Jan 17 2017

A Monster Calls is a tearful wonder

maureen


Feelings can seem like big, uncontrollable monsters. Especially for chlidren who have less experience and context with which to deal with traumatic events. In A Monster Calls a boy processes his mother’s fight with cancer and the changes that means to his life with the help of a large tree-like monster.

Conor is described as “not quite a boy and not quite a man.” He clings desperately to the hope that his mother will recover. He’s afraid of his distant and perfectionist grandmother. He’s afraid of being disappointed again by his father who has a new family in a new country. He’s afraid of the relentless bullies who make his life at school miserable. He’s afraid that his own conflicted feelings about his mom’s illness make him a bad person. No wonder he needs the strength of a monster to face everything he’s experiencing.

The cinematography creates a dreamlike, dark, and beautiful backdrop for Conor’s agony. There is this fantastic talking Yew tree creature in the middle of Conor’s brutal reality. Movies like this are a hard sell. It’s sad. The main character is younger than the maturity level it takes to really embrace the difficult themes. I compare the monster, and the film itself, to The Iron Giant. It’s visually appealing with a compelling story and a unique perspective that will probably draw a limited audience. Though it’s much more serious, I also see it as a sort of companion to Inside Out in that within it’s fantastical premise is an analysis of raw, authentic human emotion.

For me, the film is full of truth. Life is messy. Every character is flawed and hurt and angry and disappointed and loving all at once. These flawed people love each other and hurt each other at the same time. These are not perfect, selfless kind of heroes, but human and authentic, aching, vulnerable, selfish and miserable.  There is no hero or villain. There is no moment of victory. There is simply acceptance of the reality that is and realization that even in loss, love remains. 


Dec 28 2016

Manchester by the Sea: muddling through tragedy

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I don’t usually recommend tear-jerkers because there is enough tragedy to deal with in real life, but Manchester By the Sea is so honest, so real, and so captivating that I think it’s worth the vicarious pain. The performances alone are worth seeing. It’s depiction of grief is profoundly genuine. And it considers three really important questions: Is there a timetable for getting over devastating life experiences? Is not moving on from our heartbreaks selfish? Are there wounds that just won’t heal?

Lee Chandler must confront all his ghosts when he returns home to deal with his older brother’s death and make provisions for his nephew. Lee is a withdrawn janitor with painful past while his nephew Patrick is a self-centered teen hockey player with two girlfriends and a terrible rock band. The back and forth between Lee and his nephew offers moments of dark humor that pain frequently creates. Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges give fantastic, truthful performances. Really, everyone playing the main characters gave spot on performances that made the film feel so real.

Lee’s story unfolds in a series of flashbacks and conversations with people from his small Massachusetts hometown. Most of them either can’t understand how he hasn’t moved on from the past or can’t stop judging him for what happened in the past. We’ve all known people who seem to take a long time to recover from grief and/or guilt, and some that never seem to. I don’t want to give this movie away, so, even with the spoiler alert, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Manchester By the Sea is full of real people muddling through life’s hard experiences. The story builds to that expected character arc and abruptly ends mid-muddle. Because that’s the way real-life stories are. We don’t all resolve at the same time. Not every experience comes with closure. This story isn’t about closure, it’s about love. In spite of their imperfect processing of devastating events, these characters love each other.

Back to the questions. Is there a timetable for getting over devastating life experiences? I was personally affected by this movie because I think I rush this process. This movie made me pause and ask whether people like Lee hide from people like me. I realized that I can’t possible know what it takes to get over something I haven’t experienced. Nor can I know what it’s like to be someone other than myself getting over something I have experienced. So, thanks, author and director Kenneth Lonergan, for the instructive parable. I might never tell anyone to “get over it” again. At least about anything important.

Is refusing to move on selfish? Lee’s pain isolates him from people who care about him. Lee’s pain prevents him from having the relationship with his nephew that his nephew needs from him. Lee knows this but, I think for him, moving on feels selfish. For Lee to move on minimizes the loss he’s experienced and the guilt he feels he owes. Holding onto it makes it remain important. Lee doesn’t know how to process the importance of what happened in the past without allowing it to define him in the present and future.

Are there wounds that just won’t heal? Well, Frodo had to leave Middle Earth to get relief. Maybe Lee can’t survive in Manchester, at least as he is now. The film seems to build a false expectation that all this misery might be be miraculously lifted by letting go, opening up, changing attitudes, or doing something else. But the ending suggests that resolution is not that simple.

