Category Archives: Film reviews

Fatherhood in film: the example of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof

The other night I turned on the boob tube, appropriately named because my mind was shot. I have been trying to stay away from TV, but I had run out of steam and needed something mindless to look at.

There in front of me was “Fiddler on the Roof”, one of my all-time favorite flicks.  I decided to watch a little and then look for something new, but soon I was hooked.

I tuned in a little late so I missed the first 20 minutes or so, but it didn’t matter because I knew the story so well. I used to show “Fiddler on the Roof” to my English as a second language classes. (The song “If I were a Rich Man” is great for teaching second conditional.)

Although I had seen this story of  early 20th-century Russian Jews numerous times, I felt drawn to the story once more. As happens when exposed to something encountered before, I obtained a new perspective on the film.

This time around I was entranced by the performance of Israeli actor Topol in the role of Tevye, the milkman peasant tasked with eking out a living for his wife and five daughters in the little town of Anatevka.

In particular, I was moved by his efforts to deal with the coming-of-age of his three oldest daughters.  All three fall for young men from the village, and Tevye must navigate their choices while still trying to remain true to his beliefs.

1971 - Fiddler on the Roof - Movie Set

Tevye’s three oldest daughters come of age

As “Fiddler on the Roof” opens, he sings of his role as the master of the house, the man with the final word in his home. In addition, Tevye speaks of the importance of the traditions of his Jewish faith.

The oldest daughter Tzeitel is in love with a tailor named Motel, who doesn’t appear to have much prospects in life. She has already been promised to an older butcher, a marriage arranged by the elderly female matchmaker Yente.

When Motel and Tzeitel approach her father about marrying, Tevye is at first astonished.  The arranging of their own marriage is unheard of.

But he is a reasonable man, and a good, discerning father. He begins to argue with himself and God, looking to the heavens after Motel promises to take care of Tzeitel. Tevye says:

Hmm. He’s beginning to talk like a man. On the other hand, what kind of a match would that be with a poor tailor? On the other hand, he is an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, he is an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, things could never get worse for him, only better.

But look at my daughter’s face. She loves him. She wants him. And look at my daughter’s eyes.

After all the back and forth with himself and God, Tevye finally agrees to the marriage.

The same scenario plays out with Hodel, the second oldest daughter. She comes to him about her beau Perchik. The young man is a communist revolutionary, but Tevye likes him.

After another internal argument complete with several “on the other hands” and the requisite glances to God, and the observation about how his daughter feels about the boy, Tevye also consents to their wedding.

Topol

When it came to his daughters, Tevye carried on a running argument with himself and God

This Jewish father clearly loves his girls. This love for them not only requires honoring their desires, but also imposes the responsibility to set limits when necessary, and Tevye finds he must do so when the third oldest wants to marry outside the faith.  His daughter Cheva has fallen for Fyedka, a Christian.

Citing the Bible (which doesn’t actually contain a reference that he quotes), Tevya tells Cheva:

As the Good Book says, “Each shall seek his own kind. ” In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?

Cheva tells her Dad that she and Fyedka want to be married.

Tevye draws the line at this statement.

What? Are you out of your mind? Don’t you understand what that means, marrying outside of the faith?  I said no! Never talk about it again. Never mention his name again.Never see him again. Do you understand me?

Cheva answers “yes, Papa” but elopes with Fyedka anyway.

Fiddler-on-the-Roof_Chava-2

Tevye and his daughter Cheva

When Cheva shows up in the fields to talk with her father, Tevye begins his usual ping pong match with himself and God. After a couple of his normal “on the other hand” statements, he yells “No! There IS no other hand.”

As a result, in accordance with tradition, Tevye (with a broken heart) disowns his daughter.

Even in our modern world, where it seems society’s traditions and bearings are broken, studies show that the protection of family is a top value.  Every culture does this differently.

For instance, in the United States parents seek to train their children to become responsible adults, able to make good individual decisions. However, as with many things, the parents go to the extreme. They emphasize individual choice too much.

Tevye is an admirable character inasmuch as he sought balance. He wanted his daughters to be happy, but he held to traditions that would protect them and their family.  These traditions are rooted in the ancient Jewish faith.

