New! Visual Parables Journal for December 2017

LOVE MOVIES? Want to spark discussion with friends? Subscribe to Visual Parables Journal. The December 2017 issue is packed with complete study guides, including: The Man Who Invented Christmas, Wonder, Florida Project, Lucky, LBJ, Loving Vincent, Justice League, Murder on the Oriental Express, and many more. Visit our Visual Parables store to subscribe.

 

Lucky (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 38 min.

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

Our star rating (1-5): 5

The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.

Ecclesiastes 1:11

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there,

doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James 4:13-14

Lucky surprises everyone by singing at the party. (c) Superlative Films

Director John Carroll Lynch’s film could be seen as a final tribute to its star, Harry Dean Stanton, this being the 91-year-old actor’s last film before dying this past September. Scriptwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja had the actor in mind when they wrote their insightful script.

Usually serving as a memorable character actor (in over 100 movies and 50 TV episodes), Mr. Stanton’s desert wandering father was the central character in 1984’s Paris, Texas, a film I remember well as having one of the most heart-wrenching endings of any film that I have seen. In Lucky the aged actor returns to the Southwest where his character lives at the edge of a small bedraggled-looking village, one of the regulars at the local diner and bar.

Lucky, a WW 2 Navy vet, is an avowed atheist who would never think of entering the church he walks by every morning after rising and shaving, exercising, smoking a cigarette, and then going to the village for breakfast (the only food in his otherwise empty refrigerator are three cartons of milk). After shopping and chatting at the Mexican grocery store, he returns home and sits watching TV game shows. Nights he drops in at the bar owned by Elaine (Beth Grant) and her husband Paulie (James Darren).

This being primarily a character study, not much happens, compared to an adventure or superhero film. Lucky is a man of strong likes and dislikes, so he takes an immediate dislike to an insurance agent (Ron Livingston) talking with his friend in the bar. I think this was Howard, the friend who mourns and speculates about his beloved pet tortoise, “President Roosevelt,” that has crawled off into the desert. Throughout the film the man will lament the loss of his pet, asserting, “There are some things in this world that are bigger than all of us… and a tortoise is one of ’em!” He also gets irritated when Lucky or others refer to the pet as “a turtle,” continually reminding the bar regulars that Roosevelt is a tortoise! Late in the film Howard accepts the choice the creature has made. Keep your eyes open, because you will catch one more glimpse of the errant tortoise. And take note of the direction in which it is heading.

It is such details as the above that makes this slow-paced film such delightful viewing. There are many other such scenes, such as when Lucky tells of his boyhood days when he owned a BB-gun that would not shoot straight so that he accidentally hit the mockingbird he had intended only to startle. “Saddest thing,” he comments.

Especially revealing of character is the scene in which Lucky, having accepted the grocery store proprietor’s (Bertila Damas) invitation to her son’s tenth birthday party, enjoys the food and the revelry of the children and adults. The family is Mexican-American, so there is a small mariachi band. (This is probably a tribute to the actor’s highly praised “The Harry Dean Stanton Band” which has toured internationally, playing this lively brand of music.) Lucky surprises everyone by serenading the gathering, his song one that the band apparently knows, because they join in with him, and soon everyone is lustily singing along. This high point in the film changed my opinion of Lucky from that of a rather listless (I almost typed “useless”) old taker to that of a giver, able even when death is very much upon his mind, to enrich the lives of others.

Lucky is also the imparter of hard-won wisdom, the life-long bachelor telling his doctor, whom he visits after a fall at home, “There’s a difference between lonely and being alone.” To the insurance agent, the morning after Lucky had challenged him to a fight, he says when the man joins him at his breakfast table and tries to converse with him, “The only thing worse than awkward silence: small talk.” However, as the man opens up more about his personal life and displays a vulnerability, Lucky responds to him with warmth.

And, contemplating his impending oblivion, Lucky agrees with Ecclesiastes and James (and Job), “We come here, and we go out alone.” Earlier, he had admitted to Loretta (Yvonne Huff) concerning death, “I’m scared.” Lucky early in the film claims that there is no “soul,” but by the end he displays a sensitivity that belies this.

