by Rob Martin
A Sermon by Rev. Rob Martin...Download
If you’d like to join this small group, please contact Ellen Forbes, Jeff Grinnell, or Shirley Eglington. (The church office can provide you with their contact information if you do not have it.) NOTE: Many of these films are available in our church library.
2012-2013 Film Group list of movies:
Sept. – The Help
Oct. – The Secret of Roan Inish
Nov. – Copying Beethoven
Jan. – The Band’s Visit
Feb. – Footnote
March – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
April – Seraphine
May – The Girl in the Café
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)– reviewed by Linda Busek
A devout, somewhat mystical and rich Yemeni sheikh (Amr Waked) wants to bring cold water salmon to the desert. First, because he is fond of fly fishing, and second, because he sees the project, with its necessary dam and watercourses, as nourishing the land by irrigation so his people will be able to grow crops to sustain themselves. Sheikh Mohammed hires a British agency, whose representative is Harriet Chetwode-Talbott (Emily Blunt), to smooth the way and handle the logistics of the project. Not least of her tasks is securing the cooperation of British fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who is enlisted to supply 10,000 salmon for transfer to the Yemen. Jones initially thinks the whole project is nonsense, but plays along since the Prime Minister is looking for a good story out of the Middle East that doesn’t involve “blowing things up.” Of course, there is deep skepticism whether the project can or should be realized: by Dr. Jones, by British anglers protective of their fish, and by a group of local Arabs who feel a project of this scope is an insult to God and want it to fail. The sheikh reminds us the virtues of patience, tolerance and humility are all essential to fishing and fishing becomes a metaphor for faith. The story uncovers personal growth within and among all the characters. At the end, not only is the desert transformed, but each of them is as well.
Rated PG-13, 107 minutes
Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik are father and son as well as rival professors in the highly specialized, deeply competitive Talmudic Studies department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There’s no doubt that trouble will ensue when a prestigious prize intended for one scholar is mistakenly bestowed on another.
The film is not just about the vanity of intellectuals, but a piercing satire, a poignant family drama and an investigation of the competing claims of honesty, loyalty, ambition and love. It speaks to the social dynamics of groups, father-son relationships and mother-son relationships with incisiveness and humor. It asks the question of whether anything is more important than truth.
The diretor uses jaunty music, printed chapter titles, and witty forays into memory and fantasy to emphasize the absurdity of his tale. Starring two of Israel’s best known actors, this film was Israel’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards. In Hebrew with English subtitles.
Freedom Writers (2007)—reviewed by Vija Lusebrink
Based on a true story, takes place in West Los Angeles in 1992. Erin (Hilary Swank), a young teacher looking forward to her first job, teaching 9th grade, is confronted with the interracial strife between African America, Latino, and Asian youth. Eventually Erin realizes that she has to make the studies relevant to these students exposed to violence daily. A drawing with a racial slur prompts her to draw a parallel to Nazis’ hate towards Jews and the resulting Holocaust. Erin becomes aware of the students’ lack of knowledge about such history, and, failing to secure support from school, she obtains two additional jobs to pay for extra books and supplies, including Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” She encourages the students to write diaries about their experiences and designs games to help the students break through their racial barriers. Erin also takes the students on field trips, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a dinner with Holocaust survivors.
An Unfinished Life (2005)– reviewed by Vija Lusebrink
Lasse Hallstrom’s film An Unfinished Life tells a story of an old rancher Eimar (Robert Redford), his friend and ranch hand Mitch (Morgan Freeman), and a bear living in rugged Wyoming ranchlands. Mitch has been mauled by the bear and depends on Einar for taking care of his needs. Einar has given up most of his ranching; he is angry and still grieving his only son Griffin’s death in a car accident more than a decade ago.
Their life is interrupted by the arrival of Jean (Jennifer Lopez), Einar’s daughter-in-law who is escaping from an abusive relationship, and Griff (Becca Gardner), Einar’s twelve-year-old granddaughter. Einar only grudgingly grants them a temporary shelter since he holds Jean responsible for his son’s death, and he has not even been aware of the existence of a granddaughter. Jean has a confrontation with Einar, and Einar and Mitch have to confront the bear in their own ways. Griff, though, with her directness and enjoyment of helping on the ranch, gains Einar’s respect and acceptance.
Forgiveness and reconciliation emerge as the underlying themes of the film, including Mitch’s forgiving the bear for hurting him.
Rated PG 13, 108 min.
