Woman in Gold (2015)  PG-13

 

Genre: Drama (based on a true story)

 

Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Katie Holmes

 

Director: Simon Curtis

 

Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell

 

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

 

Woman in Gold

 

UA-68537499-1

Sometimes You Must Fight for What is Right

 

Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an Austrian Jewish refugee from WWII, has been living in the U.S. for more than fifty years when she discovers letters from her Aunt Adele dating from the 1940s that had been in her deceased sister’s possession. Altmann describes her aunt as a “second mother” since Adele and her husband lived with her family and they had no children of their own. Altmann remembers the day when her aunt was painted by the famous Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, which led to her aunt’s national celebrity as “The Woman in Gold.” Reminiscing about her beloved aunt, Altmann becomes consumed with the injustice of her painting being taken from their family’s home by the Nazis and its brazen exhibition at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna.

 

Hearing about restitution trials going on regarding stolen art from that time period, Altmann decides to hire a young, inexperienced attorney named Randy Schoenberg (a descendant of the famous Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg) to see if he can get her painting back. Unfortunately, the Austrian government sees the painting as a national treasure and claims the painting was bequeathed to the museum by Adele Bloch-Bauer herself. Yet,  her lawyer found a document that seems to prove that the painting, in fact, belonged to Altmann’s father so Adele did not have the legal right to give it.

 

The story moves along well sustaining the suspense through frequent flashbacks to when Altmann was a child as well as the time she had to flee the country with her husband. Ryan Reynolds as a the young attorney and Helen Mirren as the aristocratic elderly woman often clash regarding legal strategy and personality, sometimes to comic effect. For example, when Altmann first meets the lawyer, he has recently failed at having his own practice and just got another job at a big law firm so he is not excited about her case. But, after doing research on the internet about the painting in question, he discovers the painting is worth 100 million dollars. He contacts her again with a bit more enthusiasm and tells her he wants to represent her after all. She is bewildered by his radical change of attitude and responds: “What is going on?  Before I could not get you to help  me and now you are all over me like a rash.”

 

At first glance, it may appear to be an insignificant story about an old woman merely wanting her stolen property returned, but it is much much more. It is a courageous woman at the twilight of her life challenging a government and a people to re-examine their conscience about their complicity with evil and their cold betrayal of their own citizens to the Nazi regime. Her unsaid question is: Do you now have the integrity to admit your wrong, despite the cost, and side with justice, or will you continue in denial and embrace the same values as the German usurpers?

 

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

 

Big Eyes

 

 

Big Eyes (2015) PG-13

 

Genre: Drama (True Story)

 

Starring: Amy Adams (Man of Steel, 2013), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, 2012)

 

Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski

 

Director: Tim Burton

 

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Big lies might have been a better title.

 

This film is based on the true story of the artist, Margaret Keane, whose paintings of little girls with big eyes became what Life Magazine called in 1965 “the most popular art now being produced in the free world.”

 

Unfortunately, however, her artist-wanna-be husband, Walter, decided to take credit for her work. He reasoned that people would be more inclined to buy a painting if they met the artist. At first she meekly protested, but eventually gave in. Through his genius at promotion and the mass producing of the work, they became rich. He did interviews on TV, hosted celebrities at their mansion, and offered the paintings to travelling foreign dignitaries. Meanwhile, she diligently labored in the shadows while he got all the limelight for her work. The bulk of the movie  focuses on the tragic cost of agreeing to a lie, which leads to more lies, that eventually becomes a web from which you cannot escape.

 

Though the film is well done and shows the negative effects of lying, as a Christian, I would not recommend seeing this film. At one point, in fact, the screenwriters try to pin the blame on Christianity for Margaret’s passivity. In this scene she goes to a Catholic Church to confess her sin of lying to a priest, without saying exactly what the lie was. The priest asks her, “What about the child? Will this lie bring harm to the child?” She says, “No.” He then adds: “The man is the head of the family, so perhaps it is better to just trust him in this case.” Of course, this was extremely bad advice.

Margaret tells the priest she is a Methodist, but she obviously is not a committed Christian and remains spiritually confused throughout the movie. She even tells her friend that she prayed to the god of creativity statue when she was in Hawaii. Earlier her friend tells her that if she is looking for salvation to go to the Buddhist temple.

 

At the very end of the movie, Margaret finally comes clean about her lies because she meets some Jehovah Witnesses and reads their literature, which states that you should not lie. In real life, though not mentioned in the film, she does embrace this cult. What is sad about this story is it takes over ten years for her to finally confess the truth about her lies, and then she falls head first into a false religion.

 

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the truth, the way, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me’” (John 14:6).

Million Dollar Arm

 

McFarland USA (2105) PG

Genre: Sports Drama/ True Story

 

Starring: Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Lake Bell (In a World…), Alan Arkin, Madhur Mittal, Suraj Sharma, Pitobash Tripathy

 

Director: Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl)

 

Distributor: Disney

An uplifting, entertaining true story

 

Sports agent, JB Berstein (Jon Hamm), has a problem. His clients are retiring and his cash flow is ebbing. His rent is due and the new star he thought was going to save him and his business decided to go with a competitor. What does he do? He gets creative and thinks of a wild idea. Why not have a contest in India and have all the athletic young men compete for a grand prize and the chance to pitch professionally in the majors? Surely, with all those cricket players around, there has to be at least two who can throw a ball close to 90 miles an hour. He contacts his wealthy Asian businessman investor and off he goes to India with a retired professional recruiter (Alan Arkin), who has trouble staying awake, to help him and a couple of native Indians on the ground to help him organize the competition around the country.

 

Based on a true story, Berstein starts out as a self-indulgent bachelor and “jerk” as his tenant, Brenda Fenwick, calls him (a lovely med student played by Lake Bell) and eventually grows into a man worthy of her love. What helps him on that path is her willingness to tell him the truth about himself and his willingness to take full responsibility for the Indian men he brought into the country. Two were the young men who won the pitching contest and the other was a more mature Indian man who had a dream of being a baseball coach some day in his home country. The latter is played wonderfully by the Indian actor, Pitobash Tripathy, who displays an honest sincerity and an unabashed joy at all his good fortunes.

 

Some of the highlights of the movie include humorous elements of adjusting to foreign cultures, first for Berstein in India, and then for the Indians in America. For example, when they ride an elevator for the first time in the U.S., Berstein stops it for someone who wants to get in by passing his hand in between the doors, much to the amazement of the young Indians. Of course, one of them has to try it himself several times, which embarrasses their agent to comic effect. They also mistake Brenda for a servant because she lives in a bungalow off his house.

 

Slowly, Bernstein catches on that doing what is right for others is better than worldly success. The innocence and simplicity of his Indian friends disarm him. He finds them praying in their room one day and asks them what they are doing. “We’re praying. Where do you pray?” When they realize he has stayed overnight with Brenda they tell him he should marry her.  As a gesture of their gratefulness for helping them they surprise him by preparing an authentic Indian meal and invite Brenda who is dressed in Indian clothes.

 

On the human level, I found the movie very well done and satisfying. Yet, looking at it spiritually, I found it sad that a man from a country founded on Christian beliefs had to hear about God, prayer, and marriage from Hindus, rather than Christians. Again, just another reminder of how far we have wandered off the track as a nation.

 

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…” (Psalm 33:12).

McFarland USA

 

McFarland USA (2015)  PG

 

Genre: Sports Drama (based on true story)

 

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ramiro Rodriquez, Carlos Pratts, Maria Bello

 

Director: Niki Caro (Whale Rider, 2002)

Screenwriter: Christopher Cleveland (Glory Road, 2006)

 

Distributor: Walt Disney

 

Quality Hoosiers-type sports film with just the right touch of humor.

 

Though there are some liberties taken in this movie “based on a true story” most of it is legit, according to the internet site: historyvshollywood.com. For example, it starts out with a middle-aged man (Jim White, Kevin Costner) coming to McFarland High School in central California to work as a coach and teacher because he was fired from a more prestigious position for supposedly having an anger problem. This was, if you remember, the same problem that Gene Hackman had in the classic basketball movie Hossiers. This bit of drama is apparently invented—the real Jim White went to McFarland High right out of college and was not dealing with this issue. The success of the cross country team also is a bit exaggerated. It took eight years to win the state championship, not just one. But these are just Hollywood shortcuts to build tension and tighten the drama to fit the two-hour time frame. No problem.

 

What makes this movie unique is the focus on migrant worker families in California. The children are expected to work in the fields starting at young ages (10 is mentioned in the movie) early in the morning with their parents and then later after school. White, an outsider or a “Blanco” as he is called by his Hispanic students, however, sees an opportunity when he witnesses how fast some of the boys can run in gym class. But he must win the hearts of the boys’ parents if he is to have a team at all. He proves his willingness to identify with their culture when he accepts one family’s invitation to supper and eats multiple helpings of Mexican food and then even works a day in the fields to identify with their lifestyle.

 

Costner’s role is perfect for this actor. His character is down-to-earth, honest, and authentic when relating to his students. The cross country boys are well-chosen and fall into the typical gamut of personalities from the emotionally-burdened boy to the overweight slowest runner. Yet, it does not come across as just a cookie-cutter sports film concocted by Disney to please the masses. When Thomas, the team’s lead runner says to White, “There is no American dream in McFarland,” you believe him and feel the pain of the offspring of migrant workers everywhere caught in a vicious cycle of poverty.  When Costner asks one boy: “Please tell your father I really appreciated his hospitality tonight” expecting him to translate it into Spanish and the boy instead repeats what he just said to his father in English and the father responds in English, it is very amusing and yet at the same time, indicative of the assumptions we form without realizing it.

