Jason Bourne (2016)

Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 2 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 2; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 3.5

 

Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you.

Deuteronomy 32:7

Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control.

Proverbs 25:28

motrcycl

Lots of high speed action in this spy thriller.                         (c) Universal Pictures

Like the four other films in the Bourne series, the premise of this new one is that Jason cannot remember “the days of old.” During his transformation by an ultra secret project of the CIA, he has been turned into a super agent just short of a Marvel Comics super hero, able to kill with his bare hands and never suffer from a bad conscience. The process took away his memory, and thus he has lost control of his personal life. His goal in the series is to wrest both memory and control from the CIA before he is, in the agency’s euphemistic term, “terminated” because he is such a threat to the agency’s extensive conspiracies.

Teaming up again with action director Paul Greenglass, Matt Damon returns to his role after almost nine years. During this long interval Jason has been living off the grid, earning his living participating in underground bare knuckle fights near the border of Macedonia and Greece. (His transformation apparently toughened his skin and bones, because there seems to be no lasting physical affects that are experienced by real life boxers.) He is contacted by former lover Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) who while in Reykjavik Iceland had hacked into the CIA’s super computer and copied files of Treadstone, the assassination program for which Bourne had been recruited, and its successor, Iron Hand — information that points to Bourne’s own father Richard Webb (Gregg Henry) being involved in their creation.

Parson’s hacking is immediately discovered by the head of the CIA’s Cyber Ops Division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Reporting to and advising CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), Lee manages to convince her boss that she be placed in charge of the pursuit of Parsons and Bourne. Dewey pretends to go along with her plan to lure Bourne back into the Agency rather than to “terminate” him, though in reality he has assigned the coldly efficient contract killer known only as “the Asset” (Vincent Cassel) to silence Bourne forever.

The action moves from Iceland to Athens (where Parsons contacts Bourne) to Berlin and London, on to Washington, D.C., with a suspenseful conclusion at a high tech convention in Los Vegas. There is a seemingly endless series of fights, running, car chases, shooting, explosions, dead bodies, and all the other exciting things expected of an action flick today. The scenes are made all the more thrilling by the choppy editing style of Greenglass’s longtime editor Christopher Rouse.

However, unlike most action films, some serious issues are imbedded in this popcorn movie. Although the once heroically portrayed CIA has long been negatively depicted, it was usually a rogue agent or division head who was the villain. This time it is the very director of the spy agency who is the bad guy. The film suggests that too much secrecy and unlimited power can lead to very bad consequences. The CIA in this film is as brutal as the KGB during the days of the Soviet Union!

The sad state of the world economy is seen in the Athens segment where thousands of demonstrators against government austerity measures form the background for the attempt on Bourne and Parson’s lives.

The way in which the CIA can use the vast number of surveillance cameras employed everywhere to track down Jason is intriguing. Although 1984 has come and gone, George Orwell’s “Big Brother is watching you” apparently has arrived. “Smile,” you probably are on camera and being checked out by someone somewhere.

And the climactic segment at a tech convention in Los Vegas involves a character who is a good stand-in for Edward Snowden, Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer), head of a tech firm about to make a speech along with Robert Dewey. Dassault has been cooperating with the CIA on a Facebook-like social network called Deep Dream. However, concerned that the government is secretly violating the privacy of millions of his customers, he has told Dewey that he will confess his deal and apologize for it. Thus Dewey has ordered the Asset to take out the CEO when he gets up to make his speech. Of course, Bourne is there, and…

I still cringe at the casual killings and celebration of speed and violence of the series, and yet there is no doubt the film provides escape from one’s problems or ordinary life. Our grandparents had their dime novels and fairytales from the Brothers Grimm for their thrills. We have the Bourne series and its like.

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the Oct. issue of Visual Parables.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 15 min.

Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 3; Language 1; Sex /Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

Isaiah 45:7

Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly, who despise the gain of oppression, who wave away a bribe instead of accepting it, who stop their ears from hearing of bloodshed and shut their eyes from looking on evil…

Isaiah 33:15

Familiars

The new film features some old friends…

Rey&Poe

…plus some new ones, Rey & Finn. (c) Walt Disney

Director J.J. Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan have injected new life and vigor into the Star Wars franchise. Old and new fans have eagerly awaited the opening of The Force Awakens, and virtually all who have seen the film agree that their hopes for a worthy addition to the original trilogy have been fulfilled. For the early Monday morning screening I attended the theater was almost full (instead of the usual 5 or 10 early viewers), and as soon as the familiar title and receding text appeared, accompanied by John Williams’ familiar fanfare, the audience applauded. By the end of the two hours we were smiling and applauding again.

The filmmakers have made some adjustments in New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back by changing names and making plot additions, the result being a quest story. It has been three decades since our heroes defeated the evil Galactic Empire. Luke Skywalker has disappeared after a remnant of the Empire, known as The First Order, has arisen with a super powerful weapon far greater than that of the old Death Star. Led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), a specially bred race of humans have donned the white armor of the old storm troopers, going forth to destroy the Republic. In this new film Darth Vader has been replaced by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), whose youthful face is not scarred, but who still prefers to wear a similar black mask. He turns out to be the son of a major character, so we again have the theme of a father-son conflict, though this time it is the father who prefers the Light Side of the Force and the son who has turned to the Dark Side. Both parties of the conflict, though for very different reasons, want to find Luke, the last of the Jedis who gave up a training program for future Jedis and fled into exile.

The desert planet Jakku where the story begins could be the sister planet of Tatooine. The young scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a great replacement for Luke, combining his piloting skills with the scrappiness of his sister Leia. While selling equipment salvaged from wrecked spaceships she comes across a droid even perkier (and smaller) than R2-D2, dubbed BB-8, a head mounted somehow over a ball of a base that whirls around like a kicked soccer ball. Two additional heroes are Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper. He may have been genetically bred like his fellow troopers, but he still has a conscience. He becomes so sickened when his unit massacres a whole village that later on he sets free and teams up with hotshot Republic pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). The latter had been captured and tortured for information concerning Luke’s whereabouts.

Han Solo and Princess, now General, Leia are reunited briefly in a heart-warming scene for fans. Solo’s sidekick Chewbacca and the rust bucket of a ship the Millennium Falcon are back, as are the droids C-3PO and R2-D2. Also, true to the original films, are aerial dogfight scenes involving the Republic’s X-wing fighters and the First Order fighters during the attack to destroy the monster weapon as it is being fired up to destroy the planets of the Republic. And yes, it involves some of our heroes having to fly through a trench on the surface of the weapon in order to hit the weak spot in its defenses. Again, this will remind viewers of the old World War Two films with cheery bomber gunners firing away at their attackers.

The theme of fascism is invoked more this time in a scene in which General Hux addresses a huge assembly of storm troopers about to be sent out to war. Standing on a large podium, banners and flags waving overhead, the speaker facing the massive assemblage, the scene resembling those from Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary on the Nazi’s Nuremberg Rally Triumph of the Will. Like other fascist leaders the General is a strong believer in order. His speech is as triumphal as those of Hitler, ending with the assurance, “All remaining systems will bow to the First Order and will remember this as the last day of the Republic!”

There is plenty of action and humor, and even a surprising jolt that touches the heart when a major character is killed. (There were audible gasps, and I suspect a tear or two at this point.) The filmmakers know how to stage the thrilling action scenes, but they also know that the movie’s fans care about the characters and their relationships. This affection easily extends to include the new characters—and it is worth noting that the coupling of the feisty white Rey with the black Finn probably could not have happened in 1977, but seems so natural today. Differences in skin color seem so irrelevant in the Star Wars universe, with its delightful cantina denizens coming in all shapes, sizes, and numbers of limbs and tentacles.

Another similarity between this last trilogy and the first is that both feature a great British actor, Alec Guinness playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, and now Max von Sydow featured as Lor San Tekka, the brave possessor of the map fragment. When captured by Kylo Ren, he bravely and defiantly withstands the pain of torture during his interrogation.

