Film Capsules November 2014

Readers who send out newsletters or produce church bulletins are welcome to reprint any or all of these mini-reviews, the one stipulation being that at the end they include © Edward McNulty, Visual Parables.
Click onto a title to see the longer review.

 St. Vincent

Rated PG-13. Romans 4:17a.

Bill Murray is perfect as the nasty neighbor who, by watching the neighbor’s boy while the overworked mother is away is transformed into—well, definitely not your typical saint, but something like one, at least in the eyes of the boy. Both funny and serious, the film can lead toward reflection on what sainthood is. Especially if you have read any of the “Catholic novels” of Graham Greene, in which he seeks to update the stained-glass window/holy card view of sainthood, you will enjoy this film.

The Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Rated R. Ecclesiastes 5:3, 7.

You must see this fabulous film if you want to stay abreast of the Oscar buzz that will surround Michael Keaton. In this backstage drama he plays a washed up Hollywood actor known for his starring in three “Birdman” blockbusters 20 years ago. He pours all of his savings from that film into a Broadway play that he wrote, is directing and starring in. The lovers of theater, including the make-or-break critic of the New York Times, are convinced he is a no-talent hack who has no business invading their sacred St. James Theater. Funny and dramatic, with a mixture of magic realism, this film by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is bound to become a “Best Picture” Oscar contender—ad the supporting staff is as good as Keaton. But beware of its large dose of foul language and sexual (non-graphic) situations.

Dear White People

Rated R. John 4:9; Acts 10:28, 34-35; Romans 12:2a.

This satirical comedy by newcomer Justin Simien might be hard medicine for deluded whites who believe the election of Pres. Obama ushered in a post racial society (Supreme Court justices, who voted to strike down key provisions of the Civil Rights Act, take notice). The film is set at a fictitious Ivy League campus where the impolite words of a female African American student are delivered on the campus radio show that gives the film its name. Some times hard to follow, the film is always funny, but the words that penetrate our consciousness are like fishhooks—barbed. A good film for those willing to be challenged and want to relate their faith to current events such as the all too many shootings of blacks by white police officers.

 The Book of Life

Rated PG. Hebrews 12:1-2.

The animation is brilliant in this story based around the Mexican celebration of The Day of the Dead. Two men grow up with a girl, each seeking her hand in marriage. One is from a long line of bullfighters who does not want to kill a bull but play his guitar instead. The other becomes a skilled soldier. The girl rejects the soldier because of his belief that women exist to serve man, but the would-be musician will have to journey to the two worlds of the dead in order to win her hand. Lots of visuals and life lessons for young and old in this gorgeous production.

 Men, Women, and Children

Rated R. Psalm 19:1; Romans 12:2-4 (J.B. Phillips)

An ensemble cast presents intertwining stories of adults and youth either misusing the Internet or too addicted to its use—and in the case of one mother so fearful that she becomes obsessive in protecting her daughter from it. A good film to make us think how we use the Internet and our always-turned on personal communication devises.

 The Judge

Rated R. Running time: 2 hour 21 min. Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 1; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 2. Exodus 20:2a; Ephesians 6:1-4

A powerful father-son story, this film brings two pros, Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, together in a courtroom drama. Estranged from his father for two decades, Downey’s hot shot lawyer returns home for his mother’s funeral. Shortly thereafter his father the town judge is accused of murder. Critical reaction has been mixed, but I found many touching moments in this drama that makes me glad I ignored those who put it down.

 The Skeleton Twins

Rated R. Psalm 43:5

A depressed twin brother and sister who have not been in contact for many years are re-united when the gay brother tries to commit suicide because he has failed in his attempt to become an actor in Hollywood and has broken up with his partner. His sister in upstate New York was about to overdose on pills herself when she received the phone call about her sibling. Rushing across the country, she convinces him to move in with her and her husband, and the two, with many ups and downs (actually more of the latter), try to repair their lives. The film is filled with many great moments, so I urge you to see it, but the secular views of filmmakers and characters make me question their future if all they have to go on is each other with no reaching out for help from either therapists or from divine/spiritual resources.