One would hope that our relationships with God define us more than the core memories and climactic experiences in our life stories. Nevertheless we all walk around with unresolved pieces of our stories. Faith is not an instant cure for heartbreak or recovery. Forgiveness does not always result in an instant lifting of guilt feelings. God applies His healing balm to our open wounds, over time, often through relationships with others, and later, to our scars. But sometimes our wounds close very slowly, and trying to put a timeline on closure only pours salt on the wound. Manchester By the Sea reminded me that love is patient and kind. We contribute to healing not by trying to “fix” each other or to rush whatever we are processing to resolution, but by loving each other in the unresolved middle of our muddles.


Dec 25 2015

Mostly messed up Christmas scenes

maureen

Here are a few messed up Christmas scenes because when you try too hard to have a perfect Christmas or when you lose sight of the point of Christmas, it’s easy to feel…

overscheduled…How the Grinch Stole Christmas The Grinch’s Schedule

technically challenged…National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – Installing Christmas lights.

disillusioned…A Christmas Story. Ralphie visits Santa.

disappointed…Elf Department store Santa.

impatient…Love Actually Store gift wrap.

cynical…The Ref General family dysfunction.

crazy…Home Alone 2 Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal.

imperfect…The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Church play gone wrong…or right

But at the heart of Christmas is this beautiful message of hope and redemption, peace and love…A Charlie Brown Christmas. Linus Christmas Speech.

Have a joyful, crazy, glorious Christmas!


Oct 12 2014

Looking at Gone Girl through a Johari Window

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SPOILER ALERT:

Gone Girl reminded me of the Johari window. JohariWindowThe idea is that there are four panes in every relationship that adjust in size through the course of the relationship. As we get to know someone the open pane grows. The hidden pane shrinks as that person chooses to disclose things about himself. Over time spent together we gain insights into that person and earn the right to speak share our insights about him so that through knowing us his hidden pane gets smaller. One would expect that the open pane would grow very large in a marriage relationship.

Applying this model to Nick and Amy Dunne’s relationship is disturbing because Amy’s hidden and unknown panes are so large. Everything Amy thinks she knows about herself is informed by something in her hidden window. According to most psychologists sociopaths know that they are sociopaths. They are very good at hiding this from other people and often come off as charming. They are also great manipulators. Amy carefully controls what Nick thinks is her open self. She also uses her relationship with him to manipulate him both through what he’s revealed to her through the open pane in his relationship with her and through what she knows about him that he doesn’t know about himself. Rather than using that information to enhance and heal their relationship, Amy uses it to manipulate Nick into taking the fall for her murder.

Nick illustrates that we don’t have to be sociopaths to seek to manipulate others’ views of who we want them to think we are. Nick tries to control his open and hidden windows with Amy because of his affair, but next to Amy, Nick is a rank amateur at manipulation. He’s not really built for it anyway. Giving him a twin sister is an interesting choice because twins tend to have an empathetic connection that lets them into one another’s blind and hidden selves. Margo may not know the details but she senses when Nick is not open and honest with her, and the more open Nick is with her the greater clarity he seems to have. To a great extent this empathy is the key to successfully tracking Amy’s moves. Continue reading


Sep 13 2014

Reflections on Forrest Gump: Forrest knows what love is

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Forrest Gump says “I’m not a smart man but I know what love is.” And he does. He loves his Momma, Bubba, Lt. Dan, and, most of all, Jenny.

Forrest shows his love for his mother by remembering and respecting what she teaches him. Mrs. Gump equips Forrest with an outlook that marks the way he processes the things that happen to him throughout his life. It is Forrest’s acceptance of whatever comes out of the “box of chocolates” that allows him to become a participant in historic events without questioning whether he belongs there. He accepts himself and believes he has something to offer because His mother instilled worth and confidence in him. He values other people in the way Mrs. Gump teaches him to value himself.

