Film Capsules September 2016

Click onto a film title to see the long review. Most of the reviews with discussion questions are in the September issue of Visual Parables, available for sale at visualparables.net. (Films marked with a star will be in the October VP.)

Southside With You

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 24 min. Proverbs 31:8-9. Matthew 7:1-2.

Even were this not about the future President and First Lady of the U.S. this would be a perfect date film. The director/writer’s fictional account is based on the true story of Michelle Robinson and Barak Obama’s first day spent together when she was his supervisor at a prestigious law firm at which he was interning. She accepts his invitation to go to a meeting of the community organization where he has been serving as a volunteer. Part of the humor stems from her repetition of “This is not a date”—she is worried about the work rule forbidding members of the firm to date. If you liked Before Sunrise, you will enjoy this, a film in which the young adults talk about ideas, values, and family histories, rather than going somewhere to strip off their clothes and engage in sex, as in so many so-called romances.

 Sully *

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 35 min. Ecclesiastes 9:12.

If all you know about US Airlines Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is that he landed his giant plane safely on the frigid surface of the Hudson River in 2009, then you know just half of the story. Indeed, actually just four minutes or so, the duration of the time between the take-off, the collision with the birds, and the descent onto the river. “Sully” and his loyal co-pilot Jeff Skiles had to endure relentless examinations by the National Transportation Board that was convinced they had made the wrong decision and should have returned to the airport.

 The Innocents *

Original Title: Agnus Dei

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 55 min. Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28 (RSV).

If you liked the Polish film about a Catholic novitiate discovering that she was born Jewish, you will love this true story set in a Polish convent just after World War Two. A French Red Cross intern becomes deeply involved in delivering the babies of a group of nuns raped by Russian soldiers. Sworn to secrecy this non-believing Communist befriends the independent-minded Sister Maria, both of them having a hard time with the rigid Abbess who fears that the shame belongs to those raped, rather than to the rapists. The story begins in darkness, but by the end the compassion of the two friends bring light and love to the fore.

A Tale of Love and Darkness *

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 35 min. Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Proverbs 17:22; Proverbs 18:14. (Hebrew with English subtitles)

Natalie Portman’s first film as a director (and writer) is based on the memoir of one of Israel’s most famous writers, Amos Oz. As the only child of Fania and Arieh Klausner, he lived in Jerusalem where both sets of his grandparents also resided. Set during the troubled days of the British Mandate and the birth of Israel, the boy also observes he troubles of his parents, his father a not very successful writer, and his brilliant mother falling deeper and deeper into depression tha ended in suicide when Amos was 12. Each shaped the boy, the father’s love for words and literature, and his mother’s love for and skill in story telling.

 Ben-Hur

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 5 min. Leviticus 19:18.

Do we really need a remake of General Lew Wallace’s popular 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ when we have the incredibly popular 1959 epic? Maybe not, though my doubts were laid aside by the radical revision of the ending in this shorter version. This time Messala becomes a changed man, rather than dying cursing his rival, providing a note of reconciliation so essential the gospel. Jesus is also much more prominent, the crucifixion scene, during which Christ forgives his tormentors, especially being crucial to Ben-Hur’s transformation from a man bent on vengeance to one able to forgive.

 Kubo and the Two Strings

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 41 min. Zechariah 4:6. Mark 14:9.

This beautiful stop-motion fairy tale looks like it is another wonderful Japanese import, but it actually was made in Portland Oregon. Kubo is a boy living with his mentally troubled widowed mother in a cave close to a village in ancient Japan. He earns their keep at the village by singing stories accompanied while playing his three-string instrument. He is the most popular entertainer due to his mother’s magic, by which he brings his origami papers to life as samurai warriors and monsters. When threatened by his two spectral aunts and the evil grandfather who killed his father, the boy sets forth on a quest. Adults will love the beauty of the animation and the plot which has Kubo setting aside his sword and armor. Parents of young children might want to see the film first because of some dark and violent scenes—but the film is so good that they should not mind seeing it twice.

Captain Fantastic

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 58 min. Proverbs 4:1-2 & 22:6.

Ben, the survivalist son-in-law raising six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest clashes with the father of his wife when the family journeys to Arizona to attend her funeral in defiance of the grandfather’s wishes. Ben and his wife, who was so troubled that she committed suicide, wanted to remove their children from what they regarded was a corrupt materialistic society. Their life together is put at risk when their grandfather sues for custody on the grounds of child abuse. The film gradually reveals a darker side to what at first seems to be an idyllic existence, though the ending waffles a bit. A good film, made all the better by the fine acting of Viggo Mortensen and the young actors playing the children. Some good child-raising issues are raised.

 The Light Between Oceans

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 13 min. Psalm 119:1-3

This story of two kinds of love—to possess vs. to sacrifice—reminds me of some of the bittersweet films of the Forties. A lighthouse on a lonely island off the coast of Australia is tended by Tom, who woos the local Isabel. They would have been happy on the island but for Isabel’s two miscarriages. When they find in a drifting lifeboat a baby with its dead father, Isabel convinces her reluctant husband to take down one of the small grave markers and keep this female child as their own. Her family and their friends on shore celebrate their good fortune, but will Tom be able to lay aside his conscience that tells him they have made the wrong decision, especially when they meet the grieving widow and mother of “their” child?