Other than a tombstone, there will be no monuments to this man whom the world regards as unimportant, so the Ecclesiastes passage could apply to Lucky, once his small circle of friends also die. But I would not want to say his life was a “vanity.” I came to like him so much that I wish he could affirm what the James says in the verse following his gloomy statement. Lucky is a guy with whom it might be fun sitting down with at the Messianic banquet table—though the conversation better be more than “small talk.” He seems far preferable a dinner companion than a few certain church members I have known.

Lucky is the first feature directed by actor John Carroll Lynch: let’s hope the favorable critical reaction to this well-made film will help him advance further as a director.

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

 

Wonderstruck (2017)

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 57 min.

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

Our star rating (1-5): 5

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals] that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds,

and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened

Matthew 7:8

1. Rose arrives in NYC in 1927.                              2. Ben being shown the huge NYC model in 1977.                    (c) Amazon Studios

You too might feel wonderstruck when you watch Todd Haynes new film based on Brian Selznick’s 2011 novel, the engaging story of two deaf children separated by some 50 years yet bound closely together by a mysterious bond. Everything about this film is wondrous, the parallel plots of the two children, the artistry of the director and cast, and the adroit editing with delightful transitions from 1977 to the 1927. The film celebrates the longings of children and the wonders of museums crammed with curiosities on display linking us to persons and objects across the years.

The first of the two children is 12-year-old Ben (Oakes Fegley) living in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in 1977, who awakens from a nightmare of being chased by wolves. He is mourning the sudden loss of his librarian mother Elaine (Michelle Williams), who had never resolved his burning questions about the father he had never known. She had always turned down his questions with a “Not now” and “at the right time.” Unfortunately, her death in an auto accident came before that “right time.” Now living with his aunt and uncle, Ben returns to his old house where he finds in his mother’s bedroom an antique book, actually an exhibition catalog called Cabinets of Wonder, in which he finds a bookmark with the imprint and address of a NYC bookstore. What really arouses his interest is the note to his mother from a man that is written upon it. He dials a number on the telephone while a violent storm rages outside. A lightning bolt strikes the house, knocking him unconscious. When he awakens in a hospital he is deaf. Soon he is on a bus headed for NYC and the bookstore where he hopes he will discover more about his father. Being a child, it apparently does not occur to him that the bookstore might no longer be there.

Fifty years earlier in Hoboken, New Jersey, 12-year-old deaf Rose ((Millicent Simmonds) lives unhappily with her divorced, overly strict father. Her refuge from her life of harsh treatment is at the cinema and in her bedroom where she clips photos of famous movie star, Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), and pastes them into a scrapbook. Her other hobby is folding magazine pages into small skyscrapers and creating a miniature city with them. At the local theater she watches, while an organist plays a musical accompaniment, her movie idol’s latest picture, Daughter of the Storm, which cinephiles will recognize as a tribute to Lillian Gish in The Wind. All of Rose’s scenes are shot in black and white with no dialogue, just like the films of the time. Ironically, as the girl exits the theater, we see workmen putting up a large marquee banner informing the public that the theater will be closed while it is being renovated to show “all talking” movies.

One day, Rose reads that the actress will be appearing in a play in the City, so she sneaks out of her bedroom window just before her father comes up the stairs with her dreaded sign-language teacher. She sets out on foot, reaching Manhattan via ferry boat. The city is a wonder to her, a jumble of people and vehicles amidst towering buildings. When she learns where the play is being rehearsed, she manages to sneak into the theater—and we are let in on a secret. Discovered by the staff, there ensues a chase scene that leads her just ahead of a policeman to the Museum of Natural History, where the large “cabinet of curiosities,” featured in the old book that Ben will discover and bring with him on his journey in 1977.