Forrest rushes into the Vietnam jungle to save his friend Bubba and ends up saving four other men. Forrest honors Bubba by following through with the plans they made to go into the shrimping business even though Bubba is dead. So deep is Forrest’s connection to his friend that he shares his fortune with Bubba’s family even though he doesn’t know them well and they think he’s stupid. Continue reading


Mar 26 2014

Saving Mr. Banks makes me wish I could watch flashbacks of other people’s lives

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Saving Mr. Banks is the story of Disney filmmakers collaboration with Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers to make the film. Mrs. Travers, as she insists on being called, is brusque, annoying, and controlling. She has very definite ideas about how she wants the story told and, uncharacteristically, Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, bends over backwards to meet her demands in order to get the film made. It is hard to imagine anyone less playful than Emma Thompson’s dour Mrs. Travers. Her vision for the film is as serious and unsentimental as she is while Disney is playful and positive. His aim is to provide joyful experiences for people at his theme park and in his films. Naturally their visions clash. Continue reading


Mar 19 2014

The giving and receiving of grace in Nebraska

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Director Alexander Payne says he shot Nebraska in black and white because “this modest, austere story seemed to lend itself to being made in black and white.” Modest and austere is a good description of the settings and characters in Nebraska. The word I think of is “real.” It was so real that filming it in black and white actually helped distance me from the stark reality of aging portrayed in the film.

The film begins with Woody, an elderly man in early stages of dementia shuffling down the road with one of those “you may be a winner” promotional letters, determined to make his way to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize. Since he can’t drive anymore, he’s just going to walk. 76-year-old Bruce Dern plays Woody with authenticity and understatement. Woody isn’t a joke or a villain. He’s an average small-town retiree who is frequently grumpy, drinks too much, and has typical relationship issues with his wife and grown sons. Aging hasn’t made him this way, he’s always been this way. With aging the filters deteriorate so that we become more obviously the people we already are.

Woody’s practical, outspoken wife Kate, his successful son Ross, and non-so-successful son David are real human beings struggling to deal with the effect of aging on family dynamics. Woody’s irrational behavior and unsteady reasoning make it hard for Kate to live with him. She, in turn, keeps calling her sons for help with their dad, which is disruptive to their lives. Like so many families, this family is having to make some dreaded “decisions” about dad, who always before had the autonomy to decide things for himself. It’s a frustrating and painful time for any family whose lived through this. Watching Nebraska is like walking through it with friends or neighbors. The emotions and situations are absolutely spot on.

Younger son David, who is between jobs offers to take his dad to Lincoln in hopes that he’ll stop fixating on the letter once it’s clear he’s not a winner. He also sees it as an opportunity to spend some time with his dad. Their road trip involves a series of little episodes that are sometimes amusing and often frustrating for David. They spend a weekend in Woody’s hometown where old wounds and rivalries are rekindled. Thinking he actually won some sort of sweepstakes, Woody’s relative and old friends embrace Woody as a celebrity and possible benefactor. Kate and Ross join David and Woody for a family reunion and a revealing walk through Woody’s childhood home.

Throughout the movie David begins to understand and appreciate his father as a person rather than seeing him with all the labels attached. Alcoholic. Distant. Grumpy. Inconsiderate. Disappointment. Sucker. Inconvenience. Failure.

Family relationships always have baggage. By the time a parent reaches the point where a child has to step in there might be forty or fifty years worth of baggage. Imagine unforgiven offense, patterns of hurtful behavior, personality flaws, painful memories stuck to the baggage like those vintage labels on suitcases. To a great extent we define ourselves and others by those labels. If we are willing to peel off the labels we’ve placed on others because of past experiences and see who is under there, we actually create margin for change to happen in those relationships.

Nebraska gently nudged me to reminder that healing comes with forgiveness. Perspective happens when we experience someone else’s story as a participant instead of a spectator. Nebraska reveals how simply walking through an experience with another person changes the relationship. The characters don’t experience big character arcs or life-changing epiphanies. In fact, none of the characters change that much from the beginning of the movie to the end, but how they see one another does. In this film I saw a picture of the giving and receiving of grace.

 

 

 

 

Many


Mar 10 2014

The dark territory of True Detective

maureen

HBO-True-DetectiveCAUTION: SPOILERS.

True to form the last episode of True Detective called Form and Void features the dark and grisly conclusion to a bleak, dark series about two homicide detectives unraveling a ritual murder in South Louisiana. Errol, the incestuous, Cary-Grant obsessed witch king makes an utterly creepy grindhouse villain. Previous episodes offer up a series of tantalizing possible suspects and co-conspirators, including Cohle himself. The Tuttles come off as redneck Illuminati with a long reach and powerful resources. The story ends with many of these loose ends still flapping, but Cohle and Hart’s journey resolves, and that’s the real heart of the story.

