Film Capsules October 2013

You can find longer reviews on this website, and all appear in the November Visual Parables, with most of the reviews including a set of reflection/discussion questions. You are welcome to reprint any or all of these capsules in the newsletter of your church or organization—as long as your publication includes the line: (c) 2013 Edward McNulty’s

Join our effort to promote the films that people of faith should be viewing and discussing.


Captain Phillips

Rated PG-13. Psalm 31:2.

Named after the brave captain of an American container ship attacked by Somali pirates, this is a powerful down-to-earth survival story worthy of pairing up with Gravity. Captain Phillips and his crew manage to fend off the first attack of the pirates, but on the second day the latter manage to board and take captive the unarmed bridge crew while the rest of the crew hide in the engine room. The plot devolves into a battle of wits between the American and Muse, the pirate leader, the Somali desperate to win a large ransom because of the pressure from his warlord. He elicits a measure of sympathy because of director Paul Greengrass’s interest in showing the huge gap between the world’s “haves and have-nots.” We probably will find Tom Hanks’ name among those nominated for this year’s Best Actor nominees.



Rated PG-13. Psalm 31:2-5.

They might not be able to hear you scream in airless outer space, but they can certainly see you sweat, unless the glass of your space helmet is too fogged with your rapid breathing. Three astronauts have left their shuttle to repair a device when they receive a warning from Mission Control that a Russian missile has blown up a space station, and the debris is rapidly heading their way. One of the astronauts is immediately killed when the debris arrives more quickly than expected. Their shuttle and all aboard are destroyed, leaving the two, Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalsky, stranded over 300 miles above the earth. Their desperate struggle to survive is set against beautifully photographed scenes of the stars and the splendors of Earth. Sandra Bullock’s performance, moving from terror to despair to hope, is sure to win an Oscar nomination.


 The Fifth Estate

PG-13. Proverbs 14.25. Jeremiah 9:4-5.

The never ending struggle between those who govern desiring to shroud their acts in secrecy against those who seek to expose their secrets is told in sometime confusing but always fascinating ways in director Bill Condon’s film about the rise of Wikileaks. But as we see the good that its founder Julian Assange brings about by exposing the crimes of dictators and the much larger number of deaths of civilians from American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, does the power of holding so many government secrets go to his head? If knowledge is power, and power corrupts, what happens to those able through technology to gain vast amounts of knowledge?

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete

Rated R. Psalm 9.18.

When the dug-addicted mothers of two boys are arrested and taken away, the sons manage to hide from the police in order to stay out of a juvenile center that has a bad reputation. African American Mister at 14 is the oldest, resentful that before her arrest his mother had put him in charge of Pete, an 8 year-old Korean American. How they cope in a savage environment, even at times having brief moments of fun, makes for a refreshing look at urban survival—and you will enjoy learning at the end that the seemingly negative title of the film is actually a positive sign that Mister has learned the lesson that no one makes it alone in this world.



Rated R. Proverbs 3:13-14; Ecclesiastes 2:10-11.

Like all good sports movies, and this Ron Howard movie is very good, Rush is as much about its characters as it is about the sport, Formula 1-3 race driving. Most of the action (and the short shots of the helmet and handheld cameras seem to make us part of that action) takes place during the 1976 season when Austrian Niki Lauda vied with Brit John Hunt for the championship. The film devolves into a study of the contrast in character and approach to racing—the first cool and calculating, the second impulsive and irresponsible—with the film leaving us to decide which is the better, or from a faith perspective, more moral.



Rated R. Proverbs 20.22; Romans 12.21.

When the young daughters of two families are snatched while playing in the street on Thanksgiving Day, the father of one is so dissatisfied with the methodical methods of the police that he takes matters into his own hands. When the chief suspect is released for lack of evidence, he kidnaps the man and takes him to an abandoned apartment complex where he tortures him to get him to reveal the whereabouts of the girls. The other father is brought into the plan, thereby being forced to decide whether to go along or not with the sordid interrogation. But what if their captive is not guilty? The bizarre twist of events and the cliff-hanging climax make this one of the most provocative films of this crime sub-genre ever made.


