Monthly Archives: December 2013

Philomena: Extreme Forgiveness

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This movie poster for Philomena (2013 PG-13) makes it seem like a cheery romp about a quirky mother and her long-suffering son.  Nope.

Philomena shows the decades-long suffering of an Irish woman at the hands of a misguided Catholic convent.  Worse, it is based on a true story.

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Young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) is pregnant and alone and sent to a convent.  She and other teenaged girls are allowed to stay for four years, working in return for a place to live and have their babies.  Until their babies are adopted.  But none of the girls have any choice in the matter.

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On what would be her sons 50th birthday, Philomena (Judi Dench) tells her story and asks cynical reporter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to help her find her son.  Over the years she had tried asking the nuns to find out where he had been sent, just so she could reassure herself that he was alright.  But they always insisted they could not help, saying the records had been destroyed in a fire, or pointing out the form she signed upon entrance to the convent as a 16-year-old girl.

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Philomena still has a strong faith in God and belief in the Catholic Church, yet Martin does not.  He is appalled about what happened to Philomena and the other girls, and will help her find her son, while also helping sell the story.

Now is where the movie poster matches the story.  Martin barely tolerates Philomena’s naive cheerfulness.  Philomena continues to believe in forgiveness.  As the search grows complicated and discouraging, Philomena becomes shaken, yet still faithful, while Martin becomes empathetic and caring.

Excellent movie, heartbreaking story.  Why was such a terrible thing allowed to happen?

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Delivery Man: A Warm, Unrealistic Comedy

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Delivery Man (2013 PG-13) is a movie based on an odd idea.  I’d like to watch the original Canadian version Starbuck (2011, R, French) to see how it started.  A 40-something slacker who donated sperm 20 years ago for some quick cash finds out the sperm bank unethically allowed over 500 babies to be born from his donations.  142 of those offspring are joining to sue for the identity of the male donor, David (Vince Vaughn).

What do they want from him?  Money?  A father?  It turns out that most of them just want to join together in perfect harmony to hang out a bit and watch the sun set together.  Yes, it does seem that sappy.  And out of so many kids, you would think that there would be some problem children.  And there are.  One overdoses.  One cheats on a lover.  One is a fall-down drunk.  One is an angry philosophy-spouting clinger.  One is severely handicapped.  But the rest are happy to find each other to develop relationships with half-siblings they didn’t know they had.  While singing around a campfire after eating a feast for one hundred that magically appears.  Yes, very unrealistic.

But realism would ruin the point. The point is that by caring for these people yet still hiding his identity, David can help improve their lives.  Kind of as if he were a guardian angel, he says.

So, why does everything he do actually help these people, when he is a slacker who doesn’t have much success helping the people in his own family?  Why does his father tolerate his incompetence?  Why does his lawyer friend allow his own children to walk all over him?  What did his girlfriend ever see in him?

Where are the mothers?   Where are the fathers?   Where are the sisters, the brothers?

Remember?  Realism would ruin the point.  The point is that because of their shared paternal heritage, 500 people are part of an instant family who will care about them and want to have a relationship with them.

Interesting, fun movie!  Try it, just don’t ask too many questions.  Just enjoy it.

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The Christmas Candle: Quality Christian Filmmaking

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I’m not sure if The Christmas Candle (2013 PG) actually qualifies as a Christan film.  There is no message of redemption or salvation.  For a Christmas movie, baby Jesus is rarely mentioned.  The film’s website calls it a “timeless holiday film for the entire family” based on a book by inspirational author Max Lucado.  But there is talk of God’s grace and of prayer, and much of the action surrounds a young pastor and his congregation.

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In an English country village, every 25 years a miracle happens.  An angel blesses one candle in the candle maker’s shop, and whoever the candle makers (Leslie Manville and Sylvester McCoy) give it to will have their prayed wish granted.  Past recipients have included a orphaned child who prayed for a adoption.

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It’s 1890, and time for a Christmas Candle miracle.  But the progressive new pastor David (Hans Matheson) will not believe or preach about this miracle, to the shock of the villagers.  Lovely skeptic Emily (Samantha Barks), society matron Lady Camdon (Barbara Flynn) and sturdy church lady Eleanor (Susan Boyle) all have various opinions about the candle miracle.  Are good deeds and acts of kindness a miracle in themselves?  Is a Christmas Candle miracle necessary?

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Susan Boyle in her 1890’s costume.

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Susan Boyle winning 2009’s “Britain’s Got Talent“.

We get to enjoy Susan Boyle singing, and her stiff acting suits the character she plays.  I wanted to hear Samantha Barks sing, as she did so well as tragic Eponine in Les Miserables (2012), but it was nice to see her in a cheerful role.

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Samantha Bark’s joyful character.

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Samantha Barks suffers and sings in “Les Miserables”.

Importantly, this is a quality film, a well made movie!  The setting is beautiful, the costumes and hairpieces are accurate (they wear corsets!), the acting is strong, the script well-written, and the story is compelling and not completely predictable.

Echolight Studios, who distributed The Christmas Candle, says it “produces and distributes high-quality movies for families of faith.”  In this high-quality movie, Echolight Studios is successful.  Let’s hope people go to see this movie in the theaters, and it can be successful financially, too.

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Black Nativity: A Christmas Musical

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Our family enjoys musicals, and to get in the Christmas spirit, we went to the movies!  Black Nativity (2013 PG) is a well made, well acted Christmas movie with an artistic twist.   But this musical has too much singing!

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A young single mother (Jennifer Hudson) sends her teenaged son Langston (Jacob Latimore) away at Christmastime because they are being evicted.  Naima had lost a good job, and with working two jobs she still fell behind in her rent, and she wants to shield her son from these troubles.  She sends him to stay with her parents (Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker), whom she has not spoken to since running away when she was teenaged and pregnant.

A musical happens when songs are woven into the film.  Jennifer Hudson has an amazing voice, and uses it to express her love and concern and worry and stress.  Jacob Latimore sings and raps his worry and longings.  But in this case, the songs are too repetitive, conveying the same emotion over too long of a period of time.

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Upon arrival to Times Square in New York, Langston misses seeing his grandparents and through a misunderstanding ends up in jail.  His grandfather, Reverend Cornell Cobbs, is disappointed and concerned that the first interaction he has with his grandson is to pick him up from the police station.  The dialogue is very well written, and Forest Whitaker portrays his internal conflict perfectly.  Jacob Latimore plays his character polite and reserved but also with a simmering sense of betrayal.

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Langston’s grandmother Aretha is so happy to finally have the chance to get to know her grandson, but she is on edge and nervous that her husband or her will say the wrong thing and cause this sad and confused boy to run away.  I felt the most compassion for Aretha, so incredibly well portrayed  by Angela Bassett.

Sing with the street musicians to reveal character.  Sing at the piano to convey emotion.  This works in this movie.  But the other singing did not add to the story.

All conflict comes together at the Black Nativity Christmas Eve church service, and all conflict comes to a satisfying conclusion.  Have tissues handy!  And now, at church, let the singing happen!

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