Ben arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, sets off to find the bookstore, learns the hard way never to open your wallet on a NYC street to count your money, and, broke, arrives at the bookstore. A weather-beaten sign shows that Kincaid Bookstore once had occupied the dilapidated building. Fortunately, Ben had caught the eye of Jamie (Jaden Michael), a friendly African American boy walking with his father. He informs the visitor where the bookstore is now located. To make a complicated story short, the two become friends, Ben finding shelter in a storeroom at, yes, the American Museum of Natural History where Jamie’s father works.

The back and forth scenes of Ben and Rose exploring in wide-eyed wonder the dioramas, animal exhibits and curios of the vast place might take you back to your childhood visits to such a wonder-filled place. Ben is startled by the diorama featuring lunging wolves, recalling his nightmares, and he is highly intrigued by the small brass plate informing readers that the stuffed beasts are from Gunflint, Minnesota. We see the children are connected by the giant meteorite, around which, though 50 years apart, they run their fingers while circling about it. Each came to the Museum in search of a man, he boy for his father, and Rose for her older brother, and both quests will bring closure to their longings.

An even greater bond between the two I will leave for you to discover, except to reveal that it involves a marvelous, huge scale-model of New York City created for the 1964 World’s Fair. The vast display, filling a hall, had been so popular that it was saved and put on permanent display. Also, an important part of the climax is the famous 1977 New York Blackout, that permits the final scene of wonder so appreciated by three of the characters, as well as the author of Psalm 8. It really is an inspiring way to end the film! This is a delightful film for the family, as well as a good one for church groups (especially youth) to see and discuss.

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

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 44 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 5; Language 2; Sex 2/Nudity 3.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

Deckart & Agent K meet up at last in a ruined Las Vegas casino.         (c) Warner Bros.

Director Denis Villeneuve certainly faced a big challenge when he agreed to make a sequel to the 1982 film that has an almost cult following. It helps that the original scriptwriter Hampton Fancher was on hand to join Michael Green in producing a script that rises close to the level of the original—and also, of course, that Harrison Ford was available to assume again the role of Rick Deckard. We will not see Deckard until late in the film, but he will prove crucial for the climax, which becomes a mixture of the triumphant and the tragic.

The original film was set in a dystopia 37 years in the future (2019, which seemed in 1982 a long way off) when a scientist had been able to create androids called Replicants, that are difficult to detect from humans. They have been used as slaves on off-world colonies because, being human-created, they are not considered to have a soul. Because of their dangerous tendency toward violence, Replicants have been banned from Earth, but some have made it through, passing themselves off as humans. A special cop called a Blade Runner is devoted to running them down and retiring (killing) them. Rick Deckard had been a Blade Runner, a very successful one until he had fallen in love with a Replicant named Rachel and with her had dropped out of sight.

Thirty years later Earth has suffered from ecosystem collapse and wars so that it has become a ruined planet whose inhabitants seek to escape their harsh situation through hedonistic pleasures. Los Angeles’ towering buildings are on the brink of ruin, and sunlight never penetrates its smog. A new corporate tycoon (the old one went bankrupt) has developed an even more advanced model Replicant, the Nexus-9, with such “improvements” as a built-in termination date and artificial memory implants. A Replicant named Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is sent out to retire a newly discovered older model replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) who has been hiding out in the desert. Before K fights and kills him, Morton speaks of a “miracle” that would make it impossible for anyone to kill a Replicant. After the fight, K discovers a chest buried beneath the lone dead tree outside the house. It contains a female human skeleton and lock of hair. Lab technicians discover that the woman had given birth, but then a serial number etched onto a bone reveals that the woman had been a Replicant, even though this was supposedly impossible.

K will set forth to solve this mystery, and then on learning facts that his superiors fear will bring chaos to society, the searcher will become the sought after. In the abandoned ruins of Las Vegas K will at last meet up with Deckard and discover the miracle about which Morton had told him. It is a long and complicated tale, but one that raises the question posed almost 2500 years ago by the Psalmist.