The Family

Rated R. Psalm 7:12-16.

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer play Fred and Maggie Manzoni in this send up of the bloody crime drama genre. To save his hide he has turned states evidence, so the Feds have placed them and their teenaged daughter and son in the Federal Witness Protection Program to save them from mob vengeance. Their vicious ways got them in trouble in the southern French village they had been lived in, so now they have been moved to a far less desirable village in Normandy, where it looks like they will be repeating their mistakes. When the mob boss learns of their location, he sends a small army of killers who first massacre all of the local policemen, so this might be the Manzoni’s last residence. There are many funny incidents, but also lots of blood and gore that I found myself wondering why am I rooting for these nasty, vicious people?


Enough Said

Rated R. Psalm 51:6.

It is so good to watch a comedy made for adults rather than 14 year-olds who are still enamored with bathroom jokes. Calling to mind the wonderful Marty of the Fifties, this is the tale of two divorced middle agers, Eva and Albert, who meet and part at a party, are not attracted to each other at first, yet who later date and find pleasure in each other’s company. Albert is overweight and balding, but quick witted and able to laugh at himself. During her work as a masseuse Eva befriends Marianne, a poet who keeps talking about her horrible ex-husband, and when Eva realizes that the ex is Albert, she is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to tell them. Complicating matters is the fact that she has absorbed so much of Marianne’s negativism that she begins to criticize Albert, causing him to remark after their last date that it seems that he has been spending the night with his ex-wife. Can this relationship be saved? We come to like these two people that the outcome really does matter.



Rated R. 1 Corinthians 13:1

Shane Salerno’s two-hour documentary on the life of the literary world’s answer to the reclusive Howard Hughes reminds me of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Like the reporter in the fictional film, Salerno sets out to unravel the mystery of the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye by interviewing a host of people, some of them famous writers and others who knew him personally or who tried to get in contact with him. We learn much about how his horrendous experiences in WW 2 shaped him (he was working on his novel at that time), as well as his penchant for taking up with women much younger than himself. A fascinating but flawed documentary that is somewhat informative, but, like Orson Welles’ great film, still finds us in the dark about the mystery that was J.D. Salinger


In a World

Rated R. Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:4.

This tale of two sisters and their selfish father introduces us to the world of Hollywood voice over talent for movie trailers and TV commercials. Focusing mainly upon Carol (Lake Bell who also wrote and directed), it is the story of a voice coach who unexpectedly wins the v-o role for a new blockbuster fantasy series, much to the consternation of her father who had expected his male protégé to gain the role. Funny and insightful, this little film is worth the trouble of finding it amongst all the less worthy big studio films that have eclipsed it.


Romeo and Juliet

Rated PG-13. Ephesians 2:14-16.

Although it falls far short of Franco Zefirelli’s masterful 1968 adaptation of Shakespeare’s great play, Carlo Carlei’s is still well worth watching. Don’t be misled by the highbrow critics who have been dismissing the film. The youthful cast convinces us that the raging hormones of a teenager are flowing through their veins, impelling them to commit their rash actions amidst a city divided by the great hatred the Montegues and the Capulets have for each other. Paul Giamatti’s performance as the sympathetic Friar Laurence made me much more aware of his centrality in the story of the star-crossed lovers, and the neat addition at the end of Romeo’s friend and servant joining the hands of the dead lovers was a moving and symbolic touch of reconciliation of their families. Best of all, the film sent me back to view the 1968 version, as I hope it does for you as well!


Escape Plan

Rated R.  Psalm 124:7.

