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100FootJourney5373a4c3573be-560x373Distances between cultures can be vast, seemingly insurmountable chasms. What cultures–specifically, what cuisines could be more different than French and Indian? Richard C. Morais brought this cultural clash to life in his book The Hundred-Foot Journey, which Oprah Winfrey then recommended in 2010 for her summer reading list. Just a couple of weeks ago, Dreamworks released the film version of this cultural clash. I highly recommend it to you.

You will delight in this film, not because it is great, but because it is . . . . good! Helen Mirren plays Madame Mallory, the somewhat embittered owner of a famous French restaurant where even the French president sometimes dines. Om Puri plays the head of an Indian family with a long history of restaurateurs and cooks, but a family which is currently homeless and looking for a place to open a restaurant in Europe. Because their brakes fail–“and brakes break for a reason”–they decide to stop in a small village in France and open their new restaurant–directly across the street–just one hundred steps away–from Madame Mallory’s renown restaurant.

The “war” between the two restaurants is fairly predictable, but entertaining. The reconciliation of their differences is also predictable, but carries the message of the film deeper than most viewers might expect.

The title The Hundred-Foot Journey began to take on new meaning to me when I thought about the variety of reasons these one hundred feet were crossed during the film other than just to reconcile differences between cuisines.

For instance, some characters walk the one hundred feet to paint ethnic slurs on the outer wall of the Indian family’s restaurant; others cross the 100 feet to the French side, thinking there to find a better future.  And if I tell you more, I will tell you too much, but every time someone makes that 100 foot walk,  something dramatic happens–so watch for it!

If all “wars” just could be solved so easily! I began to think of our trip to Jordan and Israel last spring and how I literally stood on the Arab side of the Jordan River where supposedly Jesus was baptized and looked at the Israeli side just one hundred feet away. The barbed wired, the armed soldiers, and the many warning signs, however, were all meant to remind me that one hundred feet can be a treacherously long distance.

How far apart are the one hundred feet that separate the black neighborhoods from the white neighborhoods today in Ferguson, Missouri?

How deadly is the one hundred foot path between the militant Muslims and the Christians in Kurdish Iraq?

How far is the journey from life to self-inflicted death for someone who has lost hope because of a terminal disease, or because of broken relationships?

How far is the walk from integrity to dishonesty?  Or from dishonesty to integrity?

And lest we just think only other people have trouble with these hundred steps–how far is the walk from legalism to loving kindness, from condemning to reconciliation, or from self-righteousness to

humble submission?  How many steps–and how hard to make that journey!

Even so, it can remind us that real integrity, sincere concern for others, honest communication,  and a belief that we are part of a greater community than the one on my side of the road–these go far in answering the questions of why we should walk one hundred feet to the other side.

Didn’t Jesus tell us, long before this film, that if a man needed you to go with him one mile, then you should go two?  I suspect he would say, if it will bring peace, don’t draw the line at one hundred feet.

Go as far as it takes.

 

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I just have to break into the Christmas blogs to tell you about the movie we saw last night! An attorney friend of ours recommended Hugo  to us, so we used two of the grandkids as an excuse to go see it. Without a doubt, Hugo was one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a long time!

Hugo is about an orphan boy trying to understand life after his father dies.  But it is also about an old man (Ben Kingsley) trying to understand life after his creative work disappears.  So, you see, it is not just another sappy story about little orphan Annie, nor is it On Golden Pond. And I didn’t even mention the subplots involving the policeman and the flower lady or the dachshund owners or the protective wife or the academic,  or  . . . . just so many interesting characters.

Martin Scorsese directed this film that Johnny Depp produced. What does that tell you?? Just that two of the most talented people in the film business invested their talent and money into a relatively small film. Why would they have done that?

What the trailers and the synopses don’t tell you is that this little film is also a tribute to the earliest days of cinema.  The more you know about cinema at the turn of the 20th century, the more you will enjoy the film.  Just a hint:  if you don’t know much and would like to read a little before watching the movie, read the Wikipedia article on Georges Melies.

The photography is beautiful.  Be sure and notice the artistry in the train station scenes. The recurring images of clocks and trains are not only interwoven into the storyline, but they too are allusions and homages to early films.

Our grandkids liked the part about the automaton best! The magic and illusion of cinema is at its best in this film.  And the young hero’s conclusion that there are no extra parts in machines, i.e., that each part has an essential purpose was easy conversation on the way home. God didn’t make extra people with no purpose! Everyone has a purpose and things to do: “for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

It may not be a Christmas movie, but there is a message of hope and peace that you will savor! This movie was so good that you can borrow some of our grandkids if you need an excuse to go!