Gosling and Ford are supported by a fine cast that includes Robin Wright as K’s department superior, Lieutenant Joshi; Sylvia Hoeks as a Replicant woman named Luv, first a helper for K and then a deadly foe; Ana de Armas as Joi, K’s holographic lover; Jared Leto as Niander Wallace, the blind and ruthless head of the company named after him that manufactures the Replicants;   Mackenzie Davis as Mariette, one of three Replicants who try to seduce K; Sean Young as Rachel, repeating her role from the original film; Edward James Olmos, also from the original as Gaff, a cop who had befriended Deckard;  Carla Juri as Dr. Ana Stelline, a scientist who designs and implants memories—and who will prove to be a surprise later on; and Hiam Abbass as Freysa, leader of the Replicant freedom movement who was present when Rachel gave birth. If you are like me, you might have trouble remembering all the names, so seeing this with a friend is highly recommended.

This film, with its new characters and old ones based on characters from Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, will provide an opportunity to discuss where science is taking us. This is a good one to add to such films as A.I.; Bicentennial Man; the Star War series; and a host of others—even the so-called children’s film, The Iron Giant.

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

 

Columbus (2017)

Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.

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

Our star Rating (1-5): 5

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

 

As Casey guides Jin around Columbus, the spire of North Christian rises in the background. (c) Front Row Filmed Entertainment

What a delightful film by first-time writer/director . His Columbus is named after the small Indiana town it is set in, not the explorer who also gave his name to a holiday. This is a slow-paced study of a relationship that develops between a visitor to the city and a young native who loves its many examples of modernist architecture and is eager to show them off. Were this directed by a run of the mill director, it probably would be the story of a romance between a mature man and a girl barely out of high school, but Kogonada’s vision stretches far beyond that of the ordinary filmmaker. He is more interested in ideas than romantic relationships.

The story begins with a long shot of an old man walking along a colonnade. He disappears, and a woman runs after him, calling out in alarm. This at first puzzling incident is explained as the film progresses. The man is a Korean-American professor of architecture visiting Columbus because this mid-western town is the unlikely site of dozens upon dozens of modernist structures that have turned the quiet little town into a Mecca for architecture aficionados. (The movie never mentions that the town’s benefactor was the head of the main local industry, Cummins Diesel, J. Irwin Miller, who loved modernist architecture so much that he offered to pay the architects for all businesses and organizations that wanted to erect a new building—provided that the architect was on his approved list. *)

We soon meet the two main protagonists, Jin (John Cho), the grown son of the stricken professor; and Cassandra, known as Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a local girl working at the library housed in a building designed by I.M. Pei. After the two meet one night and at first exchange pleasantries, they meet again and again over a period of several days, she finding in him an outlet for sharing her love and knowledge of the local architecture, and he becoming concerned that such a bright girl has given up her plans to go to college. Professing not to be interested in architecture itself, he insists that when she takes him to a building, she not offer a tour guide explanation of it, but rather, talk about her feelings evoked by the structure.

From their discourses we learn that Jin’s stricken father is in a coma—we never see him or his hospital room, the camera again just providing a long shot of Jin walking the hospital corridor toward his father’s room. There is one other visitor who had preceded Jin, Eleanor (Parker Posey), some kind of an associate of the professor. It was she who had summoned Jin back from Korea, to which he had gone to work as a translator of literature. For an undisclosed reason the father and son had not been in touch for years. In a brief scene when he tries to kiss Eleanor, we see that he at least had wanted a romantic relationship. He longs to leave town, feeling trapped by his father’s condition.

Although Casey often talks with fellow library employee Gabriel (Gabriel Rory Culkin), it is the developing relationship with Jin that is the focus of the simple plot. The visitor, sensing from her comments that she makes about the various buildings they visit that she is highly intelligent, thinks she is wasting her life by not going on to college. She counters that she cannot leave her working-class mother Maria (Michelle Forbes) because the woman is recovering from drug addiction. Not only her words, but the frequent phone calls Casey makes when Maria is at work, reveal the deep love and concern she feels for her still fragile parent. We see the contrast between the girl and Jin in that Casey never expresses any feeling of being trapped. She loves her mother too much to even entertain such a thought.

