Parkland (2013)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 33 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 4; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 0.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!

1 Samuel 1:19

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JFK’s body guards rush him to an operating room at Parkland Hospital. (c) Millennium Entertainment

With Jackie, the film about Jaqueline Kennedy, drawing so much attention, film lovers might want to watch on video director Peter Landesman’s film, based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi. The title refers to the Dallas hospital in which both President Jack Kennedy and his murderer Lee Harvey Oswald died. Whereas Jackie moves quickly on to Washington DC after the President’s murder, this one stays in Dallas to chronicle the events in the area during the next 3 days involving the less famous people caught up in the turmoil. Indeed, the role of Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) is but a cameo in this film. As in the new film, you will learn a lot that you didn’t know about this widely-publicized tragedy.

Those left behind in Dallas include the staff at Parkland Hospital, where first, the President, and then a few days later, the killer Lee Harvey Oswald, were brought. Nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) becomes the calm center of the storm in the operating room where novice Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) is the first of several doctors to try to revive the mortally wounded President.

Earlier, few miles away before the arrival of the Presidential motorcade, businessman Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) comes out of his office with his 8-mm camera to photograph the grand occasion. Peering through the viewfinder, he is horrified to discover that the President has been shot as he is filming, but has the presence of mind to keep filming. Later there will be quite a sequence in which the Feds accompany him to find a lab that can develop the film so they can closely examine the event. Later about every publication in the country so harasses Zapruder that he wishes he had not made the film. He deals with the editor of Life Magazine because of his respect for his straightforwardness.

The head of the Secret Service detail guarding the President is Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton). He suffers intense feelings of guilt and shame for “losing his man.” Although there have been other presidents murdered, none have been lost since the agency took over the protection of the president in 1902.

James Hosty (Ron Livingston) an FBI agent who was monitoring Lee Harvey Oswald also feels terrible. He had decided the suspect was not a major threat, so he had never arrested him.

Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald is left to cope with the public shame of being related to the murderer. A Dallas police detective says to him, “If I were you, I’d consider changing my name. I’d pray I never needed the help of the Dallas Police Department or the federal government again. I’d pack your things and your wife and those two children of yours, and I’d move as far from here as I could. I’d never come back, even to die. But that’s just me.” Poor Robert also has his hands full dealing with his deranged mother Marquerite Oswald (Jacki Weaver) who rants and raves about Lee. The burial of the killer is both pitiable and moment of grace scene. While the Oswalds are on their way to the cemetery their helpful friend receives a call that the cemetery has refused permission to bur Lee Harvey there. The friend (or is he a funeral director?) says for them to wait a moment, that a friend owes him a favor. In the next scene, permission obviously having been obtained, the tiny group stands by the open grave while a clergyman says a few words. Obviously, obtaining a willing clergyman had been a problem also, the pastor commenting that someone needed to render the family this service. It seems almost like a quiet apology to his community for having any contact with America’s most hated family.

This relatively unknown film deserves a wider audience, and maybe it will if Jackie becomes a hit. As a film in which a group of famous and ordinary people suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” it is superb. Those few days, so close to Thanksgiving Day in 1963, were a chaotic mess in which the goodness of God was challenged, as we see in Jackie. From these two films, detailing so many of the results of that horrific day, we might see the wisdom of the words of the apostle Paul in his glorious 8th chapter of Romans, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (RSV)

Note: A good fictional film dealing with JFK’s murder is Love Field, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as a Dallas Jackie Kennedy fan determined to travel to Washington DC to attend the funeral, despite the objections of her boorish husband,

This review with a set of questions will be in the Jan. 2017 issue of VP.

 

LOVE FIELD  (1992)

Reprinted with a couple of additional notes from the April 1993 VP.

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hr. min. 42 min.

Our content ratings: (Scale of 10 = highest; 0 = lowest): Violence 4; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 5.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

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This film, written by Don Roos and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, deserves to be ranked with such fine road stories as Trip to Bountiful. It also deserves far better treatment by its alleged distributors than it has received, playing without any fanfare here in Dayton for just one week (only at 10:30 PM at one of the two theaters which booked it!) and then quietly disappearing. Timidly released in just enough places to qualify its star Michelle Pfeiffer for her deserved Best Actress Academy Award nomination, the film apparently was deemed too controversial because of its interracial romance – or maybe because it lacks the vulgar language, steamy sex scenes or adrenalin-pumping violence so dear to the heart of Hollywood moguls.

Lurene Hallet, feeling out of synch with life, works in a Dallas beauty parlor and can find nothing to talk about with her beer-guzzling couch potato husband. Just as so many others worship a movie or rock star, Lurene adores the Kennedys. She keeps a scrap book of pictures and press clippings of them. She dresses and styles her blond hair like Jacqueline’s. She even lost a baby like Jackie. Lurene is in the throng at Love Field on November 22, 1963, to greet the Kennedys; she just misses getting to shake Jackie’s hand. Thus, she is devastated when the President is shot. Watching the telenews as often as she can during the next few hours, she becomes obsessed with the notion of attending the state funeral.

