Wednesday, July 31, 2013


 I have just been alerted that there is a new version of Shakespeare's ROMEO & JULIET coming out.

Here's where you can see the trailer.

ROMEO & JULIET in theaters October 11th!

Director: Carlo Carrel
Writers: Julian Fellowes

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Damian Lewis, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ed Westwick, with Stellan Skarsgard and Paul Giamatti
Producers: Ileen Maisel, Lawrence Elman, Julian Fellowes, Nadja Swarovski, Simon Bosanquet, Alexander Koll, Dimitra Tsingou, Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding

SYNOPSIS: Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare’s epic and searing tale of love, is revitalized on screen by writer Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) and director Carlos Carlei (The Flight of the Innocent).  An ageless story from the world’s most renowned author is reimagined for the 21st  century.  This adaptation is told in the lush traditional setting it was written but gives a new generation the chance to fall in love with the enduring legend.  With an all-star cast including Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Paul Giamatti and Stellan Skarsgard, it affords those unfamiliar with the tale the chance to put faces to the two names they’ve undoubtedly heard innumerable times: Romeo and Juliet.  Every generation deserves to discover this lasting love. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Review: Unfinished Song (Song for Marion)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-0 ; L-3 ; S-4/N-0 . Running time: 1 hour 33 min.

”…let the field exult, and everything in it.

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

Psalm 96.12

                               Marion loves singing with her friends.                    But husband Arthur resents her absence.
All pictures courtesy of The Weinstein Company (c) 2012
Stephen Sondheim is quoted as saying, “If I cannot fly, let me sing.” That is certainly Marion’s view in Paul Andrew William’s London-set film about an elderly couple devoted to each other. Even though she has terminal cancer Marion Harris (Vanessa Red grave) refuses to stop going to the eccentric choir made up of seniors and led by the perky young Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton). Marion is still filled with the joy of life even though death is just around the corner. Husband Arthur (Terrence Stamp), however, somehow, for reasons unspecified, checked out of life years ago, so he refuses to sit in on the choir practices, preferring to sulk outside the choir room while smoking a cigarette.

The crux of the story is the slow, painful transformation he undergoes after Marion passes away in her sleep, a process that might well get you to sing about the immeasurable possibilities of life. The film is made memorable by the three principal actors, backed up by a fabulous group of senior singers. Also important to the story are James (Christopher Eccleston) and Jennifer (Orla Hill), the Harris’s single parent son and charming little granddaughter. All their lives a seemingly unbridgeable gap had made Arthur rude to and unappreciative of his son. We gather that it is only Jennifer who keeps the two speaking to each other, and for a while after Marion dies, Arthur breaks off all contact with them, so bitter and aggrieved is he.

James and his daughter Jennifer.

The tormented Arthur is similar to the apostle Paul in that he is aware of his plight but unable to do anything about it: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:19 & 24) In this thoroughly secular film (the choir sings pop and hip hop songs, not hymns or sacred choral music) it is not Christ but Elizabeth who comes to Paul’s aid and sets in motion his transformation. (Of course, believers might see the hidden Christ working through this sensitive young woman, so devoted to others!)

At first upset and frustrated by Arthur’s cold rejection, she persists, eventually breaking through the high wall he has erected to defend himself from the pain of the world. What happens to the sad-faced Arthur and his relationships with James is worth singing about! The character of Elizabeth adds depth to the film. At first she seems to be the typical perky young adult, ably reaching out to and inspiring the senior members of her choir, and eventually to Arthur. Then we discover that she is a wounded healer, showing up suddenly late one night and pouring her heart out to Arthur, of all people. Perhaps it is her revelation of her vulnerability and need that touches something deep in Arthur so that he is able to give the support she needs at that moment. This, and his unsuspected talent for singing, leads to a series of events that neither of them could have imagined earlier on.

Elizabeth leading the choir of seniors.

Paul Andrew William, who directs from his own script, has given us a remarkable parable of love, transformation, and the power of song. Arthur reminds me of the uptight Englishman Basil (though in a more extreme form) in Zorba the Greek, with Marion and Elizabeth being his Zorba who lead him to embrace life. The film draws back from the brink of sentimentality (the death scene is very understated—no tearful farewells or sweet last words), although depictions of some of the senior singers are almost too cute. So too is the choice of the song for the choir to sing for their festival tryout, "Let's Talk about Sex.” If you explore this film with a church group, be sure to give advance warning of this song. Although this one is played more for cuteness, the singing of two other songs will have you reaching for a handkerchief. Marion sings Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colours” for Arthur, and later Arthur sings Billy Joel's “Goodnight My Angel.” Wow! On the whole this is a film filled with joy and goodwill that says that it is never too late to mend a wounded spirit and restore broken relationships.


                                  Of course there is a competition!                                   All's well that ends well!