By the end of the film visitor and guide will have a great impact on each other—the son with his initial feelings of guilt concerning his estranged father, and Casey with a newly awakened need to look toward her own future as well as that of her mother’s.

Having enjoyed a visit to Columbus several years ago, I enjoyed seeing such iconic examples of modernist architecture as The Robert N. Stewart Bridge, the soaring spire of The North Christian Church, the inside of the Miller House with its sunken conversation pit, and many other magnificent buildings and large public sculptures. (Casey first meets Jin between the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library and the Inn at Irwin Gardens, two striking locations.) And for a break from modernism, there is an old covered bridge incorporated into a park where the two friends also converse. But don’t let me mislead you into thinking this is a didactic affair—few of the buildings are identified, the pair when talking at all about architecture, speaking more in generalities, such as how as we shape our buildings, they in turn shape us.

You will come away from this film feeling good about the characters and the world. Casey, a likeable young person willing to sacrifice her own desires, is brilliantly brought to life by Haley Lu Richardson, an actress whom I am sure we will be seeing in more films. And John Cho, whom we first saw in the Harold and Kumar films and who shot to stardom as Sulu in 2009’s Star Trek, as the pensive son conflicted by his feelings toward his ill father and his sense of being stranded in a small American town.

These are two people of diverse cultures, gender, and age, and yet who for the moment are just right for each other. In the New Testament there are two words for time, “chronos” meaning clock or calendar time, and “kairos,” meaning just the right or opportune time, as in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son…” The events of this meditative film transpire in kairos time. Jin and Casey meet at the right time when each of them needs what the other has to give, and each is open to receive the gift.

Whether or not we like architecture, including modernist, maybe Kogonada’s film will make us more aware of the spaces that we inhabit and walk in and out of each day with scarcely a thought about them. And I for one hope to see more work by this gifted filmmaker who has assumed an interesting nom de guerre.**

 

* Go to https://columbus.in.us/architecture-story/ for fuller information about this amazing man and town. Early in my ministry, I had first come to admire Mr. Miller because of his leadership in the ecumenical movement. He was one of the founders in 1950 of The National Council of Churches and served as its president from 1960 through 1963, thus becoming one of the sponsors of the March on Washington. Long a supporter of diversity in the work place, his ethical business practices led Dr. King to call him “the most socially responsible businessman in the country.”

** There is scant bio information about this South Korean born artist known for his video essays that are mostly about film directors. One site informs us that his nom de guerre stems from his admiration of the work of Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu, and that his pseudonym is a tribute to Ozu’s screenwriting partner, Kōgo Noda. He was raised in the Midwest and currently lives with his wife in Nashville, Tennessee. Of the many “Kogonada” websites, here is one that includes a number of his web videos. It’s hosted by the BFI, the British Film Institute. http://www.bfi.org.uk/people/kogonada

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

 

Marshall (2017)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 58 min. Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 8; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 5.

Our star rating (1-5): 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

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.[b]
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9

Sam Friedman, Thurgood Marshall, & defendant Joseph Spell face the jury. (c) Roadside Films

Black history has been a rich gold mine for socially conscious filmmakers, providing great drama that often reminds us that the war for equality is far from over. Such is the excellent new film about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, played by an actor who now is a veteran of such films, Chadwick Boseman–he played Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get on Up. The film given us by director Reginald Hudlin and screenwriters Michael Koskoff and Jacob Koskoff  is not your usual biographical picture moving from childhood through struggle to success. Instead, it deals with the period of one year in Marshall’s early career when the 32-year old lawyer was sent by the NAACP to Bridgeport Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur-butler accused of raping and attempting to kill a white society woman. At that time Marshall was the NAACP’s lone lawyer traveling about the country (mainly in the South) saving wrongfully accused blacks from what amounted to judicial lynching and often dodging assaults on his person (of which we see a couple). His travels must have kept his wife in a stressful state, though we are shown just a couple of home scenes.

