Film Capsules March 2015

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 At Theaters

Still Alice

Rated PG-13. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12; Deuteronomy 4:9.

See why Julianne Moore deserved her Best Actress Oscar in this wrenching drama about loss and love. Her Alice is a distinguished Columbia University professor whose diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s disease. Worst yet, it is a rare genetic form so there is a 50% chance that her three grown children have inherited it. Potentially a tearjerker, this will induce tears, but not by any cheap melodramatic tricks. Do not miss this one.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Rated PG. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2.

Checking back into this Indian hotel for old people is just as much fun the second time around, with the added enjoyment of Richard Gere as a new guest who might or might not be the writer he claims to be, working on a novel about a man entering old age. The ensemble of great British actors/actresses are back (headed by Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy), their stories interwoven with that of the young owner Sonny Kapoor’s bumbling attempt to expand his successful hotel to a second location, while at the same time not dealing so well with plans for his upcoming wedding. As colorful and moving as the first film, this is a bit more complex with so many love stories to explore.

Mr. Turner

Rated R. Matthew 13:16a.

Artists help us to see our world and appreciate its beauty, including the highly eccentric Joseph Mallord William Turner, acclaimed by many as the best land and seascape British artist of the 19th century. He was in many ways dramatically the opposite of Van Gogh or Gauguin in that his paintings sold widely enough to make him a wealthy man with access to the upper classes. This warts and all portrait deals with the last 30+ years of the life of this very complex man, when he found companionship with the owner of a sea-side cottage, so that he lived two separate lives, one in his London house, and the other by the sea.

Song of the Sea

Rated PG. Philippians 1:9.

This gorgeously animated film is helmed by Tomm Moore, co-director of the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells. The story is based on Irish mythology involving a selkie, a creature who is a seal in the sea and a human on land. A ten year-old boy and his six year-old sister, the latter of whom has not ever spoken a word, set out on a quest that involves many dangers and results in the freeing of many faeries who had been transformed into stones and statues. The animation is the old fashioned hand-drawn kind that proves to be breathtaking in its intricacy, employing Irish motifs, yet at times reminding one of Japanese art. The plot is a bit dark and complex for young children, but adults and older children probably will love it.

The Duff

Rated PG-13. Romans 12:2a (J.B. Phillips).

It is refreshing to see in this better than average teen film that the adults—teachers and a mother—are not all stupid and easily manipulated by the smarter teenagers. Bianca is an unusual teenager shocked to discover that most of the student body regard her as the DUFF for the two prettier girls with whom she hangs out. This term refers to the member of a friendship circle regarded as Designated Ugly Fat Friend, the one to whom others turn not for herself, but for access to the others in the circle. One doesn’t have to be ugly or fat—Bianca is neither—just one who has no inherent qualities to attract others. How Bianca, who is indeed eccentric in her choice of clothes and interests (flannel shit and coveralls; lover of zombie movies), decides to change her image and seek out a boy whom she has been afraid to speak with, makes for a film experience that even an adult can enjoy.

Jupiter Ascending

Rated PG-13. Psalm 10:2.

With a plot device similar to The Matrix, this tale about an Earth girl, whose unusual name is the same as the movie’s, is a special effects-driven spectacle fun to watch but not always easy to follow. Jupiter, daughter of immigrants who fled Russia after her American father was murdered, is living a Cinderella-like servanthood cleaning apartments when aliens try to kill her and she is rescued by a hunk equipped with skates that allow him to fly over the tops of Chicago’s skyscrapers while doing battle with the alien assassins. It seems that out in the galaxy are rival factions wanting control of Jupiter because she has the genes of a former Queen. If you like action and spectacle, forget the silly plot and enjoy the ride.

 On Cable

The Book of Negroes

This Canadian film offers us a very different view of the American Revolution because it is told through the eyes of a runaway slave named Aminata Diallo who, working for the British, inscribes the names of thousands of “Negroes” who are leaving the newly formed United States for a chance of freedom in Canada. During the Revolution the British had promised freedom to all slaves who would help them in some way in their cause. After horrific experiences in Africa where she was first captured, and then in South Carolina where she was abused, Aminata has accepted that offer. Some of the patriots, including George Washington, do not come off well, the hypocrisy of their words about freedom being exposed as applying only to whites. Although the film is based on a novel, there really is a Book of Negroes. Originally a BET miniseries, let’s hope this will soon be released on DVD or streaming video. It is a phase of our history that we should know more about.