 

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I grew up in Texas and am old enough to remember the bathrooms and water fountains labeled “Colored Only” and “White”. I remember the racial jokes that were told by children as naïvely as “blonde” jokes or “aggie” jokes are today.

From 1969 to 1971, I lived and worked in Oxford, Mississippi, just seven years after James Meredith was enrolled in the University of Mississippi only with the help of the National Guard and after people were wounded, even killed, in the attempt to keep him out!

The Christian Student Center in Oxford was where Gladys cooked meals for Christian students who wanted to eat supper together. She was a wonderful Christian woman, but she had lived in a racist world her whole life and knew the rules in Mississippi. Rightly or wrongly, she did not feel comfortable even coming out front, but preferred to stay in her kitchen. She couldn’t go to church with us—she could only cook for us.

The Help captures that time in a painfully accurate way, but in a way that shows the courage of those women who didn’t march, who didn’t face fire hoses and dogs, but who refused to suffer silently any longer.  You have to see this movie!

Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) are house maids for young Junior League women of Jackson. They raise their children, cook their meals, and clean their houses, but are not just ignored like the British do their house staff, they are treated like farm animals kept in the barn, brought out whenever you need to work them, and put out when no longer useful. I found it extremely painful to be reminded of how common blatant bigotry was.

Skeeter (Emma Stone) is a white girl who grew up in an ante-bellum home, but perhaps because she herself was an outsider, she found a way past the racism that surrounded her. She wants to be a writer, so she starts trying to capture the stories of the women who raised her and her friends. The women are afraid at first—too dangerous to step out of the crowd—but later events give them courage and Skeeter is their voice.

The characters are rich. I was often reminded of the performance of Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple (1985) that set her on the path to where she is today. The emotions are true. The intensity is real, but broken just enough by truly funny moments.  Even as the film came to a close, I could not completely free myself of the fear of retaliation towards the women—that was all too common.

Although there is some bad language, I think teenagers ought to be able to handle this film if seen with their parents so they can ask questions.

I highly recommend The Help to you.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!”

By the way, Gladys’ son became campus minister in the same student center where his mother cooked. The white church was the first to integrate in Oxford. The pain is real, but there are some happy endings.

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Just got back from taking four of the gkids to the Friday children’s matinee where we saw Despicable Me (2010, PG), which was a surprisingly good film. Somehow we had heard a bad report on it when it first came out, so had avoided it. I loved the little minions, but especially the transformation of one of the villains. Did everyone else think that Vector was supposed to look like Bill Gates??

Anyway, it reminded me of how helpful recommendations for kid films are, and since we have been doing grandkids now for a week and have seen several, I thought I’d give you a short review of several current movies playing.

Cars 2 (G) was entertaining for all of the grandkids, but the younger ones (4-6) lost interest several times.  This sequel brings back characters like Lightening McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) from the first movie, but introduces new British car-characters Finn McMissle (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) for the James Bond – like plot.  In the spirit of Wall-E (2008), this film has an eco-message about oil and alternative fuel, but don’t worry because this message is totally lost on all the children.  It does open good conversations about the need to adapt to different cultures and about the value of every person’s culture—even if it doesn’t seem like culture at all.

Super 8 (PG-13) As you probably have heard, this is a nostalgic piece by J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, so it is everything you hoped it would be.  I have described it to friends as a mix of Stand by Me (one of my favorite films ever!), Goonies (one of our kids’ favorite films ever), and E.T. (one of everyone’s favorites ever!), so how could it go wrong.  The children are the stars, the government men are the bad guys, and the alien is the victim.  I’m sure the PG-13 rating is for bad language (just like Stand By Me and Goonies) and for some pretty heavy emotions (just like ET).  I would pay attention to the age recommendations on this one, but for teens and you adult kids, you’ll love it.

X-Men: First Class (PG-13) The whole X-Men series has been especially good for a superpower series. For the most part, it has avoided silliness and has maintained some level of real human emotions to carry the characters. Hugh Jackman, the best of the X-men, only has a cameo in this prequel, but even that is done well.  Those of you who have seen the others will enjoy learning the backstory of Professor X and Magneto.  For those who need a redemptive message to enjoy this kind of fantasy, the ongoing conversation about “others” is more significant in this film than in previous four X-men films, i.e., how the society treats people it deems to be different. If you can’t generate a meaningful conversation with your teens from this film, then you weren’t paying attention!

I have given up completely on the Pirates of the Caribbean series. I really like Johnny Depp, but these films deep sixed about two sequels ago! We won’t be seeing Mr. Popper’s Penguins either because Jim Carrey’s films of this genre are the same exaggerated gags over and over again.

Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows 2 comes out this week. Sherrylee doesn’t like the Potter films, so I’ll probably go with someone else, but I have intentionally avoided seeing Deathly Hallows 1, so I could see the whole finale at once. I’d love to see it at an IMAX.  We certainly will take the kids to see The Smurfs and I hear good things about Green Lantern.

Just for you adults out there, I think Midnight in Paris looks like it could be the movie that brings people back to Woody Allen. Many of us who were fans of his earlier films have yearned for something truly interesting and intelligent instead of what he has offered over the last couple of decades: quirky and off-color.

Any word on Captain America: The First Avenger?  I usually don’t care much for revenge films, but I have not really seen what the storyline is yet.

Our grandkids loved Hansel and Gretel which we downstreamed on Netflix, and they loved the Yul Brenner – Deborah Kerr version of The King and I (1956). Anna designated it her now most favorite movie! But she prefers the original name Anna and the King of Siam. That’s a pretty big award for a classic film from an eight-year-old!

Hope that helps you in your summer film watching. I’ll try to update as we see more.

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Since we are big Matt Damon fans and since there have been no good releases for months, Sherrylee and I were really looking forward to The Adjustment Bureau which opened in our area tonight. We were disappointed. The acting is not bad, the special effects barely special enough to be noticed, and the dialogue worked ok, but the film overall was too big an idea for too little a movie.

I won’t spoil it for you, but even from the trailers you can figure out that the plot revolves around a young politician David Norris (Matt Damon) who falls in love with a ballerina (Natalie Cook).  Because a continued romance is not part of “The Plan,” a squad of men in hats starts intervening in their lives to make sure they never meet again.

Inadvertently the adjustments are messed up, the couple meets again “accidentally,” and the rest of the story is about their trying to find each other, hold on to each other, and ultimately choose each other–or not.

The film is a fairly inane romance, wrapped in a very artificial theological cloak! It’s not as if the questions of free will and/or determinism are not almost a standard part of cinema’s repertoire.. Some recent similarly romantic films that you might remember are Serendipity (2001), and 500 Days of Summer (2009).

In fact, manipulating reality is the essence of the cinematic art, so choices—or non-choices—which are also choices—or to place it in theological terms, free will or determinism–are not far removed from any film’s narrative—in the same way free will and/or determinism lie embedded in every human action’s cause and effect.  But, now I’m getting deeper than the film deserves.

If you want to test the theological prowess of your date for this movie, you might try the following questions!!

1.The Adjustment Bureau assumes that the Chairman’s plan is not comprehensive. In other words, some things are directed to happen according to the plan, but other things just happen by accident.  Can free will and determinism exist in the same world side by side?

2. Is David Norris’ choice of submitting to The Plan the same as the biblical choice of submitting to the will of God?

3. “The Chairman” seems to have the obedience of his staff, but what seems to be lacking in them is any sense of relationship, anything resembling faith, trust, or love.  How do these emotions change the debate between free will and determinism?

4. Multiple plans seem to exist as if the Chairman’s plan is based on current knowledge and contemporary events. Many Christians have this same view of God’s involvement in the world, i.e., that He limits his foreknowledge to the present and limits his actions to that which is solicited prayerfully by his people.  Are there really many different outcomes possible to human history?

5. The final message seems to be that the goal of the whole Bureau, from top to bottom, is to educate the human race to make good choices. Once people learn to make good choices, then the need for determined direction becomes moot.  Do you find this to be a Christian viewpoint?

That’s all the space this film deserves.  It’s not a bad date movie. But if you are easily irritated by faulty theology or shallow philosophy, maybe you ought to read a good book instead!

 

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A ten-hour plane ride is ten-hour block of time—a rare opportunity!  Many people sleep it away, but from London to Dallas, you fly during the European and US daylight hours, so sleeping just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Sometimes I read, but I almost always check out the movie offerings. For me, those ten hours are an opportunity to watch movies that I probably would never pay money to see.

 I’m not necessarily looking for entertainment. As most of you know, I taught film and used popular culture extensively in my classes as a professor at Oklahoma Christian. I’ve always been interested in what popular culture tells us about the world around us.  So here is what I watched on Thursday as I was flying back home from London—with just a few review-like or random thoughts about each piece.

