All Saints (2017)

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 48 min.

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

Our star rating (1-5): 5

 

 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth

Mark 4:29-31

 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Surveying the field in front of the church. (c) Affirm Films

At last! Here is a faith-based film that seeks to entertain and inspire rather than convert its audience.

And it stars two actors from one of my favorite TV series, Northern Exposure. John Corbett portrays the Reverend Michael Spurlock, a newly minted Episcopal priest assigned by his bishop to All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, close to Nashville. Barry Corbin plays the elderly parishioner Forrest, who takes an instant disliking to Michael because everyone knows that Michael has been appointed to close the dwindling congregation. His job is not to pastor the people but to inventory all the congregation’s possessions—Forrest disparagingly calls the new pastor the bishop’s “errand boy.” Indeed, when the pastor’s adolescent son Atticus (Myles Moore) declares that he will be bored in such a small place, Michael assures him that they will not be there very long—probably just for the two months needed to close the deal with a prospective buyer.

The other church members are not happy about the closure, but they have bowed to the inevitable, and thus are more accepting of Michael. Then the unexpected happens. A group of Karen refugees from Myanmar come to town. Ye Win (Nelson Lee) is their leader, largely because he is able to speak English. They were Episcopalian in their strife-torn home country, so, to Michael’s and everyone’s surprise, they show up in church. Almost against his will, both the priest and his supportive wife Aimee (Cara Buono) become involved with the Karen, her part being to teach the music to the group.

One night as he stands alone outside the church, Michael has an epiphany. The Karen are in dire need, but the church is broke and about to be sold. However, the church does own considerable acreage, enough to plant a variety of crops—and the Karen are farmers, though many at the present are plucking feathers at a chicken factory. He proposes that the members and the Karen plant crops, part of which can feed the refugees, and part of which can be sold for cash to pay off the church’s mortgage.

Without consulting Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), Michael gives the boot to the two developers planning to buy and replace the venerable church with a big box store. Accepting the priest’s plan, the Karen and church members pitch in to plow the field and plant the crops. Help comes in a variety of forms, sometimes from those not a part of the church. After receiving an offer from a stranger, Michael amusingly asks Aimee if he really heard that. The Karen especially put in long hours, those who work at the chicken factory rising early before going off to work, and upon their return, working past sunset.

However, there are obstacles that threaten to scuttle the plan. First, there is Bishop Eldon Thompson, upset that Michael has scuttled the sale of the property without forewarning him. He reminds Michael that he had promised to obey him, and he poses the disturbing reminder, “Be sure it’s God’s voice and not your own.” Always good advice after wrestling with a spiritual experience!

The Bishop’s cabinet also needs convincing. Obtaining their permission is difficult, but when compared to the problems raised by Nature as spring turns to summer, that task seems easy. There is the hurdle of not enough water, requiring some form of spraying it onto the plants. Then, when That problem is solved and matters seem to be going well, a huge rainstorm threatens to drown the crops, requiring the people to fill sandbags to protect the plants. Much of the produce is lost, but the drenched harvesters manage to save a truckload of produce for which an urban buyer is willing to pay them enough to save the church. But then, still another disaster…

I am not spoiling matters to reveal that there is an Easter following this crucifixion event, so that the results really do take on the miraculous. All this is made plausible in the excellent script by Steve Armour and directed by Steve Gomer. And what a joy to see at the end credits shots of the real pastor and the Karen people, many of whom played themselves in the film, which was shot in Smyrna at All Saints.

With no ad campaign to promote it, the film came and went in the Dayton area within two weeks, so you might have to watch it on line. It is well the effort you spend in tracking it down, especially if you want a deeply spiritual and inspirational film that does not insult your intelligence!

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

Sabina K. (2017)

Not Rated. Running time: 2 hour 5 min.

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

Our star rating (1-5): 5

 

Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.

Psalm 27:9-10

Moreover we know that to those who love God,

who are called according to his plan,

everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.