The head of the NAACP in Manhattan, who ironically bore the name of Walter White (Roger Guenveur Smith), sends Marshall to the northern city to show that racism was not just a Southern problem. The New York tabloids were exploiting the rape story in nearby Bridgeport so much that many fearful whites were dismissing their black servants. The head of the Bridgeport NAACP John “Ted” Lancaster (Derrick Baskin) arranges for Marshall to meet white lawyer Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad), the plan being to partner with a local lawyer in defending the accused. Friedman is anything but approving of such a partnership. Not only has he never been involved in a criminal case, his specialty being insurance claims, but he is afraid of the bad publicity that would result. The city was known for its hostility toward blacks and other minorities, and Sam himself was Jewish. However, Marshall will not take No for an answer—as Sam tells his upset wife, “He’s very persuasive.” And so, the film becomes an Odd Couple story, with frequent clashes between the two erupting as the trial progresses.

Marshall tells the defendant Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) that the NAACP, with its limited resources, will defend only the innocent. Assured by Spell that “I never touched the woman,” the lawyers show up with him in court—and run into their first roadblock. Judge Foster (James Cromwell) obviously does not like it that a black lawyer has come unbidden to his city, so he denies Marshall the right to argue the case. He does allow him to sit with and confer with Sam, but not to speak in the courtroom. When Marshall tries to ask a question later, the judge cuts him off by threatening to hold him in contempt of court.

Sam, of course had expected Marshall to do most of the arguing and cross-examination, so he is very distraught. Marshall assures him he can do the job as he hands over to him a half-dozen criminal law textbooks, telling him that he has a month to read them (until the opening of the trial).

The film intersperses all too-brief scenes of Marshall with his wife Buster Marshall (Keesha Sharp) and friends in Harlem. These friends also were high achievers, such as poet Langston Hughes and novelist-Civil Rights activist Zora Neale Hurston (Jussie Smollett and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas). The scene of them bantering back and forth in a Harlem nightspot makes me wish for more such private life scenes. Also at scattered intervals, we see part of what happened on the terrible night in which Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) claims that Spell burst into her room and raped her two times. We see the pair in her bedroom, then her in the back of her car that he is driving, then being carried over to the ledge of a bridge and falling into the water. Each new appearance adds a bit more information. In and out of the courtroom are people taking sides, the whites outside carrying signs and shouting words of racist hatred. Both Sam and Marshall find themselves in great danger on the same night, the former on his way home and Marshall while in a bar.

Marshall is desperate to find a witness who can back Spell’s alibi. For a while it looks like they might have one, and then there is a plot twist that sends them in a new, unexpected direction and reveals the intense fear that every black person, whether living in the North or the South, feels when confronted with white justice. Marshall maintains his strong commitment to justice, declaring, “The Constitution was not written for us. We know that. But no matter what it takes, we’re going to make it work for us. From now on, we claim it as our own.” But it would take an extraordinary amount of courage, grit, and skill for him to make good on that claim. Some details of the actual trial have been changed, presumably for dramatic reasons. For an interesting account of the Bridgeport  trial see Daniel J. Sharfstein’s “Saving the Race” in Legal Affairs (March/April 2005).

One of the neat little touches I love in this film is the final scene when Marshall, called away while the jury is in deliberation, has arrived at a Mississippi train station to take up a new case. After he talks with Sam on the telephone, he rounds the corner where a “Whites Only” has been placed above the drinking fountain. Marshall takes one of the paper cups and pours himself a drink. On a nearby bench an old black man smiles his approval. Outside the lawyer is met by two African American women, who promise him a good supper. They are accompanied by another black lawyer, who in the credits is identified as Z. Alexander Looby (Benjamin Crump). He is given no lines, but a thrilling film could be made based on his colorful life, Zephaniah Alexander Looby being a real person, once the leading Tennessee black lawyer engaged in so many Civil Rights cases.

Thurgood Marshall was the outstanding advocate for the legal attack on institutionalized racism, just as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were the leading advocates for street demonstrations against America’s “Original Sin.” (These two groups occasionally were at odds, supporters of the NAACP legal approach fearing that demonstrations resulted in too much violence that undercut their cases in the courts. A good example of this debate is shown in the wonderful 1983 PBS film For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story in which the Mississippi head of the NAACP argues this issue with his teen volunteers who want to engage in sit-ins.