Pete’s Dragon

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 42 min.

Unusual in that it is vastly superior, this remake of Disney’s 1977 version is a wonderful family film that celebrates interspecies friendship, family, and the beauty and preciousness of Nature (especially that of the Pacific Northwest). The highest compliment I can pay it and director David Lowery is that the two child actors seem to have been directed by Steven Spielberg. If you loved E.T., this is a must see film.

Indignation

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 54 min. Romans 12:2.

A Jewish student whose father runs a kosher butcher shop in Newark is the proverbial fish out of water when he accepts a scholarship to a small Christian college in Ohio. He goes there partly to escape from his domineering parents, only to find that the college Dean is even more so, seeking to make the free thinking boy fit in. A non-penetrating sexual encounter is frank, but not graphic, just as in the Philip Roth novel the film is based on. There is an almost O. Henry ending that suggests that in the society of the Fifties refusing to fit in can be deadly.

 Don’t Think Twice

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 32 min. Proverbs 27:17

A Manhattan improv group has garnered a small following, but not enough for financial security. Then they are told they will have to move out of their theater because a developer is buying it. When of them becomes a cast member of a popular weekend TV show, the other five members have mixed reactions—happy for their friend’s success, but also jealousy. This dramedy is one of the best films of the summer, providing insight into what makes us laugh and why. Don’t think twice about seeing this film—just go and enjoy yourself!

Anthropoid

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour min. Isaiah 13:11.

Two Czech partisans in December 1941 parachute into their country, sent by their government-in-exile to assassinate the brutal Nazi ruler in Prague, Reinhard Heydrich. Step by step we follow them as they link up to the underground, find room and board with a family, choose two young women to pose as their girlfriends to cover their movements about the city as they study Heydrich’s routine. Although there is plenty of gunfire when they confront him, the real battle comes some months later when the Nazis track them to the church where they are hiding. Like many war films, this one raises some ethical issues.

War Dogs

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 54 min. Isaiah 5:20 (RSV).

A young man comes close to losing his soul when a friend from his boyhood takes him into his lucrative scheme of arms dealing made possible by the Pentagon’s open contracting practice during the Bush presidency. Their unsavory business takes them to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, some of these trips proving to be very dangerous. The film is often funny, but also serious in raising ethical questions.

Dough

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 24 min.

Showing only at the Mariemont Theaters, this British film is about an elderly kosher baker who, having lost his carefully trained apprentice, in desperation hires the son of his cleaning lady. Immigrants from Darfur, both are Muslims, so how is an observant Jew and a devout Muslim to get along, especially when the boy has a connection with a drug seller? And what happens when the boy accidentally spills some of his cannabis into the dough? Both funny and at times serious, this interfaith tale is highly enjoyable.

 Phantom Boy

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 24 min.

Showing at the Esquire Theaters, this French fantasy film shows how beautiful flat, 2D animation can be. A boy in a hospital undergoing chemotherapy discovers that he can leave his body for a limited time and fly around in and beyond the hospital. Discovering a cop with a leg injury confining him to a wheelchair, he teams up with the officer and a female journalist to combat a super villain threatening chaos to NYC if the Mayor does not pay him a billion dollars by a certain time. If you like the older Batman or Dick Tracy comic adventures, this will provide a lot of escapist enjoyment.

Equity

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 51 min. Hebrews 13:5a.

What might be regarded as a feminist version of Wall Street suggests that women, no matter how good at their work, still must deal with the infamous “glass ceiling.” Banker Naomi Bishop, who loves money as much as Gordon Gekko, is in charge of a team seeking to win from a tech firm the lucrative contract to underwrite its upcoming IPO. The story has many twists and turns, including a former classmate, now a federal attorney, investigating inside trading at Naomi’s bank, plus an affair with a hedge funder at her bank who might be using her for his own profit. The film’s characters are not very admirable, but the story raises plenty of ethical issues for discussion.

Florence Foster Jenkins

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 51 min. Romans 12:3

The story of New York society’s grand dame of the title could easily be made into a farce. This was a woman aspiring to be a concert singer, even at Carnegie Hall. However. she could not carry a tune or acquire the right rhythm. However, British filmmaker Stephen Frears likes this deluded woman too much to subject her to such a fate. And so did her husband and many of her peers, the former especially seeking to protect her from the ridicule and laughter of strangers. Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant are a delight playing this highly unorthodox couple of the first part of the 20th century.

On DVD

September 11

French producer Alain Brigand asked 11 directors from around the world to make a film exactly 11 minutes, 9 frames, and 1 frame in length. Just 3 take place in this country (New York City), with most showing the reaction to the disaster. Some of the other countries are  Bosnia, Israel, Japan, Iran, Burkino Faso—United Kingdom’s Ken Loach’s film is perhaps the most interesting and biting.

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