here are two reviews of recent movies--sending them out after the opening dates since I am traveling and don't always have internet access. "Henry Poole is Here" has an interesting concept, though it doesn't fulfill it as well as I'd wished; "The Rocker" has some genuine laughs but likewise falls short.
Also, the most recent podcasts: On the Dormition of the Virgin Mary: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/podup/frederica/tender_love_and_the_dormition And on the question of whether people of other faiths are "praying to the same God": http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/podup/frederica/the_same_god hope you are enjoying the end of the summer! Have a blessed Labor Day. ***** Henry Poole Is Here Deck: Diagnosis of a serious medical condition prompts a man to become a recluse, but his neighbors keep bringing hope and faith into his life. Stars: 3 Rated: PG Genre: Drama Theater Release: August 15, 2008, Overture Films Directed by: Mark Pellington Runtime: 1 hour 40 min Cast: Luke Wilson (Henry Poole), Adriana Barraza (Esperanza), Radha Mitchell (Dawn), Millie (Morgan Lily), George Lopez (Fr. Salazar) "Henry Poole is Here" is a film that Christian moviegoers will yearn to embrace, if only from sheer gratitude; here, at last, is a depiction of Christian faith that portrays it as something other than the domain of cranks and loonies. And it's not just theological theory that wins the film's blessing, but something more substantive, verging on shocking: it proposes that miracles can happen--and supplies an audacious one for our consideration. That daring premise is set in a simple story. Henry Poole, a thoroughly dejected young man, has bought an empty house in a California suburb, and it's still mostly empty after he moves in, apart from the accumulating vodka bottles. On one side, he has a cheery neighbor, Esperanza, who keeps interfering with his goal of continual glumness. On the other, there's a mysterious, elfin 6-year-old girl, Millie, who doesn't speak but does tote a tape recorder, and her mom, Dawn, who bakes cookies and owns a variety of V-necked outfits. So there are a number of neighborly distractions for Henry, some more appealing than others, but the most disruptive thing is happening in his own back yard. The slapdash stucco job done before Henry moved in has a discolored patch that shows through the paint. But maybe it's not just a random stain, maybe it's a face-the face of Christ. Esperanza certainly thinks so, and brings in her priest to look it over, who gives it cautious approval. If you've only seen George Lopez in comic roles, you'll be pleasantly surprised at his portrayal of Fr. Salazar; the pastor is intelligent, sincere, and hasn't a shred of burlesque (we should thank the writers for that, too). Esperanza then begins encouraging her friends to come and pray in front of the stain (or image, as it may be). As apparent miracles begin to occur, Henry Poole faces an increasingly pointed challenge: he must either surrender and believe, or allow his pent-up rage to put an end to the "miracles" once and for all. Christians are so used to being portrayed as creeps and buffoons in entertainment that they may spend much of the movie braced for the slapdown. But there isn't one; the miracle, and the faith that wells up surrounding it, are treated with respect. It is the gloomy atheist at the center of the story who will have to learn a lesson. Henry can insist, "There are no miracles!," but it turns out that he's wrong, and there will come a time for him to express repentance. I expect that for many Christian moviegoers, this is more than enough to sell them on the film. But put me in the minority. I think the movie just isn't as good as it could have been. As I watched these characters go through their predictable motions, I kept thinking that this must be the out-takes, and somewhere there was an alternative movie where they were doing and saying things that are *interesting*. Surely they don't spend all their time trading wistful comments ("Things happen for a reason," "I got a pretty long journey ahead," "It's the last time I remember being happy"), walking at sunset, brooding in darkness, jolting through too many montages, doing all manner of things in slow-motion, and all of it set to a mix-tape of emo favorites. I wonder if this is one of those cases where the biggest truths are simple truths, and they impact most those who are ready to receive them. Director Mark Pellington has endured a blinding tragedy: the sudden loss of his wife, leaving him to care for their toddler daughter. When you've been in a "black hole" (as he terms that period of his life), things get whittled down to the essentials. Clarity becomes an urgent need. A simple saying, like "Things happen for a reason," is packed with repercussions. A movie that seems a bit vacant or hypothetical to a reviewer may express the director's most profound beliefs, and express them most accurately precisely because they are simply put. As Pellington writes in the film's production notes, "I believe in these characters and this story and its themes. The things I want to say to the world are in this film." I feel bad that I was not able to take from the film everything he meant it to convey. For every resistor like me, though, there will be dozens of movie-goers who embrace it with gratitude, and who look with increasing hope for future movies on related themes. Those are plenty of good reasons to wish "Henry Poole" all the success it can gain. Talk About It 1. The film in shot in such a way that the audience can't get a clear view of the supposed image, and can't decide for themselves whether or not it's real. Do you think this was a wise choice on the part of the director? How might the film have felt different, if we were shown an undeniable face of Christ on the wall? 2. What about the element of blood appearing to come through the wall? Was this distracting or disturbing to you, or did it enhance your appreciation of the film's daring approach to miracles? 3. Is there an Esperanza at your church, or in your neighborhood? Is she (or he) sometimes difficult to deal with? What would you tell her in a situation such as in the film, when she has broken a promise not to bring people into Henry's yard, but defends her action by saying, "God is bigger than a promise"? The Family Corner There is some use of mild obscenities, and Henry Poole drinks a great deal. Apart from that the film contains little that would be inappropriate for children, though they might well find it uninteresting or hard to follow. ***** The Rocker Deck: A middle-aged one-time drummer for a hard rock band helps his nephew's milder band get off the ground. Stars: 2 Rated: PG-13 Genre: Comedy Theater Release: July 30, 2008, Fox Atomic Directed by: Peter Cattaneo Runtime: 102 min Cast: Rainn Wilson (Robert "Fish" Fishman), Josh Gad (Matt Gadman), Emma Stone (Amelia), Teddy Geiger (Curtis), Christina Applegate (Amelia's Mom) The band called "A.D.D." has a gig to play the high school prom, but they're suddenly without a drummer. One applicant shows up at audition with an electronic drum simulator, and he's grooving happily along when the pianist's uncle objects. "But lots of bands play drum loops," says the kid, and the uncle retorts, "Lots of elevators play Celine Dion. That doesn't make it right." It's not that funny a line, right? What makes it funny is Rainn Wilson's delivery. This actor is best known for his role as Dwight Shrute in NBC's successful sitcom, "The Office." When I say that in "The Rocker" he borrows from that persona, fans of that show will know immediately what I mean, although I find it hard to describe. Dwight is a naïve know-it-all, a belligerent nerd, given to asking rhetorical questions which that he then answers loftily, a paragon of self-importance. He is tall and moves awkwardly, and his high, white forehead is accentuated with parenthetical curls. On any subject he is an expert-maybe. When confronted with an actor portraying Benjamin Franklin, Dwight pronounces, "That is not the real Ben Franklin. I am 99% sure." His eyes are hard and staring, posing a perennial challenge. Here's a classic Dwight speech: "It appears that the website has become alive. This happens to computers and robots sometimes. Am I scared of a stupid computer? Please. The computer should be scared of me. I have been salesman of the month for 13 of the last 12 months. You heard me right. I did so well last February that Corporate gave me two plaques in lieu of a pay raise." In "The Rocker," Wilson is portraying a guy with quite a different history, but many of the elements-the tense, staring eyes, the inclination to make pronouncements, the long-limbed awkwardness-contribute to making the character work. The character's name is Robert "Fish" Fishman (the odd moniker is an in-joke; the drummer for the rock band Phish is Jon "Fish" Fishman), and he has not had a successful career. In 1986 he was the drummer for a Cleveland metal band named Vesuvius, but was kicked out on the eve of their breakout to make way for the son of the record label's boss He's spent the past 20 years brooding, and when his nephew, Matt, begs him to be their substitute drummer, he initially refuses: "Drumming is pain. I've had enough pain for a lifetime." It's another line that's a dud on the