Coco (20170

Rated PG.. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

 

Honor your father and your mother…

Exodus 20:14a

Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people;
help me when you deliver them;

Psalm 106:4

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Luke 24:42

In the realm of the dead Miguel encounters some of his ancestors. (c) Disney-Pixar

If you enjoyed The Book of Life, director/writer Jorge R. Gutierrez’s 2014 animated film about the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), you will also enjoy the new Pixar/Disney film that transports us into the same realm. For reasons unclear to me the film is not named after its young hero Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old boy living with his shoe-making family in the town of Santa Cecilia, Mexico, but his great grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach)

A feisty woman abandoned by her husband when he left her to pursue a musical career, she had begun the family heritage of hatred of music. Now a doting old woman whom our hero loves, he nevertheless dreams of becoming a famous musician just like his idol, the late, famous musician and movie star Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel has taught himself how to play on his home-made guitar and now secretly intends to try out at the upcoming talent contest during The Day of the Dead celebration. However, his grandmother (Renee Victor), discovering his stash of music and instrument, smashes the guitar, leaving the boy so heartbroken and desperate that he breaks into the shrine dedicated to the deceased Ernesto de la Cruz and steals the great man’s guitar.

Miguel’s break-in leads to life-changing consequences, one of which is that by strumming the celebrity’s guitar he has been transported to the realm of the dead. He cannot be seen by the living, but is very much visible to the dead, many of whom are moving among the villagers. On the Day of the Dead those who are still remembered by the living can pass over a bridge made from thousands of brilliant, shimmering marigold petals. To do so first, however, they must be interrogated by a Customs agent who checks that there is a photo of the deceased on a family mantle, thus proving that the person is truly remembered. Hence, the film’s signature song that we hear twice, “Remember Me.” (Which, ironically, is not that memorable.)

Miguel’s quest in the realm of the dead is a treat to behold, and fraught with danger, for if the boy cannot fulfill his quest by the next day, he will become dead himself—and the one from whom he seeks forgiveness and a blessing insists that he must give up his dream of a musical career. How, with the help of a denizen of the street named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who turns out to be a surprise later, the boy is able to fulfill his mission adds up to a lot of merriment and excitement.

The film pays due respect to Mexican culture (as well it should, in view of the outrage the Disney people elicited from the Mexican-American community when they tried to trademark the name of the holiday). The subject might seem a bit macabre for children, but the light touch, evidenced by the music and dancing, probably will not evoke nightmares, and it will inform many children of the importance of this day in which Mexicans pay honor to their ancestors.

Miguel’s dilemma of honoring his parents while wanting to do something that is against their wishes is an often-treated theme in film, going way back to the first talkie in which Al Jolson played a rabbi’s son who wanted to become a singer despite his father’s desires. We see in the new film that it takes love and understanding to bring the two opposing views together.

The theme of remembering is also very important, especially with the grim result of a person not being remembered by any of the living being oblivion. Remembering is central to the beliefs of people of faith. The major celebration of Jews and Christians involves remembering the great events of the Exodus and of the Last Supper of Christ. However, for believers their continued existence depends upon God, not some human relative remembering us.

Director Lee Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina, working with a veritable army of animators/technicians, have made the Pixar contingent of characters more diverse, even as last year the parent Disney studio’s Moana released an animated film about a brave Polynesian—and a female one at that! 2016 also saw Focus Features release of Kubo and the Two Strings about a young musician dealing with Japanese mythical creatures. This is a good time for parents wanting to introduce their children to multiculturalism.

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the January 2018 issue of Visual Parables.

The Star (2017)

Rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 3

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking,

‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’

Matthew 2:1-2

and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,

because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7

 

Upper: The animals try to warn Mary & Jospeh of danger, Lower: The Nativity. (c) Sony/Affirm Films

 

As soon as I saw the trailer I was afraid that this animated movie based on the Nativity would be a bit too cutesy for my taste, so I put off for several weeks going to see the film. Was it ever! And yet, still, I found myself enjoying parts of it, especially when thinking back to whom the film was targeting—not adults thoroughly familiar with the gospel sources, but children, some of whom will know of the Nativity, not through parents or Sunday school, but through references in the culture, mostly conveyed through TV and movies.