I was always interested in the way that George Lucas showed that there was a spiritual Power permeating the universe, though not a personalistic God as in the three Abrahamic faiths. His mixing of Eastern and Western religious concepts went beyond the stark materialistic view of the universe of so many science fiction writers at the time. The film’s title shows that this is continued in, though perhaps not emphasized quite as much. The religion of the Jedi is sort of a dualistic one, very different from the monotheistic faith of the writers of the book of Isaiah in which the prophet declares that an all-powerful Deity creates both light and darkness, good and evil. But the Jedi faith is different too from such religions as Manichaeism that taught that Light and Darkness were two equally balanced powers locked in eternal conflict. The Force consists of two sides, with those rare persons attuned to “it” (not He or She) free to choose either the Light or the Dark Side. However despite the lack of a personal God, Maz Kanata tells Rey, “The Force, it’s calling to you. Just let it in.” Shortly after this, when Rey touches Luke’s light saber that Maz Kanata has kept in a trunk, she hears Obi-Wan Kenobi saying to her, “Rey these are your first steps.”*

Thus we are indebted to J.J. Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (director of one of my favorite films, Grand Canyon) for bringing the Star Wars series back to the screen brimming with the thrills and renewed vigor of the original. And to think, we have the second in the series to look forward to in 2017! May the Force be with this new project!

*More on the religion of the Jedis in the discussion questions that will accompany this review in the Jan. 2016 issue of Visual Parables.

The Maze Runner (2014)

Reviewed by Markus Watson

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 53 min.

Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 7; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (0-5): 4

 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:36-37

 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Mark 10:13-16

Community

Thomas & the community stand at the entrance of the path through the maze. (c) 2014 20th Century Fox

When I was a youth pastor, I did my best to stay current on the latest youth trends. Now that I don’t work directly with youth anymore, I’m not quite as on top of things when it comes to youth culture. But when I watched The Maze Runner, I felt like I was right back in my youth ministry days watching kids who felt powerless in a world run by someone else.

The movie begins with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) locked inside a cage ascending an elevator shaft. When the cage reaches the top and opens, he finds himself surrounded by a gaggle of boys reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. Thomas is completely disoriented and tries to escape, only to discover that he is trapped in a glade surrounded by massive walls.

Soon he discovers what is on the other side of those walls: a giant maze. Even worse, the maze changes every night. That night, when he falls asleep, he has a strange dream about being in a laboratory where a woman tells him, “Wicked is good.”

Some of the boys living in the glade have been assigned the task of being “maze runners.” Their job is to run through the maze each day trying to map the maze, working out the patterns of the changes in the maze each night, so that they might eventually find a way out.

But the maze isn’t the worst of their problems. At night, the maze is trolled by horrific creatures that the boys call Grievers. And there’s no surviving the Grievers for anyone who gets trapped in the maze after dark.

One night, Thomas does get trapped in the maze with Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and the group’s leader, Alby (Ami Ameen). Amazingly, under Thomas’ guidance, the trio survives the night and even kill one of the Grievers.

That changes things. Now, the boys have hope that there may be a chance of escape from the maze. But now, whoever controls the maze raises the stakes, allowing the Grievers to attack during the day and within the Glade.

In the meantime, a girl named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) has been sent to the glade in the elevator cage. In her hand is a note that says, “She’s the last one… ever.”

At this point the community of boys divides into two camps: those led by Thomas who want to escape the maze and those led by Gally (Will Poulter) who want to keep things the way they are.

By this time, Thomas has remembered who he is and where he came from. Both he and Teresa were working for an organization called WCKD (the World Catastrophe Killzone Department) that was doing experiments on these boys. When he confesses this, Gally is furious and ties Thomas and Teresa up at the mouth of the maze as a sacrifice to the Grievers and whoever is doing this to them. But Thomas has enough friends and supporters that they don’t let Gally go through with this.

Half the group leaves the glade and ends up escaping the maze, only to find out that the world outside the maze is all but destroyed due to something called the Flare and that they were subjects in some kind of experiment designed to help save the world from the Flare.

