Film Capsules January 2015

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© 2914 Edward McNulty, Visual Parables. Click onto a title to read a much longer review.


Rated PG-13. Amos 5:21-24.

None of the other fine films about Dr. King—King and Boycott, and the only fair Selma, Lord Selma—have shown as well the humanity of the man whom most young Americans know only as the Icon who gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. The flaws of Dr. King are revealed as well as his well-known courage and elegance. He has a tense moment with wife Coretta as they listen to the tape recorded surreptitiously by the FBI; we see him joking with his staff and eating, playing with his children, and tucking in their blankets late one night; and there are two scenes is which his doubts about continuing on are lifted by Coretta and by SNNC worker John Lewis. This is a fine depiction of the events surrounding the great 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, despite the unfortunate portrayal of President Johnson in the first half. The critics have ignored the fine Oval Office scene in the second half in which he dresses down Gov. Wallace. Even 50 years after the brutal police beat the marchers the film is so relevant in helping us understand why so many blacks in Ferguson, New York City, and Cleveland are suspicious of and hostile toward the police. I wish every American would see this film, one that preachers and teachers will find plenty of material about justice and nonviolence.


Rated PG-13. Psalm 144:7-8, Mark 11:25.

Based on the life of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, this is the story of his ordeal as a Japanese POW when his bomber went down in the Pacific, and after 41 days adrift, he and his surviving companion were picked up by a Japanese ship. A head guard took delight in tormenting him, but could not break him. It is too bad that the filmmakers elected to downplay Zamperini’s faith and did not dramatize his returning to Japan and forgiving his captors, but the film is still a powerful testament to the human spirit and the power of the gospel to lift us above hatred. Those who enjoy this should also check out two other POW films set in a Japanese camp, The Railway Man and To End All Wars.

 The Imitation Game

Rated PG-13. Proverbs 31:8-9; Matthew 7:7 & 19:30.

Although the plot centers on a British team attempting during WW 2 to break the Nazi’s Enigma Code, the story is really that of the tragedy of a gay man victimized by a prejudiced society. Mathematician Alan Turing is very unlikable at first, to us and to his fellow code breakers who resent his arrogance and impolite manners. Influenced by the only woman member of the team Joan Clarke, he slowly changes, winning over the other team members who join him in resisting their superiors who intend to shut down their work on a machine designed to decipher the Nazi’s messages because of two years of failure. However, Joan cannot change Turly’s sexual orientation, so after the war, despite the success of his machine, which in effect was the first mechanical computer, he becomes victim of the Victorian era law that criminalized homosexuality.

 Into the Woods

Rated PG. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

This adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical is a Godsend for those of us unable to go to New York or have missed the road show version. A delightful postmodern blending of classic fairy tales, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel, it does not end with the typical “and they lived happily ever after.” It is even darker than the Grimm Brother’s stories, so I would recommend that parents see it first before taking their children. The themes of wishing and mutual dependence are explored, but for many the reason for seeing it is Meryl Streep’s marvelous portrayal of a witch who, while evil, is also to be pitied.


Rated R. Proverbs 5:10; Luke 9:25.

Like a Greek tragedy, this fact-based film, centered on a sport popularized by the Greeks, unfolds toward its tragic climax. The film delves behind the headlines of the spectacular 1996 murder involving the wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) and the 1984 Olympic Wrestling God medal winners Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). The two brothers accept the wealthy du Pont’s invitation to live at his lavish Pennsylvania state where he has built a state of the art wresting center that gives its name to the film. They soon discover that they have made a Faustian bargain with a manipulative man who collects wrestlers in the same way that he collects seashells, stamps, and guns.


Rated PG. Ezekiel 11:19; Matthew 6:19-21.