First, let me share the negative aspects of the film, and then go on to describe why I think it is nonetheless worth family viewing:

The filmmakers obviously thought the birth stories in the two gospels need jazzing up for young viewers, hence the addition of the donkey Bo, bored with the drudgery of trudging around in a circle to move a millstone that grinds the grain of his cruel master. Bo is friends with a dove named Dave, who shares his dream of becoming important by joining the traveling royal caravan that passes by the mill one day. When Bo manages to escape and then becomes bound up with the Nazareth couple Joseph and Mary, Dave stays with him to help him get away. We have already seen, at the beginning of the film, Mary visited by the angel telling her she will bear the Messiah despite not being married. The angel, encased in brilliant white, flies out the window and up into the sky. A bright star appears.

Meanwhile east of Jerusalem three wise men appear riding their camels. We do not hear any of the human’s conversation, just that of the three camels, much of it consisting of wisecracks. In Jerusalem King Herod is a bit surprised that the gifts they bear are not for him but for a soon-to-be-born king. When his advisers inform him that the child will be born in Bethlehem, he urges his departing guests to come back to let him know there the child is. He then orders one of his burly soldiers to take two attack dogs and track down the family and kill the child. The Romans have ordered a census, so he knows they will be traveling to Bethlehem.

Just how the killer knows his quarry will be setting out from Nazareth is not explained, but as Mary and Joseph are leaving Nazareth, the soldier and dogs have arrived in search of them. Throughout the journey the pursuers will draw ever close to them, with Bo at time trying to warn the pair, but Mary and Joseph discern only the braying of a donkey. Along the way a sheep named Ruth will join Bo and Dave, the sheep having left the flock in order to follow the flock. How all these, and more, characters converge in Bethlehem, with the animals saving the Holy Family from their would-be killers will be suspenseful to young viewers not as familiar as adults with the gospels.

The story of the animals follows the usual cartoon plot of the weak struggling against the strong, with lots of physical action and funny dialogue. Far more screen time is given to them than to Mary and Joseph. It is possible that the biblical will be lost at worst, or overshadowed at best, by the more exciting story.

The filmmakers, by conflating the stories in Matthew and Luke have taken Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents and reduced it to one soldier and two killer dogs and placed it before the birth, thus creating suspense for young viewers. This fuses together the two distinct seasons of Christmas and Epiphany. The accepted church calendar keeps these two seasons distinct, though the children’s bathrobe Christmas pageant, presumably begun by Protestants in the 19th century gives the impression (wrong) that the magi arrived on the night of Jesus’ birth, rather than later—maybe as much as a year or two later according to Matthew.

Despite all of the above, The Star is the only game in town, for those seeking a family film that deals with the actual Christmas story. The danger of its becoming overshadowed by the frenetic animal story can be averted by the parent or grandparent accompanying the child discussing the film—Linus does this well in the delightful A Charlie brown Christmas by reading the gang Luke’s birth story. And there is one excellent point that the animal story makes at the conclusion of the life and death struggle between them and the soldier and his attack dogs. The soldier plunges to the ground far below, but Bo and his friends manage to pull the dogs to safety, instead of letting them also fall (presumably to death). This act of grace transforms the dogs so that they too can join in the worship of the new-born King. A nice gospel touch of why the Christ Child was born.

The film is well served by its colorful animation, and the Sony-backed Affirm Films had the budget to afford a large voice cast that includes such A-list actors as Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan and Tyler Perry, as well as Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Kris Kristofferson, Kristin Chenowith, and Mariah Carey. And these all voice just the supporting characters, with B-list actors speaking for the main ones. This film never rises to the level of the gorgeous claymation story of Jesus’ life, The Miracle Maker, but is worth paying the matinée price of admission.

