To read the longer reviews on this site click onto a film title. Also, most of these long reviews a include set of reflection/discussion questions found exclusively in the July issue Visual Parables.
Ida (Polish with English subtitles)
Rated PG-13. John 10:10b; Psalm 27:10
This deeply spiritual little masterpiece by the English/Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski takes place in Communist-ruled Poland around 1960. The orphaned Anna is about to join the order of the nuns who have raised her. The Mother Superior orders her to first go and visit her only relative, an aunt who has never contacted her. The first words of Aunt Wanda, a minor judge, are, “So, a Jewish nun.” The film then becomes a road story with the atheist and the believer traveling to the farm once owned by the family to try to find someone who will admit knowing how Ida’s parents were killed. Both make some interesting discoveries and are faced with a decision that will change each of their lives forever.
Rated PG. 1 Corinthians 13:13; Ecclesiastes 3:1-2.
This film suggests that Shakespeare got it wrong, this being the story of two teenagers afflicted with cancer that is no wise due to their fault but will lead to the death of one of them. Hazel and Gus meet at a cancer support group led by an inept youth minister. Thus begins a journey that leads them to Amsterdam that does not progress as they thought, but does connect them with the life of Anne Frank, another teenager whose untimely death was not due to any fault in herself. A powerful parable of love and death, the film can leave us thinking about our mortality.
Rated R. Exodus 23:9.
Set in 1921 Ellis Island and New York, this is the story of how the Polish immigrant Ewa pays a high price for a chance at the American Dream. Her sister, found to be infected with TB, is shunted off to the Ellis Island infirmary, and Ewa is about to be sent back because of a shipboard complaint about her “morality.” Then Bruno, operator of a burlesque revue “rescues her,” but for what? Bruno turns out to be a complicated benefactor/exploiter who changes Ewa’s life for good and bad. An intense, powerful story of grace in unlikely circumstances. Beware of the R rating!
Rated PG-13. Ecclesiastes 3:15ab
In this Groundhog Day Meets Saving Pvt. Ryan film Tom Cruise plays an officer with cold feet thrust unwillingly into battle on a Normandy beach. A strange race of aliens, organized like a bee hive, have taken over Europe and now threaten England and the rest of the world. In a series of sometimes amusing events Cruise must die over and over, repeating the scene and advancing a little each time as he gains new knowledge of the alien menace. A fascinating tale—and I’m not a Tom Cruise fan!
Rated R. Proverbs 20:6.
This Clint Eastwood-directed film explores the sordid background of singer Frankie Vali and The Four Seasons, popular back in the 50s and early 60s. Hanging out with petty thieves, the young Frankie could have gone to jail but for Tommy, he ringleader of the little band of thieves that morphed into “The Four Seasons.” Ever grateful, Frankie later saves Tommy’s hide when loan sharks are about to show his friend what happens to guys who run up debts without paying them. The story of Frankie’s rise and Tommy’s fall is a parable of loyalty.
Rated PG. Psalm 7:14
A fake impresario in cahoots with a villain who wants to be the World’s Greatest Thief tricks the Muppets to go on a world tour. It just so happens that next to or across the street from the theaters are banks and museums the villains plan to rob. Kermit even is kidnapped and thrown into a Russian gulag to replace the villain who is his look alike. Hilarious escapism at its best.
Rated PG. Isaiah 11:6; Matthew 5:9
The young Viking Hiccup, his pet dragon Toothless, and all the friends are back in a sequel set five years after the first film, and it proves to be as good as the original. Wonderful animated scenes of flying over mountains and through clouds, and a story in which Hiccup continues to be a peacemaker. Hiccup discover a land where a mysterious Dragon Rider turns out to be very close to him; there also is a mighty villain this time, and there is the death of a loved one that makes the film suitable only for a child who can handle Bambi.
Rated PG. Romans 12:19-21.
It seems that the story we know as “Sleeping Beauty” got almost everything wrong, especially about the “wicked fairy” who cursed the infant daughter of the king and queen. A back-story shows that the king had terribly wronged the fairy, named Maleficent so she seeks vengeance. The film becomes a parable of love overcoming hatred and vengeance. Children too young to appreciate the moral will love the several of funny characters, as well as the marvelous special effects of fairies soaring through the clouds.
Rated PG. Genesis 9:6.
Set East Texas in 1989, this film noir is the story of what happens when mild mannered Richard Dane shoots and kills an intruder late one night. The dead man’s criminal father, just released from prison, shows up to set things right. There follows a series of wild events that plunge Dane into a dark world he never imagined, ending in a bloody shoot out. This violent tale, definitely not for everyone, might lead one to explore what it means to be “ a man.” I suspect officials of the NRA would love this film!
Rated R. Exodus 20:12a.
This is not the Debbie Reynolds Tammy some of you remember. Unless you enjoy Melissa McCarthy’s vulgar language and over the top humor, you’d best skip this one. There’s much more sex in this one too than in her Identity Thief, though it is Susan Sarandon, playing her grandmother no less (!), who engages in the back seat gymnastics. It is such a hard R that I didn’t bother with discussion questions or a related Scripture.
Rated R. Judges 21:25.
This Australian post-apocalyptic film involves a man hunting down three thugs who stole his car. He is brutal, killing a dwarf from whom he is buying a gun without any warning, so there are no heroes, just survivor in this grim tale. Teaming up with a wounded youth who turns out to be the brother of one of the men he is hunting, their journey is a bloody one. Definitely not for everyone!
Rated PG-13. Psalm 55:4.
A combination of sci-fi and horror genres, this tale of three friends heading west and being waylaid by a mysterious hacker who had been plaguing them is a brainteaser. We are kept guessing whether the scientist played by Laurence Fishburne is for or against the three who wind up being patients in the desert clinic in which all the staff wears bio-suits for protection in case the three friends have been contaminated by contact with aliens.
Not Rated. Amos 5:23-24.
This two-hour documentary explores the volunteers, the native blacks, and the segregationist of Mississippi during the 1964 invasion of the state by the Civil Rights movement. Made up of archival film footage and photos, interviews with the survivors (including Bob Moses, Julian Bond, Rita Schwerner, Pete Seeger, and Fannie Lou Hamer) and excerpts from many Freedom Songs, the film is a deeply moving experience that exposes the fallacies of the Hollywood film Mississippi Burning. It can still be seen on PBS, as well as on the DVD that they sell.