 

This movie is more than just another sports movie. It addresses relevant racist immigrant stereotypes, the nobility of working hard, the necessity of building a sense of community and team spirit, and the challenge we all face: how to keep alive our impossible dreams while combating the realities of life.

 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1Peter 5:6).

 

 

       Pawn Sacrifice

Pawn Sacrifice (2015) R

 

Starring: Toby Maguire, Liev  Schreiber, Michael Stuhbarg, Peter Sarsgaard

 

Director: Edward Zwick

 

Writers: Steven Knight, Stephen J. Rivele

 

Distributor: Bleecker Street Media

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning and ending with Bobby Fischer's historic battle for the World Chess Championship against the Russian,  Boris Spassky, in Iceland (1972), the movie flashes back to Fischer's childhood and eventual rise to fame. WIth a soundtrack of popular songs of the late 60s and early 70s, the  movie deftly weaves in the various influences in Fischer's life including: his mother's fears of being watched as a member of the communist party and her promiscuity; an absentee father; a devoted sister; and his attachment to the radical teachings of the Worldwide Church of Christ.

 

For those familiar with Fischer's life there is nothing new here except, perhaps, the idea presented that Fischer's path to glory was subsidized by the government whose leaders, including Nixon and Kissinger, saw his victory over the Russians as a symbolic, political triumph. The website, Hollywoodvshistory.com, however, disputes that claim mentioning that the grandmaster and chess writer, Andy Soltis, said on NPR that the U.S. government maneuvering Fischer for a progaganda win is an exaggeration.

 

Although it is sad  to see the extent of Fischer's obvious mental illness, on the one hand seeing himself as a chess god and on the other suffering from acute paranoia, the acting is superb by the whole cast and the story is well-developed. A nice comic relief scene is when the normally very calm and collected Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber)  suddenly stands up during one game and says, "My chair is  vibrating and it's distracting me. Have someone examine it." The cause was even funnier.

 

In terms of sexuality, there is a short section showing Bobby Fischer talking with a prostitute so he could lose his virginity and a scene the next morning with him in bed with her (only the bare back of the woman is shown). There is also a few instances of foul language, but not excessive. 

 

As an avid chess player myself I appreciated seeing  a quality-made drama about the greatest chess player America ever produced. It helped me to understand his sometimes bizarre, paranoid behavior, the seed of which may have come from his mother's fears of being tracked by the FBI when he was a child. Still, it's a shame that people who are highly intelligent, or gifted in a particular area, sometimes cannot receive help from others when they most need it, but , instead, go on to self-destruct.

 

        "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall"  (1Corinthians 10:12).

 

 

Alone Yet Not Alone

 

Alone Yet Not Alone  (2013) PG

 

Starring: Kelly Greyson, Jenn Gotzon, Clay Walker, Ozzie Torres

 

Directors: Ray Bengston and George D. Escobar

 

Writers: James Richards and George D. Escobar

 

Distributor: Enthuse Entertainment

 

The year is 1755 and the Leininger family has just arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany. A native of the area assures them: "You're perfectly safe. There hasn't been an incident with the indians for 75 years!"  Unfortunately, his words give false assurance as the family  is later attacked by the Delaware Indians and the father is killed and the two young daughters, Barbara and Regina, are taken captive.  Barbara is the elder sister (maybe 10 or 11) and is devastated when Regina is taken away to another tribe almost immediately. 

 

The film is based on the novel of the same name (2012) by Tracy Leininger Craven and the true story of her ancestors. The lead role is also played by her sister, Kelly Leininger Greyson. The title is significant because it is the English translation of an old German hymn that was dear to the immigrant family and was a source of strength during the sisters' ordeal.  

 

The story focuses on Barbara as she grows up and gains acceptance in her tribe. She is so respected, in fact, the chief's son expresses his intention to marry her.  Yet, despite his kindness to her, Barbara cannot forget that this same tribe killed her father. Other immigrant captives suggest running away before the wedding ceremony, but it could mean certain death if they get caught. 

 

The story keeps your interest and is generally well-directed and acted, though you must suspend belief somewhat when Barbara physically matures but all the indians look the same age. The film also could have benefitted from a stronger lead actress.

 

Overall, it is an inspirational and uplifting family movie (though not for small children) and shows the importance of not giving up hope, even in the worst of circumstances.  

 

"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of  the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:13 & 14).

 

 

 

 

    Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth (2015, USA) PG-13

 

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton

 

Director: James Kent

 

Writers: Vera Brittain (Autobiography), Juliette Towhidi (screenplay)

 

Distributor: Sony Picture Classics

 

Availability: Red Box

 

 

Vera Brittain is a beautiful, young, English woman living in the early 1900s, just before WW I, with unusual aspirations. She wants to go to college at Oxford and learn to be a career writer. Her father thinks it is a waste of money since women during this time usually focused on finding a suitable marriage partner, not higher education. She is adamant, however, and, with the loving support of her brother, Edward, their father allows her to sit for the entrance exam.  

 

Meanwhile, she meets Roland, a friend of her brother, whose mother is a successful novelist. He also wants to be a writer and tells her after reading one of her poems, "You must write" to which she replies in astonishment, "No one has ever said that to me before."  Of course, soon after, she is romantically smitten by such an intuitive and sensitive man. Her dream is to attend Oxford at the same time as her brother, Roland, and their friends. Unfortunately, WW I disrupts all their plans and the young men go off to war feeling it is their sacred duty and honor to serve their country.

 

This is a beautifully filmed movie with talented stars, which is based on the bestselling memoir with the same name that became an instant success when it was first printed. The focus of the story is on the deep relationships Vera had with her brother Edward, Roland, their friends, and her eventual disallusionment with war. As is typical of many British films, more time is spent on character development rather than action sequences (there are more scenes, for example, of the suffering aftermath of battle as opposed to actual battle scenes).

 

A poignant scene occurs toward the end of the film, when Vera, working as a medical assistant at the front lines, discovers a letter in her wounded brother's pocket from a mutual friend. Edward tells her he carried it with him for comfort. She reads it aloud, "It was a scene of devastation and yet, as I looked at it, a strange feeling came over me. The setting sun had lit up the water in the shell holes so they looked like pools of gold. And I felt a presence there, greater than all this. Such peace, Edward. And I thought of you, dear friend. And I knew I'd see you again--either in this world or the hereafter."

 

Although I do not necessarily agree with Vera's conclusions, since I believe there are times when  a nation does need to go to war to stop the advancement of evil, I think it is well done, though a bit heavy. 

 

I am glad there is a time coming when the following will be fulfilled:

"He will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

       Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies (2015) PG-13

Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Arkin

Writers: Matt Charman, Ethan & Joel Coen

Director: Steven Speilberg

Distributor: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

This is an excellent movie based on a true story about a lawyer, James B. Donovan, who legally defended the Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, in the late 1950s.  Truly an American hero, Donovan took on what many lawyers declined to do--probably out of fear of public rejection, hostility, or worse--because he believed every man deserved a fair trial regardless of what they had done.

 

Donovan also had the foresight to recommend to the judge deciding Abel’s fate not to have him executed, despite what the public wanted, because Abel could be used to trade with the Russians in the event an American spy was ever caught, which turned out being prophetic several years later. Although I don't recall  seeing much evidence of this in the film, Donovan was also a devout Catholic and a strong believer in God. So much so, he was known to carry a copy of the following prayer of Saint Francis for inspiration:

 

 Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; 

Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 

Where there is injury, pardon; 

Where there is doubt, faith; 

Where there is despair, hope; 

Where there is darkness, light; 

And where there is sadness, joy. 

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console; 

To be understood, as to understand; 

To be loved, as to love; 

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 

And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

                               Amen.

  I was not surprised to read that Gregory Peck wanted to play the lead role when Donovan's bestselling memoir, Strangers on a Bridge (first printed in 1964), was made into a movie. For whatever reason, that was not to be, though I am sure Peck would have been fantastic. Hanks, however, is no slouch and portrays this courageous man with deep integrity wonderfully—a man who accepted dangerous missions simply because he believed they were the right thing to do. I would say that the prayer he had in his pocket was answered...big time.

   Miracles from Heaven

Miracles from Heaven PG (2016)

 

Starring: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Hendersen, Queen

Latifah

 

Director: Patricia Riggen

 

Writers: Christy Beam (book), Randy Brown (screenplay)

 

Distributors: Sony Pictures Releasing/Tri Star Pictures

 

True Story

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

This movie is the girl/mom version of Heaven is for Real with a little more grit. Whereas Heaven focused on a boy with a medical problem who experiences God and a miraculous healing, and his father, this one centers on a young girl, Anna Beam (Kylie Rogers) who witnesses the same thing, and her mom, Christy (Jennifer Garner). At first, everything seems to be going fine for this Christian family in Texas. They have a beautiful home in the country. They host their church for a summer picnic. Kids play well together. The only thing that seems of concern is a huge loan they've taken out for an animal clinic that the dad, Kevin (Martin Hendersen), is opening.