THE RIDE: A Christmas Eve Parable (2012)

 

Not Rated. Running time: 33 min. Our content ratings (1-10):

Violence 0; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Psalm 86:15

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy…

Frederick W. Faber

 

In this short film Director Dallas Jenkins revisits the theme he dealt with so well in his 2006 feature film Midnight Clear. Like that film, The Ride takes place on a Christmas Eve, most of the action taking place in a taxi, a donut shop, and on a bridge. A man known only as The Driver (Kirk B.R. Woller, who also starred in Midnight Clear) drops off his fare and hopes to go on home to join his family. However, his dispatcher informs there is one more pickup. The Driver complains he is already past his quitting time, but complies.

The Passenger (Brad Heller) turns out to be a scruffy looking man very reluctant to engage in conversation. His choice of destination disturbs The Driver. It is a well-known bridge. He keeps trying to start a conversation, even lying that the route ahead is clogged with traffic, so that he must take the long way around it—“at no extra charge.” Further delaying tactics include a stop for gasoline he doesn’t need, and then donuts and coffee. The Passenger refuses any of the latter.

At last they reach the bridge, and The Driver must decide what to do. Drive away and leave the man to do what he once had feared, but which now knows? (It is no longer conjecture because in the donut shop The Driver has been able to sneak a look at The Passenger’s cell phone on which he sees a couple of text messages, one a farewell to his father.)

A lot of tension builds up to the decision The Driver makes. And the climax is a wonderful variation on the theme of grace embodied in the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon…” The neighbors must be thinking the owner of a garishly decorated house must have gone overboard, even plugging in table lambs to light up the darkness, but the two men in the taxi know the real reason. If there isn’t a lump in your throat or a touch of moisture in your eye in the final scene, then your name must be Scrooge or Grinch.

There’s still time to order it from Vision Video—and I just checked, and they offer it at the bargain price of $5.00! Click on the link, or call: Vision Video: 1-800-523-0226.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 44 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners

Isaiah 61:1

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

Mark 1:15

Dickens imagines Scrooge & other characters are in the room as he writes. (c) Bleecker Street

Director Bharat Nalluri’s film never claims that Charles Dickens invented Christmas, but it does show how he struggled to create the classic story that transformed what most people considered, before he wrote A Christmas carol, to be a minor holiday.

The film begins at a packed theater in New York City in 1842 during the triumphant tour of the U.S. by what was then the most popular writer in the English language, young Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens). His novel Oliver Twist had made him popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite the lavish adulation he receives when he takes the stage, he can hardly wait to get back to England. However, once he does, his muse seems to desert him, and his next three books are flops.

It is “16 months later,” and we see the author with his wife supervising the redecorating of their crowded new home with furnishings they can ill afford, such as a fancy crystal chandelier and a shiny brass door knocker that will not stay attached to the door. With servants, wife Catherine (Morfydd Clark), their four young children, and his good friend and confidante John Forster (Justin Edwards), Dickens is hard put to find the solitude required to come up with a new book. In one short scene he sits with his pen poised over a blank sheet of paper, and all that issues from it is a large drop of ink that falls onto the page. To add to his distraction, his mooching father (Jonathan Pryce) with his hand out and his long-suffering mother (Ger Ryan) show up. To his chagrin soft-hearted Catherine picks up on their hint and invites them to stay. Kate has one more piece of news that he manages to accept as good news—she is expecting their fifth child.

In her screenplay, based on the book by Les Standiford, Susan Coyne has come up with a visually interesting way of dealing with HOW a writer creates a work, something that most films about the creative process fail to do. We see how strangers that Dickens overhears at home and around London inspire bits and pieces of his story and character. His new Irish chambermaid Tara (Anna Murphy) telling his children a ghost story provides the form. A well-dressed theater-goer heartlessly says that the poor should hurry up and die so as to “decrease the surplus population.” (I am not sure, but this might be the same man who declared that “the poor do not belong in books.”)  At a church cemetery the author hears an old Miser (Christopher Plummer) who has just witnessed his business partner lowered into his grave and utters the phrase that will ever be associated with one of Dickens’ most memorable characters, “Bah, humbug.” (His struggle to come up with an appropriate name for the person is depicted much later). The presence of his ne-er do well father makes him think of the awful day when the elderly Dickens was taken away in a paddy wagon bound for debtors’ prison, leaving the young son to fend for himself. The adult Charles visits the now dilapidated factory building where he had worked with other destitute boys to produce shoe blacking. All around him were the exploited poor, from whom he would conjure up the Cratchits, though it was from his own family, a sickly nephew, that Tiny Tim was derived.