True Detective‘s mysterious King in Yellow references a Robert Chambers story about a play that elicits madness and despair in those who see it. The story Cohle and Hart live as they work their case contains enough bizarre evil to induce similar responses. Cohle’s philosophic nature and nihilistic outlook make him particularly vulnerable to emotional and spiritual damage. Hart’s proclivities run to the more standard tropes TV cops use to cope. He cheats on his wife, drinks too much, and is disconnected from his children. Hart ends up in a place something like despair in which he’s lost his family and left his job after exposure to yet another urban legend horror, the baby in the microwave.

Cohle and Hart’s determination to close the case appears to be part-destiny and part obsession. In spite of a serious rift between them, when Cohle shows Hart the horror inducing videotape of one the victims, he’s in. This tape is used to induce former cop Steve Geraci. While immediate exposure to the tape loosens his tongue, Steve does not seem permanently traumatized by his experience, displaying the same self-interest after they finish with him that he has before. He tells them Sheriff Childress is the one who closed the case. Interviews in previous episodes suggest that Errol might be a Childress and possibly an illegitimate child of one of the Tuttles.

After making arrangements to unveil their evidence should they not come out alive, Cohle and Hart follow their leads to Errol’s house. Earlier the episode treats us to scenes of Errol’s Psycho-Louisiana-style domestic bliss. Cohle and Hart’s journey lead them into the heart of Carcosa where the evil is as thick as hot, humid swamp air. Continue reading


Jan 12 2014

The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis is a journey

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SPOILER ALERT. Inside Llewyn Davis begins and ends with the same scene outside a folk venue in 1960’s Greenwich Village. A flashback then picks up Llewyn who, while leaving his friends’ apartment after a night on their couch, accidentally lets out their orange tabby. Finding he’s locked himself and the cat out of the apartment Llewyn picks up the cat and continues his journey.

The audience is filled in on what’s happened up to this point, the event that has put Llewyn on this particular journey. He’s grieving the loss of his friend and music partner Mike and trying to restart his career as a solo folk artist. He sleeps on couches, has no winter coat, struggles with bitterness and tries to maintain what he considers his artistic integrity.

The Coens do love their mythology. O Brother Where Art Thou was a retelling of the Odyssey. A Serious Man was their take on the Book of Job.  “It’s never new. It never gets old. It’s a folk song,” Every story is a journey. And every journey is different. That’s what the Coens do. They take an archetypical pattern and make it individual to every single character they create. So many of the stories they tell involve some sort of journey, whether physical or internal. While the plot was loose, my take on Inside Lleweyn Davis is that it is yet another journey. 

Llewyn is a former merchant marine, several of the songs in the film refer to journeys, and specifically to the sea. We find out late in the film that the cat’s name is Ulysses (Roman name for Odysseus). At one point in the film Llewyn stands in front of a movie poster of The Incredible Journey, a movie about the long trek of two dogs and cat finding their way home. I read one review that compared Llewyn’s journey to that of Leopold Bloom of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Plausable. 

Llewyn has lost his singing partner Mike to suicide. He discovers he has a child he’s never seen. He has another about to be aborted. He is facing a crossroads in which he must choose to continue his dream of being a folk musician or move back into the more lucrative career of merchant marine. His father is dying. He keeps pushing the wrong buttons in his relationships with family and friends.  Llewyn’s quest takes him around the Village, to his family in Queens, and on a road trip with an aging jazz musician and his beatnik poet driver. Throughout this trek he continually carries and loses the cat.

Apparently the Coens added the cat after they’d written the movie. Whether its meant as a symbol or narrative device, the cat does hold this loose episodic narrative together. The Coens tend to trust their audience enough to leave some things up to interpretation.  Does the cat represent Llewyn’s psyche? Is it his shadow? Is it the herald of change? Does it represent his fleeting music career? Is it there to reveal that the heart beating inside this melancholy, irritable, self-absorbed character is larger than it appears? At some point during the film it seemed all these things. 