 

Everything changes, however, when 10-year-old Anna starts having abdominal pain. Kevin and Christy take her to the ER and the doctors say it is either lactose intolerance or acid reflux. Despite their assurances, Christy is convinced it is something much worse. She is told about a specialist in Boston. She makes repeated calls to the doctor’s office, but she cannot get an appointment. Meanwhile, Anna remains in constant pain. In desperation, Christy flies out alone to Boston with Anna and begs the receptionist to let her talk to the doctor. After giving the standard lines, the woman eventually pleads Christy’s case with the doctor and he consents to treat Anna. His findings, however, are not encouraging and he tells Christy frankly: "Anna has an incurable condition called pseudo-obstruction motility disorder.” Christy, of course, is devastated but stays on in Boston until Anna stabilizes. Queen Latifah plays a caring waitress that befriends the out-of-towners and keeps their spirits up with tours of the city.

 

Jennifer Garner does a magnificent job showing Christy’s love for Anna, her anguish over her daughter’s situation, and her struggle with her faith during this trial. Unfortunately, two well-meaning, yet insensitive, women in her church make matters worse by telling Christy that Anna’s suffering is because of sin somewhere in the family. Christy reacts and vows to never go back to that church again. She does, however, seek out her pastor’s counsel and asks him plainly: “Pastor, why would God make a little girl like Anna suffer so much when she really  loves Him?” To his credit he answers honestly: “I don’t know, but I have found that during times like this it is better to be with God than without Him.”

 

A touching scene in the hospital is when Anna meets another young girl with cancer and tells her that God is with her too. The profound consequences of that meeting and the affect it had on the girl are later shared by her atheistic father who appears at a key, yet unexpected moment.

 

A  valid point the film also seeks to make, besides the major one about God being able to act supernaturally on our behalf, is: miracles are all around us if we just open our eyes to see them.

 

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' Jesus said, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:1-3).

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'" 

"'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him'" (John 9:1-3).

    Philomena

    Philomena

First off, I would not label this movie a "comedy" but a "dramedy" which I define as a drama with some humorous elements. The subject is quite serious: It is a true story about an elderly Irish lady, Philomena  Lee (an excellent Judi Dench) who finally brings a hearbreaking secret out into the open---the fact that she had a child out of wedlock in 1952;  was put into an Catholic abbey by her father and abandoned by her family;  was forced  to work seven days a week in a laundry for four years to repay the abbey's "kindness " for taking her in; and had her son given up for adoption by the abbey against her will. 

The movie begins with Philomena Lee looking at her only photo of her son (given to her by a compassionate nun long ago) and confessing to her daughter what had happened fifty years earlier and her conviction that she must now find her son "to see if he is all right." Enter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former reporter for the BBC and spin doctor for Prime Minister Tony Blair who just happens to be out of a job and considering his options. A magazine editor at a party suggests that he write some "human interest" stories for her, which he considers just stories about "weak-minded, vulnerable, ignorant people read by weak-minded, vulnerable, ignorant people."

However, Philomena's daughter is also at the same party as a server of alcoholic beverages and she overhears the part about him being a journalist. She asks him to consider helping her "mum" locate her lost son. With limited offers from anyone else he eventually agrees, and this is where the humor comes in because the two are so vastly different. Martin has hobnobbed with the rich and famous, travelled the globe working in both Moscow and Washington, and has developed a cynical and atheistic attitude toward life. Philomena, on the other hand, is a kind, elderly lady with a simple faith in God, a fondness for romance novels, and very modest means. The following is from the scene where they first met:

 

Martin: "How are you?"

Philomena: "I'm all right. I had a hip replacement last year, Martin."

Martin: "Right."

Philomena: "It's much better than the bone one I had before."

Martin: "Yes."

Philomena: "And it's titanium, so it won't rust."

Martin: "Oh, that's a good job. Otherwise, I'd have to oil you like the Tin Man."

Philomena: "Oh, is that right?"

She, of course, does not follow his humor and this reference to The Wizard of Oz so her daughter has to explain. These opportunites for miscommunication and amusing exchanges increase as they decide to embark on a trip together to the United States. At one point she muses on a possibility of what could have happened to her son: "What if he is obese?" to which Martin replies, "Why would you think that?" Philomena: "Because of the big portions of food they serve here."

Throughout the movie Philomena personifies the first part of the Serenity Prayer, which is: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;  and the wisdom to know the difference (Reinhold Niebuhr)."

Although there is no fairy tale ending here, Philomena does get closure, Martin gets some humanity, and a great injustice is exposed for the world to see.

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:8).

"Can a woman forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?" (Isaiah 49:15)

Eddie the Eagle

This movie is based on the life of Michael (Eddie) Edwards who was a clumsy, somewhat dorky looking, British young man from a working class family who, against all odds, became a member of the UK's 1988 Winter Olympics team. Although the film, according to Edwards in an interview, is probably only 5%  accurate, the  main lines are true. From boyhood, Edwards always wanted to be in the Olympics and nearly made the downhill racing team in the 1984 Olympics. To qualify in 1988 , however, Edwards figured he'd have a better chance at ski jumping, especially since the UK did not have anyone for these events. Unfortunately,  the Olympic  Committee was not overly excited about his participation (usually these types of skiers trained from the time they were toddlers) and discouraged him. But, after many attempts "Eddie" did qualify and, therefore, was allowed to compete. 

Although disdained by many of the other skiers, Eddie became the "darling" of the media because the people saw him as an "average Joe" doing the impossible. When you see the heights from which the skiers do their jumps you understand just how dangerous the sport is and what courage it took Eddie to learn the fundamentals in such a short time (he trained for only two years). In the movie, to make sure Eddie understands the gravity of what he wants to do, his future coach tells him: "They say that you should be measured for a coffin before you try the 90-foot jump."

 

What is refreshing about Edwards' attitude in the film is how joyful he is just being in the Olympics, even if he comes in last. In other words, he does not compare himself to others; he is only grateful for how far he has come. He also knows that being the first British person to do the event he also is assured of a UK record.

Hugh Jackman plays Bronson Peary, a fictional character, who becomes Eddie's coach. I could not help thinking that this would have been a great role for Mel Gibson as a younger man. Jackman is a good foil for the good-natured Eddie as a cynical, former ski jumper. 

It is interesting that a NY Times bestselling, non-fiction book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth, is now on the top ten list as this movie is released. In it the author comes to the conclusion that "grit" rather than talent often determines  great achievement. Edwards definitely embodied that concept.

The movie is very entertaining, but it also packs a potent message for anyone still chasing their dreams. 

"Where there is no vision, the people perish..." (Proverbs 28:19 KJV).

*The only things I would warn you about in this film are two scenes: One is a scene where Bronson Peary compares the stages of ski jumping to a sexual  experience with Bo Derek-- complete with sounds, and the other is a scene in a sauna with the naked Norwegian team (vitals are covered).

Against the Sun

Against the Sun (2015) PG

Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Tom Felton, and Jake Abel

Writers: Brian Falk and Mark David Keegan

Director: Brian Falk

Distributor: Goldcrest Films NYC

        Everest

The Finest Hours

The Finest Hours (2016) PG-13

Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, and Holliday Grainger

Writers: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson (screenplay) Casey Sherman and Michael J. Touglas (book)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

   Concussion

Concussion (2015) PG-13

Starring: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks

Writer: Peter Landesman

Director: Peter Landesman

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

This is a must-see movie about Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian (became American in 2015) forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who found startling, scientific proof connecting repeated head trauma, commonly experienced by NFL football players, with severe brain damage manifested later in life called "chronic traumatic encephalopathy." Working at the County Coroner's Office in Pittsburgh in 2002, Omalu did the autopsy on Mike Webster (50) a former popular Center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and found high levels of the tau protein in the brain, which is normally found in much older Alzheimer's patients. 

WIll Smith does a marvelous job (should have been nominated for an Oscar) as the optimistic, jovial Nigerian doctor, complete with African accent, who naively thinks the NFL will welcome his findings and help solve the problem. His mentor, Cyril Wecht, however, gives it to him straight: "You are going to war with a corporation that has 20 million people on a weekly basis craving your product...The NFL owns a day of the week--the same day the church used to own."

Omalu is depicted as a Catholic believer and one scene shows him worshiping at a lively church service singing, "How great is our God." Another scene reveals a bare wooden cross hanging on his apartment wall. It is after the church service that Omalu is introduced to a recent immigrant from Kenya, Prema Mutiso, and is encouraged by his priest, surprisingly, to let her stay in a room in his apartment "because I know with you she'll be safe." He then pats Omalu on the chest and says, "I feel God in you." (Fact checking, however, with hollywoodvshistory.com shows this was a fictional element added to the story. Omalu did not invite Prema to live in his apartment before he even knew her). 

Ignorant of touching a sacred cow, Omalu is bewildered why the NFL, the public, and its doctors are reacting so negatively to his evidence. At a low point, he regrets ever having met Mike Webster. In a beautiful scene after Bennet and Prema are engaged,  Prema exhorts him to keep speaking out: "Omalu Onyemaluknube, your name means 'if you know, you must come forth and speak.' If you don't speak for the dead, who will? You are of the Igboo tribe, Bennet. When you have truth the thing you are told you cannot do is the thing you must do. Embrace that and nothing created by man can bring you down."

The movie shows what happens when someone dares to touch a real "American idol" but also how God vindicates those who stand for the truth.

"An honest witness tells the truth, but a false witness tells lies" (Proverbs 12;17a).