Fathers are important in the shaping of the human psyche. They have an impact on who we are all of our lives.

Because all of us are created in God’s image, you would hope that fathers would respond to their children well and make good decisions like our Father God. However, because of their own estrangement from their Heavenly Father, earthly Dads don’t always deal with their children as they should.

Yet, the door is still open for fathers to  come to Him for wisdom.  Dads can come to Him in prayer  and He takes the words and creates a miracle. He creates something, sometimes out of nothing.

Jesus taught that our Father God gives good gifts to His children. He said:

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

When people receive Jesus we receive God’s Spirit. This is hard to understand outside of having faith in God, but through His Spirit our Father God guides and lead us.

Those who have not put their faith in Jesus do not have His guidance in this way. But they can.

Jesus is God the Son, who died and rose again and is living today to heal our estrangement from our Father God, which came due our rebellion against Him. If we don’t seek this restoration with our Father, we are cut off from Him.

This leaves us only able to rely on our own guidance. It also leaves us open to the wiles of the evil being known as Satan, a spirit being out to destroy mankind.

Would that more fathers be more like Tevye, who consulted his Father God when he had to lead and respond to his own children.

 

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Filed under Argument, Christianity, Classic Films, Film reviews, God, Jesus Christ, prayer, spirituality, Thinking, Uncategorized

Jesus Men

The film “Monuments Men” opens with Frank Stokes seeking to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the works of  the great European masters are worth salvaging from the destruction and chaos of World War 2.

As part of his rhetoric, he refers to the magnificent sculptures, paintings and artistic displays of the continent as “the greatest historical achievements known to man”. Further, Stokes tells the president, “While we must and we will wind this war, we should also remember the high price that will be paid if the very foundation of modern society is destroyed.”

Stokes argument wins over Roosevelt. He authorizes the formation of a team charged with finding and saving priceless works of art stolen by the Nazis.

Even though Stokes suggests finding young artists and sculptors to make up the unit, Roosevelt notes that all of them are already serving in the battles of the war. Thus, the president calls on Stokes to head up the search for qualified men.

As a result, he contacts aging architects, curators, designers, artists and sculptors to form his group. After he finds them, he holds a meeting.

“You’ve been selected because we need your knowledge and skills,” he tells the men. “We’ve been tasked to find and protect buildings, monuments and art.”

Stokes needed experts who could identify such great pieces as Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges and The Ghent Altarpiece. Further, he desired men with trained eyes capable of differentiating between the genuine and the phony.

Monuments Men

Monuments Men had to be experts in the works of the Great Masters of Europe

Throughout the film, the necessity of saving these works is questioned. Roosevelt proffers the idea that their loss is just the price of fighting a war. Commanders refuse to risk their men to help the unit save art. President Truman asks at the end of the war if the loss of two of his men was worth the effort to rescue the five million works his group DID save.

The questioning is legitimate. It’s important to ask what is worth giving your life to and for.

Author and life coach Brendon Burchard says that not every mountain is worth climbing. We need to walk around some.

While Frank Stokes argument for saving great works of art at the cost of lost lives can be questioned, he was able to convince the person who mattered most that they were.  He persuaded the president of the United States that they were monuments to civilization which were worth fighting for.

Most of us don’t take on great tasks of the kind that Frank Stokes tackled. He felt a personal responsibility for giving himself to the work because he thought these monuments were important.

Each of us has to determine for ourselves what we deem worth giving our lives to or fighting for. Some, for example, believe that TEARING DOWN monuments is what is important.

Stuart Briscoe writes that there are some charismatic men who start movements to accomplish a task they believe is of great significance or value. Briscoe notes that these movements die out when their founders pass on, and their work become monuments to the glory which once was. Unlike artistic memorials, these monuments are devoid of their original power.

Briscoe describes one founder and his movement which do live on.

There is no denying that Christianity has in some instances degenerated into a monument, and its places of worship into museums. But it is equally true that, where ordinary men and women in the power of the Spirit have proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s saving grace, the church has continued to grow and thrive. When this happens, there is no man-movement-monument syndrome. The Man, Christ Jesus, is still at work through the Holy Spirit, doing what only he can do–and doing it well!