 On DVD or Streaming Video

Several of the excellent films below played but a short time at our local art house cinemas, so check the one(s) in your area to see if it might be available there before seeking it in alternative venues.

Leviathan

Rated R. Job 41:1-2; Ecclesiastes 4:1; 1 Kings 21:2-3.

Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Oscar nominated film is a fascinating visual parable about greed, corruption and power, as well as a polemic against the church’s complicity in them whereby it forsakes its prophetic mission. When the corrupt local Mayor Vadim makes a grab for auto mechanic Kolya’s property I was reminded of the Israeli King Ahab’s murderous desire to take over the vineyard of Naboth. Again, do not let the subtitles keep you from seeing what is the most provocative film exploring the issue of why evil men get away with their crimes and good suffer unjustly since Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. By indirectly attacking a corrupt system over which President Putin presides this film places the prophetic filmmaker in great jeopardy I fear. I don’t apply “great” to many films, but this one deserves to be called such.

Timbuktu

Rated PG-13. Ecclesiastes 4:1.

Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s masterful film is set in the early days of the jihadist takeover of northern Mali in 2012. Kidane is a herdsman and musician trying to avoid the oppressors by living just outside the city. We see many sad scenes of the jihadists enforcing shari’a law in the city—women are made to cover their bodies entirely—not just their hair, but even their hands with gloves; anyone playing music or dancing at night surreptitiously are hunted down and punished the next day; a couple caught alone together in a room are buried up to their necks and the bystanders made to throw stones at them, the presumption being that they were engaging in sex; young men are forbidden to play soccer. It is only a matter of time before the hapless Kidane will also be overtaken by the oppressors. This is a good film to hold up as an answer when someone claims that no Moslem is speaking out against the jihadists.

 Match

Rated R. Proverbs 14:10, 17, 20.

This adaptation of a 2004 Broadway play centers on Tobi, a renowned and beloved teacher of ballet, and a young married couple who have come to Manhattan to interview him. Lisa is allegedly working on a graduate thesis about the history of ballet teaching, but, strangely, shortly after their meeting at a diner, it is husband Mike who takes over the questioning, focusing on Tobi’s early sex life. Soon emotional fireworks erupt, and a couple of times we are surprised by plot twists, the last of which reveals the meaning of the film’s title. Admirers of actor Patrick Stewart will love this film.

Two Days, One Night

Rated PG-13. Philippians 2:3-4.

Don’t let the French with English subtitles keep you from seeing the film in which Oscar-nominated Marion Cotillard plays Sandra Bya, a factory worker striving to save her job during a downsizing. Her fellow employees will be voting on Monday whether or not to retain her—if they do, they will lose a large annual pension, so we see the theme of altruism versus self-interest played out over the weekend as, with the help of her husband and a supportive friend she travels all over the city in an attempt to support her. After so many super heroes saving the galaxy films it is refreshing to see a real life tender drama with a lot at stake for its heroine.

A Most Violent Year

Rated R. Proverbs 4:14-18.

1981 was New York City’s most violent year crime-wise. Against this backdrop Abel, once a worker at a home fuel company who married the boss’s daughter, has come to own the company and is faced with an unknown rival trying to drive him out of business by hijacking his delivery trucks. Abel prides himself that he runs his business ethically, but will he be able to hold out against those urging him to arm his drivers—and, given his increasing losses to the hijackers, can he come up with the additional money needed to buy a waterfront property needed to expand his company? If he fails—and he might because his banker yields to pressure and withdraws his support—he will lose his down payment on the property, and thus his business.

Was showing at the Esquire Theaters. All of the previous 4 reviews show how important it is to get to one of the excellent films at the Esquire as soon as possible!

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Rated PG-13. Psalm 73:1-9; Proverbs 15:3; Job 23:2a-3.

This Woody Allen masterpiece, about an outwardly good man getting away with murder (the crimes part of the title) and a hapless documentary filmmaker losing out to a pompous jerk, was called to mind by the current Russian masterful Leviathan. A church group would do well to explore the problems of theodicy—where is God in a world of evil and innocent suffering?

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