First, let me say for those tired of “Tomorrow,” it is sung through just once in the film. Also there is an added new tuneful song called “Who Am I?” in which three characters explore their inner selves. In this mixed-race version set in today’s world Daddy Warbucks, played by Jamie Foxx, is a rich cell phone mogul in a race for Mayor of NYC. The spunky Annie also is black, played by the little actress so memorable in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis. I skipped the earlier film versions because I never was a fan of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, but am glad that I saw this updated version. Not only was it entertaining, but also in so far that films reflect our society, the audiences’ acceptance of the interracial romance revealed that as a nation we have come a long way in race relations.


Rated R. Numbers 14:33; Mark 1:12-13; Proverbs 3:13-14.

In the Jewish/Christian Scriptures the wilderness is a lawless scary place infested by wild beasts. Sometimes it is a place for punishment and cleansing, as in the case of the escaped Israelites who had continually rebelled against Moses and God, or, in the case of Jesus, a place of solitary testing concerning his God-given mission. There is a touch of both meanings in director Jean-Marc Vallee’s film, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Burdened with a dissolute past, Cheryl Strayed (interesting last name), seeks to purge herself by hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. She encounters many people along the way, most of whom are helpful, and one of whom could have been dangerous. If you liked the pilgrimage film The Way, you will find this film both entertaining and inspiring.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Rated PG. Exodus 1:8; Exodus 3:13-15.

It should not be surprising that Ridley Scott has transformed the Biblical story of Moses into a thriller centered on a man more warrior more than prophet and lawgiver. In this Gladiator Meets the Burning Bush Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh are reduced to just a few because he goes underground to train the Hebrew slaves for fighting. The special effects are more impressive than the film. In the Red Sea sequence Moses does not stand with his staff raised to part the sea but instead mounts a chariot to rush toward Pharaoh so that we expect them to meet and fight to the death, as in a Western or Medieval adventure tale. Far better to watch the old Cecil B. DeMille potboiler, or better, Moses the Lawgiver starring Burt Lancaster. This latter is truer to the Biblical story, as well as showing the spiritual development of the prophet as he moves toward a monotheistic faith.

 Big Eyes

Rated PG-13. Psalm 103:6; Ephesians 5:22-24.

Who would have thought back in the Sixties that a woman had painted all those children with huge, imploring eyes, and not the man claiming to be their creator? This true story reveals the abusive marriage of Margaret to Walter Keane, as well as society’s patriarchal view toward women, without which Margaret, having absorbed its teaching that women were to submit to men (a priest tells her this in a confessional booth). Her slow coming to self-awareness that leads to her rebellion makes this a feminist film well worth watching. Regardless of whether you think her art is the kitsch that art claims it is, we an cheer her emergence into a world in which she controls her own destiny—the octogenarian is still very much alive and still painting we learn at the end of the film.

 The Babadook

Rated R. Psalm 55:4-5.

I am not a big fan of horror movies, but Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent ‘s film really got to me. Still not fully recovered from the sudden and violent death of her husband, Amelia is struggling to raise her unruly seven year-old son Samuel. Since a pop-up book about a monster named The Babadook has mysterious appeared in the boy’s room, he is frightened of the monster hiding in his closet or beneath his bed. “If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook reads one of the lines, which turns out to be true in their case. Part of the horror is its ambiguity—is the monster real, or a projection of disturbed psyches? And who is the most disturbed, the mother or the son?


The Homesman

Rated R. Job 17:11; Matthew 5:16; Colossians 3:12.

One of the most unusual Western films you are likely to see because it focuses upon a woman rather than a two-fisted gunslinger, the story centers on Mary Bee Cuddy, a former schoolteacher who has taken up farming in Nebraska. When her pastor asks the congregation for a volunteer to be a “homesman,” one who will escort back to Iowa three women driven insane by the harsh frontier living conditions, she offers her services. She recruits a claim jumper about to be hanged, and the two of them set out in a specially built wagon with the three raving women. Their adventures during the long trek include a very surprising turn. This indy film starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones (he also directed it) is well worth the search on NetFlix or Amazon for those wanting something totally different in the way of a Western.

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