Film Capsules October 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.

 The Good Lie

Rated PG-13.Leviticus 19:34; Philippians 2:3-4.

All those who consider themselves peacemakers should embrace this social justice parable. The story begins in southern Sudan when militia from the north massacre Christian villagers, and only a few children survive. Several of them die during their 700-mile trek toward Ethiopia, and when they meet a column of refugees turned back from the border, they head with them to Kenya where a UN refugee camp takes them in. Years later several of them win a lottery and are allowed to immigrate to America, where the young men are sent to Kansas City and a sister to Boston. How an American helps bring about their reunion makes for an inspirational story. For once the filmmakers concentrate on the people of color rather than the whites who come to their aid—even though Reese Witherspoon plays the helper (who is in need of some transformation herself) is the nominal star. The film ends on a note of loving sacrifice that serves as an example of what the apostle Paul meant in his letter to the Philippians.

 Gone Girl

Rated R. Jeremiah 17:9-10 (KJV)

This film noir thriller will keep you guessing as to what is happening. Although we soon learn that Nick and Amy’s marriage had gone sour, is Nick responsible for her disappearance? A cable talk show leads the public into thinking so, as do the two detectives investigating the case. Lots of surprises in the twisted plot about two twisted lives. The ending, perhaps too sexy and bloody for some tastes, certainly bears out Jeremiah’s comment on the depravity of the human heart.

 The Good Lie

Rated PG-13.Leviticus 19:34. Philippians 2:3-4

This social justice parable begins with the horrific events in southern Sudan in 1983, the war between the Muslim militia groups of the north and the Christians in the south. When militia kill the adults in a village, a small group of children walk hundreds of miles toward Ethiopia, but wind up at a U.N. camp in Kenya. Years later they come to America, but the sister is split from them, the young men going to Kansas City and she to Boston. Reece Witherspoon plays the job counselor who helps the guys, changing very much the better as she becomes personally involved in their lives. Unlike many films with racial themes, this one focuses upon the Africans, with the whites in a supportive role. An excellent film for adult and youth groups to watch and discuss.

 The BoxTrolls

Rated PG. Psalm 69:4.

This stop-motion animated film, based on the book Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow, has themes far above the heads of young viewers that adults with knowledge of history will appreciate. The fantasy takes place in Victorian era Cheesebridge, a village built around a tall spire of a mountain towering over the plains. Here everyone wants a white hat that will give them the status and wealth to sit and eat expensive cheeses—and they all fear and hate the boxtrolls who live beneath the ground and venture out only at night to pick up junk they can recycle. The lies spread about the little creatures, who have been raising a boy whom they call Eggs, benefit the rich and powerful of the town—and this has echoes of the Nazis campaign against the Jews and the long practice of white demagogues playing the racial card to keep blacks “in their place.” Although far darker in tone than Frozen, there are plenty of laughs for young and old—and the animation is terrific.

 The Maze Runner

Rated PG. Mark 9:36-37

This dystopian film in which a teenager wakes up in an elevator to discover he is in an all-boys community hedged in by a towering maze where dangerous creatures lurk is well worth seeing. The theme of one’s life being out of one’s control and in the hands of ominous powers hard to understand resonates with many youth in today’s society.

 My Old Lady

Rated PG-13. Job 3:20.

Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith shine in this tale about an embittered American inheriting from his estranged father a valuable though run-down apartment in Paris. Out of work and almost broke, he arrives in the city planning to sell it, but runs into a snag—it is occupied by a 90 year-old Englishwoman who had a complicated relationship with the father. French law will not allow him to evict her as long as she lives. Also, in this character transformation film Kristin Scott Thomas plays the woman’s daughter, regarding him as a hateful usurper. A dark comedy with an inspiring ending!

 Love Is Strange

Rated R. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

In this moving dramathe two consummate actors Alfred Molina and John Lithgow play George a music teacher and Ben a painter. They have been living together in New York City for 39 years. They decide to marry, and are surrounded by admiring friends and family at the celebration. However, because the Roman Catholic Church condemns the gay lifestyle, the archbishop orders George dismissed, despite his long service and popularity with students. Unable any longer to afford their large apartment, the two must split up and move into the small apartments of relatives, thus creating hardships for all concerned. Can they maintain love during this period, not just between themselves, but with their put-upon families as well? This bittersweet story, perhaps difficult for some, will linger in your memory long after the end credits fade, reminding you, as the title indicates, that love does indeed come in strange forms.

 The Trip to Italy

Rated PG-13.

Although I can’t condone the morals of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, I do recommend joining them on their trip in this film that is a combination of the road trip, buddy, and food movie genres. Having written a successful restaurant review article for The Observer, they are offered a new commission by the British newspaper to visit and write about six Italian restaurants in six different places—Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Pompei, Amalfi, and ending in Capri. Besides the gorgeous scenery and shots of mouth-watering food being prepared and consumed, the two witty friends regale us with great impersonations of such actors as Michael Caine, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Roger Moore, as well as poking fun at Christian Bale and Tom Hardy. The pair also traces the steps of the 19th century poets Byron and Shelley, so there are plenty of literary, as well as movie, references.