Hacksaw Ridge

Phiona Mutesi  is a teenage girl from a poor, single-parent family in Uganda and you see rather quickly how hard it is to live when you are just trying to survive. You also see the temptations for both the mom and her sister to keep their dignity when men are offering them services to improve their lives, but at a price. The mom holds fast to her convictions while her daughter succumbs to the charms of a man on a motorcycle. Things get really challenging when Phiona’s brother gets hit by vehicle and must go to the hospital. The mom decides to let them stitch up her son without an anesthetic because they are out of the drug and she cannot afford to keep him in the hospital until it arrives. When they get back home she is forced out of her little shelter because she cannot pay the rent. In another scene a flood flows through their meager home and almost takes Phiona's younger brother with it.

Meanwhile, Phiona discovers of a Christian ministry in the village that reaches out to children by giving them food and teaching them to play chess and other sports.  At first, she is ostracized because of her body odor but she cleans herself up and returns week after week. She is fascinated by the board game and the coach, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo, the actor who played Martin Luther King in Selma), soon realizes she has an unusual talent --she can see eight moves ahead. Katende forms a team from the village and arranges tournaments in the wealthier parts of the country. Phiona brings home trophy after trophy and then aspires to play chess internationally. Katende’s wife, Sara, teaches Phiona to read and she devours chess books. She eventually becomes the hope of her nation when she goes to Russia to compete in a major championship.

Parts of the Lord’s prayer are recited during the movie and the coach must face a difficult decision at one point whether to quit his ministry for a lucrative position or not.  Although all the acting is good, I thought Lapita Nyong’o’s portrayal of Phiona’s mother, Harriet, was exceptionally moving. She shows dignity in poverty, strength and resilience in trial, and a mother’s fierce love to protect her children. The movie also gives you a slice of this African culture as the women dress in beautiful garments, regardless of social standing, and dance with joy to celebrate a special occasion. The Christian faith is also definitely honored in the film.

The movie is based on the book with the same title. Even if you do not know how to play chess, the story is uplifting and the lessons learned can be applied to any culture. It is beautiful to see the manifestation of a God-given gift, the nurturing of that gift by a godly mentor, and the use of that gift to break a cycle of poverty. Realistic struggles, Christian love fleshed out to “the least of these” resulting in changed lives, and a taste of Africa. Well-worth anyone’s time.

            "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord" (Proverbs 19:17).

     Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures (2016) PG

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monai, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner

Writers: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi (screenplay), Margot Lee Shetterly (book)

Director: Theodore Melfi

Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox

 

This is an excellent film about three, mathematically-gifted, African-American women who work at NASA in Hampton, Virginia in the 1960s during the space race with the Russians. All of them face racial prejudice of some kind and must persevere for recognition and advancement. The main character, Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), a widow with three young girls, is selected to work with the elite team that is calculating the trajectories into space.  When she arrives at her new work location, however, she sees a sign on the coffee pot prohibiting her from using it. The lead engineer also makes it clear he does not want her checking his work. To make things even more humiliating, Katherine has to run to another building in her high heels to use the “colored” rest room. Finally, her director, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), blurts out in bewilderment: “Where do you go all the time?”  She lets him have it--in spades. Great scene!

Dorothy Johnson (Octavia Spencer) has another hurtle to jump. The supervisor in her department left and no one is hired to take her place. Dorothy steps up and does the work of a supervisor but is not given the title or the salary increase she deserves. When she finds out her department will be laid off because of the IBM computer coming in to replace them, she takes action and comes up with a creative way to save their jobs.

Mary Jackson discovers a flaw in the heat shield of one of the spacecrafts. She wants to be an engineer but the classes she needs to take are offered at an all-white school. She files a legal complaint and makes her case in front of a judge. Of course, she does her homework and knows all about this judge, which she uses to her advantage...and his amazement.

The African-American men also are great role models. Colonel Johnson, from the National Guard, at first, doubts the abilities of Katherine Goble but later repents and asks forgiveness. He also courts her respectfully, and is consequently faithful to her for over fifty years. Mary Jackson’s husband also expresses misgivings about his wife becoming an engineer but he also later admits his mistake.

An inspiring and dramatically well-done movie. It's about time these ladies got some recognition!

 

*Be aware that there is some strong language (mostly from Kevin Costner’s character) and one scene of celebration with alcohol (though do not remember anyone getting drunk).

"No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another" (Psalm 75:6 &7).

    It's

about time these

women   got recog-nized!

Walking with the Enemy (2014) PG-13

Starring: Jonas Armstrong, Hannah Tointon, Ben Kingsley

Writers: Kenny Golde and Richard Lasser

Director: Mark Schmidt

Distributor: Liberty Studios, Inc

Walking with the Enemy

The slowness of this movie to Amazon streaming has been baffling (a breakdown in contract negotiations perhaps?), especially since it had such a limited theatrical release. In fact, I've waited three years to see this film since I first read about it. The story takes place in Hungary at the end of the war. Up to this point, the nation had been an ally of Germany but after the defeat of the Axis powers in Stalingrad, the leader of the country, Regent Horthy (Ben Kingsley), tried to barter a peace treaty with the United States and the United Kingdom behind Hitler’s back. Feeling betrayed, Hitler ordered an invasion of Hungary and put a man in power from the fascist Arrow Cross party who would follow his orders to deport or kill the entire Jewish population. Five hundred thousand Hungarian Jews eventually died in German prison camps.

Elek Cohen (Jonas Armstrong; played the young Robin Hood in the popular BBC TV series), a young Jewish man who works in Budapest at a small record shop, sees the radical change in his country the day after he meets the girl of his dreams at a dance, Hannah Schoen (Hannah Tointon). Elek feels compelled, however, to go back to his home in the countryside to warn his rabbi father and family about what is likely to happen. Shortly thereafter, Elek and a close friend are forced to join a labor camp to help the Nazi cause run by the Arrow Cross. He sees firsthand the callous way his Jewish compatriots are treated. For example, he witnesses one worker shot to death after a leg injury. Fortunately, Elek and his friend escape from the camp and go home, only to find their homes occupied by non-Jews and their families gone.

 

Elek finds Hannah again at a work place where Jews are supposedly protected because they work for a neutral Swiss organization. When she is attacked by two Nazi soldiers, however, Elek cannot passively stand by. Later, he finds uniforms to impersonate SS officers to boldly rescue Jews about to be deported, or slaughtered. The real person on whom Elek is based, Pinchas Tibor Rosebaum, reportedly saved a thousand Jews from certain death.

The testimony of this man and his story is another proof that when some hate-driven people are demonstrating the worst a human being can turn into, there are others who manifest a totally opposite spirit and risk their lives to do radical and courageous acts to save the innocent.

"If you falter in time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter" (Proverbs 24:10&11).

I Can Only Imagine

Walking with the Enemy (2014) PG-13

Starring: Jonas Armstrong, Hannah Tointon, Ben Kingsley

Writers: Kenny Golde and Richard Lasser

Director: Mark Schmidt

Distributor: Liberty Studios, Inc.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Philomena (2013) PG-13

Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

Director: Stephen Frears

Writers: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (screenplay), Martin Sixsmith (book: The Lost Child of Philomena Lee)

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

First off, I would not label this movie a "comedy" but a "dramedy" which I define as a drama with some humorous elements. The subject is quite serious: It is a true story about an elderly Irish lady, Philomena  Lee (an excellent Judi Dench) who finally brings a hearbreaking secret out into the open---the fact that she had a child out of wedlock in 1952;  was put into an Catholic abbey by her father and abandoned by her family;  was forced  to work seven days a week in a laundry for four years to repay the abbey's "kindness " for taking her in; and had her son given up for adoption by the abbey against her will. 

The movie begins with Philomena Lee looking at her only photo of her son (given to her by a compassionate nun long ago) and confessing to her daughter what had happened fifty years earlier and her conviction that she must now find her son "to see if he is all right." Enter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former reporter for the BBC and spin doctor for Prime Minister Tony Blair who just happens to be out of a job and considering his options. A magazine editor at a party suggests that he write some "human interest" stories for her, which he considers just stories about "weak-minded, vulnerable, ignorant people read by weak-minded, vulnerable, ignorant people."

However, Philomena's daughter is also at the same party as a server of alcoholic beverages and she overhears the part about him being a journalist. She asks him to consider helping her "mum" locate her lost son. With limited offers from anyone else he eventually agrees, and this is where the humor comes in because the two are so vastly different. Martin has hobnobbed with the rich and famous, travelled the globe working in both Moscow and Washington, and has developed a cynical and atheistic attitude toward life. Philomena, on the other hand, is a kind, elderly lady with a simple faith in God, a fondness for romance novels, and very modest means. The following is from the scene where they first met:

 

Martin: "How are you?"

Philomena: "I'm all right. I had a hip replacement last year, Martin."

Martin: "Right."

Philomena: "It's much better than the bone one I had before."

Martin: "Yes."

Philomena: "And it's titanium, so it won't rust."

Martin: "Oh, that's a good job. Otherwise, I'd have to oil you like the Tin Man."

Philomena: "Oh, is that right?"

She, of course, does not follow his humor and this reference to The Wizard of Oz so her daughter has to explain. These opportunites for miscommunication and amusing exchanges increase as they decide to embark on a trip together to the United States. At one point she muses on a possibility of what could have happened to her son: "What if he is obese?" to which Martin replies, "Why would you think that?" Philomena: "Because of the big portions of food they serve here."

Throughout the movie Philomena personifies the first part of the Serenity Prayer, which is: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;  and the wisdom to know the difference (Reinhold Niebuhr)."