Romans 8:28 (J.B. Phillips)

Sabina & Sasha love each other despite she being Muslim & he Christian.       (c) Messenger Films

Cristobal Krusen, the writer/director of my favorite apartheid film Final Solution, returns to the screen with the somber story of Sabina K. Set in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it too is based on a true story, laced with a touch of supernatural grace. Its emotional arc moves from love and hope to puzzlement and despair to near death and then back to hope and love again. As with his earlier film, Mr. Krusen directs from his own script. Bosnian actress Alena Džebo portrays the central character with such heart-tugging skill that I hope we will be seeing her in other films.

Sabina, a divorced mother of two small children, is contemplating marriage with Saša (Alban Ukaj). They both had served in the Bosnian War, he as a soldier, and she as a nurse. He obviously loves her son and daughter, and they adore him, basking in the playful attention he pours upon them, so they appear to have a happy future—except. She is Muslim and he Christian, so her narrow-minded mother no longer wants to have anything to do with her, and his parents also refuse to accept the idea of them marrying. Only their immediate circle of friends and “Aunt” Ankica, the mother of a close friend killed in the war, support them. The latter, telling them they are like her own children, invites them to her home on the island of Korčula to get married. “Love will find a way,” she affirms.

Each of them must leave Sarajevo and travel to separate cities, Saša to work for the summer at a family business, and Sabina to make a presentation on behalf of her company. Before they part he gives her an engagement ring, which she accepts. He moves his things from his mother’s apartment to Sabina’s, despite the older woman’s speaking to him privately, admonishing him not to carry out their wedding plans. Going down the stairs, Sabina asks what was said between them, and he quotes the words of Jesus, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

Her presentation a success, Sabina joins Ankica on Korčula, where they wait for word from Saša.

They wait, and they wait. No word—no phone call, no letter, not even a postcard. Her hope morphing into puzzlement, Sabina returns to Sarajevo. All his clothing and other possessions are gone. No word of explanation.

She knocks on the door of his mother, but the embittered woman not only refuses to reveal the why or the whereabouts of her son—she calls the police on her visitor when she is slow to leave. Sabina’s own parents, especially her over-bearing mother, offer no consolation or support. Her boorish ex-husband demands money for the children, his parents temporarily caring for them. Worst is to come.

After she faints at the office, Sabina’s doctor informs her that she is pregnant. She resists the demand from her family that she abort the child. When, late in her pregnancy, Sabina is told coldly by her boss that they are not renewing her annual contract, it is plain that she is now regarded as a liability, saddled with three children.

Out of work, Sabina enters what can best be described as Hell, especially when she lands in the hospital and her greedy landlord rents out her apartment to someone else. Her ex-husband sues her for child support, threatening her with complete severance from the children if she does not pay. Her life seems like a complete failure, even her first attempt by pills at suicide failing. She apparently is so ashamed that she does not reveal to her friends that she is out of work and homeless, pretending during rare encounters with them that all is well—that is when she can reach them by phone–they sometimes are hard to reach, their cheery voices telling her to leave a message.

Even though Aunt Ankica had offered lodging at her home, Sabina does not call her for help. During the day Sabina finds some shelter from the cold winter by riding the trains and at night sleeping in doorways or vacant buildings where wild dogs at one point devour her meagre food supply. An unfeeling welfare clerk informs her that she will have to wait for any public aid. She fares better with a kind guard closing the train station for the night who answers her plea for shelter by conducting her to a small room where she can bed down for the night. He gives her some food the next morning, but gives her the bad news that he will not be back to work for another three weeks, and that his mean-hearted fellow guard will run her off if she returns to the station.

As Christians are celebrating the birth of Christ, Sabina wonders why God who cared for the homeless family long ago does not care for another unwed mother today. Falling into the deep pit of black despair, she decides to commit suicide a second, and final, time.

Few films explore the daunting feeling of abandonment as well as this film. I kept wanting Saša, accompanied by sweeping music, to show up, sweep Sabina into his arms, and explain why he had been forced to stay away so long—remember that climactic scene in that grand old weeper An Affair to Remember, when Cary Grant learns why Deborah Kerr had not been able to keep their rendezvous atop the Empire State Building? Instead of this Hollywood climax, there is a very different resolution, one that includes, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, a touch of the supernatural that ought to generate some discussion. Who is that hospital janitor we see mopping the corridor outside Sabina’s room? Where did we see him before? I love the symbolism conveyed by his job, reminding me of the delightful depiction of Morgan Freeman’s character sweeping a room in Bruce Almighty.