I personally believe that the work of Jesus is worth giving my life to and worth fighting for. In order to be a part of His work, I need to know Him. Like the Monuments Men, I ought to be an expert in Jesus if I want to be one of his people.

This means I should also be around folks that can also recognize Jesus. Not all of His alleged followers can.

Vernon McGee says that when Judas took a mob to the Garden of Gethsemane in order to arrest Jesus, he could not identify the man he spent three years with as one of his disciples. McGee believes this was because Jesus was displaying his divine glory at this time.

Judas did not have the acumen to distinguish characteristics of his Master which at that point could only be spiritually discerned.  He was a fraudulent expert.

Judas was a phony Jesus Man. He could not identify the Real McCoy.

This year I want to become a Jesus Man, i.e. an  expert in Jesus. I want to be able to identify the genuine article for myself and others.

This won’t be easy. The Apostle Paul wrote that gaining true spiritual knowledge in this life is similar to looking in a dim mirror. We can only make out some aspects of the real image.

Further, as in Jesus’s day there are religious and political leaders who attempt to either reject Him or coopt Him for their own purposes. Behind them lurks the enemy of Christ, Satan the Devil.

He isn’t going to be happy about my desire to get involved in the deserving work of searching for and elevating Jesus in my own life and in the lives of others. Just as the Monuments Men had to fight with Nazis and Russians to save great masterpieces, I will have to battle the minions of the Evil One.

But to me searching for and making known the true Jesus is worth the effort. The job is worth giving my life to and worth fighting for.

Like Frank Stokes, I need to be around some other men who are qualified  and willing to get into the war. Finding these Jesus Men will also be my goal.

Finding Jesus is a dangerous job. I’ll need the other Jesus Men to help me, perhaps even save me, in order to get it done.

Coming to their aid should also be part of my expectation as a Jesus Man.

Monuments men 2

Monuments Men found they needed each other. For instance, one stepped on a land mine. The others worked to keep him from setting it off. They refused to leave their buddy in peril.

Being one of the Jesus Men is a noble goal.

 

 

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Guts and Glory: Profiles in Courage from TV and Film

A fewJessica Pearson has reached a crossroads, one that she hasn’t seen coming.

Standing in a courtroom, the high-energy attorney featured on the hit TV series “Suits” must decide if she will stay and defend a man who is on trial for his life, or leave for an emergency meeting to save her New York law firm.  In the past, her choice would have been a no-brainer.

Jessica is the founder and managing partner of her firm. She has already shown that she will do anything to maintain its position and her power.

The attorney has aided and abetted the fraud perpetrated by Mike Ross, an employee who has posed as a brilliant attorney for the firm, but in fact did not attend law school. Jessica has also chosen her job over her lover Jeff Malone.

(SPOILER ALERT)

But now she has found her soul. As she defends Leonard Bailey, a man who is to be executed for murder but has been given a new trial, Jessica recalls why she became an attorney. She remembers that she went to law school over the objections of her father in order to help people.

As a result of this epiphany, Jessica tells her other desperate partners, hovering in the courtroom to drag her to the meeting, to take a hike. She goes on to perform an astounding cross examination of a key witness that causes the judge to free Bailey.

When Jessica walks into the hall, a rival lawyer who has witnessed her defense tells her how amazing the cross was. She replies that she believes it is the pinnacle of her career.

Ironically, this admiring attorney had earlier attempted to poach Jessica from her firm, expecting it to crash. Jessica turned him down.

At the end of the episode, she announces to her partners that she is leaving the firm. She knocks on Jeff’s door that night to tell him that she wants to leave with him for Chicago, where he intends to begin a new job.

Walking away from a career with lots of power and money to pursue your true calling and the love of your life is not easy as it might seem.  It carries a big risk.

Sonny Weaver learned that being true to yourself and your convictions can put you in jeopardy. In his case, he is under threat of losing his job as general manager of the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 film “Draft Day”.