Although there is no fairy tale ending here, Philomena does get closure, Martin gets some humanity, and a great injustice is exposed for the world to see.

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:8).

"Can a woman forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?" (Isaiah 49:15)

       Eddie the Eagle

Eddie the Eagle (2016) PG

Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken

Writers: Sean Macaulay, Simon Kelton

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox

This movie is based on the life of Michael (Eddie) Edwards who was a clumsy, somewhat dorky looking, British young man from a working class family who, against all odds, became a member of the UK's 1988 Winter Olympics team. Although the film, according to Edwards in an interview, is probably only 5%  accurate, the  main lines are true. From boyhood, Edwards always wanted to be in the Olympics and nearly made the downhill racing team in the 1984 Olympics. To qualify in 1988 , however, Edwards figured he'd have a better chance at ski jumping, especially since the UK did not have anyone for these events. Unfortunately,  the Olympic  Committee was not overly excited about his participation (usually these types of skiers trained from the time they were toddlers) and discouraged him. But, after many attempts "Eddie" did qualify and, therefore, was allowed to compete. 

Although disdained by many of the other skiers, Eddie became the "darling" of the media because the people saw him as an "average Joe" doing the impossible. When you see the heights from which the skiers do their jumps you understand just how dangerous the sport is and what courage it took Eddie to learn the fundamentals in such a short time (he trained for only two years). In the movie, to make sure Eddie understands the gravity of what he wants to do, his future coach tells him: "They say that you should be measured for a coffin before you try the 90-foot jump."

 

What is refreshing about Edwards' attitude in the film is how joyful he is just being in the Olympics, even if he comes in last. In other words, he does not compare himself to others; he is only grateful for how far he has come. He also knows that being the first British person to do the event he also is assured of a UK record.

Hugh Jackman plays Bronson Peary, a fictional character, who becomes Eddie's coach. I could not help thinking that this would have been a great role for Mel Gibson as a younger man. Jackman is a good foil for the good-natured Eddie as a cynical, former ski jumper. 

It is interesting that a NY Times bestselling, non-fiction book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth, is now on the top ten list as this movie is released. In it the author comes to the conclusion that "grit" rather than talent often determines  great achievement. Edwards definitely embodied that concept.

The movie is very entertaining, but it also packs a potent message for anyone still chasing their dreams. 

"Where there is no vision, the people perish..." (Proverbs 28:19 KJV).

*The only things I would warn you about in this film are two scenes: One is a scene where Bronson Peary compares the stages of ski jumping to a sexual  experience with Bo Derek-- complete with sounds, and the other is a scene in a sauna with the naked Norwegian team (vitals are covered).

      Against the Sun

Against the Sun (2015) PG

Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Tom Felton, and Jake Abel

Writers: Brian Falk and Mark David Keegan

Director: Brian Falk

Distributor: Goldcrest Films NYC

This movie is a low budget version of Unbroken (2014) that was directed by Angelina Jolie. Although Against the Sun is not the same story, it too is based on real events which involve a U.S. Bomber crashing into the  Pacific Ocean during WWII. There are also three men (Harold Dixon, Tony Pastula and Gene Aldrich this time) who float on an inflatable raft for an interminable amount of time.  Of course, the men suffer through the same types of challenges as Louis Zamperini and his men went through in Jolie's movie including: hunger, thirst, sharks, storms, and strained relationships. 

Here, however, the shark they catch looks more like a rubber one they drafted from a local fair. Let me be quick to add, however, that the sharks in the water look fine and there are some tense moments. The flying sequence and the acting is also a notch below the quality of the big production film. 

What I did appreciate about this movie were the scenes where the men are praying to God for help, reciting the Lord's prayer together, and when one of them receives an epiphany when they are all discouraged and declares: "Seems to me if God chose our course it's because he wants us to make it!" Another redemptive moment is when one of the men finally admits he made a mistake after refusing to acknowlege it for most of their ordeal.

Another major difference between the two movies is this one focuses only on the time just before the crash and their time on the water. There is no back story,  Japanese concentration camps, cruel guards, or torture scenes. Despite it's weaknesses as a film, however, it is still worth seeing and God receives credit for the positive denouement. It would be a great film to show homeschoolers (12+) studying WWII.

 

Better yet, read the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. Jolie's movie is well done, but it only skims the surface of Louis Zamperini's extraordinary story.

*Be advised that there are a few curse words used.

 

"He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of  deep waters" (Psalm 18:16).

              Everest

Everest (2015) PG-13

Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightly

Writers: William Nicholson, Simon Beaufoy

Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Doug Hansen, a mailman, is climbing Mount Everest because he wants to inspire the grade-schoolers who helped finance his trip. Beck Weathers signed up because climbing mountains is the only place he can escape the dark cloud hovering over him at home. Ang Dorgee, a Japanese middle-aged woman, has already done the other six summits and so wants to put her country's flag on the last and highest. Rob Hall, the expedition's leader from Adventure Consultants, wants them all to make it to the top to reach their own goals, but also because Jon Krakauer, a writer from Outsider Magazine, is climbing with them and will write an article about his experiences, which will affect his business in one way or another.

 

An early English mountaineer, George Mallory, said he wanted to climb Mount Everest: "Because it's there." Each of the 33 men and women from the three groups that climbed Everest on May 10, 1996, had their reasons to do what most people would never consider. Eight members of these groups would not return alive, some of which remain frozen on the mountainside, or lying on the bottom of a crevasse unreachable by man.

The movie is well-filmed with an all-star cast. In IMAX the scenes of Mount Everest must have been awesome. Of course, as in most winter scenes on film, it is not always easy to know who is who as snow, winter coats, and hoods obscure your vision. Jason Clarke does a great job as the main character, Rob Hall, who comes across like an encouraging gym coach thrilled by his students' achievements while pushing them beyond their present abilities, and a man with a keen entrepreneurial spirit. Emily Watson as well embodies the person of Helen Wilton as  the "mom" of base camp and the voice to the outside world of the details of the expedition. Jake Gyllenhaal also plays Scott Fischer, the leader of the group, Mountain Madness, with the confident air of an experienced guide and the weakness of a man sustained by alcohol. Josh Brolin is well-chosen as Beck Weathers, the rugged, yet tormented man battling his own demons as he attacks the monster mountain.

The reasons for the tragedy are varied. Some include: the ropes at the higher elevations were not secured before the groups arrived causing an hour delay; oxygen tanks were not in place as planned; too many climbers on the same day; and a major storm that swept over the climbers (one account says that all the group leaders were aware of the storm warnings but ignored them because of a break in the weather). 

Unfortunately, the only spiritual element in the movie is what looked like a Buddhist ceremony that the climbers attended before their ascent. Even when some of the main characters look like they may die, no one prays or thinks of turning to God. The best they can do is allow a spouse to talk with her husband from a satellite phone to motivate him to keep moving. Others are left to one another or their own devices for survival. Although the expedition is the same one that was featured in the bestseller, Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer, this movie is based on the memoirs of another climber. 

The movie is a good survival movie, but has a humanistic worldview and, I believe, points to the hubris and the failures of man as the real culprits of this senseless tragedy.

"In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him" (Psalm 95:4).

The Finest Hours

The Finest Hours (2016) PG-13

Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, and Holliday Grainger

Writers: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson (screenplay) Casey Sherman and Michael J. Touglas (book)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I'm not sure why this movie did so poorly at the box office because it is a great story and a very well-made film based on a legendary Coast Guard rescue off the coast of Cape Cod on February 18, 1952. On that day two giant oil tankers, The Pendleton and the S.S. Mercer, broke in two during a violent storm with 40 to 60 foot waves. This movie is focused on the four-man CG team led by Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) that was sent out to find The Pendelton in a 36-foot motor lifeboat.

 

Webber is shown as a shy, but respected boatsman in the community with a reputation of being a "good man." Before Bernie launches out, however, an experienced fisherman tells him not to go: "If you try to go over that Chatham Bar (a sandbar) today you're gonna die." He also reminds Webber of a previous incident in similar circumstances where Webber and other rescuers failed to save a crew of eight men who later drowned. He presses his point: "What makes you think today is going to be any different?" Bernie says soberly: "Mr. Stello, in the Coast Guard they say you gotta go out, but they don't say you gotta come back in."

What makes matters worse is the rescue is at night and they lose their compass when a large wave breaks their windshield and temporarily submerges the boat. Meanwhile, the men on The Pendleton have their own worries. After the splitting of their tanker we see a group of men gathered in a circle who have obviously been praying. One man suddenly says: "Praying is great and everything but sometimes you have to do something." His suggestion is to get into the lifeboats and leave the ship before it sinks. The First Engineer, Ray Sybert, feels differently and boldly prevents the man from executing his foolish plan.

One thing I appreciated about this film is the balance of scenes and the sense of tension experienced by all the people involved--the people onshore (which includes his fiance), Bernie and his crew, and the men on the oil tanker. I was impressed with Chris Pine. He plays a humble and quietly reserved individual this time, which is much different than the often-smiling, bold and confident Captain Kirk. Casey Affleck also does a remarkable job as Sybert, the competent, yet reluctant leader who creatively leads the crew on tasks to keep the tanker afloat. 

In comparing the facts of the real incident with the film (hollywoodvshistory.com and other websites) the filmmakers did a good job of tweaking minor things to add dramatic tension while remaining faithful to the story.  Yet, I was disappointed with the response they gave Bernie Webber when he was asked by Sybert how he did it. In the film he says: "Luck." In reality, he is quoted as saying: "The Lord had a hand on the tiller during the rescue (Hollywoodvsshistory.com)." Webber also gives credit to God in a radio interview (can be found online) where he mentions "the workings of God" several times.

