Film Capsules January 2016

To read the full reviews click onto a film title. Feel free to use any or all in a newsletter, the only requirement being that the source be acknowledged as (c) Ed McNulty, Visual Parables.

Concussion

PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 4 min. Proverbs 4:9-13. Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 29:15

Nigerian-American Dr. Bennet Omalo discovers through an autopsy and series of tests that Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster’s early death was caused by a series of concussions suffered throughout his career. Assuming that the NFL would accept his findings and take measures to protect its players, Dr. Omalo is taken aback when the NFL officials refuse to meet with him and mount a savage campaign to discredit him as a know-nothing quack. Thus he is forced to take up the mantle of prophet and fight back. People of faith will like the fact that he is shown as a devout Christian, as is the woman who eventually becomes his wife and chief supporter.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 15 min. Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 33:15.

Director J.J. Abrams has won old fans to return to the science fiction series, as well as drawing new ones, by basing his plot on the 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope. Old characters are back, and new ones introduced—and again we have a father-son disconnect and the Jedi religion that honors and uses the Force, the spiritual power that binds everything in the universe together. This is a good film for youth groups to see and discuss, especially if their leaders are well versed in the original trilogy. How is the Jedi religion similar to but also very different from the faith of our fathers (and mothers)?

 

Youth

Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 10 min. Ecclesiastes 7:8-12.

The delightful irony of the title is that the two main characters, marvelously played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, are two octogenarians vacationing at a luxurious spa in the Swiss Alps. There are plenty of youthful bodies around them in the large pool and steam bath, many of them naked, at which they enjoy staring. Caine is a composer whom an emissary from the British Queen is trying to lure out of retirement to conduct his music for Prince Philip’s birthday, whereas Keitel’s film director is trying to make one last film to make up for his recent string of flops. Issues of aging, youth, creativity, success, father-daughter relationships, and much more, are explored in fascinating, often surrealistic detail, in this spiritual exploration that is filled with Fellini touches. And I think you will love David Lang’s lovely song that the Prince wants to hear conducted live—if it does not win a Best Song Oscar, then Hollywood has a tin ear. (You don’t have to take my word for this. Listen to it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCVnFUUI6X4.)

 

Joy

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 3 min. Proverbs 4:9-13.

Who knew of the dramatic story of Joy Mangano, the housewife inventor of the popular Miracle Mop, until this film came along? Part bio film, part screwball comedy centered on the head of a dysfunctional family, the film lives up to its title, leaving viewers with a good role model for their daughters. Joy Mangano, the calm eye of the storm amidst her hurricane of a family, overcomes both the obstacles in getting her product, invented to solve a problem in her daily clean-up chores, to market and in battling powerful interests who try to steal her invention.

 

In The Heart of the Sea

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 2 min. Psalm 107:23; Psalm 69:1.

This back-story to Herman Melville’s great novel Moby Dick, takes us back 30 years prior to the publishing of his novel. The author journeys to Nantucket to interview one of the last survivors of the whaling ship The Essex to uncover the facts of the ship’s destruction, allegedly by a giant whale. The man, weighed down by years of guilt, refuses to talk at first. When he finally does open up, we understand why he is reluctant. Filled with great scenes of the ship and whales, this is a powerful story of rivalry, survival, and guilt.

 

Carol

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 58 min.: Romans 12:2a

Because it is a lesbian story, this will not be for everyone, but the filmmakers bring out what is universal in all love stories, whether “straight” or not—the desire of two people to be able to live together in loving commitment. Set in the 1950s when a gay or lesbian was still regarded by the law as a criminal if engaged in “deviant” sexual behavior, and even the scientific community regarded such persons as sick, this is the story of a Manhattan store clerk sought out by a wealthy woman who has become emotionally disengaged from her hapless husband. The film shows well the barriers separating the two at the time—public disapproval and threat of the wife’s being separated forever from her daughter when her distraught husband invokes a morals’ clause embedded in the marriage laws of the time.

 

Creed

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 13 min. Proverbs 23:22

Sylvester Stallone deserves the awards nominations he has been receiving for his reprisal of his role of Rocky Balboa in this the 7th film of the franchise. Although I hate boxing as a sport, it being the one in which the goal is to so injure an opponent so that he cannot continue to fight, the sport has engendered some of the most dramatic David vs. Goliath tales to be found on the screen. With its surrogate father-son, handing over the mantle to a new generation, and near-impossible odds themes, you will probably find yourself cheering and wiping your eyes, especially at the end when he again mounts the steps of Philadelphia’s Art Museum, though a bit more slowly this time.

 

Streaming Video/DVD

 Beast of No Nation

Not Rated. Running time: 2 hours 17 min. Proverbs 4:17. Amos 3:10; Luke 17:2

This fact-based film is the first fictional feature distributed by Netflix. In sometimes shocking detail it puts a human face on those reports you have read and seen about the boy soldiers of West Africa, forced by war lords into fighting for their causes. Narrated by 13 year-old Agu, member of a Christian family, the story follows the downward spiral of his life as, in an unnamed nation plagued with a civil war, government troops slaughter the older members of his family when they think they are spies. He flees into the jungle, only to be picked up boy soldiers of the Commandment. The latter takes a liking to the prisoner, mentoring him in some unsavory ways, including forcing the boy to butcher a pleading prisoner. Not just film “entertainment,” this is important viewing to make us aware of the plight of far too many children today.

 

The Liberator

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 59 min. Isaiah 1:17.

Partially financed by the Venezuelan government, this made for TV epic traces the career of the man given in the 19th Century the title of Liberator, Simon Bolivar. Starting out as a wealthy plantation owner, Bolivar emerges slowly as a young man tutored in the ideas of Jefferson and the Enlightenment, with its views of liberty and equality for all. However, it is not until later in his life when he encounters in Europe the tyranny of Napoleon, that he joins the rebellion against Spanish rule in his native land. The battle scenes and period detail show that this was a big budget film, one that is both entertaining and, for us Yankees who know little more than the name of its subject, enlightening as well. There has been much debate as to Bolivar’s end—did he die of illness, or was he assassinated? Thus the ending of this film is debatable.

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