I went into this adrenalin-pumping thriller expecting little more than escape, and was rewarded by two hours of excitement. The two stars work well together, with Stallone as a prison-escape expert (he literally “wrote the book” in this tale) who agrees to test a CIA prison for prisoners for whom there is not enough evidence to convict in a court, yet deemed too dangerous to be allowed to let go free. Betrayed by an unknown person, Stallone must rely on German anarchist Schwarzenegger to analyze the new prison and figure out how to break out. The plot lives up to the film’s tag line, “No one Breaks Out Alone.” As in most action films, a person of faith has to suspend believe in love and nonviolence (or buy into the ethics of an Old Testament God of Vengeance), the same as in so many cartoon movies, and this is certainly the case here.


I’m In Love With a Church Girl

Rated PG.  Psalm 55:18; John 3:16.

This Christian produced film makes no pretense at disguising its Christian origins, from the opening credits to the main character’s opening narration in which he speaks of God and God’s ways. The realism of the film, “based on a true story,” is partially due no doubt to the fact that scriptwriter Galley Molina spent five years in prison for drug trafficking. It was there that he began writing the script about a drug dealer/concert promoter who falls in love with a Christian woman, with his life slowly changing, even while two cops are keeping him under surveillance in order to put him away. Although far too predictable to generate any suspense, rapper Ja Rule, who himself just got of prison before starring in this film, is well wroth watching as a man who resists the pull of God in his life because of his loyalty to his old crime friends.


Inequality For All

Rated PG. Leviticus 19.13; Jeremiah 22.13; James 5:1-5.

This documentary follows former Labor Secretary Robert Reich from his large lecture hall at the University of California Berkeley to various points around the country, including Washington DC, as he spreads his message on behalf of the middle class. It is simple, well backed up by charts and statistics, that the US has thrived economically when the gap between the middle class and the wealthy was small. Backed by a factory owner, he demolishes the myth that the wealthy are “job creators,” arguing instead that it is the middle class that buys the most clothing, appliances, cars, and other consumer products that keep our economy healthy. An interestingly presented thesis, it ends with a challenge for viewers to become involved in the political process that can turn around the present in which the middle class continues to diminish. Declaring that he is not fomenting class warfare, he points out that the wealthy also do better when the middle class is prosperous enough to buy the products of their factories.


Runner Runner

Rated R. Jeremiah 6.13.

This so-so thriller centers on Princeton University grad student Richie Furst, who is called on the carpet for involving students in on-line gambling. Needing money to stay in school, he gambles all his savings on an on-line card game and loses. Noticing that the game was rigged, he flies to Costa Rica to confront the owner, gambling tycoon Ivan Block. Falling under Block’s charm, he accepts a job with him and soon is sucked into a world of glamour but soon discovers its dark side, one supported by bribes and brute force. He also has the FBI on him demanding that he work with them to bring Ivan down or face jail time. This unconvincing tail is mainly for fans of its stars, Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck.


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Rated PG.

This sequel finds young inventor Flint Lockwood going to work for his hero Chester V in a Silicon Valley-like corporation, only to have to take off to combat the menace he thought he had destroyed in the first film, his Diatomic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator that had once threatened the world with a gigantic spaghetti and meatball storm. It seems the machine is now creating and spewing out dangerous food monsters reminiscent of Jurassic Park— taco-diles, shrimpanzees, apple pie-thons, double bacon cheespiders. He finds himself up against the not so benevolent after all Chester V who wants the machine so that he can dominate the world. The crazy creatures will be enjoyed by young and old, though oldsters might soon tire of the plot. This is that rare animated film that I would not have minded missing.


Don Jon

Rated R. Matthew 5:28.

Joseph Gordon Levit is the star, as well as the writer/director of this tale about a sexually addicted young man who finds more fulfillment watching porno movies on his computer screen than in actual trysts with the nubile young women he easily picks up in bars. His nickname derives from the label his admiring friends give him because of his success in scoring with gorgeous young women. Both funny and dramatic, it is a fascinating take on a church-going man who finds measures of insight through two very different women. Deservedly R-rated, and serious in its theme (sex that reduces women to objects), this comedy would be a hard sell for a church group to watch and discuss, and yet certainly challenging—though I have qualms about the way the film ends.