Llewyn’s story is like a folk song. A bleak journey of a suffering regretful man. So many of the songs in the movie are about loss. Songs like Fare Thee Well, Five Hundred Miles, and The Last Thing on My Mind are about lost love. Hang me o hang me is also about loss.  In the song, Queen Jane, a woman dies in childbirth. And so the film ends before Llewyn’s journey leads him to any sort of resolution. Llewyn sits beaten in the alley outside the venue listening to the future of folk singing inside. It’s left to each member of the audience to conclude whether he abandons the folk scene for the open sea or continues to plug away at his craft. Either way, I hope he got himself a cat.

 

 


Dec 6 2013

Apartheid primer in film

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On the death of Nelson Mandela, some friends too young to remember apartheid may wonder why Mandela is a big deal. Just as Hitler’s regime ended, a different form of persecution was instituted in South Africa. In 1948 the National Party government instated a form of racial segregation, but restrictions and controls on the black population had been in place since the days of slavery. In 1970 as the Civil Rights movement in the United States was making strides, non-white representation in the South African government was abolished. I know there are more, and maybe better films, but here’s my list of movies that helped me understand a little better.

Invictus is based on the true story of Nelson Mandela’s quest to bring the 1995 Rugby World Cup to South Africa just one year after apartheid was officially abolished and multi-racial national elections resulted in Mandela’s presidency. Mandela hoped to use the enthusiasm of black and white fans to help unite the country. Because the Springboks, South African’s national team, have always been white, many blacks feel betrayed by Mandela’s support for them. Mandela and team captain Pienaar form a mentoring relationship in which Mandela communicates leadership in a climate of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Cry Freedom is based on the story of black activist Steve Biko and white journalist Donald Woods. The film traces Woods’ journey into the Biko’s world. Woods discovers corruption and cover-ups in the South African white government, including suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of anti-apartheid activists in police custody. The powerful message in this film is that loving our neighbors as ourselves means that silent disapproval of injustice and oppression is not enough. Our neighbors burdens really are ours to bear.

Forgiveness takes place in post-Apartheid South Africa. It is the story of a white South African policeman who is granted amnesty for his killing of an African National Congress activist (the group to which Nelson Mandela belonged when he was sent to prison).  It’s hard to watch this man’s struggle with guilt and shame for the killings he committed in the name of a corrupt system that no longer exists. He wants to make amends. He seeks absolution. The film explores big questions. What does it mean to be forgiven? What is required after that? Like Atonement and Unforgiven, the film exposes the tragedy of a life that cannot embrace the freedom of grace.

District 9 is basically Apartheid reimagined as science fiction. A disabled alien vessel hovers over the city where, fearful of their difference and unspoken intentions, the city has rounded up aliens and placed them in slum-like camps similar to those occupied by South African blacks during Apartheid. Told documentary style, the story involves a low-level bureaucrat whose eyes are opened to the “humanity” of his alien neighbors. This allegory drives home the emotional and intellectual justifications that can be applied when one group of human beings view another as fundamentally different.

Under African Skies is a documentary about Paul Simon’s album Graceland. It was recorded in South Africa during apartheid in violation of a UN cultural boycott. Graceland featured South African black musicians.. The film explores the responsibilities of artists to follow such mandates, however well meaning. 

 Cry the Beloved Country is set just before Apartheid took effect. It portrays two fathers, one black and one white, bewildered by the hatred around them that takes their sons and devastates their lives. This film brought the big picture down to the lives of two men. The message is that the human condition, the shared experiences, like grief and love, are universal.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela


May 11 2013

Another Criterion pick: The Bicycle Thief is realistic desperation

maureen

May 8 SPOILERS

The Bicycle Thief, directed by Vittorio de Sica, was filmed on the streets of Italy in 1948 using mostly non-actors and Roman street settings. Considered a classic of “neorealism” the film is a social commentary on the effects of poverty and defeat. The economy has tanked, and the nation is recovering from Mussolini and from being on the losing end of World War II. De Sica points an unwavering lens on the reality of soup lines, unemployment, tight apartments in decaying neighborhoods, stressed, reactive sniping and scrambling for position. Everywhere there is evidence of a fraying, hungry culture. Continue reading


May 6 2013

Ironman Three

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May 6

It doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it might have taken itself a wee bit more seriously. Compared to the previous movies in the series, Ironman Three felt just a little campy.

It had all the expected archetypes and basic plot line that made it feel to me like it was wearing a sign that said “superhero movie.” Not to say it wasn’t fun. The writing in Ironman Three was funny. Stuff blew up. There were cool gadgets. I do love the Marvel characters and I have to say  Ironman Three disappointed a little there.

Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin was a trip. I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who haven’t seen it.  His trickster villain was my favorite part of the movie. Continue reading


May 4 2013

On watching Elephant after Rashomon

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May 4

After watching Elephant I felt a little like the priest in Rashomon, which I wrote about yesterday. The event it depicts is enough to shake one’s hope for the future and faith in the goodness of humanity. Elephant is a fictionalized movie about a school shooting inspired by the Columbine school shooting.

Like Rashomon, Elephant tells the story of a school shooting from a variety of students’ perspectives. The title comes from the story about several blind men trying to describe an elephant in which none of them actually can describe the entire beast. The film shows the same event and time period from different characters’ perspectives. It does not sensationalize violence. Roger Ebert said that “Van Sant has made an anti-violence film by draining violence of energy, purpose, glamor, reward and social context.” It was disturbing without being at all thrilling.  Continue reading


May 3 2013

Criterion: Rashomon and the moral ambiguity of humanity

maureen

May 3

Rashomon, a 1950 Japanese film by director Akira Kurosawa, is a favorite of directors and a film school staple. A samurai and his wife are attacked on the road by a bandit who rapes the wife and allegedly kills the husband. There are four witnesses to the murder, the three people involved and a woodcutter who witnessed it in secret. They each give differing accounts. Everybody lies, even the spirit of the deceased samurai and the supposedly disinterested woodcutter.

The story takes place several centuries ago and is told as the woodcutter, a priest, and a ragged stranger take refuge from the rain at the dilapidated city gatehouse called Rashomon. The priest and woodcutter had testified at the trial of the bandit. The priest had found the wife hiding in his temple and woodcutter had testified to finding the body, not to witnessing the crime.  The action switches between the telling of the story at the gate, the forest where the attack took place, and the open air court. If the conflicting stories of the wife and bandit weren’t interesting enough, through a medium, the samurai also testifies. The woodcutter insists that a spirit can lie because he, too had witnessed the murder and knew what happened. His testimony is suspect in the eyes of the stranger because he suspects that the woodcutter stole an expensive dagger, the missing murder weapon in the wife’s story, from the scene of the crime.  Continue reading


May 2 2013

Random Hulu selection: Trek Nation and a son’s quest for his father’s legacy

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May 2. Tonight I watched Trek Nation, a documentary in which Eugene Roddenberry takes his own trek to learn about his famous father Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry died when Eugene was 17. Eugene knew him as a flawed and somewhat distant father. He hadn’t really understood the significance of his father’s creation. In fact, he’s more of a Star Wars guy. Continue reading


Mar 14 2013

Silver Linings Playbook and wounded healers

maureen

May 5

Silver Linings Playbook is about two people who are both facing emotional challenges. Both Pat and Tiffany face mental health issues that concern their families and friends. Both are experiencing pain and loss and making destructive choices to deal with those. Continue reading


Mar 5 2013

The Mayhem guy, John McClane and A Good Day to Die Hard

maureen

I thought the Allstate Super Bowl commercial that casts Mayhem as the influence of evil was genius.Mayhem doesn’t just weave his way through History, he also impacts individuals, wreaking havoc in minivans and suburban neighborhoods as well as on battlefields. He is a first-third world problem.

After seeing the latest Die Hard installment it occurred to me that John McClane must be one of Mayhem’s favorite targets.  Through five movies over twenty-five years Mayhem has followed around John McClane. At times John has seemed like a willing participant in this chaos, but most of the time, especially in the earlier movies, he’s cast as a guy who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time more times than any odds of coincidence can stretch. Continue reading


Feb 16 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and the importance of backstory

maureen

 

Zero Dark Thirty is gripping and slow at the same time. The story is about these necessarily anonymous men and women who devoted years of their lives to locate Bin Ladin. The pace of the movie certainly mirrors the painstaking process.

 

The story itself felt real. Imperfect, often irritating individuals work together toward a common end. They disagree. Bosses pull rank. They work around protocol. They lie and deceive, spy and torture as part of their jobs. I kept wondering whether the job influences the person or the person influences the job. Who decides to make a lifestyle out of this?