It is no spoiler to reveal that the film’s end-note informs us that Sabina today is working with an organization that “helps pregnant women and mothers with no place to go.” You can be sure that her harrowing experience on the cold streets of Sarajevo transformed her into as sensitive and caring advocate as those women will ever have. Her story is another testimony to the wisdom of the apostle Paul’s words to the church at Rome.

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

At the present Sabina K. is making the rounds of film festivals and has not gone into theatrical release. It is available in DVD format for $19.95 at http://www.messengerfilms.com/–and is worth every penny of the price. As veteran readers of VP know, I am not a fan of the faith-based film genre, but Mr. Krusen is a Christian filmmaker who knows how to tell a good story without preaching, and does so here. I urge you to support his work, as it will enable him to tell more stories that challenge and inspire us. And while you are on his website—and have not seen his wonderful film Final Solution about an Afrikaaner led out of racism by a woman student, Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country,and the Bible as interpreted by a black pastor—then I urge you to order it as well. See my review elsewhere for my reasons for liking this film so much.

IT (2017)

Rated R. Running time:  1 hour 28 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 8; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 5.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

 

For the evil have no future; the lamp of the wicked will go out.

Proverbs 24:20

Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?

And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.

A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:11-12

The Losers watch some old slides as part of their research into their town’s lurid past.      (c) New Line Cinema

I have not read Steven King’s 1986 novel, nor have I seen the TV miniseries aired in the 90s, so viewing director Andy Muschietti’s film was a fresh experience for me. It was truly a creepy experience, sort of a blending of Stand By Me with a typical shocker, such as an episode from Nightmare on Elm Street. Muschietti does a wonderful job of bringing out the best from his ensemble cast of young actors, who make up the outsider kids who call themselves “The Losers.”

Losers they are, both in the ordinary world of their school in small-town Derry Maine and in the mysterious, scarifying world that is either a product of their deeply disturbed psyches or an impinging supernatural world.

The story begins in the late 80s (the time moved forward from the novel’s 50s) with the adolescent Bill making and giving little brother Georgie a paper sailboat. The boy puts on his yellow rain slicker and runs outside to set it afloat in the rain-filled curb gutter. He chases after it as the vessel drifts swiftly down the stream and disappears into a storm sewer. Upset, Georgie kneels to peer into the darkness in the hope of retrieving his treasure. Suddenly staring back at him is the painted face of a clown, beckoning to him as he smiles malevolently. As the film unreels, we will learn that the sewer dweller is named Pennywise (Peter Skarsgard), and his purpose is not harmless entertainment.

Pennywise is truly a creepy villain! (c) New Line Cinema

Weeks go by as the Denbrough family accepts the assumption that their youngest child is dead—all that is, but guilt-ridden Bill who clings to the hope that his brother is somewhere alive in Derry’s ancient and intricate sewer system. From time to time we see an adult put up another “Child Missing” poster on a telephone pole. A year later, and Bill still hopes to find his brother with the help of his friends.

Along with the stuttering Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), the Losers consist of Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), in frail health and thus frequently using his inhaler to breathe; Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), an African American whose parents died in a fire; Richie (Finn Walthard), a foul-mouthed wisecracker; and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), son of the town’s rabbi. Latecomers to the gang are chubby Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the new kid at school, and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). The latter, the Loser’s only girl is rejected by the other girls at school because of unfair rumors that she is promiscuous.

Beverly’s tomboy qualities make her easily acceptable to the members of the Losers, but it is her unfamiliar sex that makes her an object of fascination for them, especially evident in the delightful swimming hole scene. The boys have shed all their clothes but their briefs, and Beverly has done likewise, her two-piece set of underwear revealing as much of the female body as the curious boys had ever seen. All the boys enjoy their first relationship with a girl, and two of them harbor dreams of an even closer bond. A delightful visual touch shows the friends joined in a circle. On the cast of the boy with a broken arm “Losers” has been printed, but now a V has been printed over the S.

