Thursday, July 21, 2011

Helena from the Wedding

Sorry, but this movie falls outside the range of my enjoyment.  A group of friends get together to ring in the New Year at a hunting lodge in the woods.  They get drunk, snort cocaine, talk about their high-paying jobs and plays they written.  Their marriages are in various states of disarray.  I would have been a lot happier if the nice policeman who helped them jump start the jeep would have found the drugs under the driver's seat and thrown them all in jail.

Stupid movie that thinks it's smart about stupid people who think they're smart.
Now tell me again, what's the point of this movie?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ben X

Talk about a movie that deserves to be seen, this is one.  Coming out of Belgium from first-time director Nic Balthazar, Ben X is based on Balthazar's novel Niets was alles wat hij zei (Nothing was All He Said).  Ben, who has Asperger's Syndrome, struggles to fit in the world of teenagers and school.  He plays an online battle video game avidly; in the universe of the game, he's a highly-ranked, nearly invincible warrior.  As he prepares for school each day, he mentally tries to put on the attributes of his avatar as he does in the game.
If only we could change our real selves as easily as we can change our video game alter egos.
At school he is relentlessly bullied and humiliated.  His daily "power up" times before the mirror finally begin to pay off as he gains confidence to act, but his real confidence booster comes when his on-screen female fellow warrior shows up in his real world.  Ultimately he gets some revenge, but not in the way I thought he might.

The blending of Ben's fantasy life and real life opens a window into Ben's mind.  As he confronts the school bullies, they become the monsters he fights in his game.  I don't know enough about Asperger's to know how true-to-life this portrayal is, but I do know it's a wide-ranging syndrome, so this could very well be consistent with some.  In any case, telling the story from the perspective of the outcast gives the rest of us pause; who is the Ben in our lives?

Bottom line, 4 stars.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Soul Surfer

Elliot had been begging to see Soul Surfer for some time, so he and Kelly went to see it last week.  Then he wanted me to see it, so I met him one day after work at the dollar movie.  If you haven't heard of this movie or seen it,  you are missing one inspiring story!  Based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, Soul Surfer tells of her love of surfing, entering into the professional ranks as a teen, then of her losing an arm in a shark attack, and her comeback in the sport.

Bethany and her family live in Hawaii, where she grew up surfing with her brothers and parents at the beach out their back door.  They love surfing, love each other, and love the Lord (not necessarily in that order!).  When a shark chomps off Bethany's arm, she survives, but the accident rocks her faith, her hopes for surfing, and her family.  Soul Surfer presents a picture of a family who comes together in a trying time, supporting Bethany, all of them growing stronger as a result.

It's refreshing to see Christian faith portrayed so explicitly in a mainstream film.  In an early church scene, they sing Matt Redman's "Blessed Be Your Name," which must have come to mean much more after the attack:
When I'm found in the desert place/ Though I walk through the wilderness/ Blessed be your name/ . . . . When the darkness closes in, Lord/ Still I will say/ Blessed be the name of the Lord/ . . .  On the road marked with suffering/ Though there's pain in the offering/ Blessed be your name.
The Hamiltons worship together, pray together, Bethany seeks counsel from her youth pastor, she goes on a mission trip.  They are not portrayed as a nice family who happens to go to church.  Rather, they are portrayed as genuine followers of Christ whose family strength is derived from their faith.
The special effects team did a nice job of making me forget that this actress actually has 2 arms.
I was very impressed with Soul Surfer's avoidance of sensationalism and the embrace of faith.  Speaking of embrace, I loved Bethany's line stating that by losing an arm, she is able to embrace more people than she ever could with two.  She truly found that blessing the name of the Lord in the darkness gave her more light than before.  This wonderful movie is definitely worth your while.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Also take a look at Bethany's web site:
Bethany with members of the cast.  I don't know how many of these actresses are Christians, but they had to have been inspired by Bethany and her family.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Alamar (To the Sea)

File this one under an interesting slice of life film, with not much story to tell, but plenty to show about a particular, unique culture.  Natan has a few days to spend with his father and grandfather before he returns to Italy where he will live with his mom.  Natan's father, like his father, is a fisherman on a barrier reef in Mexico.  They feed the birds and alligators from their porch.  Fishing for a living, they apparently barely get by, and live as fishermen in that region have lived for generations.
There are plenty of touching father/son moments in Alamar.
There is some beautiful photography, and, as I suggested, it's interesting to see into a culture and lifestyle so different from my own.  But not much happens in the movie, so be prepared: it leans closer to being a documentary than a narrative film.  This is a Film Movement movie.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


For a non-fiction video full of serious economic analysis, this video has a lot of laughs!  You have probably seen the best-seller book of the same name (Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything) and, now I learn, a cottage industry of follow-ups.  University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and journalist Steven Dubner teamed up for the first book, which became a huge best-seller, and followed it up with the other books and this movie.

Their trademark is taking things we encounter every day, and attempting to explain them from the point of view of economics.  Broken up into several "chapters," and illustrated with well-done video and animation, Levitt and Dubner demonstrate the economics is all about cause and effect and that incentives can explain much.  Their discussions remind us that economics is not about graphs and money, although those can help in analysis and explanation, but economics is primarily a social science, dealing with relationships and behavior.  It's all about people.

Some of their conclusions may conform with conventional wisdom--like the discussion explaining why people with African-American sounding names tend to do less well economically.  Others may challenge your moral presuppositions--like the correlation of the decrease in crime over the last 30 years with the legalization of abortion.  In any case, you will be informed and entertained at the same time, a worthy goal of any documentary filmmaker.

Bottom line, 3 stars.