Lantana (2001) – reviewed by Vija Lusebrink
The Australian film Lantana, directed by Ray Lawrence and set in Australia with mainly an Australian cast, deals with the universal themes of love and trust in personal relationships. The film is presented in a mosaic-like manner, interweaving the lives of four couples caught in disconnected communications and forming a tangled mesh like the lantana plant’s hidden mesh. The couples come from different walks of life and are drawn together by the disappearance of a woman therapist (Barbara Hershey). The detective involved in the case (Anthony LaPaglia) not only has to solve the mystery but also confront his own feelings. The film is “murder mystery, thriller, and drama;” the seemingly disconnected fragments of the first half of the film yield, as it progresses, depth and insight into the characters dealing with the importance of love and trust in marriage and possible ramifications of their absence. The film received 7 Australian Film Institute awards.
120 minutes, sexual scenes and strong language, rated R.
The Painted Veil (2006) – reviewed by Vija Lusebrink
The Painted Veil, a film directed by John Curran, portrays the relationship between spoiled Kitty (Naomi Watts), who is escaping her scheming mother, and Walter (Edward Norton), a quiet bacteriologist stationed in Colonial Shanghai. When Kitty has an affair with the charming married Vice Counsel of Shanghai, Walter gives Kitty an ultimatum: either accompany him to work in a remote cholera-afflicted village—or marry her lover. Kitty eventually goes with Walter. The suffering by the village people they encounter forces them to reach outside of themselves. Kitty helps to take care of orphans in the local convent while Walter tries to eliminate the source of the epidemic by cleaning up the water supply, which involves breaking local social customs. Walter and Kitty’s relationship is changed in the process and they come to respect and truly care for each other, but too late. The main faith issues in this film address spiritual growth, forgiveness, and making unpopular decisions for the good of the whole community.
Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham and beautifully set in the 1920’s in London, Shanghai and Guilin, China.
Rated PG-13, 125 min.
The Kite Runner (2007) – reviewed by Jim Gibbs
Based on the widely acclaimed novel of the same title, The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, an Afghan-American author from Fremont, California.. Set mainly in Afghanistan, it opens with a flashback to Amir’s boyhood in Kabul in 1978, as he and his friend and family servant, Hassan, fly kites in a tournament with other boys. In a fearful moment, when a neighborhood bully attacks Hassan, Amir betrays him. Shortly afterwards, the Soviets invade and Amir and his father, Baba, flee into exile in California.. A complicated and riveting plot takes the adult Amir back to contemporary Afghanistan, where Hassan’s son is in peril and the neighborhood bully is now a Taliban tyrant. Amir struggles to overcome his burden of shame and redeem himself. Much of the film soundtrack is in an Afghan dialect, with English sub-titles, and it provides a rich, authentic feel of Afghan culture. Geopolitics remain in the background, as the focus is on compelling characters and a universal tale of struggle and triumph over human frailty. Slow in spots, but with much excellent acting and very good cinematography.
Directed by Marc Forster with an Afghan cast.
122 minutes. Rated PG-13 for strong thematic material, including the rape of child, violence, and brief strong language. Won Golden Globe Awards in 2008 for best foreign language film and for best original score.
Dead Poets Society (1989) – reviewed by Jim Gibbs
At an all-male Eastern prep school, English teacher John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and calls them to “seize the day.” In trying to do so, they butt against the school’s stifling patriarchal tradition and, in one critical instance, a rigid, unyielding father. Keating can be seen as Christ like and the plot has some parallels to gospel accounts of Jesus.
Themes include: transformation, call, the impact of social class and traditional notions of masculinity, and father/son relationships. Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke. Rating: PG. Touchstone Pictures.
Motifs common to this film and to Beautiful Dreamer are: Walt Whitman, and institutional change.
Vera Drake (2004) – reviewed by Jim Gibbs
Set in 1950 England, Vera Drake is the tale of a kindly, bustling woman, who takes care of her husband and children, her aged mother, and a few others as well. In addition, she works as a domestic and “helps out” young women by providing them with abortions. The film, starring Imelda Staunton, tellingly reflects the post-WW II British class system and the tension between legal right and wrong and moral right and wrong. Directed by Mike Leigh.
125 minutes. Rated R for depiction of strong thematic material.
Babel (2006)– reviewed by Vija Lusebrink Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu bases his film Babel on Genesis 11:9-11, where God confused the people’s languages and scattered them all over the earth, as punishment for their hubris. The film takes place on three continents, deals with four cultures, and, even though in English, incorporates seven languages including sign language. The story line itself intermixes short scenes dealing with (1) an American couple, Robert (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett), traveling in Morocco; (2) two young Moroccan goatherds; (3) a Mexican nanny Amelia (Adrianna Barraza), who cares for Robert and Susan’s two young children in San Diego, and (4) a deaf-mute Japanese teenager named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), who lives in Tokyo. One of the goatherds, playing with his father’s new rifle, critically injures Susan, who is traveling on a tourist bus. The shooting is perceived as a terrorist act by local and American authorities. The Moroccan driver takes the bus with the bleeding Susan to his native village. In the meantime, Amelia takes the couple’s children from San Diego to Mexico to her son’s wedding. On the way back, she inadvertently endangers them in the desert. In Tokyo, Chieko, feeling isolated and desperate, seeks attention through inappropriate behavior.