 

This is a very clean, family-friendly film that I would recommend with no reservations.

"...but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits (Daniel 11:32b KJV)

   Concussion

Concussion (2015) PG-13

Starring: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks

Writer: Peter Landesman

Director: Peter Landesman

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

This is a must-see movie about Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian (became American in 2015) forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who found startling, scientific proof connecting repeated head trauma, commonly experienced by NFL football players, with severe brain damage manifested later in life called "chronic traumatic encephalopathy." Working at the County Coroner's Office in Pittsburgh in 2002, Omalu did the autopsy on Mike Webster (50) a former popular Center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and found high levels of the tau protein in the brain, which is normally found in much older Alzheimer's patients. 

WIll Smith does a marvelous job (should have been nominated for an Oscar) as the optimistic, jovial Nigerian doctor, complete with African accent, who naively thinks the NFL will welcome his findings and help solve the problem. His mentor, Cyril Wecht, however, gives it to him straight: "You are going to war with a corporation that has 20 million people on a weekly basis craving your product...The NFL owns a day of the week--the same day the church used to own."

Omalu is depicted as a Catholic believer and one scene shows him worshiping at a lively church service singing, "How great is our God." Another scene reveals a bare wooden cross hanging on his apartment wall. It is after the church service that Omalu is introduced to a recent immigrant from Kenya, Prema Mutiso, and is encouraged by his priest, surprisingly, to let her stay in a room in his apartment "because I know with you she'll be safe." He then pats Omalu on the chest and says, "I feel God in you." (Fact checking, however, with hollywoodvshistory.com shows this was a fictional element added to the story. Omalu did not invite Prema to live in his apartment before he even knew her). 

Ignorant of touching a sacred cow, Omalu is bewildered why the NFL, the public, and its doctors are reacting so negatively to his evidence. At a low point, he regrets ever having met Mike Webster. In a beautiful scene after Bennet and Prema are engaged,  Prema exhorts him to keep speaking out: "Omalu Onyemaluknube, your name means 'if you know, you must come forth and speak.' If you don't speak for the dead, who will? You are of the Igboo tribe, Bennet. When you have truth the thing you are told you cannot do is the thing you must do. Embrace that and nothing created by man can bring you down."

The movie shows what happens when someone dares to touch a real "American idol" but also how God vindicates those who stand for the truth.

"An honest witness tells the truth, but a false witness tells lies" (Proverbs 12;17a).

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) R

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving

Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

This movie again shows Mel Gibson's gift in directing movies and his interest in dramatic, true stories involving faith and heroic action. The story is about Desmond Doss, a young, patriotic man during WW II, who joins the U.S. Army as a medic and refuses to "touch" a weapon as a Seventh Day Adventist.  The film starts with Doss's childhood as a wild boy roaming the countryside with his brother with little supervision and their constant fighting. These early scenes suggest how Doss may have come to the conclusion to not carry a weapon. He nearly kills his brother with a brick in one incident and later is tempted to shoot his alcoholic father with a gun when the latter physically abuses his mother. A scene also shows him staring at the ten commandments on the wall in his home and his eyes being drawn to the sixth commandment, which states: "Thou shalt not kill."

Doss is shown having a great heart of compassion by running to an accident victim and quickly applying a life-saving tourniquet and accompanying him to the hospital. It is there he sees a beautiful nurse, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), and is immediately smitten and tells his parents at home: "I'm going to marry that girl." Despite an awkward beginning, he wins her heart and they become engaged before he goes to war (in reality they were married already).

Doss's refusal to 'touch" a gun, however, is not received well by his drill instructor and the men in his company. He is persecuted and physically beaten and brought to trial for disobeying his commanding officer. Yet, he holds to his convictions and eventually is allowed to serve as a medic.

The remainder of the movie in Okinawa is intense, graphic war violence complete with rats eating corpses, heads being lopped off, blood spurting, and samurai suicides. The over-the-top violence makes Doss's actions all the more extraordinary and miraculous. When everyone retreats from the killing fields, he alone stays to attend to the wounded. Single-handedly, Doss rescues 75 men, including his commanding officer. He is later awarded the only Congressional Medal of Honor to a soldier classified as a "conscientious objector." According to Hollywoodvshistory.com the facts of the story were so incredible they dared not put them all in because viewers may not believe it. One report from a Japanese sniper was that he had Doss in his sights several times but each time he tried to shoot him his gun jammed.

Desmond Doss, in speaking about his experiences that day, said: "When you have explosions and bursts so close you can practically feel it, and not get wounded up there when I should have been killed a number of times, I know who I owe my life to as well as my men. That's why I tell the story to the glory of God, because I know from a human standpoint, I should not be here" (from Medal of Honor-Oral Histories as printed on hollywoodvshistory.com).

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).

*Not for the squeamish. Besides graphic war violence, there is also some foul language (no f-bombs, however). Surprisingly, there are none where you most expect it (ie. when the drill sergeant is insulting his men). There is also a scene where a soldier is caught naked by the DI and forced to stand at attention outside in formation (seen from the back in the  barracks and the front with hands cupped over his vitals in formation).

The Straight Story

The Straight Story  (1999) G

Starring: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Howard Dean Stanton

Writers: John Roach, Mary Sweeney

Director: David Lynch

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

Many men later in life buy a motorcycle to add adventure to their lives. Alvin Straight jumped on his 30-year-old John Deere lawn tractor and drove 240 miles from Iowa to Wisconsin to reconcile with his estranged brother, Lyle, when he heard he'd had a stroke. Along the way he meets people who need his common sense wisdom including a runaway girl and a Vietnam Vet. You'll probably remember this great character actor as "Matthew," the lovable character from the classic Anne of Green Gables movie series.

A clean, heartwarming, true story.

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23 & 24).

              Lion

Lion (2016) PG-13

Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara

Writers: Saroo Brierley (memoir, A Long Way Home) Luke Davies (Screenplay)

Director: Garth Davis

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

This acclaimed, Australian movie, based on the memoir, A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, is about a poor, five-year-old boy from India who is inadvertently separated from his family, put in an orphanage, and then adopted by an Australian couple. The thrust of the story takes place decades later when Saroo (Dev Patel, actor from Slumdog Millionaire) as a young man, decides to track down his birth family using modern technology.

Although I thought the film was a bit long at two hours and there were too many face close-ups (when heads on a screen are fifty feet wide the phrase “in your face” takes on gargantuan proportions— French directors are famous for this), I did enjoy the story. It is amazing to see Saroo as a child alone in the bustling city of Calcutta and his survival instincts fully intact.

 

In terms of acting, Dev Patel (Saroo) and Nicole Kidman (his adoptive mother) do magnificently. Many people may not realize it but it can be an emotional roller coaster ride for parents when an adoptive child expresses interest in connecting with their birth parents, especially for the mom. Dev Patel did exceptionally well in the scene where he comforts his Australian mom and assures her of his love. My first exposure to the actress, Rooney Mara, however, was not so positive. I thought she came across kind of cold and expressionless as his girlfriend.

With Google playing such a significant role in the film it reminds me of Cast Away with Tom Hanks as a Fedex worker. You can’t help but wonder if these Fortune 500 companies were involved in producing the films. Unfortunately, seeing “Google” so prominently displayed on the screen makes it feel a bit like advertising.

On the spiritual plane, I just remember “God” being mentioned in a positive and singular way by an extra at the end, which surprised me since many in India are Hindus and believe in many gods.

Yet, having said all that, I would still heartily recommend this film. You may want to bring tissues, however, for the final scenes. Okay, I admit it…my eyes definitely watered.

*Be aware that it is inferred that Saroo sleeps with his girlfriend out of wedlock, though the scenes are not detailed and there is no nudity. There are also some angry, emotional scenes with Saroo’s brother who was also adopted from India.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).

 

      Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe (2016) PG

Starring: David Oyelowo, Madina Nalwanga, Lapita Nyongo

Writers: William Wheeler screenplay), Tim Crothers (ESPN article and book)

Director: Mira Nair

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios

 
 
 

I Can Only Imagine (2018) PG

Starring: J. Michael Finley, Trace Adkins, Madeline Carroll, Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman

Writers: Alex Cramer, Jon Erwin,  Brent McCorkle

Directors: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin

Distributor: Lionsgate

This Christian-themed gem shows how far Christian movies have come over the years in terms of overall quality, visual storytelling, and dynamic acting. Based on the life of Bart Millard, lead singer of the group MercyMe, the film begins with Bart's childhood with an abusive and alcoholic father, his early love for music,*  and his eventual fleeing from home to pursue a career in Christian music.

Dennis Quaid gives the performance of his career as Bart's father and J. Michael Finley is outstanding as the older Bart. In fact, the latter reminds me of the actor, Sean Astin ("Sam" in Lord of the Rings) in many ways--a bit by his appearance but also by his ability to project a sensitive, warm, and genuinely authentic personality.

Taegen Burns and Madeline Carroll also are well-chosen as Shannon at two different ages--Bart's only romantic interest as a child and adult.

Life on the road, however, is not easy for Bart. He sings his heart out but does not initially impress the record label people with his concerts. In fact, they tell him he is not good enough. Even the agent he's convinced to travel with his band says something is not quite right  and asks him bluntly: "What are you running from?"  Bart replies honestly: "My dad." The agent then tells him to go home to make things right before developing his career.