As I watched this movie, I was reminded of a book by Chap Clark called Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. In the book, Clark states, “By the time adolescents enter high school, nearly every one has been subjected to a decade or more of adult-driven and adult-controlled programs, systems, and institutions that are primarily concerned with adults’ agendas, needs, and dreams.” He goes on to describe how kids are pressured to perform in school, in children’s dance competitions, and in “competitive t-ball.”

Clark refers to this condition as “abandonment.” Kids today feel abandoned by the adults who are supposed to care for them. Adults have chosen to focus on their own agendas rather than care for the children who need them.

In a sense, The Maze Runner is a parable. It portrays in story form what kids today feel. They feel stuck in a maze from which they can’t escape. Kids feel like they’re left to fend for themselves.   They are attempting to navigate the maze of adolescence without much guidance from parents and other adults.

The issue of abandonment needs to be a major concern for the church today. In most of our churches, our kids have been relegated to a youth ministry that takes place only in the youth room, or over in the Christian Education building, or that is recognized only on a special day called “Youth Sunday.” It’s time for Christian adults to make a commitment to the next generation, developing relationships with the kids in our churches—not just youth group leaders, but all adults.

It’s a challenge, no doubt. But it’s critical for the well-being of our kids—and for the future of the church.

 This review with a set of questions is in the Oct. 2014 issue of Visual Parables.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Reviewed by Markus Watson

Running time: 121 min.

Our contents rating: Violence 7; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (0-5): 4

 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ecclesiastes 4:12

 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

                                                                                    Romans 12:4-5

Team

A group of misfits band together to fight the evil Ronan over possession of a device of great power. (c) 2014 Walt Disney Studio

I must admit, when I first heard that Marvel was going to make a movie called Guardians of the Galaxy, I thought to myself, “That sounds like the cheesiest movie ever!” Prior to their film releases, I’d heard of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk. But I’d never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy. But since most of the recent Marvel movies were pretty fun and well done, I had hope that this would also be a fun movie.   And my hope was fulfilled!

Not only was Guardians of the Galaxy fun and exciting, it also had great characters and a great story that touches on a key theme in scripture. We’ll come to that in a moment.

Guardians of the Galaxy begins with a young Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) in the late 1980’s saying good-bye to his dying mother. As soon as he runs out of the hospital in tears, Peter is abducted by aliens.

Fast forward twenty-six years and Peter is now an outlaw—in his mind the “legendary outlaw” who calls himself Star Lord. He soon ends up in prison with four other outlaws: the beautiful green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), muscle-bound Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket the talking raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot the walking tree (voiced by Vin Diesel), whose only three words are, “I am Groot.”

After they escape from prison together, these five fugitives decide to band together to stop the evil Ronan (Lee Pace), who intends to use a mysterious artifact called the Infinity Stone to wreak havoc on the galaxy. But coming to the decision to team up together is not easy. They each have their own agendas. They’re loners and, as Peter states, “losers—I mean, people who have lost stuff.” Each of them is broken and hurting in some way. And, yet, it’s the very fact that they’re broken that ultimately brings them together. So they come up with a plan to stop Ronan.

After much chasing and blasting, the Guardians finally catch up with Ronan. In a split second, Peter is able to grasp the Infinity Stone away from Ronan. But the power of the Stone is so great that it begins to tear Peter apart. Gamora reaches out to Peter and says, “Take my hand!” Then Drax and Rocket join in (Groot is not among them at this moment). As they stand hand in hand, Peter is able to channel the power of the Infinity Stone to destroy Ronan.

That last part sounds a little silly in writing, but it is a powerful moment in the movie. It is the moment in which the loners and losers decide to do something different. They decide to stand together. They decide that they are more powerful together than individually.

This is a beautiful image of the church. Before his death, Jesus prayed that his disciples “may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). The Apostle Paul repeatedly states that Christ’s followers are part of Christ’s body. We are not merely individuals. We are a body and a community.

I love the verse in Ecclesiastes that says, “Though one can be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). This truth is what the Guardians of the Galaxy learn as they stand united against Ronan.