On Video

Many of the wonderful independent & foreign films below play for just a brief time, usually at art house theaters, and too often are gone before word of mouth can generate enough viewers to hold them over. Fortunately for film lovers there are DVDs, Netflix and Amazon.


Short Term 12

Rated R. Psalm 147:3; 1 Peter :24.

Although I loved the better-publicized films such as Gravity and Captain Phillips, I would put this little independent film ahead of them on a “Must See” list. It is one of the best films dealing with mentally disturbed teens and their caregivers that I have seen since Ordinary People. The appropriately named Grace, in her 20s, is supervisor of the line staff at a resident center for troubled teenagers. Though she has no degree in counseling, she is intuitively a better counselor than her superior, partly because she was sexually abused herself. At the same time that she learns her father is being released from prison for abusing her, a new patient named Jayden is admitted, whom, Grace discovers, also is being abused by her father but is unable for now to admit or discuss it. This is a wonderful story centered on a person that Henry Nouwen famously called a “wounded healer”!


Still Mine

Rated R. Mark 2.27; Proverbs 31:10-11.

This Canadian film about a devoted elderly couple—wonderfully played by Genevieve Bujold and James Cromwell—is a David and Goliath tale about a husband battling an arrogant bureaucrat. Skilled carpenter Craig hopes to build a small cottage for Irene before her progressive dementia steals her memory. He runs afoul of the intricacies of the local building code and the modern Pharisee concerned more about rules than people. A wonderful film honoring the courage and perseverance of the elderly, this also is a film not to be missed!


T. Patience Stone

(English subtitled)

Rated R. Psalm 140:1-3; Luke 10:41.

This feminist film by an Afghanistan-French director Atiq Rahimi presents the marital oppression suffered by so many Muslim women in a unique war. In an unnamed Middle Eastern country wracked by civil war a Woman (also unnamed) tends to the physical needs of her husband after a bulletin in his neck renders him comatose. Once she has been able to leave her two young daughters with an aunt, her one-way conversation with her husband turns dark as she pours out her feelings about their unhappy ten-year marriage in which he has brutalized her. Thus he becomes like the patience stone in the Persian folktale into which a person can pour all of their secrets and frustrations until it can absorb no more and explodes. Will the husband do likewise, especially when she does something totally outrageous before his unblinking eyes?


(Italian, English subtitles)

Rated R. Leviticus 19.34.

We learn that the debate over what to do about illegal immigrants is not confined to the US in this Italian film set on a small island off the coast of Sicily. An elderly fisherman refuses to turn in to the authorities the pregnant African woman and her young son whom he has rescued from the sea. His opportunistic son and widowed daughter-in-law want to get rid of their unwelcome guests. However, as the daughter-in-law comes to know the African and understand her plight, she consents to a desperate plan to elude the authorities that are beginning to close in on them. A fine film, this upholds the ancient Biblical teaching concerning treating the alien and the stranger with kindness.


Instructions Not Included

(Spanish and English)

Rated R. Psalm 27:10; 1 John 4.18.

This Mexican film deservedly achieved modest success at the box office due to its very funny scenes that culminate in one that is heart wrenching. When an Acapulco lothario has a baby dumped on him by an American woman, he journeys to Los Angeles in a futile attempt to find her. Filled with all sorts of fears, he nonetheless through a crazy antic finds work as a movie stuntman, his baby growing through the years to become his translator and negotiator. The unwanted baby grows to be his cherished daughter, so when the mother reappears and wants to regain custody, there is a court battle. This is a delightful film (with a couple of gross scenes) for those who want to laugh, be surprised, and shed a tear or two.


Rated R. Proverbs 6:27-29; Matthew 5:27.

An Australian film about two middle-aged mothers who enter into sex with the sons of the other will be hard for many people of faith to watch. Yes, that R rating is well deserved. I suppose it can be seen as a study in destructive obsession, though director Anne Fontaine’s nonjudgmental approach will bother many viewers. The film is mainly for fans of the two excellent actresses, Naomi Watts and Robin Wright.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *