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Posts Tagged ‘movie reviews’

The fault in our starsIf the new releaseThe Fault In Our Stars, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, could talk, it would tell you that it unashamedly intends to play on your most maudlin emotions and will use all of the film clichés about death and dying to do so, BUT if a good cry does you good, then you’ll love this film.

I agree with the film—if it could talk!

Two teenagers with cancer meet at a support group, one with an attitude and one with—well, another attitude!  They both are coping with their terminal illnesses within their own understandings about life and death.  One of my favorite scenes and a scene that really demonstrates the quality of the actors is their first meeting at the support group meeting when Gus is just looking and smiling at Hazel and she is trying first to ignore him, then warn him off—both of them speaking volumes without words.

Such a script demands a wide range of emotions from both Woodley and Elgort. Woodley does a remarkable job as the terminal teen, mildly depressed and mildly bitter about her fate.  Ansel Elgort’s performance is equally believable—but only when he is in his relatively idealistic mode; he is less convincing with his dark side.

With no more information than I have given you, you can probably finish the rest of the plot with at least 90% accuracy, that is, the story is quite predictable.  So what makes the film worth seeing?

Here is why I can be positive about the film—as long as you know you are going to need your tissues!

Hazel and Augustus each have very real questions about death and dying for which they hope to discover an answer before they die. 

Hazel Grace wants to know if the lives of her loved ones will be ruined by her death? She is afraid her mother will lose her motherhood, that when she dies they will lose their purpose in life because all she knows of them is that they have spent all of her life focused on her and her illness.

Augustus wants to leave this life having made an impact, being remembered forever, leaving his mark on the world! But what if he doesn’t? What if he sees the end before he has time to live remarkably.

The drama of the film is not about whether they live or die, but whether they find the answers to their questions, whether they are able to find not only love but peace and a measure of understanding.

I hate the title and I hate the way religion is portrayed in the film.  If you are a Christian, then you will also hate the portrayal of the “heart of Jesus” support group which is a caricature of the worst of pastoral care in the name of Jesus.  The film would have been a better film with more realistic and sympathetic people of faith.

With regard to the title The Fault Is Our Stars, there is a disconnect for me between the title and the film script.  Perhaps the title came from the book’s author or the publisher and is appropriate for the book, but the prevailing philosophy in the film is optimistic, not fatalistic, one of hope for something other than oblivion.

Finally, don’t take young teenagers or pre-teens to this film; they will leave thinking it is all about love. And they will remember the obligatory sex scene as much more important than it is.

 

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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 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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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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