The creepiness of the town is emphasized in the scene in which a gang of high school bullies led by Henry Bowes (Nicholas Hamilton) attack Ben on a bridge. A car driven by an adult couple slowly passes by, but even though it is clear what is going on, the adults simply stare as the car continues on. In Stephen King’s world adult s are not care givers—they are either almost entirely absent in the kids’ world, or they are threats to their well-being.

Ben often finds refuge in the town library, where he learns from the newspaper archives that every 27 years Pennywise shows up to kill and eat children. The Losers obtain maps of the sewers and begin to figure out where they might find the malevolent clown as they enter a pact to find and kill him. In several scenes we see that some of them also are in peril from their own parents, especially Beverly whose father has an unhealthy interest in her body. The adolescents’ bond grows closer when they all can see what outsiders cannot, such as the blood spattered all over the bathroom in Beverly’s house. Pennywise seems to know what each kid fears the most and plays upon that fear to intimidate and lure the kid to himself.

Best part of the film, other than that swim scene at the town quarry, is the depiction of the kids discovering that they must work together as a team if they are to survive. They are weak while alone, but together they are strong, as the author of Ecclesiastes observed many centuries ago.

The action and time in this film are contained in the flashbacks of the novel, so there are more encounters between Pennywise and the Losers to come in a sequel. Later when the group comes together after years of separation, the final showdown will take place.

Take the R rating seriously. This is not a family film, the climax being as brutally violent as any film I have seen in a long time. (Fortunately, the filmmakers leave out the novel’s controversial group sexual orgy!) I can easily see how Pennywise could instill Coulrophobia into the minds of children. If you are into the horror genre, this film is a cut above the usual type in which we watch to see which dumb (and deserving of a bad fate) teenager is dispatched in some gruesome manner. Because the coming of age theme is handled so well, we really do care about these “Losers” who struggle to shed their label.

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

 

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995), A Guide

 

Rated PG-13.  Our contents rating: Violence 3; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 1. Star rating: 4.5

Released 1995        Running time: 106 minutes  Director: Robert Markowitz 

Screenwriters: Robert Williams, T.S. Cook, Paris Qualles, Trey Ellis,  & Ron Hutchison.

tuskairmen

Characters/Cast: Hannibal Lee (Lawrence Fishburne); Billy “A-Train” Roberts (Cuba Gooding Jr.; Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner; Walter Peoples (Allen Payne); Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner);  Lt. Glenn (Courtney Vance); Col. Rogers (Daniel Hugh Kelly);  Major Joy (Christopher McDonald); Eleanor Roosevelt (Rosemary Murphy); Andre Braugher  (Lt. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis); Sen. Conyers (John Lithgow); B-17 Capt. Butler (Ned Vaughn).

Themes: Racism; justice; overcoming obstacles; courage; patriotism

Scriptures: Psalm 69:1-4); Psalm 103:6-7; Proverbs 18:1-3 (RSV best here); Luke 4:4:16-21; John 4:9; Acts 17:26 (KJV preferable because of “one blood” translation)

Introduction:

Based on true events of the 332nd Fighter Group during World War 2, The Tuskegee Airmen chronicles the uphill battle fought by African American men to earn the right to defend their country in a more meaningful way than by digging ditches and waiting on tables in the armed forces. A good companion film to Glory, the film shows that little had changed in American society or in the armed forces since the Civil War. President Truman’s order to integrate the armed forces was still several years away, and indeed, it could be argued that the incredible combat record of the Tuskegee Airmen provided the support for Truman’s order.

The film makes a major point at the beginning, when the newly arrived candidates at the pilot school introduce themselves, that this is an extraordinary group of African Americans—all are college men, one of them even has a pilot’s license. If they had entertained any illusions of a warm welcome or easy acceptance into the training program, these are quickly dispelled by the racist Major Joy. They are in “his” territory, Tuskegee Alabama, where Jim Crow reigns supreme. Their failures and successes make us appreciate the cost endured by those who had to fight for freedom on the home front as much as on (or over) the battlefield. Both this and Boycott are good films that can be used with youth or adults, there being but a swear word or two that might have earned the films an R-rating were they shown in theaters.