For Reflection/Discussion
1. Compare Marion and Arthur. Despite their vastly different temperaments, how do they relate to each other? What couples do you know like them?
2. What might have led Arthur to become the negative person that he is? Which of the two understands the need for others in one’s life?
3. What do you think of James and the way he is depicted? How has his father’s treatment of him apparently affected him? Despite this, what kind of a father does he seem to be?
4. What did you think of Elizabeth in the first part of the film? Of her rapport with her choir members? Were you surprised at her revelation of her past and of her need? Would you have thought that she would have turned to Arthur for help, rather than to one of her choir members? What other surprises do we see in Arthur?
5. What do you think of Henry Nouwen’s concept of “the wounded healer”? (If you haven’t read his book yet, by all means get hold of it.) How is Elizabeth a Christ figure despite her own needs?
6. Check out Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colours” with it’s opening line, “You with the sad eyes/Don’t be discouraged.” How is it the perfect song for Arthur?
7. In turn read and discuss “Lullabye (Good Night, My Angel.” What of Marion and Arthur and their relationship do we see in the lyrics?
Note: these are available on YouTube, so if your discussion takes place where Wi Fi is available, you might play them as the group is gathering, or during the discussion. (If you do, keep that box of Kleenex handy!)
8. What does the film say about the process of transformation? Is this a do it yourself matter, or are others needed? (See the Letter to the Romans passage cited above.) In your own life how have others contributed to the changing of your outlook, beliefs, or prejudices?
9. How does James’ rejection of his father’s attempt to mend their broken relationship show that reconciliation can be a difficult task? In the apostle Paul’s discussion of reconciliation what was the cost? See 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. Why does he say to Arthur, “It’s too late”? Is it ever too late?
10. This is a thoroughly secular film about thoroughly secular people—no mention of God, even by Marion who faces imminent death; no singing of church anthems or hymns. And yet would you agree that it is a deeply spiritual film? Why or why not?
11. Much has been written about the power of music, and we certainly see it in the lives of Marion and Elizabeth. Reflect upon/discuss the following observation by singer Josh Groban
“Some people don't realize the healing power in song. True listening to a song can cause a good cry or help you to relieve that tension that might have been building up. But the listener is not the only one who benefits. Often times the singer finds most of their freedom when letting a song out of their heart. A singer who really loves to sing carries a song in their heart all the time. Singing might sound pretty and may be a beautiful art but for the singer, it is so much more. Don't ever let that passion die if it is something you love to do.
There’s no half-singing in the shower, you’re either a rock star or an opera diva."
This and other good quotes on music can be found at:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Film Capsules July 2013

I am posting my latest set of Film Capsules, prepared for the leaders of Cincinnati Presbytery, because of the first film, THE ATTACK. Relegated to the art house circuit because it is an Arabic film with English subtitles, it is not attracting much attention--4 others were present when I caught it--but it should. Any film that sheds even a little light on the complicated issues of the struggle for the Palestinian people against their occupiers and the equally compelling desire of Israelis for their security against terrorists deserves a wide audience.

Film Capsules July 2013

The Attack (Arabic with English subtitles)
Rated R. Jeremiah 17:9
This is one of those rare films that immerse you in an alien culture, leaving you at the end with a little more awareness of why someone unexpectedly does the inexplicable.
Co-written and directed by Ziad Doueiri, this is a dark and troubling film about a dark and troubling situation--the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Dr. Amin Jaafari, a Muslim surgeon who has chosen to live and work in Tel Aviv where he receives its highest honor for a doctor, is devastated when his wife, killed by a suicide bomber at a cafĂ©, is accused of being the bomber. After the suspicious police confirm that he was not involved, the rest of the film is his parallel spiritual and physical journeys back to his hometown of Nablus in Palestine where he confronts a truth so terrible that it will scar him forever, making him an outsider to both his Israeli friends and to his Arab family. One of the most spiritually challenging films of the year, Lebanese-born Ziad Doueiri’s film is as helpful for understanding the Palestinian viewpoint as was the 2005 film about two friends preparing to become suicide bombers, Paradise Now. Every peacemaker should see this film, available thus far only at art house theaters.

Despicable Me 2
Rated PG. Ezekiel 11:19
It’s the summer movie desert time of year when all the boom-boom, chase-chase, hit-hit blockbusters are dominating the screens, so it should come as no surprise that at this moment two of the best films, at least for those who love good films, are two children’s animated films. The once villainous Gru has become the doting foster father of three little girls when he is recruited by a curvaceous agent of a spy agency to investigate a super villain who has a serum that can change the loveable little minions that serve Gru and others into vicious little monsters. Lots of fun and laughter here.

Monsters University
Rated G. Ecclesiastes 4.9; Proverbs 18.24
This prequel shows how Mike Wazowski and James “Sulley” P. Sullivan started out as enemies before forming their staunch friendship in their first film. Disliking each other from the start and winding up in the same fraternity of losers, the pint-sized Mike vies with his big furry rival to lead the fraternity in a series of games that could earn them the right to enroll in the schools famous Scare Program. Ever since a child, Mike has wanted to be able to scare people. As with other Pixar films, this is filled with funny scenes and dialogue and a lesson about what to do when we fail to achieve our dream. Adults will enjoy this as much as children, so do not send them—go with them and share a delightful experience.