Continue reading


Jan 26 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild, poverty and preservation

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I have been thinking about Beasts of the Southern Wild for two or three weeks, trying to decide how I feel about it.The accents carried flashes from my childhood in Louisiana, something was vaguely familiar in the fierce independence of the characters. But, like foggy childhood memories, the images in Beasts is full of non-sequiturs and child-like wondering. I have more questions than answers about the community it portrays and the perspective on poverty it presents.

Telling the story from 6-year-old Hushpuppy’s point of view and using the aurochs created a surreal fantasy in a brutally realistic setting. The aurochs are both a metaphor for the extinction of Hushpuppy’s community, the storm, her father’s illness and her fight for survival and yet they appear as real, threatening beasts pounding toward Hushpuppy’s fragile home. Continue reading


Dec 29 2012

Law and grace in Les Miserables

maureen

SPOILER ALERT

Les Miserables is a study in the conflicting motivations of law and grace.

Paroled after twelve bitter years of imprisonment for stealing bread to feed his family, Jean Valjean meets people who are pivotal in setting him on the course of grace. First Monseignor Myriel offers him forgiveness and protection even though the desperate Valjean steals from his church. In doing this he reflects redemptive, magnanimous grace that changes the course of Valjean’s life. In his new life Valjean supports the principles of grace and compassion, but has not fully integrated his attitude into his business practices.  He must face the consequences that his negligence has on Fantine. Continue reading


Jul 24 2012

My The Dark Knight Rises Review

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SPOILER ALERT

The Dark Knight Rises was a credible end to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. On the whole it was a great movie and I liked it a lot. Certain elements were incredibly well done and really satisfying. Even the storytelling choices that I didn’t like made sense. I can’t say they were bad choices, just that I wanted something else.

What I liked best:

1. Catwoman. She is a character who speaks to the present rather than operating entirely off her back story. This makes her decisions much fresher. She is a beautiful picture of the battle between the new man and the old man. She seeks transformation on her own terms but struggles with the actual journey. Catwoman’s transformation and story arc are perfectly played. Continue reading


Jul 11 2012

Linklater’s Comedy Bernie Raises Serious Questions about Grace, Mercy, and Justice

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CAUTION: LOTS OF SPOILERS

In his latest movie, Bernie, Richard Linklater pulls back the “pine curtain” and takes an affectionate look at how the small East Texas town of Carthage responded to a shocking murder in the late nineties. Bernie Tiede, a mild-mannered funeral director/Sunday School teacher/leading citizen, kills Marjorie Nugent, a rich 81-year-old widow known as the “meanest woman in town.” The town is split on the extent of judgment or mercy Bernie deserves.  Continue reading


Jul 3 2012

Captain America, Mayberry, and Independence Day

maureen

 R.I.P. Andy Griffith.

Griffith  is most remembered for his role as Sherriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Andy Taylor spoke with reason and restraint, humor and compassion. His reactionary deputy Barney Fife was always ready to “Nip it in the bud.” Everything was a crisis and every wrongdoer was a villain for Barney. Andy’s calm response was usually to “have a talk with them.” A talk with Andy led to a better understanding of oneself and one’s responsibility to one’s neighbors.

In the Bible Jesus describes the apostle Bartholomew as a man with no guile.  It was a compliment. Andy Taylor was a man with no guile. He was wise and perceptive but never insidious or sly. Captain America in Marvel’s Avengers communicates the same sort of sincerity. Continue reading


Jun 26 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter seriously serious?

maureen

SPOILER ALERT

Not since Snakes on a Plane has the title of a movie made we want to see it as much as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I got what I expected. I’m not saying I wasn’t entertained. I was. The historical details like Lincoln’s mother dying or his job as a shopkeeper lend enough historical accuracy that it actually makes it harder to suspend disbelief. Suspension of disbelief has no power over this movie. It takes a silver bullet through the brain of reason. Once that’s done, it’s a decent ride.

The vampires are the dark, devouring, bloodsucking villains they are supposed to be. No romance here, just scary bad guys who have the advantage of thousands of years experience in fighting and manipulation. Abe Lincoln is believable in appearance and personality. He reacts in much the way one would expect Abe Lincoln to react if he were confronted with vampires. Abe’s sidekicks are decent.The stage was set for an awesome girl fight but Mary Lincoln was as bland as a hospital diet. That was disappointing. Continue reading


Apr 7 2012

Blue Like Jazz is honest, funny, unreligous storytelling

maureen

Every life is a story. Blue Like Jazz is the new movie based on Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It opens in theaters this weekend.