 

332nd squadron. According to the movie, the 332nd was made up entirely of African-Americans. By the end of the war, 450 airmen had received 850 medals. T

For reflection/discussion:

 What are the backgrounds of the various candidates, and why is this important to emphasize in regard to the prejudice they meet? What happens on the train when they cross the Mason Dixon Line? Compare Major Joy to the base commander. From what region of the country did most of the officers come from in those days? What does Joy’s statement reveal of his knowledge of the airmen: Major Joy, “You, people. Don’t you know how bad we treat you, people? Serving your country? This ain’t your country. You country is full of apes and gorillas, malaria, missionaries…”?

  • How do the various men stand up to the intense pressure they are subjected to? Do you think you could do so—or have you done so? How do they often let off steam when they are together? How has humor always been a survival tactic for the oppressed? Think of the Brer Rabbit stories and the jokes from the old Iron Curtain countries.
  • How does Eleanor Roosevelt make a difference? It is worthwhile to check out her role in championing the rights of the oppressed during her husband’s administration. For example, what did she do when the D.A.R. barred singer Marian Anderson from giving a concert at the D.A.R.’s hall in Washington, D.C.?
  • At what points are expectations reversed? (The men’s expectation of their combat instructor; the chain gang members and their guards when the airmen make an emergency landing; when they meet their new commander in North Africa…) Compare the racist major’s demand that the airmen retake their examination with that of the school board requiring the Hispanic students to retake their math tests in Stand and Deliver.
  • What do you think of Sen. Conyers’ “scientific study of Negro inferiority”? How was this typical of the budding science of genetics, both in this country and in Germany at that time? How is the Senator typical of a large block of Congressmen, even during the Sixties? Did he ever seem interested in the truth? How were the facts twisted around and used against the airmen?
  • What did you think of the Senate Hearing? Again, how do we that not all whites were prejudiced? How does the African American officer win the Committee over?
  • Why do you think the white bomber captain refuses to believe his co-pilot from California that “colored” airmen came to their rescue? Have you heard similar claims by whites, “I’m from Texas, and I know the colored!”? What does he really know about “the colored,” even though he has lived closer to them physically than northern whites? A good poem to look up and share is Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask.” I experienced this in 1964 when I was a civil rights worker in Mississippi and picked by an old African American hitchhiker. At least 40 years older than me, he used “Sir” whenever responding vaguely to my questions. However, when he learned that I was with the Movement, he dropped the “Sirs” and began to talk frankly. There was an angry edge in his voice when he told me, “These white folks here—they think they know us! They don’t at all!”
  • How do the Tuskegee airmen earn the respect at last of the white bomber pilots? How did they always carry an extra burden on their shoulders throughout their careers?
  • What does Hannibal Lee reply to “Why would you want to fight for a country that rewards you by lynching?” What symbolism do you see in the lighting as Lee, at the end of the film, walks through the door? How were he and other African American servicemen ready for the changes in American society that followed the events of the Montgomery Bus Boycott?
  • For a Bible study, divide into groups of 2 to 4, and pass out slips of paper with one of the suggested Scripture references printed on them. Ask them to discuss how the passage relates to the film. Allow for 10 to 15 minutes of reading and discussing, and then call everyone together to share their observations.

For groups interested in discussing the morality of war, the following might provide food for thought:

In a briefing the commanding officer speaks of the “unacceptably high” casualties suffered by the bombing squadrons—in one raid 1 in 3 of the bombers were shot down, 600 men in all. This is a side issue, but do such films ever deal with the civilian casualties of such bombing raids? Especially when, as at Dresden and later at Tokyo and other Japanese cities, firebombing became a tactic that resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths? How is a Christian to reconcile the reality of war within the definition of what constitutes a “just war”? (I.e., one in which civilian lives are spared when possible.)

City of Ghosts (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 23 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 7; Language 7; Sex/Nudity 5.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

 

I have seen the wicked oppressing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.