Faith issues in the film deal with the inter-connectedness of people, the commonality of their suffering, and their miscommunications and cultural misunderstandings, as well as hope and the kindness of strangers. In the film, hubris actually helps the materially wealthy individuals, whereas the disadvantaged have to suffer without help. Adrianna Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi were nominated for Academy Awards.
Rated: R for violence, nudity, sexual content, language, and some drug use. Length: 2 hrs, 23 min.
Hold Your Breath – reviewed by Greg Plant
What would you do if faced with cancer and the doctor spoke no English? Could you trust him if you didn’t understand him?
That situation faced Mohammed Kochi, an Afghan refugee living in Fremont, and it is captured in “Hold Your Breath” (the phrase used by CATscan machines). Kochi, who speaks no English, meets with his American doctor, who tries to urge Kochi to take chemotherapy. But does Kochi understand, through a family friend as interpreter, his choices? The film follows the wrenching crisis, interspersed with scenes from Kochi’s youth and the Afghani war, and how Kochi and his family respond to it.
This documentary is directed by Maren Grainger-Monsen, an M.D. working with the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, and it does raise many questions about the clash of cultures in medical decision-making. It is used by medical schools and other organizations dealing with these issues.
Unrated, 58 min.
Defending Your Life (1991) –reviewed by Greg Plant and Jim Gibbs
Albert Brooks is a very funny man, yet in “Defending Your Life” he is also thoughtful. Brooks plays a man who dies and literally has to defend his life’s behavior in a sort of purgatory “Judgment City.”
This approach to death seems to echo the idea of Tibetan Buddhist belief in “bardo” as a transitional stage after death and before reincarnation.
Brooks’ movie is filled with jokes and pokes fun at American icons, such as overeating, lawyers, and television, including a “Past Lives Pavilion” hosted by who else? — Shirley MacLaine. There Brooks watches his past self running from a lion, and, asked who he is, he quips, “Dinner.”
“Defending” also plays fun with our ideas of heaven. Here you can eat endlessly and the food is the best ever eaten, yet this is not heaven. And hell? Brooks’ defense “lawyer” says “there is no hell, but I hear Los Angeles is getting close.”
The movie does probe thoughtfully into why humans can fail to reach full potential. To Brooks it is “fear,” as he amply demonstrates in his trial. How he faces and overcomes this makes for a brave and inspiring ending, in a surprisingly-romantic way, with Meryl Streep lending a sweet hand.
Even though the film is classed as a comedy, several members of our group disliked its lighthearted, satiric style and its treatment of the faith issue of life after death. This was especially true of those who had suffered the loss of someone close to them.
Rated PG, 112 minutes.
Away from Her (2006)– reviewed by Vija Lusebrink
Canadian director Sara Polley’s film “Away from Her” is based on Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came over the Mountain” (1999). Grant (Gordon Pinset), a retired professor, and his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) have to face Fiona’s Alzheimer’s disease. As Fiona gradually succumbs to the disease, she decides to enter a nursing facility. Fiona develops a bond with a mute stroke patient Aubrey (Michael Murphy), who has been placed there by his wife Marion (Olympia Dukakis) during her vacation. Fiona pushes Grant away and prefers Aubrey who “does not confuse” her in his muteness. Grant persists in visiting Fiona, and he wonders if she is playing a charade because of his past infidelity with a student. He seeks out Marion to obtain her view as a caretaker. Fiona’s condition takes a turn for the worse as Marion brings Aubrey back to their home. In some of her lucid moments Fiona, though, is able to express her appreciation for Grant’s steadfast love. Grant, in turn, develops a capacity for selfless love and helps to return Aubrey to the facility so that Fiona can be with him. This act can be seen as Grant’s moment of grace and redemption.
Rated PG-13. Runtime 1hr. 50 min.
The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam (2005) -reviewed by Vija Lusebrink
Mashayekh’s The Keeper:The Legend of Omar Khayyam (2005) is partially based on the life story of the 11th century Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet. An American-Iranian boy Kamran seeks out Khayyam’s story, first from his dying older brother who is the keeper, then from an English heiress (Vanessa Redgrave), who has a rare illustrated copy of Khayyam’s poems, The Rubaiyat.