Like Jessica, he has people hounding him at crucial times as he tries to make decisions about what players to pick during the NFL draft.  The biggest problem, though, is that his aging playboy owner wants him to “make a big splash” in order to put buns in the stadium seats. Defying him means obvious curtains for Sonny.

Furthermore, the team’s new coach, a Super Bowl winner for another team, carps at his general manager as Sonny wheels and deals during the draft. They appear to have major philosophical differences as to how construct the team.

In addition, current and aspiring players are lobbying Sonny during the day. Brian Drew, the Browns’ quarterback, trashes his office when he learns that his general manager has paid a king’s ransom to Seattle in order to gain the number 1 draft pick.

It is assumed that the Browns will pick a star college quarterback with the choice. That’s certainly what Sonny’s owner expects him to do. When that happens, Drew figures he is toast.

The coach hates this idea of a rookie quarterback taking over the reigns of the team, too. He believes Drew will run his offense better.

On top of his on-the-job issues, Sonny also must fend off his loved ones who want his time and attention during this critical period. His girlfriend, who is also the financial whiz for the Browns, announces that she is pregnant.

Sonny and her keep meeting in a closet to discuss their relationship during draft day. When he asks his girlfriend what she really wants, she says “I don’t want to be a secret.”

Furthermore Sonny’s mother Barb picks draft day to discuss the provisions of his father’s will. His Dad, a legend for the Browns, decided that he wanted his ashes placed at the 50 yard line of the practice field which is named after him.

Barb wants to do the ceremony then and there. Sonny is adamant that he won’t participate. This doesn’t stop Barb. She leads team personnel onto the field to distribute the ashes without her son.

Clearly it is complete chaos at Browns headquarters. In the midst of it all, Sonny keeps his head.

He does this because it is His dream to pick the players HE wants and to build the team HIS way. As he dickers with other team’s general managers he works toward that goal.

When the first pick is announced, Sonny has picked a linebacker whom he loves. He believes the hyped quarterback will be a bust, but that his choice will be a star.

The angry owner hops a plane from the draft site to go to Cleveland and fire him. Not only does he arrive at headquarters and say to Sonny “you’re a dead man”, but the coach also tells Sonny that he quits.

“I can’t coach a team that has no future,” the coach says. Sonny asks him to hold on.

He also tells his owner to give him five minutes. If he doesn’t like what he sees after that, then he can fire him.

Sonny then amazes everyone. He not only gets back all the picks he traded to move up to number 1, but also gets a star punt returner and drafts a stud running back, which pleases the coach.

The owner tells him, “Congratulations. You have some balls.”

At the end of the day everyone is happy. Sonny and his girlfriend have weathered their storm. His mother is pleased when she hears that she will have a grandchild.

The fictional stories of Jessica and Sonny tell this writer, this real life person, that if he is to imperil himself his confidence had better not be of the false kind. I had better have a clear foundation of beliefs that will help me to withstand the opposition to my choices.

In my next post I will explain what that firm ground is for me.

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America has made a deal with the devil. Perhaps it’s not too late.

There is some thought that we are in the midst of a civil war in America. If we are, it’s not like the first one that occurred over a century and a half ago.

In 1861 there was a clear geographical demarcation in the War Between the States: the northern states were on one side and the southern states were on the other. There were some border states with mixed loyalties that officially stayed in the Union.

The nature of the war is different now. The conflict is between masses of individuals spread throughout the country in blue {“liberal”) states and  red “”conservative”” ones. A few are purple, meaning they could go either way during an election.

I  suppose there COULD be a geographical split, but I doubt any states that secede would join a confederation.  These states most likely would blue ones located on different coasts.

There are some similarities between the 19th century contest and our own. Both wars concerned political, ideological and cultural differences.  But the mixing of those who hold disparate views is so great now that it would be virtually impossible to have organized hostilities involving armies.

What is very different today is the spiritual nature of the struggle. Back in the 1860s Americans generally accepted that Christianity was the prevailing faith. Both folks in the north and their counterparts in the south accepted that our country was “Christian”.

This didn’t mean that everyone was a believer. It just meant that our national values leaned heavily on Biblical teaching and many Americans sought to live their lives by them. It was also generally agreed that violating Christian instruction regarding social mores was anathema.

This way of thinking is obviously not the case in the second decade of the 21st century. The Christian faith is still prevalent, but not as much as in the past. Furthermore, since the 1960s the nation has descended into what can best be termed a post-Christian era. In fact, we are probably way beyond such a period.

The end result is that every man does what is right in his own eyes.  This could very well mean that Americans wittingly or unwittingly are making a deal with the polar opposite of Jesus, i.e. the evil being known as Satan, or the devil.

Oh, the accord with the angel of darkness may not be cut in stone in the human’s mind, but it is still an understanding. This compromise is similar in kind to my sports rooting.

Since none of my team’s win, I generally cheer from the negative. I pull for my teams’ rivals to lose.

Some unbelievers behave in the same fashion. They see Christianity as a losing proposition for them. They may not be that enthused about or even believe in the devil, but they get involved with his dark devices anyway by default. The resulting values and actions are not exactly “Christian” in tone.

Other people who are not followers of Jesus are in a worse fix. They have fallen hook, line and sinker into the abyss with Satan. They are making a clear and conscious choice to ignore and disobey God and walk with the devil.

This predicament can be detected in the America of today by observing the onslaught of lying in the media.Politicians and other leaders lie to our faces on TV, radio and the Internet. In addition, the purveyors of news are not only willing accomplices, but avid participants in the deception.

The source of this systemic falsehood is made known in the Scriptures. Satan has many names, but one of his monikers in the Bible is “The Father of Lies.” He’s the king prevaricator.

Such a decline as we see now  was perhaps possible in the 19th century, but not probable. Americans still had not thrown caution to the wind. Truth still mattered. Evil was at bay.

Soldiers

CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS FROM NORTH AND SOUTH AT A REUNION. A COMMON SET OF SPIRITUAL VALUES MADE RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE.

Because of our current beguiling, I was amazed to see the Christian faith of the time depicted on my television last night. Unfortunately, the show was one made almost 60 years ago, not recently.

One of my favorite Netflix pastimes is to watch old episodes of the science fiction/fantasy series “The Twilight Zone.” The one I saw last night involved a Confederate soldier who stumbles upon a bizarre scene in a Virginia town.

This Rebel scout found Union frozen in place in the streets of the place. They appeared as if they were people in a still photo, some in the middle of an action.

The Confederate, a man named Sergeant Paradine, at first thought the men were asleep. But he soon tossed that idea. He couldn’t wake them up, even though he shouted in their faces.

As he walked Paradine came upon an old man named Teague who claimed to have cast a spell on the Union soldiers. He showed the Confederate his book of witchcraft.

When Paradine didn’t believe him,the warlock froze him in place, too. However, the sorcerer left him with the ability to comprehend what was happening around him.

After releasing Paradine from the effects of the incantation, the old man told the sergeant that he could cast a spell on the entire Union army, but he wouldn’t because he knew he was to die that day. He gave the book to Paradine so the Confederate could do so himself.

Before reporting back to his commanding officer, Paradine froze some Union defenders in place on a ridge in the region. The state of these soldiers was confirmed by the attacking Confederate officer when the rebels were all together that night.

Paradine

PARADINE

What ensued was a debate over whether or not Paradine should go on and paralyze the entire US Army. He hesitated at first because while he was with Teague the sergeant felt the use of the book was unclean. The warlock also confirmed that the person conducting the witchcraft was in league with the devil. All this made Paradine uneasy.

At first Paradine’s commanding officer resisted the casting of spells, also. “It’s of the devil,” he said.

But Paradine regrouped and tried to convince his superior to let him use the book of witchcraft. “I don’t know much about Satan, he said, “but this cause of ours is dying right in front of our eyes.”

The officer then concurred and told Paradine to read from the book. However, when he did so he came across a passage that made him stop dead in his tracks.

“He calls upon us to revoke the name of God,” said Paradine. Despite exhortations from the others the sergeant couldn’t go on.

“What do we call em? Damn Yankees, don’t we, lieutenant?,” said Paradine. “If I read aloud from the book it is the Confederacy that will be damned.