The Lone Ranger
Rated PG-13. Psalm 34:16
This rebooting of the once popular franchise is definitely not the Lone Ranger that my father and I eagerly listened to at 6:30 PM on our old Philco radio. Part camp, and more Pirates of the Caribbean (or should we say Texas), this remake is such a mess of anachronisms (a toy electric train in 1869!) and CGI enhanced action scenes that are both too long and too unbelievable, it is no wonder that it came in third to Despicable Me 2 on its opening week. The cartoon is actually far more realistic! The humor, with Johnny Depp’s Tonto given the best lines, does make this fun to watch, but I recommend that you wait and catch this at a cheap seats cinema—as they say on TV, “Don’t waste your money!”  

The Way, Way Back
Rated PG-13. Matthew 10:31
Poor Duncan, a 14 year-old boy with an unfriendly older teenaged sister and a newly divorced mother (Pam) who is so enamored with her snarky boyfriend Trent that she cannot see the hurt he inflicts on her son, is dragged along to a beachside cabin to spend the summer together. He would much rather be with his dad, but the latter claims his circumstances do not allow this. On the way Trent tells the morose boy that on a scale of 1 to 10 he rates Duncan as a “3.” Real paternal skills here! Fortunately at the cabin Duncan meets a friendly girl slightly older than he and, best of all, Owen, a crazy-talking guy who works at the Water Wizz Park and takes a shine to the lonely boy. This is one of the best coming-of-age films that I have seen, certainly one of the best of any kind of film this summer. It is devoid of the juvenile humor of the usual Hollywood film about teens. There are adults who are jerks, but also some who have the wisdom of experience to impart, and the compassion to pass it on. Treat yourself and take this one in.

White House Down
Rated PG-13. Psalm 55:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15
How we love our adult fairy tales in which the unlikely hero gets pummeled, shot at by a hundred goons unable to shoot straight, falls unwounded (even crashing through windows) from great heights, and is able to save the day. As in Olympus Down, the White House gets shot up a lot, but this time the President (played by Jamie Foxx) also gets into the action, overcoming his peaceful ways to blast away beside our hero, a Washington cop just turned down by the Secret Service. The villains are a little more believable than the North Koreans of the previous film. This time they are homegrown goons out for a huge stash of cash, and whose backer is convinced that the President’s Middle East Peace Plan will lead to the destruction of America—there also is another secret scoundrel. Entertaining hokum that should be seen on a big screen to take full advantage of the special effects, but wait till it comes to a cheap seat theater.

T. Internship
Rated PG-13. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are fun to watch as the bumbling Odd Couple who manage to con their way into the internship program at Google. Though fish out of water amidst the 100 or so brilliant college grads—they are both in their 40s and know little more about computers than how to turn them on and off—they bring life experience and a knack for team cooperation that stand them in good stead. The interns are divided into teams—no one wanting to work with the “old guys,” they wind up with the other lone rejects—and engage in a series of games and tasks designed to show who is the most creative. Only the winners will be given a chance to work at Google. It is fun to see the Google campus and a little bit of its workings. If it were not for an unnecessarily vulgar sequence set in a pole dance club (a few years ago this film would have been rated R!), this would be a good film for a church group to discuss teamwork and mutual respect.
Showing now at Danbarry Dollar Saver Cinemas

The  Heat
Rated R. Hebrews 10.24
This cop buddy movie stars two outstanding actresses—Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy—who demonstrate that women can equal the guys in the foul mouth department. It’s the old formula of two guys—er, gals—starting off on the wrong foot, and this sequence is really hilarious, especially on the part of the rotund McCarthy’s trying to squeeze through the window of her car. Of course, as they hunt for a drug lord flooding Boston with drugs, they slowly come to respect, and then to like each other. Amidst the raunchy humor are several poignant moments of the women arriving at a sense of sisterhood.

World War Z
Rated PG-13. Exodus 4:13; Jeremiah 1:6
Still another man saves the world from zombies tale, this has some good CGI effects, especially when thousands of zombies attack the walls of a besieged Jerusalem by piling atop one another. These are not the silly slow-shambling zombies of most of this deplorable genre, but fast running critters in more hurry than a New York taxi driver to sink their fangs into an uninfected victim.

T. Purge
Rated R. Psalm 10:8-9.
This dystrophic film would be a little more believable if it were set more than twenty years into the future, a time when the US Government has set up a program of catharsis that allows everyone one night a year to let loose their violent impulses. There is no indication of churches and other groups, especially peacemaking ones, ever objecting to such a barbarous system—but then so many sci-fi tales fall short by pretending that religion and the church have faded away under the onslaught of the new religion, science.
 During the period of The Purge murder and mayhem are not punished, the result supposedly being that during the rest of the year crime has decreased to less than 1 % of the population. Oh, sure. The story is about the family of a successful home security salesman whose family comes under attack when his young son takes pity on a stranger under attack outside and allows him entry into their house. A very violent film with a dubious take on Aristotle’s teaching of catharsis, the film at least offers opportunity to discuss the issue.