However, before Dickens can proceed very far, he must sell his idea for a Christmas ghost story to his publishers. They hate the idea, reminding him that Christmas is a minor holiday not conducive to selling books. Besides, Christmas is just a little over six weeks away! Thus, he decides to publish the work himself. How he manages to make all the arrangements, including dealing with the illustrator who demands an upfront down payment as well as finishing the story, while dealing with so many family concerns, proves to be a near miracle.

Much of the fun comes from the author holding imaginary conversations with the book’s characters, Christopher Plummer being delightful as Scrooge. Dickens’ banker/solicitor Haddock (Donald Sumpter), who drives a hard bargain when the author asks for a loan, becomes Scrooge’s business partner Jacob Marley; loyal friend Forster becomes the Ghost of Christmas Present; chambermaid Tara Ghost of Christmas Past, and so on. At times these fill the study as Dicken’s sets his pen to paper to come up just in the nick of time the ending that had eluded him.

Bharat Nalluri, who also directed the frothy, but enjoyable, little Cinderella story Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, is aided greatly by wonderful costume and set designers—Victorian England looks bright and lively for the present day Dickens family and dark and grim for the author’s boyhood stint as a child slave.  Director of photography Ben Smithard’s cameras capture everything in colorful detail, making this a film that viewers just might want to revisit in the years to come—it is ideal for the Hallmark Channel.  The film captures well what Dickens means when he says, “Christmas is about hope that, in the end, our better natures will prevail.” His Ebeneezar Scrooge also provides what might be the best illustration outside the New Testament for what it means “to repent” means. This is translated from the Greek word “metanoia,” meaning literally to “change one’s mind.” What a difference such a change makes in the world of Scrooge and the Crackits. What a difference it would make in our world were we all to follow his example.

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

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Rated PG-13. Running time:1 hour 54 min.

Our contents rating:Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

 

Thou shalt not kill.

Exodus 20:13

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.

Isaiah 30:18

Inspector Poirot gets some fresh air while pondering the murder clues. (c) 20th Century Fox

 

“My name is Hercule Poirot, and I am probably the greatest detective in the world,” Thus Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) introduces himself to a train-car full of passengers on the legendary Orient Express in this remake of Agathe Christie’s much filmed 1934 story. I have never read one of her 30 or so books featuring the detective, but from his many successes, I would surmise that he is correct, if not humble.

What probably will set director Kenneth Branagh’s version of the novel apart from the others is the size of his famous mustache, so hugely dominating his face, it could be said that he follows it, rather than just wears it.

After cleverly solving a theft in Istanbul, the detective is aboard the luxurious train when it is stopped in its track by a small snow avalanche. The body of a murderous criminal is found, slashed a dozen times by a knife. Poirot tells the assembled passengers that they are all suspects. They include Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench); the murdered man’s assistant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad); the sultry widow Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer); Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe); missionary Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz); Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.); butler Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi); maid Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman); car salesman Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); Count and Countess Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton); and governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley). Perhaps you can see one problem right away—too many characters for the viewer (at least this one) to keep track of. Or, not enough screen time to establish their personalities—I especially felt this away about Judi Dench’s character.

Anyway, not having seen any of the previous versions of the film, I was surprised by the revelation of “who dunnit,” and felt that Poirot’s explanation was far too brief for my confused mind to grasp. However, I was intrigued by what he decided to do about the crime, especially in the light of his earlier statement of his philosophy, “There is right, there is wrong, and nothing in between.” In his decision as to what should be done to the killer(s), he admits to an ambiguity that he had denied. This is like Inspector Javert had reached out, shaken the hand of Jean Valjean, and gone off to share a bottle of wine with his

No time to write questions because the Jan. VP must be finished & sent off in an hour. Leaders can explore with group the detective’s unusual decision. Is it right or wrong, or has he discovered motives, justice, and life are all more ambiguous than his previous view of right and wrong had allowed?