The famous song is birthed during that critical period of his life. There are some hard scenes to watch in the movie such as when his father verbally abuses him as a child and breaks a plate on his head as a young man, but there are also several well-placed humorous scenes to lighten the mood and the film ends powerfully.

I have only three words to tell you: Go see it.

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..."(Malachi 4:5 &6).

*Bart credits Amy Grant's album, Never Alone, as being the music that comforted him during his rough childhood, which he received  at a Christian camp.

 

 

       15:17 to Paris

15:17 to Paris PG-13 (2017)

Starring: Alek Skarlators, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone

Writer: Dorothy Blyskal

Director: Clint Eastwood

Distributor:  Warner Bros.

Great story. True heroes. Terrible movie. Only 20 minutes of the movie focuses on the actual incident where three off-duty military men--Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone--stop a terrorist on the train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, 2015.

The opening scene shows some of the steps leading to that dramatic confrontation, but then flashes back to the childhoods of the three main characters who were long-time friends; and then follows Spencer Stone more closely as he enters the military and how they all came together on that fateful  day.

Sadly, Director Clint Eastwood cast the heroes themselves to play the roles and did not take a lot of time on this film-- knocked it off in less than a year--and it shows. The screenplay is mostly banal conversations with a few prophetic statements by the main character and his mom that he was heading toward a life-changing set of circumstances.

Unfortunately, although Spencer gives glory to God for their ability to stop a terrorist from killing multiple people in interviews afterwards, his lifestyle is hardly commendable. He drinks to the point of inebriation (without remorse except for getting a hangover), goes on a  "perversion excursion" in Italy, smokes, and goes to a strip club in Amsterdam.

 

On the other hand, what I admire about him is: He is bold, courageous (he ran straight at the terrorist who had a gun pointed at him), and, with the help of others, applied his medical and military know-how to save the day.

The most moving part of the film for me was the award ceremony in France when the former President Holland gives a beautiful speech thanking them (as well as others involved) and giving them all a Legion of Honor medal.

For the record, if I was on a train with a terrorist, I would prefer bold and courageous pagans who knew what they were doing as opposed to a fully committed Christian who balked at the challenge and did not have the appropriate skill set. Yet, for their sake, I hope they discover a deeper walk with the Lord.

***Be aware that Eastwood has several scenes where he has the camera going up the legs of scantily clad females with short shorts and there is a fair amount of bad language. For this type of film I preferred 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which had significantly higher production standards. Looks like Eastwood just wanted to get it out quickly, make his millions, and get on with his next projects.

T

          The Founder

The Founder (2016) PG-13

Starring: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch

Writer: Robert Siegel

Director: John Lee Hancock

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

This movie is the story of Ray Kroc, a fifty-two year old salesman, looking for the right product to sell to ride out his career in style. Up to this point, he’s been successful selling other products like a machine that can make multiple milkshakes at once but his dream is to make it big. The film opens with Ray (Michael Keaton) giving his pitch to potential customers in the mirror. Kroc listens to positive thinking records to keep up his morale. Persistence, he hears, is the key to success more than talent.

The year is 1954 and Kroc visits restaurants popular at the time which feature waitresses rollerskating  their way to customers with trays of food. For the most part, these restaurants have slow service and attract the wrong crowds. Kroc calls his office to see if his efforts have paid off with orders. He is surprised that one restaurant called McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California, has ordered six. He can’t believe it so he calls the manager thinking there's been a mistake. Instead of reducing his order, however, Dick McDonald says, “Let’s make it eight!”

Kroc is fascinated that this restaurant could need eight milkshake machines. He drives across the country to check it out. The two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, who started the restaurant, invite him in, give him a tour and tell him how it all came to be. They are honest, hardworking, and trusting men. Dick explains how he came up with his “speedy system” on a tennis court drawing the different stations for fries, burgers, etc. with chalk and then having young people pretend to be doing the work to see its efficiency. They build their first restaurant with Dick’s design and it's a fabulous success.

After seeing the McDonalds’ operation, Kroc cannot get it out of his head. This is what he’s been looking for his whole life—a product he can sell with the potential of raking in enormous dividends. He envisions McDonald restaurants all over the country. He makes a deal with the McDonald brothers to sell franchises. He receives only 1.4 % and the brothers refuse to increase his percentage. A lawyer overhears Kroc’s financial challenges at a bank and offers to help him. “You need to lease the properties, not allow the franchise owners to own it. This way you will be making big money on the leases.” Kroc begins to put that principal into practice and soon has many restaurants in several states. He creates his own company and offers to buy Dick and Mac’s company. They want 2.7 million. “That’s so we will each make one million after taxes,” Dick says. “We also want 1% in perpetuity.” Kroc agrees to the 2.7 million but balks on the 1%.

“Looks,” Kroc says. “I’m okay with the 2.7 but I cannot have the 1% in the contract. We’ll just shake hands on that.” Although a little reluctant, both brothers shake hands and sign the contract. Unfortunately, their gullibility cost them big time. They never receive anything from that handshake and, with Kroc’s ambition and drive, McDonald’s grows into a billion dollar company.

The film is very well done with excellent acting and convincing period recreations. Keaton is terrific. Kroc’s eventual divorce and remarriage with the wife of one of his franchise owners is done discreetly. There are no sex scenes. You simply see the one relationship with his first wife disintegrating (he is always sleeping away from her in bed) and the other evolving (sings with her as she plays piano and talks late at night with her on the phone).

Despite the fact the main character indulges in some unethical practices, there are some meaty (please excuse the pun) takeaways from this movie such as: Persistence and vision can bring success, even late in life; advancing to higher levels in business requires a change in mentality and ways of doing things; and, lastly, believing the word of someone who has hoodwinked you in the past is simply… not wise.

Although you could say the McDonald brothers were swindled out of a lot of money, they did not appear to have the vision, or the ambition, to really take the business to the next step and it's not likely they would have done it on their own. Perhaps, if they had increased Kroc's percentage when he asked for it they would have made out better. They also willingly signed the final contract knowing Kroc was not a trustworthy individual. Still, a million dollars is a lot of money. I’d be content if I was them and take ownership of my bad decisions. Bitterness, on the other hand, is always a bad business deal, and worse yet… it can destroy your soul.

*Be aware there is some foul language but it is not excessive. Drinking alcohol is shown several times (Kroc carries a flask with him and takes swigs now and then). No sexual scenes. Kroc, however, divorces wife for no apparent biblical reason and marries another woman who also was previously married.

"See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble or defile many" (Hebrews 12:15).

        The Upside

The Upside (PG-13) 2019

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Nicole Kidman

Writers: Jon Hartmere (screenplay) Eric Toledano (writer of Les Intouchables)

Director: Neil Burger

Distributor: STX International

This is the American version of a French film, Les Intouchables, which came out in 2011 and became the highest grossing movie in a language other than English and garnered a "Best Actor" César Award for the actor Omar Sy (the guy who played Kevin Hart's role). 

 

The drama/comedy is based on the true story of the Frenchman Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French/North African caregiver Abdel Sellou and how their unlikely friendship ignored all economic and racial prejudices.  Of course, in this new version, the story does not take place in Paris but Manhattan and the rich man is American. Once a great adventurer, Borgo or "Lacasse" in Upside, became paralyzed from the neck down after a paragliding accident. Therefore, he needs a 24/7 personal assistant to help him with the basics. Unfortunately, Lacasse has trouble finding the right person. At first, Scott does not want the job. He just wants to prove to his probation officer that he has been looking for work so he does not go back to jail. But, to his surprise, and the bewilderment of Lacasse's administrator (Nicole Kidman), Lacasse offers him the job with a very high salary. 

Having seen both films, my vote is for the French original. The acting is much better and Francois Cluzet, the actor playing the quadriplegic is more convincing in the role and shows more vulnerability. Although Hart is funny, Omar Sy is hilarious and seems more natural in the role. To see Sy at the opera for the first time and livening up Lacasse's normally boring birthday party with his jive dancing are worth the price of admission. Upside also has some plot changes which do not work as well as the 2011 film.

Be aware that there is some language (worse in the subtitles of the French version), sexual innuendoes (the caretaker's womanizing more apparent in Intouchables), marijuana usage, and a scene where Scott brings in some sensual-looking women to give messages to both of them (no nudity: scene longer in Upside). 

Overall, however, the theme of an unlikely friendship where two men of vastly different backgrounds come together under unusual circumstances, learn to care deeply for each other, and then greatly enrich one another's lives...well, that's an inspiring story no matter what version you watch.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up, But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9&10).

 

 

           Green Book

Green Book (PG-13) 2018

Starring: Viggo Martensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly

Director: Peter Farrelly

Distributor: Universal Pictures

I Can Only Imagine (2018) PG

Starring: J. Michael Finley, Trace Adkins, Madeline Carroll, Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman

Writers: Alex Cramer, Jon Erwin,  Brent McCorkle

Directors: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin

Distributor: Lionsgate

This Christian-themed gem shows how far Christian movies have come over the years in terms of overall quality, visual storytelling, and dynamic acting. Based on the life of Bart Millard, lead singer of the group MercyMe, the film begins with Bart's childhood with an abusive and alcoholic father, his early love for music,*  and his eventual fleeing from home to pursue a career in Christian music.