Psalm 37:35

(c) IFC Films

Director Matthew Heineman’s documentary is about the work of “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” (RBSS), an anti-ISIS group centered in the Syrian city of Raqqa. Until ISIS took it over, the city on the Euphrates River had been a center for refugees fleeing Syrian Bashar Al Assad’s tyranny during the Arab Spring of 2012.

Calling themselves citizen journalists, the RBSS members use their cell phone cameras to capture the horrors perpetrated by the terrorists and disseminate the images to the outside world via social media and news outlets They hope to counter the lies contained in the slick videos ISIS is sending out to recruit young Muslims in other countries.

RBSS is divided into two groups. Some are able to stay in their home town and do the actual filming and send it to their comrades. Their number has dwindled because even the suspicion that a person does not support ISIS is enough to cause arrest and death. The second group consists of those who have fled to Turkey and Germany where they receive and transmit the material to the wider world. Both groups live nomadic lives out of the necessity of keeping ahead of the jihadists out to kill them. One of their charismatic leaders, Naji Jerf, is murdered during the course of the film.

The film is full of dramatic stories, such as that of Hamoud and his brother Hassan who have learned that ISIS, unable to catch them, has gone after members of their family still in Raqqa, even though they are not directly involved in RBSS. The two brothers have to endure the unendurable—watching a video of the execution of their father. They are visibly moved, but the barbaric act only hardens their resolve to keep on exposing the lies of ISIS.

There are many images of executions, so viewers should beware. Those murders become more poignant when we see them in the company of the brave citizen journalists, who sometimes, as in the case of the brothers, know the victims. The men (and occasional woman) are shown bedraggled and tired, nerves on edge, often smoking one cigarette after another. Yet they keep on because of the importance of their mission.

This film will both further inform us of what is transpiring in Syria (and in parts of Turkey and Germany), but also speak to those who ignorantly claim that Muslims are not doing enough to counteract the jihadist terrorists. Here is a brave group of men who have given more of themselves than anyone anywhere to expose the horror known as ISIS. (With the possible exception of the string of journalists murdered in Russia.)

“In my opinion, a camera is more powerful than a weapon,” one of them says. The movie proves this, and also should serve as Defense Exhibit #1 in the current War on Journalism waged by certain powers that be in our government out to destroy the credibility of the Fifth Estate. We really do need journalist as a bulwark for liberty. The story of the citizen journalists is well-told in this important documentary. One of them comments wryly, “I’m just hoping to die of natural causes.” Let’s hope they all do.

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

Brigsby Bear (2017)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 7; Language 7; Sex/Nudity 5.

 Our star rating (1-5): 4

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

Psalm 62:2

James watches “Brigsby Bear” while surrounded by toys based on the series. (c) Sony Pictures Classics

Although it bears a slight resemblance to Lenny Abrahamson’s 2015 film Room, this new story of a kidnapped child raised in captivity is an almost goofy comedy rather than a serious drama. 25-year-old James (Mooney) has spent all his conscious life living in a small bunker watched over by what he assumes are his parents Ted and April Mitchum (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). He is told that the air outside is toxic, so there is no going out. His only contact with the outside world is a children’s TV show “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” a fantasy with cheesy effects in which Brigsby is constantly saving the world. His father has videotaped over 700 episodes.

Then comes the bewildering day when police raid the bunker. Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) informs him that the Mitchums had kidnapped him years ago, and that his real parents, Greg and Louise Pope (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) have been looking for him all these years.

James is unimpressed with his new family, even as his sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins) is not overly impressed with him. However, she does introduce him to friends at school, one of whom, Meredith (Alexa Demie), seeks to introduce him to the pleasures of sex. While his parents try to cope with the task of reintroducing their lost son into the life of their family, James finds acceptance from such younger teens as Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), whose filmmaking skills are soon put to use when James decides he must make a film that completes the story of his beloved Brigsby Bear. Even Dect. Vogel plays an important part in this because all the tapes and props for Brigsby are locked away in the evidence room of the police department.  The making of the movie turns into a project that brings unity to all concerned and the hope that James will somehow make it in his new world.