The movie, Blue Like Jazz has taken considerable license to fictionalize the series of essay and reflections that make up the book Blue Like Jazz, in order to create a narrative story based on the book’s basic ideas. In fact, the movie Blue Like Jazz emphasizes the aspects of storytelling using the acronym SCCR which stand for setting, conflict, climax, and resolution, a device that links nicely  to Don Miller’s more recent projects. Blue Like Jazz is an honest, funny journey through conflict towards resolution. Continue reading


Mar 17 2012

An open letter to my young friends about the Invisible Children drama

maureen

What happened with Invisible Children may have left some of you feeling disillusioned. Some of you may feel manipulated and disappointed and maybe a little foolish. I don’t want to see you discard your idealism and enthusiasm at the altar of discernment. Learning to give is as important as learning to think. My prayer for all of us is in I Cor. 13. May we be able  “to bear all things, to believe all things, to hope all things, and to endure all things.”  Continue reading


Jan 6 2012

We Bought a Zoo and 20 seconds of insane courage

maureen

Benjamin Mee offers romance advice to his 14-year-old son, “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”  What he seems to be talking about here is a leap of faith.

Benjamin is struggling in his relationship with his son, Dylan. Benjamin, Dylan, and 7-year-old Rosie are grieving the loss of wife and mother. Benjamin is stuck in the fourth stage of grief, depression and loneliness. Dylan is still dealing with anger. Whatever else changes in their lives the life they knew with Katherine is over. In what had to be 20 seconds of insane impulse, recently widowed father Benjamin Mee buys a zoo hoping to provide a new start for his two children. Continue reading


Jun 24 2011

Bridesmaids is about women and emotions but it’s not a chick flick…and it’s really funny

maureen

Bridesmaids is a funny and somewhat crass look at friendship and competition among women involved in a wedding. Often a wedding party is made up of people who may not socialize together. When a group of women don’t know one another well but end up in an intimate social situation like a wedding insecurities are bound to surface. It’s already an emotionally charged event. I thought Bridesmaids was a refreshingly honest look at some of the ways weddings can heighten insecurities and make women crazy.

Lilian’s bridesmaids are Anne, her childhood friend, Helen, the wealthy wife of her fiancé’s boss, who has become a close friend, Becca, a newlywed co-worker, Megan, the groom’s sister, and Rita, Lillian’s cousin who is a dissatisfied wife and mother.The status of “best friend” changes over the years so when it comes time to choose the “maid of honor” one of the “best” friends is going to be hurt. Continue reading


Jun 12 2011

Mystery, perspective, and the root of bitterness in Super 8

maureen

SPOILER ALERT – This review contains spoilers.

STINGER ALERT – When you do see the movie stay until after the credits!

In Super 8 Abrams manages to tell an emotionally engaging story about his characters’ journeys without compromising on mystery, plot, or action. The mystery begins when a group of middle school students witness a train crash and find their science teacher in the wreckage with mysterious instructions for the group. It builds as two of the kids, Charles and Joe, actually watch what their dropped camera has caught on film.

Joe’s father, Deputy Jack Lamb wrestles with his own set of puzzling clues. There are mysterious power outages, all the town’s dogs run away, and then townspeople start disappearing. Meanwhile Jack and Joe are grieving the death of wife and mother and trying to establish some sort of working relationship without her. Continue reading


Apr 20 2011

Celebrating Easter with 15 Moments of Redemption in Movies

maureen

Sometimes truth dawns slowly and change comes in fits and spurts. We begin thinking about eternity and seeking purpose. We recognize our baggage and want something better. We find ourselves inching toward truth in the choices we make and the causes we embrace. We want peace and reconciliation and community. While redemption happens in a moment of decision, the journey toward that decision and transformation that follows  is often a process.

Jules Winnfield – Pulp Fiction. Jules recognizes that redemptive forces are at work though he has not yet connected the dots. He finds himself longing to change his role from avenger to shepherd.   They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. Rom 2:15

Charlie Babbitt – Rain Man. When Charlie realizes that Raymond is the secret friend, the “Rain Man” of his childhood, his self-centeredness and greed begins to break down. It’s not the moment of truth but the truth that leads to the moment.  Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Mark 12:34 Continue reading