Dennis Quaid gives the performance of his career as Bart's father and J. Michael Finley is outstanding as the older Bart. In fact, the latter reminds me of the actor, Sean Astin ("Sam" in Lord of the Rings) in many ways--a bit by his appearance but also by his ability to project a sensitive, warm, and genuinely authentic personality.

Taegen Burns and Madeline Carroll also are well-chosen as Shannon at two different ages--Bart's only romantic interest as a child and adult.

Life on the road, however, is not easy for Bart. He sings his heart out but does not initially impress the record label people with his concerts. In fact, they tell him he is not good enough. Even the agent he's convinced to travel with his band says something is not quite right  and asks him bluntly: "What are you running from?"  Bart replies honestly: "My dad." The agent then tells him to go home to make things right before developing his career.

The famous song is birthed during that critical period of his life. There are some hard scenes to watch in the movie such as when his father verbally abuses him as a child and breaks a plate on his head as a young man, but there are also several well-placed humorous scenes to lighten the mood and the film ends powerfully.

I have only three words to tell you: Go see it.

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..."(Malachi 4:5 &6).

*Bart credits Amy Grant's album, Never Alone, as being the music that comforted him during his rough childhood, which he received  at a Christian camp.

 

 

       15:17 to Paris

15:17 to Paris PG-13 (2017)

Starring: Alek Skarlators, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone

Writer: Dorothy Blyskal

Director: Clint Eastwood

Distributor:  Warner Bros.

Great story. True heroes. Terrible movie. Only 20 minutes of the movie focuses on the actual incident where three off-duty military men--Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone--stop a terrorist on the train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, 2015.

The opening scene shows some of the steps leading to that dramatic confrontation, but then flashes back to the childhoods of the three main characters who were long-time friends; and then follows Spencer Stone more closely as he enters the military and how they all came together on that fateful  day.

Sadly, Director Clint Eastwood cast the heroes themselves to play the roles and did not take a lot of time on this film-- knocked it off in less than a year--and it shows. The screenplay is mostly banal conversations with a few prophetic statements by the main character and his mom that he was heading toward a life-changing set of circumstances.

Unfortunately, although Spencer gives glory to God for their ability to stop a terrorist from killing multiple people in interviews afterwards, his lifestyle is hardly commendable. He drinks to the point of inebriation (without remorse except for getting a hangover), goes on a  "perversion excursion" in Italy, smokes, and goes to a strip club in Amsterdam.

 

On the other hand, what I admire about him is: He is bold, courageous (he ran straight at the terrorist who had a gun pointed at him), and, with the help of others, applied his medical and military know-how to save the day.

The most moving part of the film for me was the award ceremony in France when the former President Holland gives a beautiful speech thanking them (as well as others involved) and giving them all a Legion of Honor medal.

For the record, if I was on a train with a terrorist, I would prefer bold and courageous pagans who knew what they were doing as opposed to a fully committed Christian who balked at the challenge and did not have the appropriate skill set. Yet, for their sake, I hope they discover a deeper walk with the Lord.

***Be aware that Eastwood has several scenes where he has the camera going up the legs of scantily clad females with short shorts and there is a fair amount of bad language. For this type of film I preferred 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which had significantly higher production standards. Looks like Eastwood just wanted to get it out quickly, make his millions, and get on with his next projects.

T

          The Founder

The Founder (2016) PG-13

Starring: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch

Writer: Robert Siegel

Director: John Lee Hancock

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

This movie is the story of Ray Kroc, a fifty-two year old salesman, looking for the right product to sell to ride out his career in style. Up to this point, he’s been successful selling other products like a machine that can make multiple milkshakes at once but his dream is to make it big. The film opens with Ray (Michael Keaton) giving his pitch to potential customers in the mirror. Kroc listens to positive thinking records to keep up his morale. Persistence, he hears, is the key to success more than talent.

The year is 1954 and Kroc visits restaurants popular at the time which feature waitresses rollerskating  their way to customers with trays of food. For the most part, these restaurants have slow service and attract the wrong crowds. Kroc calls his office to see if his efforts have paid off with orders. He is surprised that one restaurant called McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California, has ordered six. He can’t believe it so he calls the manager thinking there's been a mistake. Instead of reducing his order, however, Dick McDonald says, “Let’s make it eight!”

Kroc is fascinated that this restaurant could need eight milkshake machines. He drives across the country to check it out. The two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, who started the restaurant, invite him in, give him a tour and tell him how it all came to be. They are honest, hardworking, and trusting men. Dick explains how he came up with his “speedy system” on a tennis court drawing the different stations for fries, burgers, etc. with chalk and then having young people pretend to be doing the work to see its efficiency. They build their first restaurant with Dick’s design and it's a fabulous success.

After seeing the McDonalds’ operation, Kroc cannot get it out of his head. This is what he’s been looking for his whole life—a product he can sell with the potential of raking in enormous dividends. He envisions McDonald restaurants all over the country. He makes a deal with the McDonald brothers to sell franchises. He receives only 1.4 % and the brothers refuse to increase his percentage. A lawyer overhears Kroc’s financial challenges at a bank and offers to help him. “You need to lease the properties, not allow the franchise owners to own it. This way you will be making big money on the leases.” Kroc begins to put that principal into practice and soon has many restaurants in several states. He creates his own company and offers to buy Dick and Mac’s company. They want 2.7 million. “That’s so we will each make one million after taxes,” Dick says. “We also want 1% in perpetuity.” Kroc agrees to the 2.7 million but balks on the 1%.

“Looks,” Kroc says. “I’m okay with the 2.7 but I cannot have the 1% in the contract. We’ll just shake hands on that.” Although a little reluctant, both brothers shake hands and sign the contract. Unfortunately, their gullibility cost them big time. They never receive anything from that handshake and, with Kroc’s ambition and drive, McDonald’s grows into a billion dollar company.

The film is very well done with excellent acting and convincing period recreations. Keaton is terrific. Kroc’s eventual divorce and remarriage with the wife of one of his franchise owners is done discreetly. There are no sex scenes. You simply see the one relationship with his first wife disintegrating (he is always sleeping away from her in bed) and the other evolving (sings with her as she plays piano and talks late at night with her on the phone).

Despite the fact the main character indulges in some unethical practices, there are some meaty (please excuse the pun) takeaways from this movie such as: Persistence and vision can bring success, even late in life; advancing to higher levels in business requires a change in mentality and ways of doing things; and, lastly, believing the word of someone who has hoodwinked you in the past is simply… not wise.

Although you could say the McDonald brothers were swindled out of a lot of money, they did not appear to have the vision, or the ambition, to really take the business to the next step and it's not likely they would have done it on their own. Perhaps, if they had increased Kroc's percentage when he asked for it they would have made out better. They also willingly signed the final contract knowing Kroc was not a trustworthy individual. Still, a million dollars is a lot of money. I’d be content if I was them and take ownership of my bad decisions. Bitterness, on the other hand, is always a bad business deal, and worse yet… it can destroy your soul.

*Be aware there is some foul language but it is not excessive. Drinking alcohol is shown several times (Kroc carries a flask with him and takes swigs now and then). No sexual scenes. Kroc, however, divorces wife for no apparent biblical reason and marries another woman who also was previously married.

"See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble or defile many" (Hebrews 12:15).

        The Upside

The Upside (PG-13) 2019

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Nicole Kidman

Writers: Jon Hartmere (screenplay) Eric Toledano (writer of Les Intouchables)

Director: Neil Burger

Distributor: STX International

This is the American version of a French film, Les Intouchables, which came out in 2011 and became the highest grossing movie in a language other than English and garnered a "Best Actor" César Award for the actor Omar Sy (the guy who played Kevin Hart's role). 

 

The drama/comedy is based on the true story of the Frenchman Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French/North African caregiver Abdel Sellou and how their unlikely friendship ignored all economic and racial prejudices.  Of course, in this new version, the story does not take place in Paris but Manhattan and the rich man is American. Once a great adventurer, Borgo or "Lacasse" in Upside, became paralyzed from the neck down after a paragliding accident. Therefore, he needs a 24/7 personal assistant to help him with the basics. Unfortunately, Lacasse has trouble finding the right person. At first, Scott does not want the job. He just wants to prove to his probation officer that he has been looking for work so he does not go back to jail. But, to his surprise, and the bewilderment of Lacasse's administrator (Nicole Kidman), Lacasse offers him the job with a very high salary. 

Having seen both films, my vote is for the French original. The acting is much better and Francois Cluzet, the actor playing the quadriplegic is more convincing in the role and shows more vulnerability. Although Hart is funny, Omar Sy is hilarious and seems more natural in the role. To see Sy at the opera for the first time and livening up Lacasse's normally boring birthday party with his jive dancing are worth the price of admission. Upside also has some plot changes which do not work as well as the 2011 film.

Be aware that there is some language (worse in the subtitles of the French version), sexual innuendoes (the caretaker's womanizing more apparent in Intouchables), marijuana usage, and a scene where Scott brings in some sensual-looking women to give messages to both of them (no nudity: scene longer in Upside). 

Overall, however, the theme of an unlikely friendship where two men of vastly different backgrounds come together under unusual circumstances, learn to care deeply for each other, and then greatly enrich one another's lives...well, that's an inspiring story no matter what version you watch.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up, But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9&10).

 

 

           Green Book

Green Book (PG-13) 2018

Starring: Viggo Martensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly

Director: Peter Farrelly

Distributor: Universal Pictures

 
 
 
 
 
 

I Can Only Imagine