It is also the truth of who we are as the church—as the body of Christ. The church is an assembly of people who are broken and hurting, people who are losers and who have lost stuff. We often try to hide our brokenness when we gather together on Sunday mornings. But it is our brokenness that we share in common. We may have nothing in common with the person in the pew next to us—except for the fact that we are both broken in some way. We are people who are in need of healing and wholeness and we can find as we stand together in Christ.

But that’s not all. We don’t merely find healing for ourselves. In the midst of our brokenness, when we stand together we can bring healing to the world. Alone, it is hard to make a difference in the world. But together we can have a profound impact.

And whereas the Guardians found strength in one another, we in the church have one thing in addition to that—something the Guardians did not have. We have the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8).

We find strength by standing together. And we find even greater strength when we stand together in the power of Holy Spirit. It is then, Jesus tells his followers, that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It is then that we can bring real healing and wholeness to a broken world; a world full of losers and people who have lost stuff.

 Note: The review will appear in the Sept. issue of Visual Parables, along with a set of of 9  Reflection/Discussion questions ideal for a youth group to explore what it means to belong to the church.

 

Tranformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Reviewed by Markus Watson

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 45 min.

Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 8; Sex/nudity 4; Language 3.

Our star rating (0-5): 3

 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do

Romans 7:14-15

 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

  John 8:34-36

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Plenty of action in this sci-fi thriller! (c) 2014 Paramount Pictures

Let me say first that I love the Transformers. As a kid during the 80’s, Transformers were probably my favorite toy; and the after-school Transformers cartoon was probably my favorite cartoon.

Which is why, for me, these twenty-first century Transformers movies are kind of frustrating. There’s lots of action. Lots of explosions. Lots of special effects. And very little substance.

This latest movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction, introduces a new set of human characters led by Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a second-rate wannabe inventor who buys an old broken-down truck and discovers it is actually Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), leader of the benevolent Autobots.

Because of the destruction wrought in the battles between the Autobots and Decepticons in the previous movies, humans have grown to hate all Transformers. As a result, CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) establishes a unit whose sole purpose is to hunt down and destroy all Transformers. This, of course, leads to lots of chasing, shooting, threatening, transforming, exploding, and wisecracking.

What Cade, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), and Optimus Prime don’t know is that Attinger is being assisted by another alien robot who is searching for Optimus Prime.

Meanwhile, Attinger is working with billionaire tech mogul Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), who is attempting to create man-made Transformers. More specifically, he is building a Tranformer he calls Galvatron, using the remains of Megatron as a blueprint. Though he believes he is taking advantage of Megatron to achieve his own ends, what Joyce doesn’t know is that Megatron is fully conscious and is actually using Joyce to come back in the form of Galvatron (Frank Welker).

One of the unfortunate ironies of this movie revolves around the Dinobots (a fan favorite), who were heavily promoted as playing an important part in Age of Extinction. The movie, in fact, opens with a scene on prehistoric Earth. An alien ship uses a weapon to turn all animal life into metal. It seems that this will be the origin of the Dinobots; the movie sure seems to be set up for that. But when the Dinobots finally do appear—almost at the very end of the movie, by the way—their appearance has absolutely nothing to do with what seemed to be set up as the back-story for the Dinobots. It left this movie-goer thinking, “Huh?”

If this movie has a theme, I suppose one could say that it has to do with power struggles. Throughout the film, we see the struggle for control in Cade and Tessa’s relationship. We’re also presented with the question of who is actually in control when it comes to Joshua Joyce and Galvatron.

Theologically speaking, the question of control is an important one. It comes up in the tension between ideas like predestination and free will. The question of control also emerges in the struggle with sin. To what extent can we control our sinful nature? How much power does sin have over a person? And how does God fit into that power struggle?

In Romans 7, the apostle Paul expresses his frustration over his struggle with sin. Who really is in control? Himself? Or the sin within him? In the end, Paul rejoices that ultimately God is in control. And because of that, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

A set of reflection/discussion questions are included with the review in the August issue of Visual Parables.

 

TITANIC (1997)

Rated PG-13. 3 hours 14 min.

Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 4; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 4.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

 Pride  goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Proverbs 16:18-19

 Then they said, “Come, let us build a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…”

Genesis 11:4

 Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Revelation 2:10b

Titanc2

Jack brings a new sense of the joy of life to Rose aboard the Titanic.
(c) 1997 20th Century Fox

If ever there was fuel for moralists and preachers, it is the story of the supposedly “unsinkable” R.M.S. Titanic. It was the epitome of the Industrial Age technology, fed by faith in humanity’s genius and ability to conquer nature. At 882 feet the ship was longer than the tallest of the skyscrapers rising above New York City’s skyline. Her giant engines could reach a top speed of 23 knots. The first class passengers, who paid up to $3,100 (the equivalent of $124,00 today) for suites, lived in opulent splendor, their lounge designed after the Palace of Versailles. The builders had designed 10 compartments that could be sealed off, supposedly making her unsinkable. So confident were they that they provided lifeboats that could accommodate only half of the 2223 people aboard — or I should say, the owners, as the designer originally intended to have more lifeboats provided but was over-ruled on the basis that the “extra” boats would be unsightly and crowd the deck too much.

As she steamed west the ship received numerous messages warning of icebergs ahead, but her captain, believing that his ship was unsinkable paid them little heed. Just five days later 1500 of the passengers and crew would be dead. It is the story of that short five days that filmmaker James Cameron brings magnificently to life in a film that will become a classic — and not just because it is the costliest movie ever to be made.

The long delayed James Cameron epic has finally sailed into our movie theaters, and its success seems to be as great as was the failure of the original White Star Line ship. Mr. Cameron delivered to us not just another monster disaster blockbuster like Airport or The Poseidon Adventure, but a film whose characters hold our attention as much as the spectacle itself. I agree with those who say that you have to go back to Gone With the Wind to find a spectacle and a love story as engrossing. Forget about The English Patient! And the director has used his special effects so well, the ghostlike corridors of the sunken ship morphing into the glittering corridors and staterooms of the Titanic as she was in all her glory in 1912.

Even though we know the fate of the two lovers, we are drawn into their disparate worlds and hope against hope that some miracle will see them through the doom that awaits two thirds of the passengers. Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson are well matched in their ability to convey the hopes and dreams of society’s high and the low. She longs to break out of the gilded cage her socially prominent but financially strapped mother and her snobbish wealthy fiancé would confine her in. He, after seeing much of the world working his way on tramp steamers, wants to return to America to develop his art.

Jack believes he is the luckiest person in England when he wins a 3rd class ticket for himself and a friend on the fast new ship. The ship is built to keep the upper and the classes apart, but the two meet in an unusual way. Seeing no way out of her disastrous engagement, Rose is about to jump over board when Jack comes upon her. Rose’s fiancé Cal Hockley is induced to invite Jack to dinner as a reward for helping her. He does, thinking that Jack’s lack of social graces will be amusing. But Molly Brown (Kathy Bates playing the real life “Unsinkable Molly Brown”) comes to Jack’s aid, lending him a tuxedo and offering hints about table manners. Jack, far from being shown up, sails through the ordeal, and when the men retire to drink brandy and discuss business, Jack conducts Rose to the 3rd class deck where a lively round of folk dances are being enjoyed by all. She sees an exuberant part of life denied by her Philadelphia blue-blood circle. We also know that these two are meant for each other by their choice of art. When Cal looks at Rose’s paintings she has bought in Paris, he sneers at the Picasso and Braque, calling them “trash.” Jack, on the other hand, is delighted that she enjoys the new art.

The script and actors do a fine job of showing us an opulent world in which breeding and wealth are everything. This proves to be the case even in the sinking, the gates leading to the upper decks remaining locked and closed so that the third -class passengers faced great difficulty in escaping. Thus 60% of the first-class passengers were saved (199) compared to 25% of those in third-class (174). Some of the crew and passengers became so panicky that the lifeboats were not all filled to capacity — the first one to be launched could hold 65, but only 28 persons were aboard when it was lowered. And equally tragic was the fact that only one of the several boats with additional space turned back to rescue passengers from the icy waters.