page, but gets laughs when delivered with intense, staring, over-emphasis. Once Fish plays with A.D.D., he becomes energized with thoughts of at last attaining his dream of fame and savoring the rock-n-roll life. Due to a fluke-more about that below--the band becomes widely known, and sets out on a state-wide tour. (Another in-joke: the driver of the classic Silver Eagle Coach bus is portrayed by Pete Best, famous for being the drummer fired by the Beatles before Ringo came along). Fish is ardent about living the road-tour high life, but at his age, he's soon a mass of sprains and bruises. He tosses a TV out a motel window, and when the band is being processed into jail, he's exuberant. "We're going behind bars-that's what it's all about!" The band's lead singer responds, "For me it's been more about the music." You've probably guessed by now that the film's story line is not its strong point. This is a "follow your dreams" comeback movie, in which the lead character reawakens after years of resignation and recommits to his long-lost goal. The various disapproving or eager grownups adhere to familiar stereotypes, as does the younger generation. When the band's bassist summarizes the group, there's a flash of self-recognition: "You're the angsty, brooding songwriter; and you're the nerd; and I'm the ironic punk girl; and he's the old guy. Where have you seen that before?" There's plenty we've seen before. The broody songwriter, Curtis, is still grieving his parents' divorce and his dad's abandonment, and it appears to be the topic of most of his songs. A dirge-like new tune repeats the chorus, "I'm so bitter." Fish recommends that they change it to "I'm not bitter," and "push the tempo." With those changes, the song truly rocks. Yes, you first saw this scene in "That Thing You Do!" (1996), and it's a better movie. When Fish confronts Vesuvius at the movie's climax, they have improbably acquired British accents-it appears they've become "[This is] Spinal Tap" (1984). And the entire plotline recalls "School of Rock" (2003), though Jack Black has a sweetness at the core that makes that film more beguiling. Another similarity with "School of Rock" is that both films give you an opportunity to see the lead character in a state of undress more complete than you probably crave. If you've seen the trailer for "The Rocker," you know that Fish's nephew Matt (a character given more depth than expected by young actor Josh Gad) sets up a computer network so they can practice together by webcam from four different locations. However, Fish thinks it's a microphone, not a camera, so he doesn't bother to get dressed. The video of "the naked drummer" ends up on YouTube, and scores millions of hits, launching the band's career. But here's the surprise: that episode then drops out of the plot completely. The most disappointing thing about this film is that it is, in that way, so disconnected, lacking development of characters, relationships, or plot. People fall in love, we're told, but we don't see why. A major turning point occurs because a character looks at a photo of happier times. Such things are asserted rather than demonstrated, so there's an overall artificiality. On the other hand, there are lots of genuine laughs, and not all attributable to Wilson alone. Comedian Dimitri Martin portrays the artsy director of their video, who seemingly intends to photograph it one still frame at a time. Jason Sudeikis, as the record label's liaison, is all false bonhomie with a viper tongue; when chubby Matt sees himself in the video he says, "The camera adds 20 pounds, right?," and Sudeikis' character tosses off, "Yeah, the camera and food." Though the storytelling is thin, the accumulation of such funny moments make "The Rocker" a worthy addition to the list of comedies about rock bands; just don't expect it to rise to the top of the hit parade. Talk About It 1. Did you once have a career goal different from what you are doing now? What was it? Do you think it would be a good idea to attempt to achieve that dream? 2. Why is the rock lifestyle associated with destruction and hedonism? Is it something in the music, or something in the artists' character? Or is it simply the natural result of gaining enough money to fulfill every impulse? What would you do if you had unlimited money? 3. The character Curtis has never recovered from his parents' divorce, which occurred when he was 4 years old. Do you find this believable? The Family Corner There are references to sex and drugs, and some questionable language. Rear nudity used for comic effect. -- ******** Frederica Mathewes-Green www.frederica.com
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