life of crime and drugs. When his wife dies and he resists the attempt of the child’s African America relatives led by the matriarch (Octavia Spencer, in another great role!) to draw closer to her a court battle erupts for custody of the child. This is an emotionally charged story dealing with issues of racial perceptions and reconciliation in which the character of the presiding judge also is important. This is a thoroughly enjoyable courtroom drama with the fate of an adorable little girl hanging in the balance.
Rated PG. Proverbs 31:8-9
Sports films are always about underdogs struggling uphill against seemingly impossible odds, and this second Kevin Kostner “based on a true story” film is no exception. It is also a truism that the best of these films usually involve issues of race and racism (think Remember the Titans; Coach Carter; Pride; and 42). In this film set in the 1980s in the all Latino California town that gives its name to the film, down on his luck white coach Jim White sets out to form the first cross country team the school has had. The boys are sons of migrant workers, required to get up before dawn and work beside their parents before going to school, so the prospects are dubious of their ever winning. How coach and team first come to believe in themselves and then earn the grudging respect of their haughty competitors who disdain them is combined with amusing fish out of water incidents (on behalf of the coach, his wife and two daughters), making this a powerful movie experience. Be warned that it is wise to bring along a few Kleenexes, especially at the concluding sequence when we see the now grown boys, many who have gone back to McFarland after college to continue the work of upbuilding their community. (Coach White and his wife retired and still lives in McFarland.)
Rated R. Proverbs 19:11; John 5:6; Ephesians 4:26-27.
In that old song “If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d’ve a baked a cake” that round sweet desert item symbolizes hospitality. In this film it is a means of expressing regret and reconciliation. Jennifer Aniston”s Claire has plenty of need for both. Living under such excruciating pain that she now is addicted to her pain medicine, she hurts just as much inside as a result of a car accident in which she lost far more than her physical health. Some will see this as a downer of a film, but the ending offers hope for this seemingly lost soul, just as Easter comes after Good Friday.
Rated PG. Deuteronomy 10:19; Psalm 84:3a
Move over Yogi Bear, because a bear with far more heart has come to London’s Paddington Station. The Brown family would have passed him by, but Mrs. Brown’s compassionate heart calls out, so she stops and offers the homeless little bear shelter for the night, despite her husband’s objections. Naming him after the train station, her insistence the next day on helping him find the explorer who had taught Paddington English and imparted to him a love for orange marmalade. This is a delightful tale of hospitality and what constitutes a family that adults and children can enjoy together.
Rated R. 1 Samuel 18:7
Some will regard this Clint Eastwood-directed film, based on a true story, another war film about American soldier-hero Chris Kyle dedicated to doing his duty. There is enough action in the streets of Fallujah to satisfy the action lover, but there is much more about the impact of violence on Kyle and his family when he returns home, the latter reminding me of the director’s anti-Western film Unforgiven. The film makes no comment on the political context of the film, narrowly focusing in on one man and his passion for protecting his fellow soldiers by shooting any Iraqi who poses a threat. Kyle is a man who packs a pocket New Testament as well as his rifle, and thus a man able to separate his life of killing (at least 160 kills) from his life of faith.
Rated R. Psalm 2:1-3; Proverbs 26:23-25.
Co-director Seth Rogan and Even Goldberg’s farce certainly has created an international stir. Knowing Rogan’s past vulgar films, I stayed away from it until NetFlix offered it—and was somewhat surprised that there were some serious themes all but buried beneath the silly plot and the layers of obscene language and graphic sex. One of those themes is of interest to people of faith, the unmasking of the powers that be, akin to the mission of Christ when he stood against the Jerusalem authorities and overturned the accepted social, moral, and religious boundaries of the day. Whether or not this will make it worth your time depends on your tolerance level of the film’s R-rated elements. I never would have guessed it before, but I am glad I watched this.
Rated PG. I Corinthians 13:7
Like Frozen, this is an animated musical tale of two sisters. There are two kingdoms, Fairyland and the Dark Forest, the two separated by a row of primroses. In the beautiful land of color and brightness there are two fairy princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), strong minded and feisty, and Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), flighty and a bit gullible. Marianne, betrayed by her knight lover, adopts the garb of a warrior, which she will need when the Bog King, the embittered ruler of the Dark Forest, kidnaps Dawn. The film has been panned by critics, but I found the animation truly beautiful (especially toward the end when it apprears that we are looking at the characters and scenery through a kaleidoscope), and the characters engaging—and so did the solely adult audience at the screeding I attended.