I hope this film will be widely screened. Church and other religious groups should rally around and discuss it so that it will stay in the theaters for a while, rather than fade away until its video release. Films like this will make us more aware of our heritage and the need to continually stand up for justice. It can also be viewed as a character transformation film, in that Sam Friedman begins as a reluctant participant in the trial, fearful of damaging his reputation (and thus his practice) into a fierce advocate for racial justice after the trial.

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

I’ll Push You (2017)

Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1

Our star rating (1-5): 5

 

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Psalm 131:1 (RSV)

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

John 13:34

The friends encounter deep mud at he beginning of their 500-mile trek. (c) Fathom Events

Director  Chris Karcher and Terry Parish’s documentary, set on Spain’s famous El Camino de Santiago, is one of those stand up and cheer films. Celebrating the incredible friendship of Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray, it is a testimony to the power of love and perseverance and, in the last portion, of community. Compared to the world-saving struggles of movie superheroes, the pair’s completion in 34 days of a 500-mile journey by wheelchair across mountains, deserts, hills, and valleys might not seem as consequential, but I can assure you that you will feel far more elated at the end of this film than after viewing any Marvel Film epic.

As we see in photos and family film clips, Justin and Patrick have been life-long friends, each having served as Best Man at each other’s weddings. They are not about to let Justin’s rare neurological disease, the results of an injury in an auto accident when he was in his teens, disrupt that when it robs him of the use of his arms and legs. So, when he had Patrick watch with him a tape of a PBS show about The Camino de Santiago, and he expresses the wish to travel it, his friend’s first reaction were the words that comprise the film’s title.

This would prove to be quite a struggle, because Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy (MAMA) had so devastated Justin’s body through the years by causing his autoimmune system to attack his nervous system. Without the use of his limbs he was totally dependent on others for even the simplest of functions such as eating, washing, brushing his teeth, putting on his clothes, or going to the bathroom. And as they soon found out when they set forth in the French Pyrenees, the Camino de Santiago often is so rugged that it requires pulling as well as pushing. For a couple of weeks, they have another friend to help them up and down the rock-strewn road, but because his employer gave him just a couple of weeks off, the friend must return to his job in the States. Fortunately, a host of pilgrims along the way lend their hands from time to time.

At night, it is just the two of them, and we see how well Patrick’s devotion to his friend illustrates the “as I love you” of Jesus’ words to his disciples. Patrick’s is a sacrificial love, requiring him to extricate the wheelchair amidst the mud and muck at the beginning of the trail, as well as negotiate it through narrow doorways of bathrooms. Fortunately, he is young and in possession of a strong back because he has to pick up his friend from the chair and place him onto the toilet. Both are dog-tired at the end of a day of hiking, but the strenuous tasks of using the toilet, brushing teeth, and taking a bath must be completed before either of them can sleep. And then it’s up before sunrise the next day to repeat all the processes. The film is honest enough to show us some of the moments when one or the other are overwhelmed briefly by mishaps—early on the tri-wheeled wheelchair’s front wheel breaks, and they must search for a while before they can find a mechanic who can weld it back on—but they quickly recover and continue on.

In the final leg of the journey a whole group of pilgrims who have heard about the heroic pair meet up with them and lend a hand, this setting Patrick to reflect upon the importance of community. The climactic scene in which Justin’s wife is on hand to cheer on her husband in Santiago probably will bring a tear to your eyes. Justin and Patrick’s story has been featured in such venues as People, The Today Show, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The New York Daily Post, Spiegel, and The Daily Mail, and now in this inspiring film. If you enjoyed Gleason, featuring diseased-wracked NFL player Steve Gleason, the fictional story The Way, or the currently showing Stronger, you will also love this film.

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

NOTE: The film opens nation-wide in over 550 theater on Thursday night, November 2nd, at 7:30 p.m. (all times local). You can find your nearest theater and purchase tickets here: https://www.fathomevents.com/events/ill-push-you/theaters