 Into the Storm

Rated PG-13. Psalm 77:18.

This film is about as close to experiencing a tornado as you would want. Focusing on a team of storm chasers badly in need of good footage to finance their work and a group of adults and students at a high school in the path of the storm, the film follows the usual path of disaster flicks. The special effects deserve that overworked word “awesome,” showing us roofs being ripped off, people and cars, even airplanes and tractor-trailers at an airport, being flung into the sky like toys. Now that it’s in a cheap seats theater, I especially recommend it—and as the old movie saying goes, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!”


Rated R. Isaiah 6:8.

Like all war stories, this Brad Pitt film zeroes in on a small group of soldiers (during the last months of WW 2 in Hitler’s Germany) who become a family sharing the dangers of combat. Pitt is a sergeant in charge of the five-man crew of a Sherman tank. When a young man whose only service has been as a typist far behind the battle lines is assigned to replace the recently killed gunner, the film takes on the theme of Stephen Crane’s The Red badge of Courage, with the green youth having to prove himself. Lots of graphic violence during the battle scenes, as well as the killing of two surrendered Nazis, will make this hard for some viewers to watch. The courage of the men is commendable, even if some of their acts are not. A powerful addition to the war genre. I have seen only two other films dealing with a tank crew, an Israeli film in 2009 named Lebanon­ about Israel’s punitive invasion of that country, and the 1943 film Sahara, starring Humphrey Bogart as a tank commander in North African desert trying to get back to his unit.


Rated R. 2 Corinthians 5:11a (NRSV); 9:1 (The Message)

This Brit production follows in the footsteps of such “outsider” films as The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Brassed Off. Based on “true events,” it tells the story of a group of London gays and lesbians whose leader is drawn to the side of another group that is being attacked by the press and the police, Welsh miners on strike to protest the Thatcher governments closing of mines and refusing to improve the working conditions in the remaining mines. Forming The Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM, he and his friends raise money for the miners’ relief, after which they travel to Wales to meet the dubious recipients. Often very funny, this comedy drama shows how face-to-face encounters can (for some) correct stereotypes we hold in our minds. Though very inspiring for some, others who take literally the few Scriptures denouncing homosexuality will regard it as approving a sinful practice. It would be interesting if those on both sides of the question would see and discuss it together.


Before I Go to Sleep

Rated R. Isaiah 49:15

Nicole Kidman plays Christine, a victim of a vicious attack at a motel that has robbed her of her memory. Each morning when she wakes up she cannot remember who the man sleeping next to her is. Told that he is her husband, she answers the phone when he leaves, and the voice says that he is her doctor who has instructed her to keep a hidden camera so she can record the events of each day before her sleep takes away her memory. She is torn between the doctor & her husband–can she trust either one as she seeks the name of her attacker? A real nail-biter of a mystery!

 Dolphin Tale 2

Rated PG. Genesis 1:20; 26 (The Message)

In this sequel to the story of a boy bonding with a dolphin with a prosthetic tale, the humans must deal with the dolphin’s grief over the death of its poolmate. As with the first film, there are plenty of elements in the film for children, youth, and adults—gorgeous underwater photography, adorable dolphins and a cantankerous pelican that draws laughs, plus themes of love, friendship, and of human stewardship over one of God’s most wondrous creatures. It is so good to see a film in which the adults are mature and loving and actually respected by the kids, the latter responding to their guidance and wisdom. This is an inspirational film for a youth or intergenerational group to see and discuss.


Rated R. 2 Samuel 19:4.

A grieving father discovers his dead son’s songs & performs them as his own, soon joined by a young musician who forms a band around him However, a surprising secret will disrupt things–and this shocking revelation causes viewers to gain a new perspective on the story and maybe also the headlines of similar real-life stories! Laced with a number of good songs and excellent dramatic performances, this is a film well worth seeking out on the Internet or DVD (the film played for just a week here in the Cincinnati area).

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