Over the objections of her husband she slips away from home and boards a Washington-bound Greyhound bus. She befriends a shy little black girl and her father, her kindness drawing disapproving stares from both white and black passengers. Calling himself Paul Johnson, the man is aware of this disapproval and tries to draw back. But Lurene is so naive that she senses nothing amiss. Along the way, she misjudges the scars on the little girl’s back and calls the FBI in the belief that the man is abducting her. Thus, is set into motion a chain of events that could have tragic results. However, as the three share a series of difficulties while trying to elude the police, Lurene grows in maturity, discovering that she can take charge of her life. Not everyone will agree with her decision concerning her failed marriage, but her concern for others and her struggle to find meaning in her life make us care very much about her and applaud her efforts to achieve a long-denied sense of self-worth and dignity.

Good scenes: Lurene learning from the black mechanic that her supposition that blacks must have loved Kennedy because he “did so much for your people” is an illusion. In the shed an angry Paul telling Lurene, “We are not the same!”, that there is world of difference in being a frustrated white housewife and a black person in 1963 America. And then, as her warmth melts some of his bitterness, realizing that they do indeed have many things in common, including a growing sense of love.

 

 

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 57 min..

Our advisories: Violence 3; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 5.

Star rating (1-5): 3

 Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.

            Proverbs 31:8

Rayon & Ron are partners, but due to his lingering
homophobia are not always on the best of terms.
(c) Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions Feature Film

The nearly impossible is pulled off by the excellent cast and director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack—they bring us around to root for and then to like a despicable man in this story based on a real life person. Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a full time electrician employed by the oil industry and a part-time rodeo clown and bull rider. Our first glimpse of him shows that he has the morals of an alley cat. He should be out in the arena ready to lure the bull away from a rider, but instead is in a dark corner humping not one, but two groupies. He drinks and takes drugs at night with his buddies and engages in sex with any woman willing to leave the bar for a one-night stand.

Then comes the wake up call at a Dallas hospital where he has been taken following an accident on the job. Two physicians, Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) and Dr. Sevard (Dennis O’Hare) break the news to him that he is HIV positive. He has thirty days to live. Going into angry denial, he curses them and storms out of the hospital. But as his physical condition worsens, he reads up on the disease and discovers that there is an unapproved drug AZT designed to treat the ailment. The doctors inform him that it is being tested, and that even if he could get into the program, there is no guarantee that he would receive the drug, half the group receiving instead a placebo. Again he angrily leaves, but soon is able to buy the pills from a friendly hospital orderly.

In the meantime he finds himself alienated from his buddies who, upon learning of his affliction, presume that he is “a faggot”—this story takes place in the mid-1980s when many thought that AIDs could be spread through handshakes. Ironically, he soon is allied with a member of the hated group, a transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto) whom he had rejected when the two had met at the hospital. Rayon possesses as strong a will to survive as Ron, so for convenience sake the two form an uneasy partnership, she/he introducing Ron to the Dallas gay scene.

When Ron’s drug supply from the hospital is cut off, he journeys to Mexico where shady Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) runs a clinic dispensing cocktails of drugs and nutrients said to help AIDs patients. He also travels to Amsterdam, Japan and Israel to buy the latest advances in AIDS drugs. Ron decides to cash in on the need of the Dallas gay community by traveling back and forth with cache’s of drugs, posing as a priest in order to get through customs. He soon is being dogged FDA official Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill) who would love to make Ron a guest of the federal penal system.

To get around the law, Ron and Rayon borrow an idea from gay groups in other cities, that of selling memberships in a buying club and giving away the drugs as a perk of membership. Soon there are long lines outside their office in a run-down motel. Ron continues in his old homophobic ways, and then slowly begins to change. His relationship with Rayon is a stormy one, and yet, as he is exposed to her plight and that of hundreds of other gay men and women, his hardened, prejudiced heart begins to soften. By the time Agent Barkely is close to shutting down his operation, Ron is fighting not just for his own survival, but is as concerned for that of his clients as well.

Ron also has brought over to his side Dr. Eve Saks, who to the best of her ability argues against the cruel policy of denying aid to Ron’s clientele. Ron Woodroof is about as transformed a person by the end of the film as can be found in the character transformation genre of film. And he has lived years beyond the date that Dr. Sevard had predicted he would live. Although the language and morals of the characters will be offensive to people of faith, this is a film well worth watching and discussing. I do not know if Matthew McConaughey’s dedication to his role—his extremely gaunt look was achieved by a strict diet that shed 30 or so pounds of his muscular flesh—will earn him an Oscar nod, given the dark side of the character, but he certainly deserves the Oscar buzz he is receiving. Nor do I know what the cosmic fate for Ron Woodroof will be, but I do know that in many ways he fulfilled Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.”

The full review with a set of questions for reflection or discussion will appear in the December issue of Visual Parables, which will be available late in November.