“It’s the book or it’s the end,” he went on. “Then let it be the end. If it must come, let it come.

“If this cause is to be buried let it be put in hallowed ground. Let it be put in hallowed ground.”

The book of witchcraft was immediately burned in the campfire.

Would that men and women in America take the same stance against Satan instead of colaboring with him. The only way that will happen if we see the error of our ways as Paradine did. If we do, then perhaps we will have a spiritual revival in our nation.

Even if a large segment of our populace continues to make a deal with the devil, the people of God can still take a stand. They can actively oppose Satan’s playbook. This courageous activity may not save our country, but such a stance will at least please God and make our burial ground noble in His eyes.

In the long run of eternity, this is more important. Siding with Satan is never right.

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Film Review: LA LA Land is at heart the story of us all

Many feel called but few are chosen in the chase for stardom. For most of American history, Los Angeles has been the place where people flock to achieve their dreams of fame and fortune in the entertainment industry. Some make it and others experience heartbreak. Two such people are Sebastian Wilder and Mia Dolan, two lovers in the film “LA LA Land.”

This acclaimed movie is a throwback to the classic musicals of the 30s and 40s, where boy meets girl and tell of their love story in song. Sebastian is a penny ante club pianist with a dream of opening a jazz club. Mia works as a barista and auditions for film roles in between dishing out coffee at a studio lot to those who have already made it.

“LA LA Land” is like watching two people who are riding in separate cars on different roller coasters. Occasionally their tracks meet up, sometimes with positive and at other times with negative results. You’re pulling for them in their professional and romantic lives, but you can’t help but wonder if the two will crash and burn, especially when they meet up. Some people ride roller coasters for the amusement. After all, they’re located in amusement parks.  However, LA LA Land is primarily not a fun film.  There are too many emotional ups and downs.

Mia is young, enthusiastic and rebellious. The young lady, played by Emma Stone, is a no nonsense type. Stone’s face and personality conjure up images of a sharp talking Bette Davis. Like Davis, Stone is not a stunner, but she captures the screen.

Mia seems  to be quite sure she is going to get cast somewhere. She is the quintessential actor described by Dionne Warwick in “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” In a week maybe two she thinks they’ll make her a star.  The  coffee shop gig is clearly not very important to Mia. It’s just a short stop on the way to the mountain top.

Sebastian , portrayed by Millennial heart throb Ryan Gosling, shares many of Mia’s traits, except he has made resistance an art form. He is unhappy with the state of modern jazz and resents having to pound out a prescribed playlist at his club gigs. What makes it difficult for him is that he is  not silent about it. While Mia is sweet to the public, Sebastian doesn’t care how he treats people. His initial encounters with her reflect this and foreshadow the  future of their relationship.

As the story unfolds, both Sebastian and Mia get off their roller coaster rides altogether and opt for a less threatening yet unsatisfying journey in the kiddie area. Mia begins to think like Warwick in longing for the peace and quiet of home while Sebastian begins to sell out musically. But when each of them experiences these setbacks and begins to believe that they are fantasizing about making it big (thus living in LA LA Land), their partner draws them back into their dream. In this respect, the couple are made for each other. It’s nice to have someone who loves you and knows you better than you know yourself. The rub is whether or not the aspiring celebrities can climb the thrill ride of success together.

Having lived in Los Angeles, I appreciated the occasional glimpses of the city’s culture the movie provides. In fact, if anyone knows anything about the town, it is what Warwick sang of: it’s a great big freeway. The movie opens with a humorous song and dance right in the middle of a traffic jam. I also grew nostalgic while Mia and Sebastian stood on a spot overlooking Los Angeles and its mountains at night. While the couple, in the midst of the early bumps in their romance,  did not appreciate the view, I did. As I spent my time in LA as a student or mainly unemployed, I also liked experiencing some of the other night life I could not afford while living there: the indoor clubbing and the eateries.

As a huge fan of Turner Classic Movies, I was somewhat disappointed by the music and dancing in “LA LA Land”.  Stone and Gosling are nothing special as hoofers and only have passable voices.. They’re not exactly Eleanor Powell or Fred Astaire. Having said that, Stone’s simple performance of “Audition (Here’s to the Fools that Dream)” was quite moving. The song’s lyrics sum up the lives of the two lovers and also our own. We can all relate.