Flashbacks show Khayyam as a child with his school friend Hasan and Darya, a slave girl who is sold off. Khayyam attracts the attention of the wise Imam Mowaffeck who tutors him in mathematics and astronomy. Mowaffeck helps Khayyam join the court of Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah as astronomer. In a chance meeting Khayyam and Darya express their love for each other.
Hasan becomes the leader of a fanatic terrorist group. A meeting between Khayyam and Hasan ends up in an argument about faith. Khayyam has to flee while the Crusaders vanquish the Sultan and his troops.
Kamran’s journey ends in Iran where his dying grandfather tells him the rest of the story. Faith issues in the film deal with family ties, friendship, and some aspects of the Muslim faith. The privately financed film, made to honor a part of Iranian culture, is unevenly executed and acted.
Rated PG, some violence. 1 hour 35 min.
Doubt (2008) – reviewed by Mary Alice Thornton
Directed by John Patrick Shanley, adapted from his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, starring Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams & Viola Davis.
Set in a Catholic elementary school in the Bronx in 1964, the film captures the culture and tensions of the Catholic Church following the Vatican II Council. School Principal Sister Aloysius (Streep) begins to have doubts about one of the parish priests, Father Flynn (Hoffman), who seems to be overly involved in the life of the only African American student in the school. Sister Aloysius plants her doubts into the mind of compassionate, much younger Sister James (Adams), and asks her to be another set of eyes and ears observing Father Flynn. Sister Aloysius also confronts the mother (Davis) of the young boy with her suspicions about Father Flynn. The mother’s unanticipated convictions shock the principal into taking matters in her own hands.
From the opening moments to its conclusion, though possible sexual misconduct is an unstated theme, uncertainty hangs in the air leaving one with more questions than answers, more doubt than certainty. Questions that arose in our discussion included articles of faith, certainty, doubt, duty, gender inequality, loyalty, pride, and self-righteousness.
Marked by strong performances and excellent cinematography, the film was nominated for five Oscars.
Rated PG-13. May be inappropriate for children under 13.
Kinky Boots (2005) – reviewed by Linda Busek
When Charlie Price’s father dies and leaves him a bankrupt shoe factory in Northampton, England, he faces laying off dozens of loyal workers. But serendipity works its magic, and Charlie meets gay performance artist Lola in London’s funky Soho District when he rescues ‘her’ from a thuggish band of punks. He learns that drag queens and transvestites long for sexy, cross-dressing footwear with strength and style that is not currently available.
Charlie re-engineers the factory to make “kinky boots” and saves jobs and the business in a delightful film based on a true story. Lola (acted convincingly by Chiwetel Ejiofor in drag) becomes the new footwear guru, although his transition from drag queen on the London stage to Northampton shoe designer isn’t a smooth one. Neither is Charlie’s, since his vision of the future didn’t originally include saving a moribund shoe factory. Both Lola and Charlie struggle with their fathers’ disapproval of their life choices. Simon (aka Lola) was disowned for ‘not fitting in’: Charlie dismissed for straying from the family business to find his fortune elsewhere.
The struggle of coming to self-identity is beautifully portrayed in a way that leads the viewer to analyze his own life choices. The film explores race, sexual orientation, anger, revenge, forgiveness, love, loyalty, sacrifice, and, ultimately, acceptance. The story culminates on the catwalk at the Milan Shoe Fair where an ensemble of Lola’s back-up dancers model the factory’s chic footwear in a sequence set to–what else–These Boots Were Made for Walking.
Rated PG-13, 107 minutes
The Best Years of Our Lives (1945) – reviewed by Jim Gibbs
Winner of six Oscars, including Best Picture, The Best Years of Our Lives is set just after the end of World War II. It tells the stories of three servicemen from the same small town, each from a different station in society, and their attempts to pick up the threads of their lives and adjust to civilian life. Most poignant is Homer, a sailor and real-life double amputee, who wonders if his fiancee can love a man with prostheses for hands. Fred is an air force officer who returns to his job as a soda-jerk and a wife who may have loved only his uniform. Al, an older army sergeant , has trouble adjusting to his former job as a bank officer and to his children who have matured in his absence. Complicating these intertwined lives are a host of societal problems of the postwar period such as how women, who had to take on traditional male responsibilities while their menfolk were at war, will respond to expectations that they will return to “their place.”
The film is parable-like and packed with faith issues from major (e.g. the morality of war) to the more focused (e.g. loyalty, sacrifice, courage, and the handling of issues like alcoholism). Best Years is star-studded and laden with outstanding, moving performances– that may strike some in today’s audience as idealized. Directed by William Wyler. Starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Hoagy Carmichael, and Harold Russell.
249 minutes. No rating.
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