Dave McCary co-wrote the screenplay with Kevin Costello. Together they have created a world that one reviewer has compared to Lars and the Real World, one in which kind-hearted people accept an odd-ball and help him to find his niche in their world. James’ obsession with Brigsby Bear somewhat resembles the Psalmist’s reliance about God as “my rock and my salvation.” We can hope that the young man will move on to a more mature reliance. (Does Linus ever give up his blanket?)

If you are looking for a gentle comedy that affirms that acceptance can help us overcome a terrible experience, this might be your movie.

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

Whose Streets? (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 30 min.

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

Our star rating (1-5): 5

He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Psalm 72:13-14

A student nurse named Brittany (with her daughter) emerges as a leader.       (c) Magnolia Pictures

 Directors and activists Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s powerful documentary about Ferguson present a convincing case as why the black citizens of Ferguson reacted as they did following the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown in 2014. Their film is linked to the other documentary about violent oppression reviewed in this issue, City of Ghosts, in that a major portion of both films is made up of footage shot on their mobile phones by eyewitnesses who can be called citizen journalists. Added to this are clips from all of the major TV and cable networks, still photos, and even YouTube videos. This “Ain’t your daddy’s civil rights movement” one leaders says, and is he ever right!

The film is divided into five segments, each introduced by a memorable quote from an African American leader. The first is the shortest and most incisive, Dr. King’s observation, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” (The four others quoted are Frantz Fanon, Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou.) The film immediately shows that those protesting Michel Brown’s killing were “the unheard.” When blacks (and a sprinkling of whites) gather at the spot where Brown’s body had laid untended for over 4 hours, the police show up armed with automatic rifles. Many of them hold on tight leashes attack dogs that seem eager to do what they were trained for. Didn’t any police officer think what police dogs mean to the African Americans, or were the demonstrations in Birmingham and Selma too long ago? A woman named Ashley comments that the cops showed “a constant lack of humanity” by not looking her and her fellow demonstrators in the eye.

The police chief and the Mayor of Ferguson prove completely inept at dealing with the angry blacks, and later Attorney General Eric Holder will release a report indicting the Ferguson police department for its racism—there is a shot later in the film of a large bedsheet stretched out in front of the police HQ emblazoned with “racism lives here.”

One of the interesting individuals whom we see throughout the film is nursing student is Brittany Farrell, a single parent raising her daughter Kendra to think for herself. The mother puts her career on hold so she can become fully engaged in the demonstrations. If she is even half as passionate at nursing as in demonstrating, she will make a terrific nurse!

Still another personality is David Whitt, the father of two young children who lived on the street where Brown was shot. As his t-shirt proclaims, he belongs to Copwatch, a national organization that is dedicated to documenting police brutality so as to call them to task. We first see him saying goodbye to his children as leaves home with a backpack filled with video equipment. He will be present throughout the film making candid comments about the scenes. I am not sure, but I think it is he makes a statement similar to one that a citizen journalist makes in City of Ghosts—the camera is his powerful weapon.

Along with the US Attorney General and President Obama, other national figures come to Ferguson to lend their support. At an October rally the president of the NAACP declared, “We have a nation that is over-incarcerated and under educated!”

Despite the attempts of the leaders to keep the demonstrations nonviolent, some grew so angry, especially when Officer Darren Wilson’s defense that Brown “looked like a demon” as he ran toward him was accepted by the grand jury, that they set a police car and buildings on fire. The always present looters also took advantage of the situation.

Perhaps the film’s most poignant moment takes place as we hear the prosecutor announce the decision and we see a medium shot of Michael Brown’s mother. Her face is contorted in grief and disbelief. A man immediately hugs her. On the back of his jacket is emblazoned, “I AM MICHAEL BROWN.”

Near the end of the film there is a scene of a gathering commemorating the one year anniversary of the police killer’s non-indictment. We at last hear the crowd chanting the words that give the film its name, “Whose streets? Our streets!” The female leader says, “This movement was born in love, and love always wins. We do this not because we hate the police, but because we love each other.”

As if this were not powerful enough, the film concludes with a black screen on which are printed the words of the Declaration of Independence up to and including the line about the Government “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” Let’s hope that as soon as this leaves the art house circuit it will be available on Netflix or Amazon. It provides a great explanation of why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important today.

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