There is more to the story of the sinking than that of pride and arrogance and cowardice, of course, and many acts of courage and devotion are also shown. The band plays music to calm the passengers; then, as the ship tilts more just before its final plunge, the members cease playing, deciding to tend to their own needs. However, the leader stays and begins to play the hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee.” The other musicians stop, take up their instruments and join him, the hymn of assurance swelling in volume.

As the stern rises higher and higher we see another scene of calmness in the midst of frightened passengers falling or jumping overboard — a group of Catholics kneel around a priest. As he leads them in praying the Rosary and reciting a passage from the Book of Revelation, he reaches out to touch as many of his little flock as possible. Husbands reassure wives in lifeboats that they will soon join them, even though they know otherwise. Thus the cowardice of several of the passengers is offset by the heroism of others. And especially there is the great love story of Rose and Jack that also offsets the spectacular sets and special effects. As powerful as the latter, showing that Cameron did spend his lavish budget well, they do not overwhelm the human story. Their story make this long film well worth watching, and the special effects make it almost imperative that you see this film in the theater if you are to fully appreciate how effective a large screen story can be.

 

Perhaps some unconscious symbolism: Cyber-friend Rev. Pam Abbey was taken aback by the way Jack Dawson is depicted. She wrote to our cyber group:

“…but what are we to do with a story in which the hero…

…comes from a podunk town — Chippewa falls/Nazareth

…hangs out with the lower classes and parties with them

…befriends prostitutes but apparently does not become their customer

…is arrested on trumped up charges

…dies so that others can live

…is said by the other main character “he saved my life in every way a person could be saved”

“I suspect one reason for the popularity of the film is that it’s hitting people on a very archetypal level, whether they’re aware of it or not.”

Amen, Pam.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 57 min.

Our advisories: Violence 5; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.

Star rating (1-5): 1

 In the beginning when God createdthe heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…

Genesis 1:1-2

ThorDarkWrld

I had hoped to skip what I thought would be another overblown special effects fantasy, having had my fill of such nonsense with the first Thor. Darn it, the new one blew the top off the box office during its opening week, so I felt duty bound to see and report on it. But if you want a review from someone who really likes and understands it, then go on to one of the teen or fan magazines.

There’s a bunch of stuff at the beginning about a primordial race called Dark Elves who want to use a powerful energy source called Aether to bring back the ancient darkness, but they are defeated by warriors from Asgard and imprisoned, with the Aether buried so deep that it is thought unfindable. Of course, it isn’t, and Thor’s sweetheart astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) back on Earth somehow becomes infused with it when…well, there’s too much craziness to go into the details.

For a couple of years Jane has been waiting in London for Thor to return to her, but he’s been off saving other worlds, and his evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is locked up, and…Suffice it to say that to save Earth from the newly risen Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), a nasty villain surpassed in this category only by Hannibal Lector, our hero (Chris Hemsworth), needs more than his boomerang hammer. Fortunately he has the help of semi-mad scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgärd) who seems to work best clad only in his underwear, and, of course, Jane and her two interns who run around England’s picturesque Greenwich trying to get a contraption the scientist has invented that can wipe out the invading hordes.

I will say that there are some nice touches of humor to all the ponderous fights and mythological mumbo jumbo (compare Marvel’s mythology about darkness to that of Genesis). In Jane’s apartment Thor hangs up his hammer on her coat rack as casually as if it were an umbrella, and shape shifter Loki in one sequence turns himself into Captain America. Also it was good to see Anthony Hopkins as one-eyed King Odin and Rene Russo as the very queenly Frigga, mother of both Thor and Loki.

Were I a 12 or 13 year-old, I probably would have enjoyed the spectacular special effects, the cool mixing of medieval swords and axes (and of course the Hammer) with laser guns and space ships, and a gorgeous armor clad babe bashing in the heads of evil warriors, but I’ve been going to the movies for too long and have seen this sort of thing over and over again to be able to enjoy it much—unless it is a story by Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. Within 5 minutes of the closing credits of this thing I was down the hall totally immersed in Robert Redford’s marvelous survival tale All Is Lost, probably made with a budget that might just cover the catering and limousine service of director Alan Taylor’s megamess. Now there is a film with a real hero in a believable situation!