 This is Where I Leave You

Rated R. Exodus 20:12a.

The widow is a WASP, and the 4 grown children probably would opt for “None” as their religion, yet still they sit Shiva for the deceased Jewish father. Oh yes, he was an atheist, but he retained enough respect for his heritage that his dying wish for the family was to observe the 7 day mourning ritual. Mom (delightfully played by Jane Fonda) says that in effect, “You are all grounded,” and despite their misgivings, the three brothers and one sister obey her—and how the sparks do fly, though unlike the dreary August: Osage County, this dysfunctional family saga is played for laughs.

 The Drop

Rated R. Ecclesiastes 8:12-13.

Centered on a Brooklyn bar where illegal gang money is “dropped” so it can be laundered, the main character is the soft-spoken bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), who turns out to be far tougher than any of the patrons suspect. He works at the bar owned by his cousin Marv, movingly played by James Gandolfini in his last screen performance. We wonder at first why Bob attends Mass but never takes communion. We learn why after a complicated series of events involving: dealing with a Chechen crime boss after $5000 of their money from the drop is stolen; adopting an abused pup; learning from waitress Nadia how to care for it; and protecting Nadia from her vicious ex-boyfriend Eric. The film is quite a mixture of dark humor and drama leading up to a moment of explosive violence at the climax.

 Dolphin Tale 2

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

A very good family film, the story of Winter, the injured dolphin fitted with a prosthetic tail, and of Sawyer, the boy who bonded with her, advances to the next level. Several years after the first film Winter’s older poolmate dies, and the grief-stricken dolphin goes into a funk that not even Sawyer, now a teenager and key member of the staff of the marine hospital, can coax her out of it. How he and fellow staff member Hazel work with the rest of the dedicated staff to heal Winter—and other creatures (another dolphin and a sea turtle)—will hold the interest of both children and adults. The theme of arriving at maturity and getting on with one’s life, as well as the assertion that humans are stewards of nature and its creatures, make for inspirational entertainment.

 If I Stay

Rated PG-13. Psalm 68:20.

High school student Mia leads a charmed life in Portland, Oregon. She is a talented cellist; her family is totally supportive; her lover Adam, himself a rising rock musician, is the most popular and talented senior at school; and her main problem is in choosing whether to attend Julliard or to stay and go with Adam and his band that is about to emerge as a national group. Then comes the tragic auto accident in which her parents are killed, her younger brother critically injured, and herself left in a coma. Her spirit hovers between life and death, recalling her happy past, and wondering if life is worth going on. A nurse hovering over says that she must choose. Based on a young adult novel, the film has some serious flaws—a lack of realism in some of its details and no inkling that questions of faith, God, and an afterlife might be involved.

 A Walk Among Tombstones

Rated R. Amos 5:15a

This story about a PI ex-policeman who quit the NYCPD because of an accidental death years before at first takes on a spiritual dimension because Liam Neeson’s character believes in AA’s 12 Steps wholeheartedly. But then, as he tracks down three kidnapers who murdered the wife of a drug dealer despite his paying the ransom, the violence escalates. The super gory ending unfortunately cancels out the potential spiritual theme—no, not “cancel out, it drowns it in blood and violence!

 Disc or Video Streaming

 May in the Summer

Rated R. Colossians 3:13a

American/Jordanian director Cherien Dabis sets her story of May, also an American/Jordanian, in present day Amman, Jordan. A successful author in New York, May is reunited with her equally Westernized sisters when they all return to their childhood home to prepare for May’s wedding. However, their mother Nadine, though glad to see her three children again, is so upset over May’s choice of a husband that she intends to boycott the wedding. She is a devout Christian with objections to her daughter marrying a Muslim, even though he is a secularized scholar teaching in New York. The complicated plot involves some secrets all four women harbor; May’s growing uneasiness over her marriage; reconciliation with the father who had left family for a younger woman; and more. The film offers us a peek into another culture, affected by the Arab/Jewish conflict, but not defined by it. Well worth the trouble in seeking it out.

Huckleberry Finn

Rated PG.1 Samuel 27-29. Hebrews 13:18.

Originally aired in the mid-70s on ABC TV, this version of Mark Twain’s classic novel stars Ron Howard as Huck, even though he is visibly too old for the part. Therefore this is only a fair depiction of the great novel. Still Huck’s moral dilemma, discussed by a literature class in the film The Good Lie (thus giving that film its title), is well depicted. Huck feels guilty aiding his slave friend Jim to run away, lying to the posse that has set out to bring him back. Singer Merle Haggard is also featured as one of the con men who force the boys to take part in a scheme to steal an inheritance from two girls whose parents have died. Until a better version comes along, this is a good way to introduce young family members to an American classic.

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