 

 

The Sultan and the Saint (2017)

Rated. Running time: 1 hour. Our star rating (1-5): 5

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

Mark December 26 on your calendar for the PBS airing of writer/director Alex Kronemer’s documentary about a little-known event during the Fifth Crusade in 1219. Jeremy Irons narrates the film, and other actors dramatize the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Al-Kamil, with numerous historians filling us in about the times and many facts about the Muslim faith. This is a film that peacemakers will want to see and use (it is now available on DVD) in combating the widespread ill will against Muslims.

The film provides a brief recap of the background of Francis, beginning with his transformative meeting with lepers and his preaching to the poor. When Pope Innocent and his preachers fanned the flames of a crusade to retake Jerusalem from “the infidels,” Francis was not caught up in the religious frenzy and the hatred that accompanied it. Instead, with his faithful follower Brother Illuminato, he set sail for Egypt where the Crusaders, led by the arrogant Cardinal Pelagius (Eric Kramer) were laying siege to Damietta, Egypt, a strategic fortress city at the mouth of the Nile.

One of the scholars whose comments are interspersed throughout the film is Catholic scholar Kathleen Warren, who says, “Francis tells us that he clearly heard God asking him to be a peacemaker in this world, a peacemaker in the manner of Jesus Christ. Francis realized that the message he was given to promote peace in the world necessitated him going to the Muslims.”

The ruler of Egypt Sultan Al-Kamil had been well educated and raised in a spirit of tolerance. When his soldiers brought Francis and his companion to his tent, he reacted very differently from Cardinal Pelagius and the other Crusaders who laughed with scorn at what they regarded as a foolish mission. Francis’ intention was to preach the love of Christ, thus winning the hearts of those considered to be enemies. Prof. Warren continues, “I think that Francis must have been surprised at what he experienced among the Muslim people because the popular notion was that Muslims were heathens.” Far from being heathens, they were a very devout people. Another scholar, Michael Cusato, Professor of Franciscan Studies at St. Bonaventure University states, “I believe, in watching Muslims pray, men and women, five times daily, that it really struck Francis unexpectedly. I don’t think he was expecting to see this, to know this, but I think it profoundly moved him.”

Francis becomes ill, so he and his fellow friar returned to Italy, their mission failing to stop the warfare. And yet maybe not a total failure, certainly in a spiritual sense, for the scholars in the film believe that both the Sultan and the Saint were profoundly changed by their interchange. In Egypt when Cardinal Pelagius’s Crusaders marched on Cairo after taking the fortress city of Damietta, the Sultan ordered the sluice gates of the Nile opened, thus trapping the invaders in mud and muck and easily defeated. However, instead of massacring the Crusaders, the Sultan ordered thousands of loaves of bread be given to the stricken enemy, and negotiated a peace treaty with them. The film cites as one of its sources Oliver of Paderborn, a Crusade preacher and designer of a siege engine used at Damietta. He wrote, “The sultan was moved by such compassion that for many days he freely fed us as we were dying of hunger. Who can doubt that such kindness, mildness, and mercy proceeded from God?”

In Italy St. Francis added a section to the rule of his order in which his friars were instructed to approach Muslims with respect, living with and serving them, and to preach Christ only when asked. Just before his death, at a time when both God and Christ were depicted as full of wrath and harsh judgments, Francis wrote much about the love and mercy of God, especially in one document evoking numerous names of God similar to the Muslims’ invocation of the 99 Beautiful Names of God.