Rated R. Proverbs 3:13-14; Luke 15:16a.
Christ Rock’s Andre Allen, once a wildly successful stand-up comedian who made a series of silly but hugely popular films in which he played Hammy the Bear, has flown from LA to NYC for the premiere of his first dramatic film. Uprize is a historical drama based on the Haitian Revolution in which the slaves massacred 50,000 white settlers. However, none of the reporters or fans is interested in his becoming a “serious” artist—al of their questions and shouts are about when he is going to make another Hammy the Bear flick. His day spent with NY Times reporter Chelsea Brown changes his life, leading him to re-evaluate his past and present, both in regards to his career and to his marriage plans. The film is similar to Birdman filled with so much vulgar language and sex that you should be aware of its “hard R” rating—but still very funny.
Rated PG. Proverbs 3:3.
This is a fun,, goofy romp that provides the origins story of the penguins of the Madagascar films. Older viewers who remember Warner Brothers delightful “Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies” series will enjoy the crazy antics of the penguin “family” out to save the penguins of the world from extinction at the hands of the mad-scientist, once named Dave, but now Dr. Octavius Brine—or I should write, “at the tentacles,” for Dave is an octopus. He bears a grudge against penguins because they stole the limelight from him when he and they lived in a zoo.
If you like British P.D. Wodehouses whacky novels about the uppercrust but bumbling Bertie Wooster and his far brainier manservant Jeeves, you might like this comedy set in England’s version of the 1%. Johnny Depp is the unflappable Lord Mortdecai and Gwyneth Patrow is his far smarter wife Johanna faced with finacial ruin because he has failed to pay his taxes, so they become emeshed in the pursuit of a stolen Goya oainting wanted by a terrorist and the Britsh M15. Strictly escapist fare, preferrably seen on TV, or if you must see it on a big screen, at a cheap seat theater.
Rated PG. Proverbs 19:22.
The main reason fro seeing this looney affair is to catch Robin Williams’ last performance as the wax statue of Teddy Roosevelt in his Rough Rider’s uniform come to life. This 4th time around the magic that brings the animal and human figures alive after dark at the American Museum of Natural History is dying. The solution is to be found in London at the British Museum, so the quest leads there where Sir Lancelot joins the hardy band that has flown in from New York.
TV Movie (2002). Deut.16:20; Psalm 10:17-18.
Starring Angela Basset as the little lady who would not give up her bus seat, this is a good companion film to Selma. The TV film ably shows that Rosa Parks’ arrest, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott and catapulting Martin Luther King, Jr. into the national spotlight, had a long history behind it of a woman who had been active in the local NACCP, and who was willing to endure the pressures of hites who used fear and threat of death to maintain their racist system.
TV film, equivalent to PG. Colossians 3:12.
This delightful six-part series set in the early 1950s in a small English town of Cambridge is based on the novel, Sidney Chambers and the Shade of Death, by English author, James Runcie. That last name might seem familiar, especially if you are Episcopalian. The author’s father was Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1980’s. Sidney is a progressive Christian who loves jazz, hanging out at the village pub, and such a keen observer that he is drawn into crime solving after he conducts the funeral of a parishioner, supposedly a suicide. Coming upon evidence of murder, at first he is unable to persuade Inspector Geordie Keaton, but when he does the two become fast friends, mainly due to the guilt each struggles with because of their horrific war time experiences. Until Feb. 15 you can watch past episodes on PBS at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch-online/full-episodes/grantchester-episode-1/.
House of Cards
NR, equiv. to R. Ecclesiastes 3:16-17: Psalm 73:1-9.
The Downton Abbey of Washington politics, the series stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as career obsessesed pair rising to the pinnacle of power—from the House of Representatives to the White House. A Byzantine version of Mac Beth, Spacey’s Francis Underwood will stop at nothing as he lies and manipulates his way through the corrupt corridors of our capitol. The fascination with what will he do next keeps us coming back, even though we deplore what he is doing. Part of that fascination lies in his breaking “the fourth wall” and winking or smirking at us, and frequently letting us hear what he is thinking, often the very opposite of what he is telling a character. The third series begins the middle of this month, so, if you are like me and missed the first two seasons, there is still time to come up to speed—if you join NetFlix.