“Here’s to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem.  Here’s to the hearts that ache.  Here’s to the mess we make.”

To Gosling’s credit, he did an amazing job on the piano, especially since he did not even play the instrument prior to his training for the film.

Going in, I thought that perhaps LA LA Land was over-hyped by Hollyood celebs for Oscar glory because it is somewhat biographical for them.  The Academy is nothing if not self congratulatory. Thus,  my expectations were low despite all the ballyhoo. I pretty much had decided that I would be pulling for “Manchester by the Sea” for Best Picture.  But I now think it’s a tie and I am surprised I think that way.

LA LA Land, lacks the old time song and dance inspirational religion of the classic movies, but the story is superb. It’s a tale of heartbreak mixed with love and ambition.  LA LA Land is every man and woman’s saga. Who could ask for more from a film?

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Film Review: Manchester by the Sea Asks if Redemption is Possible

Looking at his wife in the film “Manchester by the Sea”, Lee Chandler points to his chest and says,”There is nothing there.”

If this film provides an image of anything else, it is what happens to a man when  as author Gertrude Stein said  “there is no there there”. Lee is an empty vessel.

The vibrancy in Lee leaves him early in the tale after he makes a huge mistake. Thereafter, he is a shell.

Lee’s persona is fine as long as he can keep to himself. Indeed, he seems to prefer it.

When we are introduced to him, he is a custodian at an apartment complex in the Boston area. Lee is a good janitor, but he is not exactly a person who wins friends and influences people. When he encounters a crabby woman who has a water leak in her apartment, he curses at her, and gets himself into trouble with his boss.

The only reason Lee’s boss relents from disciplining him is that he convinces the man how good he is at taking care of the four buildings in the complex. The janitor is a jerk, but at least he is good at his job.

“Manchester by the Sea” uses a series of flashbacks to fill in the reasons as to why Lee has become the man he is and the effects of his massive mistake on him and others. I am no psychiatrist,  but it seems that like a lot of men Lee takes refuge in his work to escape from himself and the anguish bubbling inside of him.

Casey Affleck is masterful as Lee’s, reflecting his internal angst in his facial expressions. In general, he is a curmudgeon before his time and almost completely uncommunicative. Lee only talks when he has to.

However, an event occurs which forces him out of his isolated existence. Lee’s brother Joe (played by the wonderful Kyle Chandler) dies, which is not totally unexpected since in one of the flashbacks we are told that he only has a life expectancy of a few years.

For Lee, though, what IS unexpected is that Joe has made him the guardian of his 16-year old son Patrick. Out of the blue he has to be responsible for someone besides himself and a bunch of flats. In addition, he has to return to the town where he is a pariah because of his terrible blunder.

The best aspect of “Manchester by the Sea” is the acting of Affleck as suggested above. He offers a portrayal of Lee that shows the changeable parts of the character’s personality.

The flashbacks show that Lee was not always a sullen jackass. Before his massive error, he could laugh, party with his  friends and play with the younger Patrick with gusto.  Affleck manages the difficult task of depicting the influence of his character’s personal disaster on his personality with great talent.

The tragic story is a good one, but its telling is hindered by what seems to be a hurried attempt to tell it. The audience is led quickly from flashback, to scenic views of the town Manchester-by- the-Sea  to point of view shots of Lee driving through town. At times I felt like I was viewing my grandfather’s Super 8 home movies.

Furthermore, I had difficulty identifying the roles of the characters. The film does not have too many characters, but I still had trouble discerning who was who during its initial section, partly because of the hurried pace. In this respect, “Manchester by the Sea” goes to the extreme in attempting to correctly show us the story instead of telling us. Key details are unclear.

As a believer I also was unhappy with the tired old mechanism of portraying Christians as people who belong in an institution.  Despite my personal distaste for his task, Matthew Broderick as Jeffrey, the new man of Joe’s unbalanced wife, pulls off  the part of the creepy Christian quite well. Patrick’s meeting with him leads to a brief but humorous discussion of who is a Christian with Lee on the drive home.