 Glee: The Pilot and one early episode – I had seen all kinds of headlines about this TV show since it appeared on TV screens in 2009, but I had never watched it. Glee is about a high school glee club, its members, and the faculty and students of a mid-western high school.  Much is absolutely predictable: the jocks vs. everyone, the beauties vs. the nerds, you know the groupings from your own high school days—so how could it be any other way! The show is meant to be optimistic and fun while dealing with problems of relationships, of emerging identities, and a pretty sizable dose of teen sexuality.  That sounds like high school to me also.  Here are my questions about its portrayal of high school in 2010:  are today’s highschoolers really that open and casual about sex, and are the teachers in the high schools so much like the adolescents?  It’s not a show for young children, maybe not for your teens if you like them sheltered from all of the possibilities out there, but it might be educational to you parents if you are of the protected variety yourselves.

 Vampire Diaries: Pilot  The massive interest in vampire stories is pretty interesting to me. Vampire stories have always included lots of suspense, sexual tension, questions about immortality, and, of course, the choice of life or death.  Perhaps the “hooking up” generation needs something edgy to make relationship stories interesting to them.  I did not see anything in the pilot that was the slightest bit different from the Twilight Series movies—just a TV version of the same. Maybe it has grown from the beginning, but I’m probably not going to find out—unless next year they have the second season on the airplane menu.

 Winter’s Bone (2010) This was a very raw portrayal of rural life of the poorest in almost anywhere in the deep South. The language, the morals, the requirements for staying alive –well there is very little that is civilized portrayed in this film. It has the feel, sometimes even the music, of Deliverance. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl, trying to protect, and deliver her crazy mother and two younger siblings from losing their home because their father is running from the law for cooking meth.  The portrayal of the backwoods mafia families and codes of conduct is frightening. Ree’s determination and courage are the only redemptive values portrayed.  Not an easy film to watch, but not a bad film.

 Getting Low (2009)  I saw the trailer to this film at the theater years ago, but the trailer made it look like a goofy movie about an eccentric hermit who wants to throw his own funeral party.  The previews did this film no service; it was much better than the trailers portrayed.  Robert Duval just never stops being a great actor! And he has a special affinity for roles that are mildly moral, religious, even Christian—just think about Tender Mercies (1983) and The Apostle(1997). The story is really about a man who has jailed himself away in a cabin for forty years for a sin he committed in his youth. Now, in old age, he wants to confess his sin and be forgiven.  Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black all do outstanding jobs as well in this fine little film.

Book of Eli (2010) Much has been written about this film, so I will be brief. Denzel Washington is and has always been one of the best. Most of this film is rather bleak and often violent, but the moments when Eli has his emotions called out are just as good as the unforgettable moments in Glory when the new, young actor Washington, steals the movie.  And The Bible gets good press in this movie; even the villain knows the power of the Words, and like all Satans, wants to use them for his own power and glory.  There is no doubt about the outcome.

 Airplane movies are usually cleaned up, so I have no idea what the theater version might contain that I did not see.  That’s my disclaimer in case you rent any of these and are shocked that I would watch it. I do, however, believe there is a difference in watching to learn and watching to be entertained—but that’s a topic for later.

 Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you!

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My special guest blogger today is Anna, my seven year-old granddaughter. On Friday, we went to see Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole with her and her sister Olivia. This morning, Anna was reading my blog on Alice In Wonderland and offered to help me with blogging, so we decided to do something with this movie.

I will say that we all enjoyed the movie very much. It has wonderful animation and design. The plot is a little scary sometimes.  Olivia, six-years-old, found it a little too scary.

Well, here is what Anna would like to tell you about the movie!

  1. Don’t get moon-blinked!  When you disobey God, you could get moonblinked. You can’t think anymore for yourself. You can’t see with your eyes.
  2. How far do we have to go? When you are exhausted, then you are halfway there!  Some things are worth really straining for, really doing even more than you think you can do.  Everything for God is worth straining for.
  3. Don’t get too out of control when you are playing. When you get too rowdy, then you fall out of the tree.  When you fall out of the tree, then bad things can happen!
  4. Listen to the old birds—some of them! Some old birds are good; some old birds are bad. How do we know which one is which? The ones who tell us the truth about God are the ones we want to listen to. They tell you the right things to do—just like the Bible says.
  5. Different children in the same family have different problems. Brothers and sisters sometimes make bad choices, but that doesn’t mean we have to. We should always love them and try to help them make good choices.

Thanks, Anna! Great thoughts—and keep on thinking when you see movies!

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