This is the second documentary about this historic incident, Franciscan Media having produced a 48-minute DVD in 2012 entitled In the Footsteps of FRANCIS and the SULTAN, A Model for Peacemaking. A comparatively low budget affair, its makers used drawings of the characters, maps, and shots of contemporary Egypt, rather than costumed actors*. Thus, this new production is a great improvement production-wise, as well as adding numerous details. One of the latter are remarks by Dr. Emile Bruneau, who is not a historian, but a social and cognitive scientist, who uses charts and animated sketches of the brain to explain how normally mild-mannered people can be swept up by impassioned rhetoric, such as that of the medieval popes and their crusade preachers, so that they are willing to go off and kill strangers whom they have never met. An interesting touch, and very relevant today!

When I heard about Francis revising the rule of his order along more peaceful lines in regard to Muslims, I thought of the magnificent 2010 French film Of Gods and Men, the true story about a group of monks caught up in the violence of the Algerian civil war. They were not Franciscans, but of the Cistercian-Trappist order, but the loving harmony between them and the nearby Muslim villagers is exactly what St. Francis desired. They too simply lived the Gospel lifestyle, letting their many acts of charity be their sermons. This film would make a good follow-up film for your group to see and discuss after the PBS documentary.

The film is produced by Unity Productions, a non-profit interfaith agency that offers several other films designed to help Muslims and people of other faiths understand each other better. You can find further information about UP and their films on their official site at: https://www.sultanandthesaintfilm.com/

The film is scheduled to be aired on PBS at 8 PM (EST) on Dec. 26, but check your local station to be sure.

  • I just noticed that Sister Warren appears in both of these films.

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

 

 

Justice League (2017)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 1 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 5; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 3

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Isaiah 58:6

Four of our five heroes. (c) Warner Brothers

When the studio rep asked for my opinion after the screening of this film, I replied, “LOUD and BIG.” And so it is, filled from beginning to end with enough noise and action for two ordinary movies.

It begins with the world, Bruce Wayne, and Lois Lane (a barely used Amy Adams) mourning the death of Superman (in BvS), but of course a new Super Nasty looms on the horizon, so Bruce/Batman, who has already linked up with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, sets out to recruit other superheroes for his Justice League.

His posse includes the Flash, a.k.a. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), a geeky teenager able to move with almost the speed of light; Aquaman, a.k.a. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), a muscular, tattooed holdover from the Viking era able to swim with and talk to the fish; and Cyborg, a.k.a. Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), a once destroyed human put back together with machine parts. And helping out from time to time is Bruce Wayne’s ever-faithful valet Alfred (Jeremy Irons). Plenty of mayhem ahead as the Justice League enters into battle against the ancient evil being Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who leads an army of winged parademons. He is searching for three “mother-boxes” that when brought together will give him the power to—

Although there is not as much brooding as in BvsS, there is still plenty of dark foreboding in the person of Bruce Wayne. Flash provides much of the youthful “Gee Whiz” that Spiderman does in the recent Marvel film, as per the following exchange:

Bruce Wayne: I’m putting together a team of people with special abilities. See, I believe enemies are coming…

Barry Allen: Stop right there. I’m in.

Bruce Wayne: You are? Just like that?

Barry Allen: Yeah, I… I need… friends.

Bruce Wayne: Agreed.

Barry Allen: [holds up the batarang that Bruce had hurled at him] Can I keep this?

However, I think you’ll agree that the best part of the film is the expanded role of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in the story, acting as a kind of den mother for the pack of half-grown males who still need to learn how to get along with one another. And then Superman (Henry Cavill) re-enters the picture. Like Mark Twain, reports of his demise were a bit premature. Oh, I know we saw him in his coffin and buried, but this is the D.C. Universe—talk about a deus ex machina! At least this unlikely event leads to a couple of the tenderest moments in the film, his reunion with Lois Lane and his mother Martha Kent. I also loved the moment when they are brought back by Bruce Wayne to the Kent home that a bank had taken over, and one of them asks how he got the house from the bank, and Bruce replies that he bought the bank.

IMDB reports that director Zack Snyder was given $300 million for this bloated adventure fantasy. I marvel that so much money should be squandered on what amounts to so little! Give me a little film like Lucky or The Florida Project any time!

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the December 2017 issue of Visual Parables.