Despite these drawbacks, Affleck’s performance carries the film and makes it worth seeing. If he is not nominated for an Oscar for best actor, then there is no justice.

As for the story itself, it is not uplifting, but it does deal with an important issue. The difficult question “Manchester by the Sea” poses is if a man who has done something awful can experience redemption. What the film and Affleck reveal is that it takes not only a village for that to occur, but also the man himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just One More

(SPOILER ALERT! The following is based on the Gibson film “Hacksaw Ridge”, a depiction of the true story of Desmond Doss. Thus, if you have not seen he film and intend to, I suggest you not read this until you do.) 

Desmond Doss stood at the top of a cliff on Okinawa.

Below him was relative safety among his fellow American soldiers. Behind him was pure carnage.  Doss and his unit had just been through pure hell, spending the day battling Japanese troops seeking to hold on to Hacksaw Ridge.

Like many of the battalions before him, his unit and two others had been chopped to bits during the fight. Except for the wounded laying among the debris and fog of war, and Japanese infantry wandering the battlefield looking for American men to send to their ancestors, Doss was the only living soul around. The other Americans had retreated off the ridge.

A look of confusion passed Desmond’s face. He had volunteered to join a combat union when the United States opened hostilities with Japan during World War 2, but only as a medic. His values, informed by his Christian faith, prevented from touching a weapon.

But Doss was just as offended as other Americans at the Japanese surprise attack of Pearl Harbor. He wanted to serve his country. But Desmond had determined that he would seek to save lives, not take them.

“God, I don’t understand,” he said. Desmond had done his duty during the battle, but his overall purpose seemed to elude him. Then he heard the cries of his men from the fog.

“Ok,” he said. At that point Doss knew why he was there. He faced the battlefield and moved out to save his comrades.

Desmond’s had already demonstrated enough courage for most men. He had battled the U.S. Army for the right to even be a medic. His commanding officers labeled him a conscientious objector and even a coward.

Doss preferred to think of himself as a “conscientious participator.” Even so, his leaders had sought to court martial him and drum him out of the service and he had even endured physical and emotional abuse from the other men in his unit because of his stance.

During the night and into the next day Desmond went from man to man, comforting them physically and emotionally. He carried American soldiers one by one to the edge of the cliff and lowered them down in an ingenious makeshift rope contraption.

Desmond’s mantra throughout his ordeal was “God, just one more. Help me to save one more.” After lowering one, he would go back to find another.

At one point, caught below ground in the Japanese caves as he evaded the enemy, he once ran into a wounded opponent. Instead of killing him, Doss patched him up. In fact, he managed to lower two hurt Japanese soldiers off the cliff.

The commanding officers and doctors back at the American encampment were amazed at the number of survivors from the battlefield. When asked how they had gotten there, they pointed to the work of Doss.

In one last trip to and from the battlefield, Desmond escaped down the rope climb with himself and another soldier in tow. Japanese soldiers fired at him from the top while American soldiers protected Doss and his “package” from below.

As Desmond was carried away, soldier after soldier looked at him with respect. Later his commanding officer asked Doss’s forgiveness, and told him that the men had to go back the next day, but that they wouldn’t go without him.

Desmond continued his heroics during the ensuing victory and was again carried wounded from the battlefield, this time wounded.  On the stretcher he called for his Bible. In it were the source of his values and his inspiration, a picture his wife.

For his work on Hacksaw Ridge Desmond Doss became the first conscientious objector to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

I have seen many inspirational movies, but this one ranks at the the top. I was quite moved at  Desmond’s life and heroism. Afterwards, I stayed behind in an empty theater as the credits rolled. I bowed my head prayed, dedicating myself to God and his work again.

It is my desire to carry out my own personal mission to mankind from now until I enter eternity. I don’t know yet exactly how this desire is to be carried out, but as God showed Desmond the need of each man around him at the top of Hacksaw Ridge, I am sure he will reveal his task for me in serving them, also.

I do know prayer from here on out will be the same as Desmond’s: “Just one more. God, give me just one more.”

 

 

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